September 20, 2008 / 3:05 AM / in 9 years

Beijing returns to congested normal after Olympics

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing was grinding back to its congested normal on Saturday after two months of traffic restrictions and factory closures which kept the city’s notorious pollution at bay for the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The Chinese capital is one of the world’s most polluted cities and there has been widespread debate about whether the traffic control measures should be retained.

Although the Olympic regulations do not officially expire until midnight on Saturday, cars with both odd and even number plates were already on the streets of central Beijing by mid-morning.

The ban on vehicles on alternate days according to their registrations -- aimed at taking 45 percent of cars off the roads -- was not only successful in clearing the skies, but also eased congestion.

The congestion and frustration are likely to resume with the return to work on Monday.

“If there are no restrictions in the street, maybe the Beijing roads will become big parking lots some day,” an Internet surfer called Dao Madan wrote on www.tianya.cn.

Car owners in the main opposed controls, citing the lack of sufficient public transport.

“If you do not allow me to drive, make sure you can provide enough seats on buses and subways,” Xiao Pao wrote on the same forum. “Don’t force me into that sauna.”

Restrictions on government-owned cars, which make up some 10 percent of Beijing’s more than 3 million vehicles, will continue, the city said this week, in a move some experts see as a necessary pre-requisite to imposing wider controls.

Worse pollution than normal might be expected this autumn as factories and power plants in Beijing and surrounding provinces strive to reach their annual production targets despite the two months when they were forced to reduce emissions.

Dust can also be expected to add to the pollution from the hundreds of building sites around the city that had to suspend operations from July 20.

Prostitutes have returned to the streets in areas of the city where bars and night clubs abound, while shops are now openly selling pirated DVDs again.

Security checks at the city’s 11 municipal parks, including the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, will also cease after Saturday, local media reported this week.

Beijing saw high levels of security for the August 8-24 Olympics and September 6-17 Paralympics to deter terrorist attacks which the government perceived to be the biggest threat to the successful hosting of the two sporting events.

The Olympic media regulations put in to place in January 2007, which allowed foreign journalists more freedom to report around China, expire next month.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by David Fox

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