Every day, about 1,000 new cars hit the roads of both the capitals of India and China.
To decongest the capital, Delhi is struggling to build at least half, or 135 km of the third ring road by next May.
A six-hour flight away, Beijing is struggling to make commuters stop using the six ring roads — and building the world’s biggest subway network set to surpass that of London and New York.
As both capitals grapple with a 17 million-strong population each and the problem of how to keep it moving, the message from China is that badly planned ring roads create congestion if they don’t allow easy access to public transport nodes.
“The danger is, unless you are very careful, the ring road will induce land development that will cause even greater congestion that will be harder to fix,’’ Shomik Mehndiratta, a senior transport specialist with the World Bank in Beijing, told Hindustan Times.
Beijing’s sixth ring road now slices the mountainous outskirts, but the capital’s latest problem is how to make commuters stop using these roads and ride the subway, buses or even bicycles. Since April, one-fifth of Beijing’s vehicles were ordered off the roads on weekdays in a system based on licence plate numbers.
The officials who proposed Delhi’s third ring road agree the capital needs a strong public transport system.
“The peripheral expressway alone will not help decongest Delhi, but it will definitely keep non-destined commercial vehicles away,” Noor Mohammad, member-secretary of the National Capital Region Planning Board told HT.
“Along with peripheral expressways and an orbital rail system, we need a strong public transport system so that people leave behind their private vehicles and travel by public transport,” he said.
Delhi’s metro lines are set to expand from 74 km today to 193 km by 2010 and another 112 km between 2010-15. By 2015, Beijing’s subway tracks will grow from over 200 km today to 561 km.
But just expanding the metro lines is not enough. The newly rich commuters living around Beijing’s six ring roads don’t want to park the car and sweat to work. “For most people in Beijing, the commute is not a simple matter of a subway ride with a walk at each end,” pointed out Mehndiratta. “It involves an inconvenient mix of a walk to a bus-stop, bus ride, metro ride, probably a metro transfer and a taxi/bus ride at the end.’’
Singapore, not Beijing, has the best example of a ring road, said Mehndiratta, pointing out it was one of Singapore’s last pieces of infrastructure put in place after urban development was concentrated around public transport nodes.
“Singapore first focussed on carefully aligning road and urban rail corridors and paid careful attention to urban design, to ensure that public transport was always a more convenient option than cars even for the rich,’’ he said.
Beijing did not foresee that residents living around the new ring roads would help China become the world’s biggest car market this year. New cars in Beijing will soon need 60 sq km parking space, equal to area within the second ring road. China’s capital has come full circle.