Roads Were Not Built For Cars Cyclists were 1st to push for good roads & were pioneers of motoring Wed, 06 Apr 2016 18:38:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Driving on pavements is illegal but parking on them isn’t, confirms Britain’s top traffic cop Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:32:26 +0000 beatles-abbey-road

Five years after the taking of this famous photograph of a car parked on the pavement (sorry about those blokes blocking the view of the VW Beetle) it was made an offence for motorists for park on footways. But only in London. In the rest of the UK – well, except for Exeter – it is not an offence.

But it is an offence to drive on a footway. Bizarrely, the fact a car is parked on a footway is no proof it was driven there – it could have been dropped on the footway by a crane, for instance.

Mind boggled? It gets worse. The offence of driving on a footway dates from 1835, before motor cars were invented. The 1835 Highway Act was extended to cycles in 1888. Since then it has been an offence to cycle on a footway, and cyclists today are routinely fined for “riding on the pavement”. Yet the police turn a blind eye to motorists guilty of breaking the same 1835 law. And this blind eye is official, as revealed by Britain’s top traffic cop in a parliamentary committee earlier this month. Superintendent Paul Keasey is chair of the National Road Policing Intelligence Forum and told the Transport Select Committee that parking “half on the pavement” was a problem but “it is not for the police to enforce that.”

Optimistically, Superintendent Keasey added: “It is the responsibility of the driver to act in a caring, sharing and thoughtful manner.”

While stressing that tackling pavement parking would be a “very worthy activity to undertake” Superintendent Keasey admitted that a chronic shortage of police officers meant it wasn’t a crime that would be tackled. “It would be very hard for the police to take on additional responsibility at the moment when you look at the volume of work that we do,” he said. “When you look at how we disrupt criminality and tackle the criminal element, and you add that workload on, it would be hard to see how we could divert officers to [prevent pavement parking].”

It may be troubling for a senior police officer to admit to pick-n-mix policing but it’s not hard to see why this choice has been made: pavement parking is not deemed to be a crime by most motorists. In fact, pavement parking is socially acceptable. Parking with two-wheels-on-the-footway is seen as a courtesy to other motorists i.e. not blocking the highway. However, the footway is also part of the highway (defined as building to building, not “the road”).

Motorists have been footway-parking since at least 1902. [Automobile magazine]

Motorists have been footway-parking since at least 1902. [Automobile magazine]

Simon Hoare MP is trying to change the perception of pavement parking. His Pavement Parking (Protection of Vulnerable Pedestrians) Bill 2015-16, is due to be debated in the House of Commons on 4th December. It’ll be talked out as have many previous attempts to rationalise Britain’s pavement driving/parking laws.

With neither police nor traffic wardens much fussed about large items of private property causing obstructions on the public highway most enforcement of pavement parking, if any, is carried out by local authorities. They have control over decriminalised civil parking enforcement under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004.

With local authorities being squeezed by national government there’s little cash to pay for enforcement officers.

Let’s go back to 1835. The offence back then was “driving” on the footway, mostly driving – i.e. herding – animals on the footway. While all other parts of the 1835 Highway Act have been either amended or repealed, clause 72 remains in force. It’s a juicy one:

“If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers; or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway; or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon.”

The key phrase is “carriage of any description”. This is a cover-all that is still in force. Motor cars were classed as carriages in the 1903 Motor Car Act; bicycles were so classified in 1888. The operators of bicycles and cars have the same road rights, that is, being able to pass and repass over the public highway. Stopping for any length of time is a grey area, with a mishmash of laws, and parking of a carriage is also caught up in a swirl of conflicting legislation.

Wilkinson’s Road Traffic Offences, the standard online textbook, explains about the driving and cycling carry throughs from the 1835 Act, but it’s silent on pavement parking:

Under the Highways Act 1835, s.72, it is an offence wilfully to ride or drive on the footway, even though the driving may last only for a few seconds (McArthur v Jack 1950 S.C.(J.) 29). The offence will apply to pedal and motor cyclists.

Section 72 of the Highways Act 1835 is used in the current Highway Code. Rule 145 states:

“You MUST NOT drive on or over a pavement, footpath or bridleway except to gain lawful access to property, or in the case of an emergency.”

Again, parking isn’t mentioned in the same breath. It’s that pesky crane defence at work again.


A police officer may have “reasonable grounds” to believe that a pavement-parked motorist had driven on the footway but it would be up to the courts to decide whether a driver was telling the truth should he or she claim the car was placed on the sidewalk with the use of a crane. However, unlike for a speeding offence a police officer has no power, in relation to driving on the footway, to insist that the keeper of a vehicle tells of who was driving at any particular time. This particular quirk of the law could be remedied by politicians in an instant, but MPs – despite many promises – have over the years repeatedly failed to give the police this simple expedient.

Now, back to that crane. If there was one knocking around the police officer should use it to lift cars off the pavement, ship them off to the pound and charge motorists for the process. Then perhaps pavements could be freed of private property obstructing the public highway.

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Full and free – Chapter 11 – AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN TRANSPORT NETWORK Sat, 21 Nov 2015 18:09:24 +0000 Here’s the Chapter Eleven from Roads Were Not Built For Cars. Every word has been retained from the paid-for book but the illustrations have been replaced with adverts. The print, Kindle and iPad versions of the book are now widely available thanks to Island Press of Washington, D.C.

In due course the full book will be placed online for free, via click-flicky And by “due course” I mean “eventually” because I’m always kind of busy.

There have been other chapters placed online already, including SPEED, WHO OWNS THE ROADS, and PIONEERS.

And here’s Chapter Six:

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Will today’s motorways suffer a similar fate to the railway lines that are now rail-trails? Tue, 03 Nov 2015 18:08:06 +0000 Lydden

Last night I gave a book talk in Canterbury at the AGM of Spokes, the cycle campaign group of East Kent. I stayed with my sister overnight – she and her family live in Temple Ewell, a bypassed village on the former A2 between Dover and London. Cycling back to Canterbury for my train this morning I rode on a long stretch of the former A2 – it’s a ghost dual carriageway. Even though I was riding along it in the early morning rush hour there were hardly any cars on it, and no trucks whatsoever. There are other bypassed dual carriageways like this in the UK. Many could be put on “road diets” without any detrimental effect on local motor traffic flows – one lane for cars, another lane repurposed with pedestrian and cycling infrastructure perhaps? This reminded me of a passage from Roads Were Not Built For Cars, where I imagined a future when motorways had become heritage attractions thanks to becoming outdated. Here’s the extract …


That things change is a given. The motorways of today – so incredibly vital that billions must be spent on new ones at every opportunity – may suffer a similar fate to the railway lines that are now rail-trails. We’ve built ourselves a motor-centric society and we can only imagine a slightly different future: more roads, dotted with faster, sleeker motor cars, perhaps powered with electricity but still car-shaped. 18th-century folk thought canals would last for ever. 19th-century folk thought the same about turnpikes, and then trains. “People of to-day … were born in a railway world, and they expect to die in one,” said H. G. Wells in 1901.[1]

When the use of stagecoaches tailed off thanks to competition from railways, Britain’s expensive turnpikes went through a period of “desuetude and disrepair.” Roads were considered outdated, no longer needed. The only future imagined was of steel rails and steam trains. Victorian towns and cities were eviscerated to incorporate the transport mode of the future. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of progress. In the 1890s, no policymakers, no bureaucrats, no planners, no government ministers had any inkling that the “railway age” was but a blip, and that towns and cities so ripped apart by the unstoppable train would be ripped apart again by the seemingly insignificant motor car. MPs and ministers were influenced mainly by railway interests until well into the 1920s. Motor cars came to dominate our lives not by design but by stealth. Few predicted the motor car’s eventual dominance and it’s reasonable to assume that the same inability to accurately predict the future afflicts us, too.


