Beijing to ban a million cars in clean-air test

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Beijing will take one million cars off the city’s streets for two weeks in August to rehearse traffic control measures for next year’s Olympic Games, organizers of the event have said.

Sources with the Beijing organizing committee for the Olympic Games said that city authorities will clear Beijing’s roads between August 7 and 20. They said the city government had endorsed the plan at an internal meeting, but refused to give details according to Xinhua.

“The plan has been drawn up and is ready to go,” said Fan Yinlong, a city government spokesman. The two-week period roughly coincides with the time that the Games will be held next year, from August 8-24. According to the Agence France-Presse, Beijing will also host 11 Olympic test events during the test-run period, including cycling road races, wrestling, hockey and beach volleyball. The city has already spent around US$15 billion on a massive pollution clean-up in the run up to the Olympics, which has included moving heavily polluting industrial factories out of the city.

The city government claims that its efforts are paying off, with Beijing enjoying 241 “blue-sky” days last year. That, according to the government, is 141 more blues-sky days than in 1998. According to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), a blue-sky day is one in which the Air Pollution Index (API) is below 100. That definition however, appears to be at odds with the gray, hazy horizons that the city’s 15 million residents see on a regular basis.

The immense construction underway across Beijing is partly to blame for the haze, as massive construction sites spew dust particles into the air, adding to the pollution from coal-fired power plants and other heavy industries that continue to operate outside the city. Beijing’s fast-rising car population – the city now has three million cars, with an additional 1,200 more vehicles hitting the streets every day – is also a major contributor.