Sitting in blocked traffic on the M25 the other day, my partner asked me what the world’s longest ring road was. This was a reasonable question, as I have recently started writing a commuting blog. Of course, I did not know the answer, but whipped out my phone (my partner was driving, don’t worry) and asked the internet, but the internet did not really know the answer either. So I decided to do some digging.
Firstly, these roads are technically called orbital motorways. Americans call them beltways. Secondly, while many cities have partial orbital motorways, most of them do not go all the way around, thus disqualifying them from the ‘world’s longest’ competition. Thirdly, cities on the sea shore are automatically disqualified as they cannot be encircled by roads.
In third place: London M25
When it was completed in 1986, the M25 was the world’s longest ring road at a total length of 188 km or 117 miles. It is classified as a continuous road even through it is interrupted in the East by the Dartford Crossing where it meets the river Thames. But which major city does not have a river flowing across it? Its busiest sections carry about 200,000 cars a day! It is also a so-called ‘smart motorway‘ where traffic is managed through screens that can adjust lanes and maximum speeds to optimise traffic flow.
In second place: the Berliner Ring
Currently, Europe’s longest motorway is the the Berliner Ring at a total length of 196 km or 122 miles. The ambitious building program started as early as 1936 in the build up to WWII, but was not resumed until the 1970s.
Europeans clearly love building ring roads. These include Moscow’s MKAD (109 km / 68 miles), Budapest’s M0 (108km / 67 miles) Rome’s Grande Raccordo Anulare (68 km / 42 miles) and Paris’s rather central Boulevard Peripherique (35 km / 22 miles).
So far, it looks like the Berliner Ring is a good contender. But are Europeans really leading at the ring road game?
In first place?
In 2014 the government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh declared that they would build the world’s longest ring road around their Vijayawada capital city area at a length of 180 km (112 miles). Clearly, their PR department had not heard of internet search engines.
The most definitive study so far has been conducted at the Houston-based RICE School of Architecture. Surprise, surprise, they found that the world’s longest ring road was in fact in Houston. Two RICE graduates created a rather beautiful graphic to illustrate this point.
However, this claim has been questioned on what are to me rather legitimate grounds. Primarily… the ring road is far from finished! It seems to me that the researchers at RICE were cheating. They may, however, reapply for the award once they’ve completed their motorway.
The winner is: Beijing!
Thus we are left with what is the second longest ring road according to RICE, but which appears to be the world’s longest to me: Beijing’s 6th Ring Road. Beijing has a mind-boggling 6 concentric ring roads and I know from personal experience that they are all constantly jammed. The outermost one, built in the 2000s is 220 km (140 miles) long. Fear not, however, because they are planning an even longer, 7th ring around the city.
Thus I can confirm that the world’s longest ring road is in Beijing and the final result is:
Is Longest the Best?
Of course ring roads can be classified in ways other than length. The oldest ring road is probably Vienna’s Ringstraße built in the mid 19th century, which is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most influential ring road might very well be the Washington Beltway (Interstate 495). It is 103 km (64 miles) long and it has given its name to an entire political establishment: the US federal government and it’s ancillaries in the ‘Beltway’. Excitingly, Mexico city’s Anillo Periferico is in places two stories high to accommodate the volume of traffic.
How long does it take to complete a circuit along one of these monster rings? Driving at the official speed of 70mph it would take only an hour and 40 minutes to to do so on the M25. However, that ignores roadworks, traffic jams, dawdling trucks, accidents and smart motorway speed restrictions. In 2011 an 82 year old man got lost on the M25 and drove around the motorway for 30 hours. Presumably he stopped at service stations for sustenance and a nap sometimes. More excitingly, Iain Sinclair walked along the ‘accoustic footprints’ of the M25 (not on the hard shoulder of course!) and wrote a book about his experience which was shortlisted for the Orwell prize.
Now I leave you with something to chuckle at.