There could come a time when motor cars are perceived as historically quaint, like steam trains. Holidaymakers of the future may go on “motorway heritage” day trips, wallowing in the nostalgia of journeying on preserved sections of Britain’s dismantled motorway network.[2] This is unthinkable now, but history teaches us that transport modes don’t just evolve, but can flip, and usually in the most unexpected ways. Google is banking on “driverless cars” becoming the next disruptive transport technology but extrapolation is a poor predictor of the future, and removing the driver may not be as disruptive as Google thinks. Removing the car would be the real disrupter, and some cities are thinking of doing just that – Helsinki has plans to phase out use of the private motor car by 2025, and the writing is on the wall when the head of roads and transport policy at Britain’s Automobile Association believes that cars will “become redundant in cities,” something that’s already “happening organically” because cars “cannot be fully enjoyed or used to potential.”[3]

While some governments are banking on roads becoming busier and busier – and thanks to no drivers, safer and safer – this might not happen. The next transport technology could be something we’ve never even thought of, or not thought of for a very long time.

Should 1950s science fiction become science fact in the 2020s, with capsules on rails shooting us from A-to-B in the blink of an eye, roads – even ones made from solar panels – may once again fall into “desuetude and disrepair,” where a traveller on a British main road could, like Charles Edward Montague in the early 1900s, hear only the “multifarious buzz of grasshoppers, flies, bees and the rest … swelling insistently towards the dry roar of Dog-day noons.”[4]

Montague, the long-time chief leader writer of The Guardian, was writing in 1924 about an early 1900s solo cycle ride from Manchester to London, on the formerly busy Holyhead road, “all untarred in that age.” He wasn’t a “scorcher,” or even a tourer. His 19-hour journey was done for the hell of it. (He was a mountaineer, not a cyclist).[5]

You certainly see most when you walk, but you cannot walk to London in a day, and one unbroken day’s view of the whole stretch of road was the object. By car the thing would be easy, but then travel by car is only semi-travel, verging on the demi-semi-travel that you get in trains. You must feel a road with your muscles, as well as see it, before even your eyes can get a full sense of it.[6]

When Montague recounted his tale in the 1920s, the idea of being able to undertake a quiet and peaceful bicycle journey on what had become one of Britain’s major trunk roads must have seemed a lifetime away. In just 25 years a previously quiet road had been transformed into a maelstrom of motors. Montague’s early-1900s ride had been over the “brutal white … macadam dust” of Telford’s great turnpike road built atop the Roman Watling Street. By 1924, the Holyhead road had become the anodyne A5. Motorists, the men from “the ministry” decided, had no need of history – they were in a hurry and needed codenames for “their” roads, not those cumbersome, romantic names. Roads were modernised overnight not with asphalt but with a number and the letter A.[7] On April Fool’s Day, 1923, the Ministry of Transport finally listened to Rees Jeffreys, and classified the Great North Road as the A1, the Dover Road as the A2, the Portsmouth Road as the A3 and so on, naming English roads via “spokes” radiating out from London.[8]

“The face of any old road,” wrote Montague, “is as visibly filled with expression and lined with experience as any old man’s.” That was still the case in 1924, despite the road re-naming exercise, and it remained so for about another 30 years. Motorways – when the letter A was joined by the letter “M” – changed all that, transforming roads with personalities into you-could-be-anywhere motor-centric roads. Yet for all the modernist concrete bridges, standardised blue signs and four or more lanes demarcated with disfiguring thermoplastic paint, much of Britain’s motorway network, started in the late 1950s, is, to those who care to recognise it, ancient. A great many stretches of motorways were built over the top of turnpikes – which, in their turn, had levelled out the *agger* road lips thrown up on the orders of centurions.
Not that the Romans should be given automatic top billing as the progenitors of the British road network. Celtic chariots suggest that Britons had hard roads before Roman times, and neolithic pathways lie beneath many of today’s trunk roads. These pathways may have kinked and dog-legged but this was often due to ancient obstructions – even something as temporary as a fallen tree – rather than the drunken meanderings of the ancient Britons, as imagined by G. K. Chesterton’s famous 1914 poem:

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road,
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.[9]

It was the Romans who put British roads on the map.[10] Roman roads were also statements of intent, built as fast lines of communication. Just as motorways proclaim “these roads are for motors,” or – and it’s really much the same thing – “here be dragons,” Romans proclaimed that their roads were for soldiers, and only gradually did they become roads for more peaceful purposes.


Roman roads can be considered the third major phase in British road history, with transhumance being the first. As in America, animals created the first British roads, at first by themselves in natural seasonal migrations, and later as livestock when the ancient Britons moved their beasts between winter and summer pastures. At roughly the same time, high-level trading routes were also created, above the marshes, on ridges, over hill and dale.

On these early British roads it’s likely that survival was more important than speed. The Romans accelerated road transport. Speed, however, is relative. A Roman legion was expected to march the ten miles between military camps in three and a half hours, at a speed of just under three miles per hour, with the one-mile-per-hour oxen-pulled baggage trains trailing in much later. If required, soldiers could march at twice this speed and complete 20 to 30 miles in a day. Once protected and developed, the Roman road network allowed for even greater speed. There would be a rest-house – or *mansio* – every 15 to 18 miles, which is a good indication of how far a pedestrian or a rider could be expected to travel in a day. (In exceptional circumstances impressive distances could be accomplished on Rome’s European roads. In 9 B.C., the future emperor Tiberius was able to ride almost 200 miles across Germany in 24 hours to join his dying brother, Nero Claudius Drusus).

The Roman road system in Britain eventually extended for 6,500 miles, and many of these roads – or, at least, their routes – are still in use today. It’s usually believed that, following the end of Roman rule in Britain by 410 A. D., Roman roads quickly fell out of use once they were no longer maintained, but this is not the case. In a book published in 2014, archaeologist Mike Bishop echoes other scholars when he states that Britain’s Roman roads were crucial to later English history, “try to find a medieval battle that is not near one,” he suggests. “When Richard III allegedly offered his kingdom for a horse, it was beside a Roman road.”[11] Dr. Bishop believes the Roman legacy is “still clear in the building of 18th century military roads and in the development of the modern road network.”[12]

While many of Britain’s “modern” roads – especially the main ones – follow the alignments of known Roman highways, many stretches of Roman road have yet to be discovered. As well as using aerial surveys, ground-penetrating radar or extrapolations from known Roman alignments, there’s a sweet-smelling way of spotting a hidden Roman road: follow the flowers. Roman soldiers would accidentally deposit seeds as they trudged. Linear accumulations of invasive species such as greater celandine, corn cockle, cotton thistle, scarlet pimpernel, white mustard and the field woundwort, all flowers used by Roman soldiers, can suggest the proximity of a long-forgotten Roman road.[13] Blackthorn hedges, too, can hide Roman roads beneath them.



[1] Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought, H. G. Wells, 1901.

