Roads Were Not Built For Cars Cyclists were 1st to push for good roads & were pioneers of motoring Sun, 16 Aug 2015 17:35:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “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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Velo Cult talk, 28th June Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:11:32 +0000 Portlandbanner

Portland’s über-cool bike shop Velo Cult will be hosting me for a talk on SUNDAY 28th June.

Entry is free and is unticketed so just turn up. After the talk a select number of books will be available for sale.

1969 NE 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR

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Why does the Monaco Grand Prix organiser have a bicycle in its logo? Thu, 21 May 2015 14:31:29 +0000 Monaco2015sThis weekend sees the annual staging of the Monaco grand Prix, one of motor-racing’s blue riband events. This is organised by the Automobile Club de Monaco. Before it was an automobile club it was a bicycle club, one of many motoring organisations which sprang from the world of cycling.

After Vatican City, Monaco is the smallest country in the world and is nestled on the French Riviera, close to Nice. Since its Monte Carlo casino opened in 1863 it has been a magnet for high-society and well-to-do ne’er do wells. Novelist W. Somerset Maugham said it was “a sunny place for shady people.” It has been independent on-and-off for more than 800 years, a fortress home for the Grimaldi Royal family. Since 1911’s staging of the first Monte Carlo rally the principality has been closely associated with motorsport, with the Automobile Club de Monaco organising some of the world’s most important motor races, including the Monaco Grand Prix, first staged in 1929. But take a look at today’s logo of the Automobile Club de Monaco – as well as a steering wheel and the fusily argent and gules, i.e., the Grimaldi family’s trademark red and white diamond pattern, there’s a bicycle.


The Automobile Club de Monaco was founded in August 1890 as the Sport Velocipédique de la Principauté – the principality’s bicycling club. It was a social and athletic club for Monaco’s leading citizens, including friends of the royal family. At the request of the government the new club dropped the Principauté part of the name and became Sport Vélocipédique Monégasque, or S.V.M. His Serene Highness H.S.H. Prince Albert 1st of Monaco became honorary president of the club on September 27th, 1905.

When its rich members took to the new sport of motoring the S.V.M. morphed into a motoring and cycling club (Prince Albert was a motorist, not a cyclist). In 1907 the S.V.M. added “automobile” to its name becoming the S.A.V.M., or Sport Automobile et Vélocipédique Monégasque. (The modern club logo features the initials S.V.M., not S.A.V.M.)

Club president Alexandre Noghès, a wealthy friend of the royal family and in charge of the principality’s tobacco trade, created the glamorous Monte Carlo car rally in 1911. Fittingly, the first event was won by a former racing cyclist, Henri Rougier.


The Monaco Grand Prix was founded by Alexandre’s son, Anthony. It was staged in 1929 by the Automobile Club de Monaco, which had dropped the cycling part of its name in 1925. Anthony Noghès was “an accomplished sportsman, including boxing, rowing … and cycling,” remembered his son, Gilles, a one-time UN Ambassador for Monaco. “As a young man he lived in Bath … and took part in bicycle racing there.” One of the corners on the grand prix circuit is named for this former bicycle racer.

This is far from motorsport’s only connection to cycling – most of the world’s first motor-car racers were former cyclists and a great many race-car brands were founded by cyclists. In fact, as I relate in Roads Were Not Built For Cars and on my speaking tour, at least 67 motor-car brands have very strong connections to cycling. Cyclists were not only the first to push for Good Roads, they also created motoring, a fact Photoshopped out of history, but resurrected in my book.


Thanks to reader Denis Caraire for use of the photograph.

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