Beijing is one of the very few cities to possess multiple ring roads (or beltways). Among the rarest seen anywhere in a major city in the world is Beijing's 2nd Ring Road, which is extremely central to Tian'anmen, the centre of Beijing.
Currently, there is the lack of a 1st Ring Road. In 1924s, around half a dozen routes were established in Beijing for the first tram lines of the city. In addition to different numbers, different tram lines were also further distinguished from each other by the unique color of the signs at the stops for each line. Number 4 line with white signs at stops traveled on a route that had a ring shape: It ran clockwise through Tiananmen - Xidan - Xisi - Pinganli - Dianmen - Gulou - Jiaodaokou - Beixinqiao - Dongsi - Dongdan - Tiananmen, with a total length of 17 kilometers. This route was known as the “Ring Road” (环形路). After the tramlines were removed in the 1950s, this name lost its meaning as it was simply a collection of surface streets (in contrast, each of the other ring roads today is a single expressway). Most maps in Beijing do not actually show the 1st Ring Road as such; only very few maps give a faint yellow highlight of a possible variant of it. However, the original name remained to be used later for other ring roads constructed decades later.
The notion of "1st Ring Road" briefly reappeared after the end of the Cultural Revolution, during which the original names of the roads described above were changed to names with strong political propaganda meaning that eulogized and advocated the ideologies of the Cultural Revolution, and when the political turmoil had ended, the names obviously had to be changed again. One suggestion was to completely rename those roads as "1st Ring Road" to symbolize the new start in the era of reform, as well as to reflect the willingness of China to embrace modernness and globalization, but this suggestion was quickly turned down because most people favored the original names of the roads and believed in their historical meaning and cultural heritage, and more importantly, they felt that returning the original names also had more symbolic meaning of denouncing Cultural Revolution. Therefore, the original names of the roads were adopted once again, and the phrase "1st Ring Road" is seldom heard again.
Actually Beijing's first ring road, the 2nd Ring Road was built in the 1980s and expanded in the 1990s. It now forms a rectangular loop around central Beijing, an area that is roughly equivalent to the old city, which includes the four precincts: Dongcheng Qu (Eastern Urban Precinct), Xicheng Qu (Western Urban Precinct), Xuanwu Precinct and Chongwen Precinct. Its four sections begin at Xizhimen, Dongzhimen, Caihuying and Zuo'anmen.
The 2nd Ring Road passes through very central parts of Beijing, and is directly above the Beijing Railway Station. Prices of real estate inside the ring road are considerably higher than other parts of town (for very obvious reasons!).
The 3rd Ring Road was built in the 1980s and completed in the 1990s. It also is central, as it passes through Beijing's CBD and diplomatic communities. It is the ring road closest to the city to be directly interlinked with expressways -- the Airport Expressway, the Jingcheng Expressway (link under construction), the Badaling Expressway, the Jingshi Expressway, the Jingkai Expressway, and the Jingjintang Expressway.
The 4th Ring Road was completed in 2001, around 8km from the center of Beijing. It connects the less central parts of Beijing and navigates through Zhongguancun technology hub, western Beijing, Fengtai District/Precinct, and eastern Beijing. The Jingshen Expressway and the Jingtong Expressway (as of Dawangqiao) begin from the 4th Ring Road.
The 4th Ring Road, along with other ring roads, now have a few locations where "fake" police lights (red and blue in colour) light up at night. Drivers are too easily fooled into thinking that the police is out in force. This indirectly forces drivers to slow down, while also scaring the daylights out of them. The "fake" lights are always after a speed trap. The best way to avoid falling into this trap altogether is to drive according to the speed limits -- not faster, not slower.
This ring road is further distant (around 10 km) from central Beijing, and links the suburban areas of Huantie, Shigezhuang, Dingfuzhuang and Ciqu. It also passes through the Beijing Development Area. It navigates through very barren land in the south before heading west toward the Fragrant Hills.
Due to its proximity to future Olympic venues, it has been nicknamed the "Olympic Avenue".
At present the most remote ring road from central Beijing (around 15 - 20 km), the 6th Ring Road was built in the 2000s and has just recently been completed. 130 km of expressway between the interchanges with Badaling Expressway and Jingshi Expressway, running clockwise, are open to the general motoring traffic. It is the only ring road to be interlinked with the equally remote Jingha Expressway.
Existent only in the minds of urban projectors, it is likely that Beijing's 7th Ring Road will be built as the city's first expressway ring road which transcends the boundaries of Beijing municipality.
The size of such a 7th Ring Road, exceeding the city limits of Beijing, would actually link very distant districts and townships and expand into the neighboring provinces and cities. In essence, this wouldn't be Beijing's 7th Ring Road, but the region's "7th Ring Road".
Sources say that with the creation of a 7th Ring Road, a third airport for Beijing won't be too far away.
In 2004, the central government approved a new plan for Beijing which disposed of the idea of a 7th Ring Road.
The ring-like sprawl of Beijing has prompted many to consider whether an 8th Ring Road or even a 9th Ring Road will be built. At present, no such plans are on the drawing board.
Views are mixed on the potential construction of such ring roads, with some voices coming out against it. Many fear that the incessant "ringing" of Beijing won't actually solve Beijing's population and traffic problems, and advocate a satellite-town method instead.
There also exist many connection routes between the ring roads. The ones listed below are all expressways or express routes. Travel on these routes is often surprisingly smooth, as there are no traffic lights on them.
11 routes are under construction as of 2004 .
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