The Beijing Traffic Reduction Plan and $4 Gas, Plus Olympics Masks

The Olympics are just a few weeks away now, keeping the spotlight right on Beijing’s air pollution problems and the Chinese government’s efforts to clean them up. Among the questions:

Will U.S. Athletes Wear Masks?
Apparently, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) developed and distributed some top-secret masks for competitors, but the decision is up to them. The article poses a couple of interesting questions, too:

1. Will wearing a mask at the televised, international games offend Chinese hosts, especially since Chinese citizens often wear masks themselves on bad pollution days? At what point does personal safety and protection trump the need for international goodwill?

2. And when does competitive edge trump the safety of the thousands (thousands?) of other Olympic athletes? Because U.S. Olympians aren’t supposed to show the masks to anyone else. As Frank Filiberto, U.S. boxing team head coach says,

If we have something that will help these kids from developing bronchial problems, why not share that with the rest of the world?
Wall Street Journal (repeat of above link)

3. IOC president Jacques Rogge claimed last spring that masks are “totally useless.” If you recall, he’s weighed in on the pollution issue with his everything’s just fine stance before.

Two-Month Car Use Restriction Plan Starts in Bejing
Now, drivers can use their cars on alternate days according to odd/even last license plate number. Those who don’t follow the schedule must pay a traffic fine. The government has upped public transportation availability, and the whole traffic scheme is part of a large, final push to clean the air before the Games, a plan that also includes reducing construction (because of the dust) and closing factories (because of emissions).

Back in 1996, Atlanta used similar measures to reduce air pollution around Olympic venues.

Here’s an interesting, little-known fact about those measures in the larger landscape of car use, air quality, and lung health. A 2001 study showed a significant drop in the number of Atlanta children needing acute care for their asthma during the days with reduced traffic for the Olympics.

And the numbers went right back up after the Games, when the city lifted traffic restrictions.

Right now, school districts, county office, and individual corporations like this one are modifying the traditional work week to include four longer days with Fridays off. It’s an effort to help school districts and employees reduce their fuel costs by eliminating one day of commuting, but the Beijing (even if it’s too soon to see the results) and Atlanta Olympics point to another benefit, too.

As more businesses and government offices switched to a four-day work week–or even let employees telecommute on the fifth day–the reduction in asthma exacerbations could be enormous if they follow along the lines of this study. $4 dollar/gallon gas is a painful new reality for Americans (though not in other places around the world), but it’s also slowly transforming the way we live and the kind of vehicles we buy into more environmentally friendly patterns.

Who knows? Maybe pricier fuel will dramatically improve the air quality in this country, too.

5 responses to “The Beijing Traffic Reduction Plan and $4 Gas, Plus Olympics Masks”

  1. Asthmagirl says:

    My youngest daughter thinks I’ve covered this topic at home thoroughly! However, even my hubs and the other daughters are now starting to talk much more about air quality and wondering what impact this will have on the games. I saw the coverage on the news last night and it looks like the short term fixes have had some impact. But I also saw Chinese folks holding masks over their face and I shudder at the message this sends… “We’re cleaning up the air for company. You folks at home can suck a rock.”

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