[2] BBC News Online’s April fool spoof in 2006 was: “M45 to be listed as heritage road.” “The transport secretary said “The M45 is a valuable part of our heritage, and it is right that it is preserved in its original state for future generations.” As part of the process of designating the motorway as a heritage road, it will, in future, enjoy the same level of protection as a grade 2 listed building.

It is planned that all signs will be replaced with 1950s style motorway signage, and the modern motorway phones will be rehoused in the 1950s style blue cabinets. The motorway will be patrolled by 1950s style police cars.The designation will also mean that vehicles built after 1970 will not be permitted to use the road.”

Many people fell for the spoof. In The Railway Magazine, April, 2014, Will Adams imagined “motorway heritage” trips would take place in 2065: “One by one, the nation’s lesser-used motorways, dual-carriageways and bypasses began to be abandoned.

“In 2063, Dr Dickon Sandling was appointed by the Government to look into the state of Britain’s motorways, and what followed was the infamous ’Sandling Report.’

“Sandling’s report recommended closure of hundreds of miles of unnecessary motorways, thus saving millions in maintenance and policing alone. Unprofitable service facilities were to be withdrawn and thousands of acres of land made available for more productive uses.

“Roadside closure signs were duly posted and the last traffic used the M45 at the end of March 2065.

“Happily, a group of local people were intent on saving the route, which, although heavily overgrown, was complete with original bridges, designed by Owen Williams. A meeting was held in a pub in Thurlaston as soon as the closure was announced and the Thurlaston and Rugby Motorway Acquisition Committee (TARMAC) was established with the aim of keeping the road open and restoring the London-bound carriageway, thus becoming Britain’s first privately operated ‘heritage’ motorway.

“A fortnight after the handover, a motorists’ gala weekend was held and several dozen car-owners turned up to savour the delights of an almost empty motorway once more.

“Today, the M45 is a thriving heritage concern, with special events to attract tourists and enthusiasts. A popular event is the annual Tailback Weekend, featuring the cones and flashing yellow lights we remember so fondly from our childhood. Lane closures are re-created and drivers crawl along in period cars and buses, with volunteers dressed as roadworkers…” Via.

[3] Helsinki is planning for a car-free future, informed by a thesis by transportation engineer Sonja Heikkilä. “A car is no longer a status symbol for young people,” Heikkilä told the Helsinki Times. “The future resident of Helsinki will not own a car,” Helsinki Times, July 4th, 2014. The Finnish capital plans to transform its public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point “mobility on demand” system. Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy at the Automobile Association, was speaking in an online debate about car-free cities.

[4] Solar Roadway panels were introduced in 2006 and went viral in 2014.
Elevated railway systems are 1880s technology but can always be updated and sold as “new”. The SkyTrans system from Israel/California has been knocking around for six or so years and still gets regular news exposure despite its rather obvious capacity problems.


skyTran’s computer-controlled, 2-person vehicles can accommodate much of the world’s commuting population within a smaller footprint and for less than other mass transit systems. Because skyTran is built as an expandable grid, it will never be filled to capacity. As the demand grows, more track can be installed and additional vehicles can be added the network.

Riders are transported very rapidly with skyTran. The stream of skyTran vehicles never stops moving as traffic jams are unheard of on the skyTran network. The computer-controlled system provides optimal spacing of the skyTran vehicles.

There are no schedules to follow or lines to wait in with skyTran. While all other forms of mass transit are governed by schedules, skyTran is truly on-demand.

The skyTran vehicles are cost-effective for both a single occupancy (which accounts for 75% of US commuters), or for those wishing to travel with a partner. For larger groups desiring to commute to their destination together, multiple skyTran vehicles can zip along in a computer-linked caravan, meaning the entire family of vehicles is never separated. The parents can ride in comfort in the lead vehicle relaxing to music and a panoramic view while the kids are trailing behind in a separate vehicle playing video games.

Legacy mass transportation systems (such as trains and light rail) require massive infrastructures, high energy demands, and costly, complex vehicles. These cumbersome systems cost hundreds of times more than skyTran to build, maintain, and operate. Even freeways are dozens of times more expensive per mile to construct than the simple skyTran tracks which can be installed alongside existing roadways and walkways with minimal interruption to communities, businesses, and property.

Unlike the eyesore of legacy rail systems with their massive steel and concrete frameworks, or freeways with their gigantic concrete footprints, skyTran uses small, lightweight poles and narrow, low-profile guideways that can be installed alongside sidewalks, over local shops, and even go into and out of buildings.

[5] Charles Edward Montague worked for the *Manchester Guardian* for thirty-five years, becoming second in command to editor and eventual owner, Charles Prestwich Scott. Montague was married to C.P. Scott’s only daughter, Madeline. When Scott was an MP, from 1895 to 1906, Montague was editor in all but name. Montague didn’t give a date for his Manchester to London bike ride but it’s presumed to be in 1900 or thereabouts. Montague was the father of Evelyn Aubrey Montague, the Olympic athlete and journalist depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. C.P. Scott was more of a cyclist than Montague. Journalist Kingsley Martin wrote: “At the age of eighty [C.P. Scott] still rode his bicycle through the muddy and dangerous streets of Manchester, swaying between the tramlines, with white hair and whiskers floating in the breeze, equally oblivious of rain and traffic.”

[6] The Right Place: A Book of Pleasures, C. E. Montague, Chatto & Windus, London, 1924.

[7] From 1921 onwards, UK roads were classified as either A or B roads. For funding purposes they were also classified as either class 1 or class 2 roads: class 1 roads got a larger grant from central government and it was therefore entirely predictable that some roads that shouldn’t have been classified as major were so labelled.

[8] Many of Britain’s A roads – and motorways – use the same or similar alignments as Roman roads. The Romans knew each main road as “iter”, with a number attached: such as Iter II or Iter VI.

[9] The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.”
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

G. K. Chesterton

[10] Or, more accurately, an itinerary of road names. The Iter Britanniarum is the British section of the Antonini Itinerarium, a register of the stations and distances along the roads of the Roman empire.

[11] Roman road Margary 57b.

[12] Roman Roads in Britain and their impact on Military History, M. C. Bishop, Pen & Sword Military, 2014.

[13] The motorway achievement: The British motorway system; visualisation, policy and administration, Telford, 2004. Forget all notions of Ben Hur-style chariots, Rome’s roads were for swiftly marching feet not wheels. In towns and cities Roman vehicles (they didn’t pivot at the axle, making for lengthy turns) were banned from the roads during the day time. Or that’s been the belief since 1733, when a Roman legal document was found in a southern Italian town that appeared to show that all commercial traffic was excluded from Rome during daylight hours. The Lex Julia Municipalis said:

…no one shall drive a wagon along the streets of Rome or along those streets in the suburbs where there is continuous housing after sunrise or before the tenth hour of the day, except whatever will be proper for the transportation and the importation of material for building temples of the immortal gods, or for public works, or for removing from the city rubbish from those buildings for whose demolition public contracts have been let. For these purposes permission shall be granted by this law to specified persons to drive wagons for the reasons stated.⁠

However, according to the latest research, it’s now believed that Rome – and probably other cities in the empire, too – was far from being a pedestrian city during the day. The Latin word used for “wheeled transport”, *plostrum*, has long been translated as “wagon” but Alan Kaiser, a specialist in Roman carts, believes the word refers specifically to a large “utilitarian ox-cart, intended for transporting heavy loads.” Lex Julia Municipalis didn’t ban all wheeled transport, just the heaviest and most lumbering.⁠ Ancient Roman Statutes, Johnson, Coleman-Norton & Bourne, Austin, 1961.

