Carlton Reid’s ‘Roads were not built for cars‘ book has done blindingly well on Kickstarter, reaching 435% of its original goal by the time the campaign closed on the 20th April. This is especially impressive given Carlton has said that the book will be available as a free pdf download shortly after its formal release.
If you can’t be bothered to follow the link, the book attempts to tackle one of the common arguments put forward against providing infrastructure for cyclists:
- Roads were designed for combustion-powered vehicles, and paid for by their users.
- Catering properly for those who chose to cycle takes space away from those in big metal boxes.
- This is unfair.
Unfortunately step one is, in the main, completely untrue. Most of our road network has been hanging around for absolutely ages and was originally designed for cyclists, horses and trams. Carlton researches the role early cycling organisations played in improving the quality of the roads, and concludes that ‘motoring caught on more quickly because of the Good Roads campaigns by cyclists in the 1890s’.
How this affects Glasgow…
Glasgow has a particularly grim problem with traffic, with most of the routes in and out completely snarling up in rush hour despite also being burdened with an unpleasant series of motorways and flyovers. As a result, we are the proud owners of some of the worst air quality measurements in Europe – a delight for anyone with any form of respiratory problem.
Thinking of Calton’s statement, I hunted around for some old maps of Glasgow to see how much the transport network has been adjusted to take account of cars. The answer?
If you ignore the motorways and the new one way systems, there has been hardly any change.
Here’s an excerpt of the city centre from Captain John Bayly’s 1865 OS map of Glasgow, hosted by the University of Glasgow here. Cars first starting arriving around 1900, so this is a good 45 years ahead of that.
Now, compare and contrast, if you will, with the modern version. Here’s Glasgow in 2013:
When I first thought up this post idea I was hoping to point out some similarities. It’s much easier to just list the differences though, as so little has changed!
- Top right above Cathedral Street we’ve gained a load of tower blocks.
- Glasgow Central rail station and its accompanying rail bridge has appeared, along with a second road bridge just to the west.
- A good bit of change south of the Clyde in the Gorbals area (around the bendy Laurieston Road and to the west of Gorbals St)
For the centre of Glasgow though, that grid system of roads has remained pretty untouched. For example, here’s a picture of Buchanan Street around 1900 – note the bicycle!
You can draw your own conclusions. Personally, it tells me that unless flying cars appear in the near future, the centre of Glasgow will remain gridlocked until people give up on modes of personal transport that aren’t roughly person-sized. Glasgow’s streets were designed for pedestrians, horses, trams and cycles, and no changes to those streets have been made apart from drawing a load of one way arrows in.
Don’t expect your five metre long car to do anything apart from hold everyone else up.