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Bikes are best, say Beijing city planners

Chinese capital to be restored to cycling glory

With four million cars on the road and a near-permanent smog, Beijing is a particularly unhealthy city to live in. But now, planners have reached into the past for a solution to the Chinese capital's traffic problems – bicycles.

Twenty years ago, four out of five Beijing residents used bicycles, riding along some of the best bike lanes in the world. With increased affluence came a steep rise in car ownership and consequent traffic problems.

The Chinese government aims to increase the proportion of cyclists on road from the current 19.7 percent to 23 percent by 2015. One of the biggest campaigns will be to restore the city's famed bike lanes. Many were lost to make more room for cars, and the ones which still exist are often full of parked cars.

New rental programmes providing 50,000 bikes for hire will be in place by 2015 and the authorities plan more bike parks near bus and subway stations.

The proportion of Beijing residents riding bicycles was only 19.7 percent in the first four months in 2009, compared with more than 80 percent in the 1980s.

By 2015, 45 percent of the population are expected to use public transport, 22 percent by car, 8 percent to take taxis, while 23 percent to ride cycles, according to the plan.

However, it might not be so easy to persuade the petrolhead residents of Beijing that going back to the bicycle is the best option.

"I don't think they are serious about promoting bicycles. It's much easier to buy and own a car in Beijing than Shanghai," Chen Ying, a language teacher who owns two cars, told a Chinese news agency. "When I started driving 10 years ago, it was something special because not many people had cars then, but now everyone has one and the traffic is terrible. If they really want me to use a bicycle, they should build clean and safe bicycle lanes. At the moment, the roads are dangerous and smelly."

China was once called the "kingdom of bicycles" with some 500 million bikes on the streets. But that number has plummeted as rapidly as private car ownership has expanded over the past decade.

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