This is how blue the skies were when Beijing banned 2.5 million cars for two weeks


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Cool photo, but the buried lede here is how the fuck you actually go about banning 2.5 millions cars from the road…Apparently that lede is buried deeper than the CNN story, which is pretty short on details beyond “we searched Weibo and the term ‘parade blue’ disappeared, pretty cool investigative journalism, huh? we had to go all the way to the Chinese internet to get that scoop!”


They also shut down hundreds of factories. So, yes, it would be nice to think if we just got cars off the road the air would be pristine, but I’d wager most of that pollution is from the factories.


this is actually part of a larger strategy

Hopefully, things will improve but I’m not holding my breath.


Maybe you should be in the meantime.


I’ve never been to Beijing but I have been to Shanghai. The smog there was just unreal. You go into the observation decks on one of the supertall buildings there and you can’t see much of anything. It’s what I would have to imagine 1970s Los Angeles looked like.



The really sad thing is that Beijing used to be the ‘City of Bicycles’ and it is beautifully flat and easy to cycle. If they’d kept that traditional mode of transport and added good public transport with modern bicycle storage, Beijing could have been a beacon for how the world should be …


Beijing has really good public transportation, but it also has a literally uncountably huge population. Those 13-15,000,000 numbers are probably at least a third too low due to a very large migratory population and an even larger population of semi-legal migrants that won’t be counted.

All of these people want a car. The traffic jams of infamously busy cities in America like New York or Los Angeles would be considered good days. In many areas of the city there is no rush hour it is gridlocked 24/7.

While factories certainly do contribute to the pollution they are nothing compared to the cars. Almost all of the heaviest polluting factories were moved out into the surrounding province of Hebei prior to the 2008 Olympics. The government is working very hard to try and implement a fix for this transportation/pollution problem (restricted driving based on odd or even license plates, people buy multiple cars; stop issuing registrations on new cars, massive car importing from surrounding provinces; fastest development of subway system in human history, population growth and ridership outstrips the growth; onetime largest air terminal in the world, already too small for the number of flights six months before it opens) but given the huge numbers and massive growth they have yet to get a handle on it.

Sorry, but expecting some 20,000,000 people to bicycle to work in a city with only about 4 weeks of nice weather a year is not really a reasonable solution, and I would be willing to bet that more people still do bicycle daily per capita and absolutely than those in any city with a population greater than 5,000,000 do. Probably the only thing that will fix this is if new people stop going to Beijing.


These two things would seem to be at odds. If it’s such a pain in the ass to drive around Beijing, why does everyone want a car? Most New Yorkers don’t have cars (well, Manhattanites anyway; outer borough residents more often have them but don’t drive them into the city) and the traffic there is nowhere near 24-hour gridlock.


Status is a really big part of it. If you’re a man who wants to get married, you need to have a car and apartment (there’s a big gender imbalance due to selective abortions over the past few decades, so some parents will nix a marriage if the suitor doesn’t have those things*). The bicycle is often seen as a symbol of the poor old days, and a car is a sign that you’re part of the new middle class (even if you can’t afford it and it doesn’t improve your life).

[*] Which means that many people want girls rather than boys now - sons are too expensive and not necessarily more profitable in an urban workforce.


Women too are purchasing for status reasons. In reality New Yorkers may not all own cars but their counterparts in movies, television and advertisements frequently do. This cultural advertisement and its markers of success are probably more influential than reality when it comes to purchasing decisions.


I dunno, looks more like LA of the mid-1950s to me. Not only were there no auto emission controls back then, but there was no municipal trash pick-up, so most people just burned their rubbish in backyard incinerators:

The smog in the '50s was horrible. It was still pretty nasty when I moved here in '78.

It’s almost gone today (though we’ve seen some backsliding in the last couple of years), but most of the tourists and half of the recent immigrants can’t tell smog from marine haze, so they think it’s still horrible. (-:


I lived there for a year and commuted 10-15km round trips daily in sun, rain, shine, snow and pea-soup smog — all by bicycle. Further for other trips. It’s a beautifully flat city and easy terrain to ride. 20 000 000 people commuting by bicycle with any long distance segments by public transport takes up way less space than the same number trying to drive. And the pea-soup smog would stop …


Just a side note, but I believe another part of the reason for the factory/car ban for the week or two also had something to do with the world track and field championships that were held in Beijing roughly the same time.


