Book Review: On Roads

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In People & Media

On Roads book cover
On Roads book cover

I bought this interesting book after flicking through it in the bookshop. It is a mixture of a history and social commentary on the modern road network in the UK. It takes us from the enthusiastic building of the first stretches of motorway in the UK to the present day. Starting with the British Government’s boost that it would build 1000 miles of motorway in ten years; it did; through the building of motorway service stations; intersection junction designs; the explosion of travel lodges and finally to the disenchantment with motorways and the protest marches against new road schemes.


Along the way the author takes time to explain that the UK’s road numbering system is based on the French one, discusses the ecological benefits of motorways (which act as linear nature reserves), he pays tribute to the lonely Irish navvy that built many of the roads, and identifies the long term impact motorways had on everyone in the UK. They allowed quick access around the long and thin island that is the UK. Even the freight company Eddie Stobart gets an interesting mention. I had no idea that the original truck drivers had to wear a shirt and tie when driving, and that some were even sacked for removing them on the job.

Long forgotten arguments about road sign design and disagreements over the different abbreviations of place names to fit on these signs are resurrected. There was even an argument for two years about the type of font to be used in the signs.

But Mr. Moran is also quick to point out that despite later huge public protests about road schemes the secondary impact of these schemes have never really been debated by architects, planners or the public. For example he refers to the fact that there was a massive public row over the small extension to the National Gallery in London, but not a whisper about the millions of square meters of shed space built by the logistics industry beside motorway routes.

All in all it is a fascinating book, packed with facts and stories about the modern British road system from a very knowledgeable author. It was especially interesting reading it from an Irish perspective, as the main Irish motorway system has only recently been completed, whereas the UK more or less completed their’s in the 1970’s.

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