Friday, November 20, 2009

2 more tunnels up North

If you look at a map, you can't help but notice how Bukhansan cuts in two the Northern part of Seoul. The need to rethink the whole transportation system is becoming everyday more obvious, with a double boom in the Nortwestern (ie Eunpyeong New Town) and Northeastern (ie Uijeongbu / Nowon-gu / Mia-Gireum New Town...) halves.

Two more tunnels will be dug into Bukhansan by 2013, but they look like quick fixes likely to worsen the situation. And there doesn't seem to be any long term vision, any big picture.

Basically, I often compare Bukhansan with an ocean consisting of 3 parts :
=> the main green body : Bukhansan mountain itself, mostly inhabited except for the national park and temples. Seoul claims only the Southwestern half of this block, the rest being split between Uijeongbu, Yangju, and Goyang.

=> Pyeongchang-dong "island" : a valley essentially connected with the rest of the city via artificial tunnels, serpentine paths in the mountains, and the Hongjaecheon streamlet (along Segeomjeong-gil, towards Seodaemun-gu). Actually, the "sea" of Bukhan mountain stops at the Northern shore of this island : mount Bugak claims East and South, and mount Inwang closes the circle (Inwangsan Strait ?). Two "peninsulas" almost reach this island : Seongbuk-dong and Hongeun-dong, respectively from the East and from the West.

=> elsewhere, "Bukhansan ocean shores" are by no means straight lines. They also include smaller "presque-isles" (such as Ui-dong in Dobong-gu). Bukhansan buttresses push further southwards, adding complexity to the landscape (ie the Ansan "lake" beyond Inwangsan to the West, Naksan to the East).

No subway line crosses this ocean. There is an old railway running just North of the mountain in Yangju (Seoul suburban line - 서울교외선 - was built in the early 60s), but nothing until you reach Subway line 3, over 15 km below. Yeongchang inhabitants rely only on unprotected bus lines for public transportation.

Namsan also needs some fixing but there, the equation looks much more simple : considerably smaller, but also more central after Hanyang grew into Seoul (absorbing Yongsan in the process), that mountain is relatively well covered and criscrossed by several tunnels providing direct connections with the South of Han river (via Hannam Bridge, Banpo Bridge...). In 2000-2001, Subway line 6 filled a major gap in the city map by wrapping the Southern side of the mountain.

Over the past 40 years, the only strategy for Bukhansan area has been digging tunnels for cars :

- First came the Sajik Tunnel, in May 1967. Seoul's first tunnel ever prolonged the Royal T* towards Seodaemun and solved part of the Inwangsan problem. It was upgraded in 1980, one year after the completion of Geumhwa Tunnel. Cutting through mount Ansan, that one prolonged the road to Yonsei University.

- Samcheong Tunnel was completed in December 1970, connecting Samcheong-dong (Jongno-gu) with Seongbuk-dong (then Dongdaemun-gu, now Seongbuk-gu). But it must have been the other way round : the elite living in Seongbuk-dong heights obviously needed a shortcut to join downtown and the center of power without passing by Hyehwa rotary.

- A few months later (August 1971), the much longer Bugak Tunnel connected Pyeongchang island / valley with Jeongneung-dong, Seongbuk-gu. On the other side of this tunnel upgraded in December 1991, Segeomjeong-gil, Pyeonchang-dong's main road, becomes Jeongneung-gil, which leads to the main N/S axis East of Bukhansan : Dongsomunno, named Miaro here and Dobongno upper to the North.

- In December 1980, Gugi Tunnel completed Bukhansan's first East-West axis as it made the junction between Eunpyeong-gu (Bulgwang-dong) and "Pyeongchang island" (Gugi-dong) : now Jiheungno road goes all the way from the same Segeomjeong-gil to Dongilro, the biggest road West of Bukhansan, which becomes Euijuro as it nears city center.

- In August 1986, Jahamun Tunnel doubled the link between the island and downtown, this time West of the Gyeongbokgung, between Cheongun-dong and Buam-dong and next to the old gate. Pyeongchang island appears now more clearly as a part of Jongno-gu. But even if it's much bigger than Samcheongdong-gil, Jahamun-gil is already pouring too much traffic into Gwanghwamun Station area... and one of the new tunnels will bring even more cars there...