So did I (in Shenyang, which seemed to have similar pollution levels) - until spring 2013, when I got bronchitis and my son got pneumonia. The pm 2.5 readings were approaching 1000, which is way off the scale and approaching apocalyptic levels. In Shenyang at least, having a car meant that you could have an apartment out of the city centre and avoid the worst of the pollution. It also spread the problem, but that’s a separate issue…


Our time in China was more than 10 years ago now, so pollution wasn’t so bad as 2013. But your experience only demonstrates the need for central action and legislation. If everyone has to get onto bikes (and other less polluting transport), then everyone benefits. No central action, then individuals make pragmatic decisions that make it OK for themselves —and worse for everyone else … :frowning:

Same thing applies where we are. I’d cycle more of my commute if there were less cars. I irregularly park and ride from where the bike tracks start, but won’t share the road with homicidal Kiwi car drivers. Seriously, they’re scary. :scream:


If there’s one thing that China can do better than many countries, it’s central action and legislation. They have done a lot of work over the past while, but the increase in the population and prosperity along with the pollution and traffic make it very difficult to create an environment where a lot of people will want to take bikes rather than cars if they have the choice. Short of forcing people to ride bikes (which is an easier option to consider when you’re talking about other countries’ people), it isn’t going to be easy to tell people that they should be riding bikes when they see a car as a chance of a better and safer life. I did cycle everywhere and knew a number of others who did, but I had nothing of the pressure that many people do.

Still, reducing the pollution and increasing the safety of bike routes would do a lot to make me happier to cycle in Chinese cities - it wasn’t uncommon to see cars mounting the pavement to bypass traffic or driving in ways that made sharing the road very risky. One time I saw an older guy on a main road who may have been knocked off his bike (I was in a bus at the time). He had quite a lot of blood coming from his head and wasn’t moving, but nobody stopped for him. Another time a car almost hit me and some other cyclists behind me head on while overtaking another car at speed on a road that was only meant for pedestrians, cyclists and the odd maintenance vehicle. The driver saw us, but apparently thought we should just get out of the way somehow. I had less than half a metre between the car and the kerb. Another time I saw another older guy fall off his bike in the middle of a junction. Again, nobody approached him until I did, and he was just left lying there. Road conditions and hazards such as open manholes can also be a problem, especially where the side of the road is underwater. I was never injured, but I know a number of people who were. Over 10,000 cyclists were killed in China in 2009, and it’s probably increased since then. Road traffic deaths involving pedestrians (24.6%), passengers (24.1%), motorcyclists (22.0%) and bicyclists (15.6%) collectively accounted for more than 85% and auto drivers accounted for 12.2% of total road traffic deaths. I think it will take a lot to convince people that they should take that risk.


Traffic in China is a nightmare. I’m fairly certain that I’m unlikely to get run over right now, here in my apartment, but that’s mostly because I’ve got the door locked. In the past, I’ve had to step aside for motorcycles inside an electronics store.


Everyone biking in Beijing is a lovely dream, but not a realistic solution. Your one year experience does not equate to people who live there permanently and wish to build lives there. I lived there for seven years. Biking was great, then I had kids and a job that required me to be in multiple areas of the city. I survived on public transportation and taxis and didn’t buy a car because I could afford it. My friends justifiably thought I was crazy. As I mentioned above I bet more people already bicycle there daily per capita and absolutely than in any other city with a population over 5000000. The government itself has been trying to stop car purchases legislatively and build infrastructure to make alternatives to car ownership more attractive to little avail, because the population growth has been too great. Considering the people who run the city grew up surrounded by bicycle riders, they really do know how realistic trying to get everyone back on bikes would be. So they are focusing on more realistic plans, such as the mandated use of alternative less polluting fuels.


Why some drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit. I assume this would apply to bike riders who get hit too. (This is hard to read, you may not want to.) (Also, it’s my only source for the report, so it probably needs corroboration.)

Meanwhile, in the U.S., increases in adult bike ridership mean (as expected) increases in adult injuries.

(I’m pro-bike and pro-pedestrian. I think car drivers need to get over themselves. It’s not just about them; we’re here too.)

(ETA: I know, #NotAllCarDrivers.)