“Cart Traffic Flow in Pompeii and Rome,” Alan Kaiser, Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space, edited by Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome, November, 2011.

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Historic locations look ugly cluttered with cars but beware of Disneyfication Sat, 24 Oct 2015 13:28:09 +0000 William_Shakespeare_-Birthplace_-England-8

Henley Street in Stratford upon Avon has been fully pedestrianised since 1997. The council got rid of cars because Henley Street – once one of Stratford’s first and most major thoroughfares – is the town’s honeypot, location of the building where William Shakespeare was born and lived until he moved to London as an adult. Up until the 1990s visitors to Shakespeare’s birthplace could park their cars right outside. (Tourist coaches could do the same.) For historical and aesthetic reasons, this wasn’t ideal but what was put in its place separated the building from why it was located there in the first place – and that was being on a busy road. Henley Street is now traffic-free, and far more attractive for pedestrians, but a great deal of historical context has been lost in the process.

This is not to say pedestrianising Henley Street was a bad idea. In fact, it was a great idea, and for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death next year a whole load more of the town ought to be pedestrianised. Many of the roads adjoining Henley Street are choked with motor traffic because they are broad and straight (broad and straight because they were created for weekly markets) and would benefit from being put on “road diets”.


But pedestrianisation has to be done carefully because when it’s done to extremes – as on Henley Street – it risks changing the character of a street to its detriment. Roads Were Not Built For Cars waxes lyrical about how most roads were originally built by and for pedestrians, and how they were created to be conduits for passage, carriage, commerce and play. By limiting their function today, by sanitising them, we’re often guilty of the Disneyfication of streets, a problem explored by sociologist Sharon Zukin in her 1996 book, The Cultures of Cities.

Because it has been shorn of its function as a building fronting a busy street Shakespeare’s birthplace now resembles a Harry Potter film stage.

In the medieval period Henley Street would have been dominated by pedestrians but there would have also been hand-carts and a few horse- or oxen-drawn carriages, too. It’s good for pedestrians to dominate today but not to be the sole users of Henley Street. Getting rid of the kerbs, even if they are largely an innovation introduced in the 18th century, was probably a mistake. Kerbs don’t just demarcate and separate they channel; water mainly.

The patterned paving, while pretty, adds to the feeling that Henley Street is a theme park, a shopping mall without a roof.

There has to be a happy medium. For sure streets need to be designed for people before motors – and I’m very much in favour of keeping cars away from city centres – but a great many British pedestrianisation schemes are too anodyne, with life largely designed out. I’m not advocating for cars to be brought back into Henley Street – or any other historic British streets – but it would be better if it and they looked like, well, streets.

I recognise this isn’t always easy, and even today’s clutter – such as trees in plant pots and seating – had their equivalents in days gone by, such as water troughs and middle-of-the-street urinals.

And, as Rosalind Readhead says, there’s often little need to change the road surface, the key change is to remove the cars.

Leicester cathedral

A city which is having to face up to such challenges is Leicester which was once up there with other English medieval cities, such as York, Durham or Lincoln. Leicester has a great many Grade 1 listed buildings and, with the Jewry Wall, one of the tallest still-standing Roman structures in Britain. But in the 1960s Leicester’s history was smothered in tarmac and blocked off with concrete in order to placate King Car. Leicester became unremarkable, an East Midlands city far from the tourist trail.

KRIII visitor centre

All of this changed three years ago when a real king was dug up from beneath a council car park. Leicester is now using King Richard III – a favourite of Shakespeare, of course – to push for cycleways and more pedestrianisation in the city centre, trimming some of the space previously devoted to motor cars. There’s a new Richard-themed walking route linking many of Leicester’s medieval buildings, some of which had been obscured by multi-lane highways since the motor-myopic 1960s but, thanks to highway removal schemes, are now accessible again.

Pleasingly, some of the city’s latest pedestrian-priority routes look a little more medieval, unlike some of the blanket pedestrian zones created in the 1960s.


I’ve got a piece on Leicester in the Cities section of The Guardian – it may be published next week. The last time I was in Stratford upon Avon I put my pizzle on the line.

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London’s new Embankment cycleway used to be a tram route Wed, 21 Oct 2015 19:55:39 +0000 Embankmenttram

In different eras Britain’s roads have been dominated by pedestrians, waggons, bicycles, trams, omnibuses and – latterly – motor vehicles. Researching the past shows us that things change. The hegemony of the car is taken for granted today, but it isn’t a given. Nothing is set in stone (or tarmac). The urban highways of the future don’t have to be dominated by motorised vehicles. Motor-centrism was one of the defining aspects of the 20th century but finite space, climate change, whole-population health, and air quality issues mean that engineers will increasingly have to design for more people-centric towns and cities.

Now, in some cities, re-imagining who and what roads are for could mean the reintroduction of the tram (it’s already happened in Manchester, which was the first city to rip out its tramlines to cater for the car) but it will be far easier and cheaper to design for the bicycle, and for pedestrians. This is what London decided to do, and the protected cycleway and wider sidewalks on the Embankment, close to the Houses of Parliament, are shining examples of how to cater for non-motorised transport.

Thames Embankment, 1897

Thames Embankment, 1897

Naturally, there has been much chatter about the traffic delays caused by the construction of the wide Embankment cycleway. Yet, how many of those complaining about the reimagining of the Embankment realise it wasn’t designed for motor cars and that sixty years ago the Embankment was dominated by trams? At first there were horse-drawn trams, later there were electric trams. Each was opposed by motor interests. An 1898 editorial in the The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal opined:

ThamesEmbankment1908“There are certain districts and streets in which certain types of vehicles are suitable, but the Thames Embankment is not, we submit, the place for horse tramcars. To disfigure the most magnificent boulevard in Great Britain, if not in Europe, by the hideous, obsolete, horse-drawn street car is an absolute outrage upon the community.

“Every one, with any sense of the beauty attaching to noble structures situated amid scenes of considerable natural beauty, will, we are sure, agree with us in our contention. Why should we make one of our very few handsome thoroughfares…depressingly ugly? Rather let us beautify where we can; our streets need it badly enough. The reason for this attempted desecration of the Embankment is merely ‘to give facilities to the teeming population of South London to reach their employment in town.’ This is…no justification for the aesthetic outrage complained of. The only vehicles, in our opinion, which should be permitted to use the Embankment, or which can use it without jarring upon one’s sense of the fitness of things, are high-class motor-carriages, pair-horse carriages, private cabs, and cycles; all other vehicles constitute an eyesore and are an offence.”

Central London's tramlines, via

Central London’s tramlines, via

The Embankment’s wide carriageways and generous sidewalks were a happy side-effect of the installation of a wide-bore sewer which, among other benefits, reduced the stench from the Thames, a long-running complaint from the occupants in the nearby Houses of Parliament. It may have been built in the 1860s as a covering for much of London’s crap, but the Embankment was laid out as a posh boulevard, with access restricted to high-class carriages and, later, bicycles.

Walthamstow's now has a Mini-Holland bicycle scheme – it used to be a major node on London's tram network, as the signs on this extant building attest.

Walthamstow now has a Mini-Holland public realm improvement scheme – it used to be a major node on London’s tram network, as the signs on this extant building attest.

