City's circles cause traffic troubles
The construction of the Sixth Ring Road in Beijing is buzzing, but such an urban layout featuring "concentric circles" is under attack from critics.
Being a capital city for 800 years has left Beijing with a layout centred around the Forbidden City, a legacy of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).
With this legacy at its core, Beijing expanded concentrically over the years with ring roads after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, numbered with the Second Ring Road, the Third Ring Road till the Sixth Ring Road.
According to a report from the Beijing Municipal Communications Commission at its annual work conference, the city's notorious traffic problems arises from the course of urbanization, modernization and motorization. However, the city's layout is considered the main cause.
Beijing Traffic Management Bureau engineer Liu Qin said that most government organs, institutions and companies are centred in the small downtown area, while the borders areas beyond the third and fourth ring roads are dominated by residential buildings.
"People usually have to travel long distances from suburban areas to the downtown core for work every morning, which imposes a crushing burden on the traffic system," Liu said.
Statistics show that the 62-square-kilometre downtown area within the Second Ring Road is crowded with three business centres and one financial centre, as well as nearly 400 government buildings and institutions.
The downtown area, which covers only 12 per cent of the city's total area, undertakes nearly one-quarter of the total traffic flow. And half of the traffic flow is concentrated within the Third Ring Road, according to statistics.
Lu Huapu, head of the Academy of Traffic Studies under Tsinghua University, said that over-intensified development within a limited area has led to soaring traffic demands.
"If traffic demands surpass the maximum capacity of the traffic system in an area, congestion cannot be solved even the traffic management system is improved," Lu said.
Liu Xiaoming, vice-director of the communications commission, said that Beijing's layout has made the downtown area undertake almost all of the functions of the city, in such areas as politics, economics, culture and tourism.
"The municipal government is trying to develop more core areas in suburbs or satellite towns to share the functions concentrated in the downtown area," Liu said.
Moreover, Liu said his commission would make more efforts to build feeder roads that connect the Ring Roads.
"We have put many efforts into building the 'concentric circles' in recent years, but the construction of branch lines is lagging far behind," said Liu.
According to the latest general city layout planned for 2010, more than 70 per cent is complete of the designed rapid road system, mainly referring to the ring roads. However, only less than 40 per cent of the feeder roads have been finished.
Duan Liren, former vice-director of the traffic management bureau, said the current layout of the ring roads is closely tied with Chinese traditional customs.
"We are used to having a core for a country, a city and a family,'' Duan said. "And the Forbidden City is the core of Beijing." "We built the new city around that core, and thus the ring roads came into being."
He said that many people have complained that the expansion of Beijing is like making a pancake bigger and bigger, and the city has finally became a huge round parking lot.
"Such complaints sound reasonable. But how to link the ring roads and develop a traffic network is the urgent task for us," Duan said.
"Meanwhile, giving the development priority to public transit systems such as buses and subways is another urgent job for the city," he added.