Look at a rood map of almost any major metropolitan area and you are apt to see a pattern of concentric circles. These lines, indicating bypasses, resemble the contours of tree rings and are evidence of a similar type of growth: the growth of an urban area as it has swelled outward. Municipal authorities around the world seek to accommodate higher volumes of vehicular traffic by building what are aptly called ring roads. Because traffic engineers regard them as the obvious solution to clogged roads, such bypasses have become as ubiquitous as the trucks and automobiles they carry.
While many governments promote bypasses as an effective means of easing traffic jams citizens drives to halt them are sometimes creating policy jams. City planners in Melbourne have hit road blocks as people object to additional asphalt. Australia's Anti Ring Road Organization (ARRO) believes a new bypass would amplify road congestion in Melbourne, exacerbate pollution, and produce a sprawling car-dependent city with a dead center.
ARRO would like local municipal leaders to mirror the vision of the mayor of Hasselt, a Belgian town that has just under 70,000 residents, plus another 200,000 people commuting in and out on a daily basis. Faced with escalating debt and sluggish traffic. Hasselt's mayor abandoned plans to construct a third ring road around the town. In a related move, he also closed one of Husselt's two existing ring roads and converted it to a greenbelt with pedestrian and cycling paths. He also improved the quality and frequency of the bus service while at the same time making all rides free. According to one source, within a year the use of public transport had soared a stratospheric 800% merchants had begun to enjoy brisker business, and accidents and road casualties had declined.
Granted, Hasselt's award-winning approach to congestion and pollution will not work universally. However, as some traffic engineers now realize, bypasses can be bypassed.