By the early 1900s the road was reimagined again, with steel rails laid for trams. These lasted for about sixty years. During “Last Tram Week” in July 1952 Londoners took their final tram rides, including on the well-used service which ran on the Embankment. The death throes of London’s trams were captured in an evocative period film, “The elephant will never forget”. This starts by showing the wooden logo-statue for the Elephant and Castle pub, and reminisces about what London had so recently lost. There are also fleeting glimpses of the tram service on the Embankment.

London’s tram lines were ripped out for a number of reasons, including deliberate under-investment, a belief that diesel motor-buses would better serve Londoners, and a desire to get trams “out of the way.” As the film suggests, many motorists believed that trams were a leading cause of congestion. “The motorist who every day cursed every time he had to stop cursed but little and looked forward to tomorrow,” said the film’s narrator, optimistically.

Trams and cyclists didn’t always mix well, and cyclists were among those championing the removal of tram lines. In a letter to the CTC Gazette in 1949 a Mr. Smallwood, referring to Birmingham’s, wrote:

“Leeds has tram tracks wide enough to allow cyclists that extra bit of scope for cutting across the lines and straightening up; but in Birmingham, there are narrow- gauge tracks and, in most places, wood setts. That makes a great deal of difference, and in wet foggy weather a cycle requires a great deal of careful handling when braking on wood blocks and crossing tram lines, though travelling in a straight line. Moreover, in wet weather, the tramlines collect water after a storm, as every car passes it splashes water on to you. I shall therefore be glad to see the tramlines removed.”



Most British cities – including my home town of Newcastle on Tyne – were once laced with tram lines. One of Newcastle’s main tram lines was on Jesmond Road, close to my home. Today, most people assume this wide, four-lane highway is an extension of the city’s 1970s motorway network and was made to this width for cars but, in fact, Jesmond Road has been this wide since it was laid out in the 1840s. This stretch of Jesmond Road is now often rammed with speeding cars and thundering HGVs, so rammed that it’s not a pleasant road to cycle on. Most who cycle to town in this direction divert on to the curving, narrower, much older Sandyford Road, a less direct route.

023541:Jesmond Road Jesmond; lantern slide; around 1910
Jesmond Road in its Edwardian heyday. The tramlines are indented with granite setts, lots of cyclists have clearly been using the macadamised strip of road. Macadam is crushed stone. Jesmond Road got its first surface of tar macadam after WW1.

From maps and photos it can be seen that Jesmond Road used to have tram lines on it. The tramlines in Newcastle were extensive and took up a fair bit of roadspace. British tram tracks were 1.4+ metres wide, copying the width popularised by local lad and world-changer George Stephenson. His ‘standard gauge’ of 4 ft 8-and-a-half inches was used on the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1826 (his North Tyneside wagonway from Killingworth colliery to the staithes at Wallsend, built in 1814, used a 4ft 8in gauge).

It’s clear from maps, plans and period photographs that there was once plenty enough road space in British cities for trams, bicycles and cars along the same roads. If that’s the case, there’s easily enough room to accommodate wide bike paths – as well as wider footpaths – alongside the main arterial roads today.

City engineers, transport planners and politicians who say there’s not enough room to install Dutch-style bike paths on British roads don’t know their history. They should go take a look at archive photos, and dig out the highway plans drawn up in the 1880s to the 1930s. The map on the left is from the 1920s and shows the tramlines along the middle of Chillingham Road in Newcastle.

On the tramways map of Newcastle, below, a planner has inked in the type of road surfaces laid beside the city’s tramlines and, when the full 1899 map is in view, the colour coding shows that the tramlines are on the main commuter routes clogged with cars today. These are the most direct routes to and from Newcastle, and without cars, they would be the routes cyclists would also choose to use. It’s these main arterial routes that would most benefit from wide, protected cycle paths.

1899 tramway map of Newcastle

1899 tramway map of Newcastle

Clearly, re-engineering some of our roads won’t be easy, but it’s been done many times before, as the photographs below demonstrate.

016358:Laying of electric tram lines Neville Street Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown 1901
Laying of electric tram lines outside Central Station, Neville Street, 1901

Neville Street - Grainger Street junction
Neville Street, Grainger Street junction, c. 1901

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If they’re good enough there’s no need for compulsion to use bike paths Tue, 20 Oct 2015 08:39:21 +0000 “If the paths are by any miracle to be made of such width and quality as to be equal to our present road system, it would not be necessary to pass any laws to compel cyclists to use them; the cyclists would use them.”

From testimony given to the parliamentary Alness committee by George Herbert Stancer, secretary of the CTC Cyclists’ Touring Club, 1938.

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Newcastle’s Nürburgring: my part in its downfall Fri, 16 Oct 2015 20:37:20 +0000

Jesmond Dene, a steep-sided wooded valley and park less than a mile from the centre of Newcastle, has a leafy, winding road running on the edge of its western side. Because, in parts, it hangs over the edge of the park Newcastle City Council feared it could be sued should a motorist overshoot and end up falling into the valley. To prevent this happening the council released plans earlier this year to “protect” motorists with a motorway-style barrier. Jesmond Dene Road would be made one way. Earlier plans for allowing cyclists to ride both ways on this beautiful road close to my home were dropped.


I, with others, feared the addition of ARMCO barriers and the lack of two-way traffic would send out the message that Jesmond Dene Road was to be treated as even more of a motorists’ race track than it had been for some years. I used Photoshop to create an image that showed what Jesmond Dene Road would look like should it become “armoured”. I sent a press release from the Friends of Jesmond Dene warning that installing a motorway barrier would make Jesmond Dene Road into “Newcastle’s Nürburgring”, a reference to the public road in Germany that is also a genuine race-track. This press release made it into the local newspaper.

Along with Sally Watson of Newcycling and a number of other people, including a biographer of Lord Armstrong (who had gifted the Dene, his “garden”, to the people of Newcastle in 1883), an email- and letter-writing campaign was wheeled out aiming to impress on Newcastle City Council that making Jesmond Dene Road into a racetrack for motorists, and neglecting the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, was very much not welcome.

Wonderfully, it has now been confirmed that our campaign has succeeded. Jesmond Dene Road will become permeable to cyclists and pedestrians only, motorists will not be allowed to drive along its full length. An email from the council’s planning department said: “[There would be] no vehicular traffic on [the] street, making it a more pleasant environment.” This would result in “improved safety for pedestrians who will be able to use the full width of the road” and the “proposal will accommodate two-way cycling”. Naturally, the council’s email added that “there will be no need for a safety barrier to be installed.”

Success! The little under a mile long Jesmond Dene Road will become a quiet and safe-from-motor-traffic thoroughfare. Now, isn’t this unfair to motorists? It would be if there were not lots of alternative roads. The handful of residents on the road will still be able to access their properties in cars but use of the full length of the road will no longer be permitted. (The road “closure” is to be an 18-month trial and can, in theory, be reversed. Why the quotation marks? The road isn’t closed – it’s still open to everybody, just don’t bring cars, vans or trucks.)


UPDATE (16th March 2016): Some time earlier today works were carried out to prevent motorists accessing Jesmond Dene Road. I didn’t know the works were taking place, I just discovered the “filtered permeability” posts when I went out to pick up my daughter this evening. It was wonderful to ride along the road knowing there would be no cars coming along the other way. This made me very happy.

