How Seoul Got Rid of Traffic

A serene river flows right through the heart of Seoul. This is Cheonggyecheon. Quite simply, it is a great example of urban renewal. I came across this whilst walking around after dinner. Would you believe this used to be an expressway?

A very busy expressway that one will find in any major city. So, when the proposal was put forward to demolish the freeway and restore the almost dry Cheonggyecheon stream, it was met with strong opposition. Yes, who would have guessed.

This is the before photo!! Courtesy : City of Seoul

To be frank, I would have been skeptical as well. A proposal to remove 11 kms of a major arterial highway and replace it with a river and park? My first thought would be that the entire area would turn into a nightmare! And yet, the Korean’s went ahead with it, spending US$281 million including pumping 120,000 tons of water daily from the Han river.

Today, it is hard not to appreciate the benefits to locals and visitors. Since it’s opening more than a decade ago, the stream has introduced fish, birds and insects back into the surrounding areas. It even cools down the temperatures in summer by 2-3 degrees. And most amazing of all, traffic has actually improved! Traffic flow has actually sped up!

Some refer to this as a real life example of Braess’ paradox discovered by mathematician Dietrich Braess who found that you can actually improve traffic flow by closing existing major roads! Try explaining that to motorists today and you will be labelled a loony.

The Cheonggyecheon and its surroundings shops, restaurants and cafes are well worth a visit. And once a year, this place is transformed during the Seoul Lantern Festival with displays floating on the stream. In fact, the festival is in November and just concluded last week. Check out some spectacular photos on the Visit Seoul website.

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