BEIJING -- Chinese cities that destroyed bike lanes to widen roads for cars or new buildings are being ordered to put the pathways back, the government said Thursday amid efforts to battle the choking smog and traffic brought on by booming car use.
Qiu Baoxing, a vice minister with the Ministry of Construction said it was important that China retain its title "kingdom of bicycles," according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Qiu told an urban planning conference in Beijing on Wednesday that the ministry was firmly opposed to the elimination of bicycle lanes and has ordered cities to restore them, Xinhua said.
The report estimated that China had 500 million bicycles in the late 1980s and said that the number had fallen dramatically as car ownership had expanded, but gave no specific figure.
The report cited Qiu as saying that the number of motor vehicles on China's roads in 2004 was 20 times that of 1978, with that number expected to increase as much as five fold by 2020. In 2004 there were 27 million motor vehicles in China and that number could reach 130 million in 15 years, he said.
Qiu's numbers appeared to include all motorized vehicles, including trucks, tractors and motorcycles, in addition to cars. The World Bank said in a report Wednesday that China had 16 million registered cars in 2004.
China's rapid expansion of car use has brought the country severe pollution, snarled traffic and frequent deadly road accidents. The leadership says that cleaning up the environment and saving energy is among the top priorities for the next five years.
On Tuesday, the government ordered civil servants to leave their cars at home and ride bikes or take public transport in a bid to reduce the choking smog that covers many Chinese cities and conserve energy.