Roads are for people, not just for people in motor cars. A chapter in Roads Were Not Built For Cars explores this topic in depth. The full text of the chapter – WHO OWNS ROADS? – can be found on this clicky-flicky embed.

I’ve also included some of the chapter below. It’s sub-titled: “Roads belong to all and need to be shared by all. However, there’s a long history of some road users believing they have priority over others.” The book is available in a number of formats and in plenty of retail outlets.



Belief in road “ownership” – even if it’s just the few metres in front and behind the road user – leads to disagreements, but probably what many motorists and cyclists would agree on is that roads are thoroughfares for travel.

The right to use the public highway applied to all highways, which today translates into the freedom for British motorists to drive their motor vehicles on almost all roads, not just the ones designed for their exclusive use, the motorways. In Germany (and the Netherlands) it’s far easier for planners to separate different road users because there is a greater appreciation that these users will have different needs, concerns and desires. Dutch planners can and do designate some roads as more important for motor-vehicle use and others as more important for cyclists, or for the exclusive use of pedestrians. Dutch motorists are prevented, or mightily discouraged with design, from using those roads that have been designated as important routes for other users. In Britain, the ancient and much-cherished freedom of *people* to use roads – any and all roads – has led to a system where motorists “rat run” on minor roads despite adjacent arterial roads. While some British motorists argue that cyclists ought to stick to cycle paths (of which there are but few), they would find it perverse to be restricted only to motorways and arterials.

The British affection for queuing has resulted in a strongly held belief in first-come first-served but different rules apply on the roads – the British system of affording road users the “freedom” to travel howsoever they choose results in the heaviest, fastest and widest users creating their own priority.


The lawful movement on the British highway was, in the main, not movement on wheels. People walked, or rode on horseback, or took to waterways.

While all classes of traveller had equal rights on the highway, that didn’t stop complaints about those felt to be – literally – “in the way.” Describing the “wayes, which are so grossly foul and bad,” Thomas Mace, one of the clerks of Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote that passage along the Great North Road in the time of Charles II was often slowed by “innumerable controversies, quarrellings, and disturbances” caused by packhorse trains. The truck drivers of their day, blocking the road, were felt to be a nuisance, with Mace claiming, rather unfairly, that “disturbances, daily committed by uncivil, refractory, and rude Russian-like rake-shames, in contesting for the way, too often proved mortal, and certainly were of very bad consequences to many.” Naturally, Mace, as an important traveller – the BMW driver of his day – felt these lowly “whifflers” ought to step aside:

No man should be pestered by giving the way … to hundreds of pack-horses, panniers, whifflers, coaches, waggons, wains, carts, or whatsoever others, which continually are very grievous to weary and loaden travellers; but more especially near the city and upon a market day, when, a man having travelled a long and tedious journey … shall sometimes be compelled to cross out of his way twenty times in one mile’s riding, by the irregularity and peevish crossness of such-like whifflers and market women; yea, although their panniers be clearly empty, they will stoutly contend for the way with weary travellers, be they never so many, or almost of what quality soever.

Mace clearly believed his “important business” gave him superior rights on the road but, as the packhorse train had might on its side – just like today’s trucks – he had to wait until the horses went on their merry way:

I have often known many travellers, and myself very often, to have been necessitated to stand stock still behind a standing cart or waggon, on most beastly and unsufferable deep wet wayes, to the great endangering of our horses, and neglect of important business: nor durst we adventure to stirr (for most imminent danger of those deep rutts, and unreasonable ridges) till it has pleased Mister Garter to jog on, which we have taken very kindly.


With the road surface improvements of Metcalfe, Telford and McAdam – discussed in chapter 7 – roads began to be adapted for wheels, not wheels adapted for the roads. This was a radical change. Pedestrians, despite being the majority users of British roads, were pushed to the margins; they were slower and softer, and deemed inferior. Naturally, pedestrians didn’t take kindly to this marginalisation, this bullying out of their “birthright.”


British cyclists and motorists have the same “easement-like” rights as pedestrians and equestrians – the right to “pass and repass” over public highways, such as roads. This is the right of “passage”. There’s also a right of “carriage” – in other words the right to carry something while travelling. Up until late in the 19th century the word “carriage” meant the act of carrying and had nothing to do with a wheeled vehicle.

Unless prohibited by law, operators of vehicles (cyclists, in law, operate vehicles) are on British roads “by right,” not “by permission.”

“Rights of way” – the freedom to use public highways in Britain without let or hindrance – are considered “birthrights,” and are held dear, partly because they are ancient, with the first English law text on the public use of the king’s roads produced in the 12th century. In the 13th century Henry de Bracton wrote that the king’s highway was “sacred” and that anyone who obstructed it “made an encroachment on the King himself.” In 1757, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, highlighting the birthrights of those using the king’s highway, referred back to a judgement of 1468: “The King has nothing but passage for himself and his people, but the freehold and all profits belong to the owner of the soil.”

In other words, landowners own the soil below the “right of way” – in fact, quite a way below: ownership is down to the centre of the earth – but not a lot can stop folks exercising their king-given rights to passage over that soil.


Roads were not built for cars. Nor were they built for bicycles. They were not built for sulkies, or steam engines, or any form of wheeled vehicle. Roads were not built for horses, either. Roads were built for pedestrians. H. G. Wells pointed this out, from an urban perspective, in 1901: “The streets of all the mediæval towns, were not intended for any sort of wheeled traffic at all – [they] were designed primarily … for pedestrians.” (Most medieval historians would dispute this, stating that towns and cities relied on the goods transported hither and thither by small carts).

Wells highlighted the previous importance of pedestrians in order to make the point he felt they would not hold sway for much longer. A former leisure cyclist and, by 1901, an enthusiastic motorist, Wells predicted a future where the motor car would hold sway. As usual, he was ahead of his time. In 1901, the debate about the future of the street, of the road, had hardly begun. And by the time the debate was in full swing, motorists had already annexed – by speed and power – the great majority of roads, and some motorists were clamouring for “motor only” roads, too, either by imposing restrictions on who should now be allowed to use Britain’s “ordinary” roads, or promoting new-builds.


William Joynson-Hicks, chairman of the Motor Union and a Tory MP, feared motoring would wither and die if, perchance, motor cars were allowed only on those roads set aside for their use. “I am totally and entirely opposed to taking the motorist and placing him on the heights of fame with a special road to himself,” he worried in 1909. “Once allow us to be put on separate roads and there will be an increasing outcry to keep us to those roads and to forbid us access to the ordinary roads of the country.”

Some years before this there had been parliamentary discussions about restricting the use of motor cars on the roads of Britain but, even before the majority of MPs were motorised, such restrictions would have been unthinkable because it would have encroached on historically resonant highway rights. When, in 1927, there was talk of restrictions being placed on the free movement of motor cars in English cities, arch-motorist Lord Montagu of Beaulieu played the liberty card: “If I am right in my opinion that the right to use the road, that wonderful emblem of liberty, is deeply ingrained in our history and character, such action will meet with the most stubborn opposition,” he warned.

The motoring peer, who had once been a pedalling peer, perhaps did not consider that the rights of motorists to go as fast as they damn well liked might have restricted the highway rights of road users *not* in fast-moving motor cars. This “negative liberty” – or freedom from interference by other people – was expressed by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes when he wrote “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.”

