Olympics air-quality countdown: first results are in

Friends in Beijing said that the recent four-day experiment in ordering half the cars off the road was encouraging in two ways: It really sped up commute times (for those still driving), and it reflected some civic spirit about the Games. I'd be skeptical if this impression came solely from the (state-controlled) press, but independent email and blog reports suggest that people mainly did observe the restrictions -- only odd-number license plates some days, only evens the other days -- and demonstrated some "let's improve our city for the Olympics!" sentiment about it.

Unfortunately, by all accounts other than those of the state media, the experiment did little or nothing about Beijing's woeful air quality. For instance, this report from the recent "Beijing Air" blog, or this from the Guardian's Jonathan Watts:

Prayers for strong winds look set to become a major component of Beijing's Olympic preparations after a traffic-reduction trial failed to shift the smog that hangs over the city.

More than a million cars were taken off the roads for the four-day test period, but there was no improvement in the air quality, according to city officials.

Yesterday the skies above Beijing were the same dirty grey shade as when the test started on Friday.

From the start, everyone has assumed that the government would do whatever it takes to make the atmosphere acceptable for the Games. The question is becoming: will "whatever it takes" be enough? I hope more experiments are in store.