The World’s Longest Ring Road

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.

Berliner Ring

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.

RICE ring roads

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.

Beijing ring road traffic

Thus I can confirm that the world’s longest ring road is in Beijing and the final result is:

world's longest ring roads

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.

Wien Vienna Ringstrasse

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.

funny picture M25

Travelling with dogs part 2

Quick update

I posted previously about my top tips for long distance car travel with dogs. Well, my anticipated top tips, because they were based on my thinking in preparation for a long car trip with two dogs.

So how did the trip actually go?

Mission accomplished

Planning the rest / walking stops were essential because there were huge delays en-route. Our planned 4 to 5 hour journey on the way out took over 8 hours! The dogs would have gone insane had we not broken this up with some breaks.

We made two stops. The first place, Twyford Wood was a good find. Very close to the A1 and easy to explore without getting muddy. It turned out to be a wood around an old World War 2 airstrip (now disused and overgrown). So after a good romp we had a picnic on the airstrip.

Twyford Wood Airstrip

Twyford Wood Airstrip

Path in Twyford Wood

Path in Twyford Wood

The second place was off the A66. We stopped at the ruin of an old Castle which was fenced in and perfect for the dogs to explore. Absolutely beautiful place.

Dogs exploring the castle

Dogs exploring the castle

Dogs scaling the castle walls

Dogs scaling the castle walls

Crazy locals

There was a downside however. At the second stop, our larger dog knocked over another dog in play, and the other dog’s owner she started screaming and waving a stick around. She then accused our dog of attacking hers and wanted to report us to the police! All the while both dogs either sat peacefully on their leads or made play bows to each other, and her dog was clearly neither harmed nor distressed. Still, you can meet such hyper-protective and aggressive dog owners everywhere now days.


How to travel with dogs

Southern are sorry to announce…

The least suprising “event” each day: “Southern are sorry to announce that…” The great words that proceed the announcement that your train service has been cancelled. Again.

I wonder if the lady who recorded that particular announcement voiceover realised how many times a day her track would be played? By now it surely must be worthy of best hits treatment. It’s certainly more familiar to me than Lady Gaga.

Given this high uncertainty, it was pretty easy to rule out taking the dogs on a long distance train journey this weekend. So instead we’ve decided to drive.

The question is, what do you do with 2 dogs on a 5+ hour car journey? My preparatory thoughts below. I’ll give you an update (if we return) on how it went.

Dog travel plan

Taking two dogs on a 5 hour car journey is new for me, so I’ve done some thinking and come up with the following ideas.

1. Plan some walking breaks a short distance from motorway exits

Stopping at motorway services for short and depressing on-lead walks around a car-park is not going to keep your canine pals happy. However with smart use of Google Maps you can scope out good walking locations easily accessible from your route. Limited detours and a good break for 4-legged and 2-legged passengers alike.

For our upcoming trip, I estimated where we would be be around lunch time and then scanned around Google Maps for green looking spots. I found an interesting looking spot using Google Maps right next to an A1 exit. Further inspection revealed this to be Twyford Wood, a Forestry Commission woodland site. We’re going to break our trip there. (Let’s hope it’s not haunted!).

2. Stop somewhere before your final destination to “unwind” your dogs

Our trip involves renting a cottage. My pooches get very excitable when they’ve been in a car for an extended period, and they are liable to zoom around, bark and act crazy on reaching their final destination. This isn’t good when task one at said final destination is to collect keys for your rented property, with the owner getting increasing worried that your crazy dogs are going to destroy their house!

So we are going to try stopping close by and running the dogs around, before loading them back into the car and doing the final short hop to the accommodation. Hopefully this will allow us to present a better behaved and less excitable pack. We are using the same Google Maps strategy to find a suitable spot.


3. Pack plenty of water

It’s summer, and dogs get hot quickly. There’s nothing worse than sitting in the back of a car panting. We’ve got a little hamster like water dispenser so they can drink directly in the back of the car. Alternatively taking a bowl and stopping periodically to refill it from a bottle is a good idea.

To take this to the extreme, you could even bring a whole paddling pool.

A dog paddling pool may be overkill!

4. Don’t argue!

Squabbling over directions is pretty common in our household. But dogs get very stressed when the pack leaders seem to be fighting. Crammed in the back for a long car journey and out of their usual environment, this could get them very anxious.

5. Don’t forget some poo bags

Whether an in-car accident (unlikely) or car-sickness (more likely), or a quick out of car emergency, you’ll want to be able to do rapid clean up. People say its best not to feed dogs large amount before travelling as many are susceptible to motion sickness. The same goes for treats while moving.

6. Bring dog toys for the trip (just not squeaky ones)

When you are flying, the airline provides movies and entertainment: so give some to your 4 legged friends too! Also worth bringing their favourite bed or blanket to help them relax.

That’s my plan!

So that’s it. I’ll let you know how it goes!  Hopefully the dog tolerate the trip, they appear sane to the people we are renting the cottage from, and everyone generally enjoys themselves!

Sink holes

The Southern sinkhole

I live near Brighton and use the UK’s worse train service, Southern, to commute to work during the week.

For Southern, cancellations and delays are just business as usual.  They recently amended their timetable, removing around 300 services, just so they wouldn’t have to cancel them every day!  Genius solution huh?

However Southern always feel the need to try and blame their delays on external factors, in the hope that their passengers won’t blame their extreme incompetence.  And they clearly put a lot of creative effort into this, often with elaborate backstories of downstream delays, signaling issues, track maintenance, ambient temperature and gremlin uprisings.

So when I heard last week that trains were cancelled due to the emergence of a Sink Hole between London Bridge and East Croydon, I initially thought this was just a wild fantasy their line controller had concocted to conceal some other screw up.

But it turns out that there was, indeed, a genuine sink hole!

Okay, so maybe there is a genuine reason for delays this time!  Apparently the sinkhole was 4 meters deep, and was caused by a sewer under the track which had collapsed.  So sounds like not only is it a sinkhole, its also a sh*thole!

Still, I’m glad it’s not me cleaning it up!

Sinkholes worldwide

So this got me thinking, what other interesting sinkholes have appeared around the world?

A youtube channel has put together a 14 minute compilation of big sinkholes emerging over the last 5 years with live-action footage, including another railway example at 4:20 in video.  These are all much bigger and nastier than our Southern Rail friend.

However the footage I found that had the best combination of being deeply shocking while also slapstick hilarious (which I feel guilty about!) is the following.  The video is from a public bus’s CCTV camera in South Korea.  A couple steps off the bus onto the pavement, and then are swallowed up by the ground beneath them.  Initially I thought this must be a hoax, but the video I link to below is from accredited news service AFP, and googling it funds numerous serious news websites (BBC, etc) covering the story.

The Zombie Apocalypse?

I was talking to my mum about this.  She’s a traditional kind of gal, and she doesn’t have a lot of time for “geology” and “science”.  For her, sinkholes are about the end-of-times and are possibly connected with an impending zombie apocalypse. It’s an interesting perspective, but probably not the main driver here.

What causes sinkholes?

Okay, time for the educational bit.  What causes sinkholes?

I’m not a geologist, but some quick research suggests that:

  • Sinkholes generally occur where water seeps through the surface and slowly dissolves soluble bedrock like limestone or chalk.
  • As small chunks of rock dissolve, naturally occurring fissures expand and create cavities.
  • The surface layer can hold firm while deep-lying holes continue to expand.
  • But eventually it does “pop”, and the surface layer collapses into the cavity created.

That’s the case for naturally forming ones.  When you have a sewage pipe that collapses, that’s a whole other kettle of cr*p!