One man’s freedom can be another’s oppression. Who has the right to be on the road and with what purpose and with what accompaniments? Defining rights is usually done when there’s either a threat to deny their existence, or when they come into conflict with other rights. The right of the motorist to speed conflicts with the pedestrian’s right to free passage along the road without threat of death.


Obstruction of free movement on the highway, say by speed limits imposed on motorists, may be seen by some as a loss of liberty but such restrictions lead to freedom for other users of the highway. Today, highway freedoms are not shared out equally. Society has allowed those with motors to gain more benefits from the road than those without motors. The “right of way” – the right to pass and repass along a public highway – tends to trump all other “rights,” especially when the player exercising the right of way is faster, stronger and, due to the principle of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” present in greater numbers. The historic and long-standing rights of pedestrians, cyclists and others to use the Queen’s highway no longer exist in reality, and the rights were made null and void from the early days of motoring.


While cyclists from the 1870s onwards had excited some debate about what roads were for – and who they were for (children shouldn’t be allowed to play on roads, said some cyclists, anticipating the same views from motorists twenty years later, and pedestrians ought not to “dance all over the road”) – the steady encroachment of the motor car in the early 1900s, becoming faster and more powerful month by month, led to a fundamental reappraisal of hundreds of years of highway “rights.” Motorists were in a similar position as the rich land-grabbers 200 years ago, during the long period of the English “enclosures,” when land in common use by the many, was fenced in and appropriated by the few. Access to these common lands had been restricted by the new land “owners,” and, by dint of their speed, motorists were now restricting all other road users. In effect, motorists “privatised” the road network, for the benefit of their own kind alone. Was this to be allowed to continue? What were roads for? Can a road truly be a “public highway” when only those members of the public in motor cars had comfortable access to that highway? Who *really* owned the roads?

Ownership was complex. So, too, was expected use. Roads were not merely conduits for travel – all life was lived on the roads, on the streets (the definitions of these two terms were left legally vague). The road was deemed to be public space, not private property. Children played on the road, vendors sold from the road, people met and talked on the road. The road wasn’t a fixed space, hemmed in by kerbs. Roads were fluid; they were more than just highways for “passing and re-passing,” more than just about movement.


American illustrator Joseph Pennell, famed for the European cycle tours he did with his high-society wife Elizabeth, revealed his inner road hog when, in 1902, he talked about how pedestrians now had to get out of the way of those propelled by motors (he gave up pedalling and became a motor cyclist).

The fact must be brought home to [the] imbecile at once that he has got to keep to his part of the highway, that is to the side path. The British belief that a man has the right to camp out in the middle of the road, or use it as a reading-room, because his grandfather did, must be knocked from his head, even if by sudden concussion … These are his last years, let him make the most of them … The motor is going to become the means of locomotion … It is the pedestrian and the horse that have got to give way.


The Manchester Courier reminded readers in 1902 that “carriageways”, despite the name, had not been built for the exclusive use of carriages, or other wheeled vehicles. The pedestrian must not be designed out of the equation for “the carriageway exists primarily for him …”


The idea that one sub-set of road users “owns the road” did not originate with motorists. It has an ancient history – failure to cede the “right of way” on the narrow, rutted road to Thebes in Ancient Greece was the cause of the fatal quarrel between the mother-marrying Oedipus and his father King Laius. Closer to our own day, motorists were once the underdogs – the drivers of horse-drawn hansom cabs felt the roads were theirs and wanted rid of the upstarts. In July 1896, Margate cab driver John Harlow urged on his horse to overtake one of the new-fangled motor cars, cutting in and ramming it. “The road belongs to us,” shouted the cab driver at the pioneer motorist. “If you don’t get out of the way I shall smash you up.”


In a long and detailed polemic in The Nineteenth Century magazine, barrister and early motorist Walter Bradford Woodgate argued in 1903 that British highways very much belonged to pedestrians. Motorists could use the highway by “privilege of statute” but not by “birthright,” he said. Woodgate was writing months before the introduction of driving licences, which demonstrated vividly that, in theory, such “privileges” could be removed. (This was why the motoring organisations – libertarian when it came to such things – were opposed to the introduction of driving licences, as well as compulsory insurance and speed limits).

The right of motorists to use the highway, said Woodgate, was a “pure creation of statute” and had “no independent existence at common law.” The rights were, therefore, different to those long accorded to the “pedestrian, equestrian, and driver of any vehicle that is propelled by beast or man.”

He stressed that “the non-motorist enjoys the use of the road as a birthright“ and that it “does not seem that the motorist has any similar birthright to the road.”

Woodgate was a staunch opponent of motorists who chose to use the public highway as a racetrack. He said such motorists were not desirous of A-to-B transport, but speed for speed’s sake:

The pleasure [of motorists] appears to consist mainly in the exhilaration derived from velocity, and from rapid motion from one locality to another, paramount to any appreciation of scenery en route, or of any desire for hygiene in taking the air … The deduction from this observation is that any measure for licensing higher velocity will be in effect a statutable warranty for a moneyed minority to make public highways a playground for certain new toys, and a locality for pastime.

Woodgate’s long article chastised “plutocrat” motorists and said that if Parliament favoured motorists in forthcoming legislation it would be “legislating for the classes against the masses.”

Numerous MPs had similar concerns. Going back to the debate over the Motor Car Bill of 1903 featured in chapter 1, it’s illuminating to find so many MPs fretting that motorists, given free rein on British roads, would soon monopolise them, to the detriment of all other users.

“In order that these gentlemen may enjoy their rights, we are asked to turn our country roads into railway lines,” Sir Ernest Soares, the Liberal MP for Barnstaple, complained. “We shall have to give up the use of the roads entirely to the motor fraternity.”

Sir Charles Cripps, the Tory MP for Stroud, said:

It is our birthright to have the common use of these roads, and, speaking as a countryman who lives in a district where the roads are narrow, I say without hesitation that we no longer have as our birthright the common use of these highways. We can no longer go out ourselves without danger; we are afraid to send out our children.

His suggested solution was radical: “If these motorists … are not kept in order they will have to leave our roads altogether.”

He added “in the long run the people will never submit to the intolerable nuisance which has been created.”

This point was echoed by William Burdett-Coutts, the Tory MP for Westminster, who warned: “No other class of invention in this country has ever had to rely upon conditions which sacrifice the public convenience to the privilege of the few.”

Motorists, said Burdett-Coutts, had been given a right to use the roads “which in practice they have illegally seized upon, and which, as it is utterly inconsistent with popular rights, they should be summarily deprived of.”

The concern that roads risked being monopolised by motorists was shared elsewhere. Baron Michael Pidoll, an Austrian Government official, wrote in 1912 that cars were taking over Vienna. Motorists, wrote Pidoll, thought pedestrians were “an annoying accessory of the street.” He decried that motorists believe “the purpose and function of public ways and streets begin and end with traffic.” He argued, streets were “more than mere thoroughfares. Rather, they belong to the whole layout of the city; they are the population’s site of settlement; they form the surroundings of the buildings, the milieu in which the personal, social, and economic life of the city in no small part takes place …”

Pidoll asked rhetorically, “Perhaps the public streets should be kept free of people?” and answered in the negative, arguing that allowing motorists to colonise roads went against basic rules of fairness. “From where does the car driver take the right to rule the street which does not belong to him but to everybody?”


