Photoblog: 16 Feb 2011
This is the Second Ring Road in Beijing. Confusingly, there is no First Ring Road. But there is a Third. And a Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. The Seventh is under construction. They're thinking about an Eighth.
The Second Ring Road follows the route of the old city moat, with a metro line underneath it. Here, on the right would have been the city walls -- now modern office blocks -- and on the left was farmland until remarkably recently (now hotels and apartment towers).
The road is close to motorway standard throughout, with three or four lanes, grade separated junctions, and parallel local roads between junctions, with additional (usually segregated) bicycle paths. This doesn't prevent the massive traffic jams.
Within the old city there is a grid of wide boulevards every km, but in many places the old dense "hutong" building plans remain between the boulevards. In the past decade the trend has been to bulldoze the hutong to make way for high-rise commercial and residential buildings designed around high car use. But this trend is reversing as the inevitable backlash to such destruction -- as seen throughout Europe in the post-war decades -- gathers strength, and as the politicians and planners of Beijing look at their city and situation they're in and realise that, just as in European cities, the motor car is a transport solution that simply doesn't scale. Beijing is currently a smog filled mess of traffic jams, crashes, and illegally parked cars on every available bit of land. But the construction of new roads is slowing in favour of massive expansion of the metro system, the city has been forced to restrict car use and vehicular accesses, and the rapid fall of the status of the bicycle may even be slowing.