- A second West-East axis was built in 1999, this time without any stop in Pyeongchang : the Naebu Expressway (내부순환고속도로) simply crosses this area from Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu to Jeongneung-dong, right below the Bugak Tunnel exit. Most of the journey is in Hongjimun Tunnel and Jeongneung Tunnel, with just, between them, a short outdoor section overlooking the Hongjaecheon streamlet in Pyeongchang-dong (no exit, no entry).

- Sapaesan Tunnel was inaugurated in December 2007 with the Uijeongbu-Songchu / Ilsan section of the Seoul Ring Expressway (서울외곽순환고속도로, also known as Expressway 100 or Seoul Beltway). This 4 km long hole in the Northest part of Bukhansan (not even in Seoul city) was postponed after fierce resistance from local monks who wanted to preserve the soul of the mountain.

So what we have right now is basically a square covering one tenth of Seoul superficies but totally void of subway, and drawn by 4 axis facing saturation :

- North : while Segeomjeong-gil, Pyeongchang's main street, tends to look like a highway in Greater L.A., Naebu Expressway commutes flocks of cars across Seoul very much like the infamous Cheonggyecheon elevated highway used to... but at least it's hiding most of the time in this area.
- West : Dongilro-Uijuro is totally clogged now that Eunpyeong New Town massively welcomes its inhabitants.
- East : similar verdict for Dongsomunno after the completion of Mia-Gireum New Town.
- South : Yulgokno is almost constantly blocked, Sajikno starts "enjoying" the Eunpyeong effect, and each crossroad screams for traffic saturation (Anguk Station, Gyeongbokgung Station, Samcheong-dong-gil, Wonnam-dong Sagori, Ihwa Sagori).

Now here are the two newcomers, to be inaugurated on December 2013 :

=> Pyeongchang Tunnel : 4 lanes, 2.32 km. Toll : KRW 1,000.
Between the main Pyeongchang's main crossroad, Shinyong-dong Samgori (which should then become Sagori), and Seongbuk-dong-gil, the main street leading to Dongseomunno at Hansung University Station (Subway line 4). It somehow prolongs Gogi Tunnel and will prevent Pyeongchang inhabitants from being disturbed by Northwesterners who just want to go Southeast. But overall, more traffic will land on Dongsomunno.

=> Eunpyeongsae-gil : 4 lanes, 5.72 km. Toll : KRW 1,100.
Northwest to Southeast between Dongilro in Eunpyeong-gu (about halfway between Gubapal and Yeongsinnae stations - Subway line 3) and Jahamun-gil... more traffic ahead for Jahamun Tunnel ! Bonus, two interchanges : Yeonsin IC at Yeonsinno, and Bulgwang IC near Bulgwang Station (Lines 3 and 6). Here, the main motivation seems to relieve traffic from saturated Dongilro. Only the Ministry of Environment opposes these environmental unfriendly projects. Otherwise, nobody cares if it exports the mess in a National Park and a supposedly protected area.
Eunpyeong-gu definitely needs more connections with the rest of the city, but the priority for a forward looking city should be to develop public transportation, and deter people from using their cars in already saturated areas.

I mean come on : Seoul is digging tunnels #10 and #11, and not one of them has ever been for a subway or a railway ! It's as if the mind frame was set on 1960s and 1970s instead of the new millenium : more people ? build more roads, sell more cars ! and don't bother with medium / long term consequences !

This totally contradicts Seoul's efforts to develop tourism and international attractiveness : downtown is not supposed to become again an environmental nightmare and a communication failure.

New technologies make tunnelling much easier and cheaper : multiply subway lines and bury the cars ! Build underground beltways, get rid of commuting traffic clogging and polluting without any reason the city center**, destroy those ugly elevated highways ! Gangnam (not the gu but the Southern half of Seoul) is building an underground expressway system. How about Gangbuk ? How about a new, sustainable masterplan for public transportation ?

Can anyone please stop this nonsense ?

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time"
** I don't think the future tunnel under royal palaces (see "
Jongmyo - Changdeokgung reunited") is considered as something else as an underground section of Yulgokno but typically, it could become one of many entry or exit points for a new inner ring.

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