“It will be a matter of the utmost importance to reserve for the motor-vehicle the road upon which it is to run, and to divert to other channels the animals and vehicles which may hamper it,” argued America’s *The Automobile* in 1900.[1] Pedestrians were also to be diverted away from roads. “The provision of sidewalks for pedestrians has been one of the means of preventing a congestion of the traffic of large cities,” said the magazine.

As Peter Norton has shown in his book about the erosion of pedestrians’ rights in the early 20th century, motorists didn’t monopolise the streets of American cities overnight, but had to fight to suppress the road rights of slower users, and this fight proved to be essential for the success of motoring. “The street,” said Norton, “was a place to walk, a place to play. In this traditional construction of the city street, motorists could never escape suspicion as dangerous intruders. While this perception prevailed, the motor age could not come to the American city.”

The main selling point of the car was speed, and if pedestrians (and trams and cyclists) remained on the road, cars would have to travel at the speed of the slowest user. Until the 1920s, the rights of all road users were defended by the mainstream press, the police and the judiciary.


Pedestrians were hounded from the roads of Britain, too. In 1947, the journalist J. S. Dean, head of the Pedestrians’ Association, wrote a polemic calling for an end to “road slaughter,” and an end to the view that highways were made for the exclusive use of motor cars:

The private driver is … most strongly influenced by the sense of ownership of his car, and, as he often believes, of the road as well. It is “his” car to do with as he pleases, and, as he often believes, it is “his” road too, and the other road-users are merely intruders who are there at their own peril.

He added, when else in history has humanity lived with the “foul, strange and unnatural” belief that it should be “common custom to kill and maim people because they get in your way”?


The changing nature of road “ownership” has been preserved in a series of British maps. In 1898, Messrs Bartholomew of Edinburgh stole a march on its many competitors by partnering with the most powerful road interest of the day – the Cyclists’ Touring Club and its 60,500 members. Crowd sourcing from touring cyclists enabled Bartholomew to update its maps every couple of years. In the early 1900s, the descriptions for roads remained quaint – poorly surfaced roads were labelled as “indifferent” – but then in the 1920s there was a shift in emphasis. Major through routes – routes that had very often been brought back to life by cyclists – started to be listed as “motoring roads.” Nothing had changed on the ground, but everything had changed in the minds of motorists. Roads were now “owned” by motorists. Motoring was less than 25 years old, yet the perceived interloper on the ancient roads of Britain wasn’t the motor car, but the pedestrian, the equestrian and the cyclist.

Today, in Britain, many roads are no-go areas for those without motors. Heavy, fast-moving motor traffic has been allowed to take over what are often *public* highways in name only. On A-roads and B-roads alike there’s usually precious little provision for anything other than cars and trucks. The public highway – once open to all – is now genuinely open only to those with motors. Pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists have retreated to footpaths, bridleways and (dire) cycle paths, yet these make for an indirect and incomplete network, suitable for (only some) recreation, of limited use for everyday travel. Requests to local authorities to make roads into highways usable by all, say by installing a parallel protected cycle path or a footpath, usually fall on deaf ears. The “liberty of the subject,” Britain’s supposed love of egalitarianism, worked for the early motorists when they wanted to maintain their “right of way” on the country’s ancient highways, but once roads became “motoring roads” there has been no desire from motor-besotted powers-that-be to make sure non-motorised road users regain “uninterrupted possession” of *their* “right of way” birthrights.

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Full and free – Chapter Six – WIDTH Fri, 18 Sep 2015 17:26:26 +0000 Here’s the WIDTH chapter from Roads Were Not Built For Cars. Every word has been retained from the paid-for book but the illustrations have been replaced with adverts. The print, Kindle and iPad versions of the book are now widely available thanks to Island Press of Washington, D.C.

In due course the full book will be placed online for free, via click-flicky And by “due course” I mean “eventually” because I’m kind of busy, especially with book tour talks.

There have been other chapters placed online already, including SPEED, WHO OWNS THE ROADS, and PIONEERS.

And here’s Chapter Eleven:

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“Take it easy, motorist” Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:17:30 +0000

Scoundrel Ernest Marples – the first CTC member to become minister of transport (he and his wife toured by bicycle) – officially opened the M1, Britain’s first city-to-city motorway, in November 1959. His ribbon-cutting speech was probably considered twee even at the time, and it was certainly ignored. He opined: “On this magnificent road the speed which can easily be reached is so great that senses may be numbed and judgement warped. The margin of error gets smaller as speed gets faster. New motoring techniques must be learnt. So here are my two suggested mottos: First: take it easy, motorist! And second: if in doubt, don’t!”

Don’t what? Speed? But that’s what the bally road was designed for.

And Marples knew it because it was his company that built many of Britain’s motorways and A roads. Conflict of interest much?

Ernest Marples (in white shirt)

Ernest Marples (in white shirt)

Marples, Ridgway and Partners was a Westminster-based civil engineering contractor founded, and majority-owned, by Marples, who was transport minister from 1959 to 1964. In 1975, Marples, who had by then been made a baron, fled the country in rather a hurry, not because of his hushed-up proclivity for prostitutes, his introduction of double yellow lines and traffic wardens, or the conflict of interest in building motorways at the same time as cutting Britain’s rail network (the infamous Beeching cuts were his work) but because of tax evasion. He killed off the railways and promoted, instead, the use of his motorways. As well as commissioning Beeching’s infamous report he also commissioned the Buchanan Report of 1963, one of the most influential – and damaging – reports ever printed. Civil engineer and planner Professor Colin Buchanan recommended that nothing be done at all to encourage urban cycling. Buchanan’s Traffic in Towns was used by town planners to bulldoze motorways through British cities.

Traffic in Towns wasn’t just influential in Britain. In the Netherlands – a country with a strong history of cycling, where national identity was tied up with cycling – the Buchanan report inspired town planners to reign back the car in residential streets. While in the UK Buchanan’s ideas were used to construct urban flyovers, in the Netherlands he inspired ‘residential yards’, the famous ‘woonerf’ of Niek De Boer, professor of urban planning at Delft University of Technology. Traffic engineers in the Netherlands tamed the car (and improved the bike path network); traffic engineers in the UK designed only for the car.

In car-centric Britain planners assumed that cycling was teetering on the edge of extinction, and by omission they would do all they could to hasten this demise.

Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle and – to a lesser extent – London were brutalised by planners who cherrypicked from Traffic in Towns to build only for motorists. “There [should be] an allocation of movements to pedal cycles,” wrote Professor Buchanan, projecting 47 years in the future, “but it must be admitted that it is a moot point how many cyclists there will be in 2010.”

For Buchanan, providing infrastructure for cyclists was unthinkable: “ … cyclists should not be admitted to primary networks, for obvious reasons of safety and the free flow of vehicular traffic. It would make the design of these roads far too complicated to build ‘cycle tracks’ into them … It would be very expensive, and probably impracticable, to build a completely separate system of tracks for cyclists.”

While Traffic in Towns predicted the end of transport cycling the cycle touring Ernest Marples – who had done so much to encourage motoring and therefore knew what it takes to boost a transport mode – said in 1968: “There is a great future for the bicycle if you make the conditions right. If you make them wrong there isn’t any future.”

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Salt Lake City talk, 20th June Tue, 16 Jun 2015 09:01:47 +0000 SaltLakeCity1600

Bike Utah is hosting my talk at The Impact Hub on 20th June.

Entry is free – just turn up. Books will be available for sale after the talk.

150 South State Street
Salt Lake City, UT

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