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On Roads: A Hidden History Kindle Edition
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Using the advent of the first Motorway, built just after WWII, Moran introduces the concepts of planning, forecasting, logistics and politics of road building and attendant "Black Arts" of costing (and budget overruns of course), the necessary size, color and background of lettered signs to enable them to be read at safe distances at high speeds and the revolution of changing from roman capital lettering to computer generated sans serif signage.
Quoting Betjeman and Paul Theroux the author lays out the story of development protests, tree-housing squatters and `tree huggers', and early examples of `occupying' by indignant local populations demonstrating against - and sometimes even for - the new road that they wanted built in somebody else's backyard.
A history of the palimpsest nature of roads, rarely truly `new' in Britain's cluttered history, from Romans through Napoleon to the "Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher and the series of beleaguered Ministers of Transport the human side of the road story is fascinating reading.
This book roams across innumerable road-related topics and is filled with scattered insights; for example, the author notes that criticism of service area eateries is grounded in class-based elitism, coming from people who rarely experience working-class food. Moran points out that for those whose basis of comparison is the local cafe or workplace cafeteria, the food at service plazas is quite acceptable. Or, how many Brits are aware of the origins of the road numbering system? (You mean there's actually a pattern?) The author also discusses how the notion of speed limits have evolved over time, and in a parallel manner, how attitudes toward speeding and law-breaking on highways have evolved over time. He has a keen eye for hypocrisy on the Left. For example, he notes the irony of people driving their cars to a meeting to protest a new highway, or how Liberal prime ministers have pursued Thatcher's road-building program, albeit cloaked behind progressive-sounding rhetoric.
Moran's greatest contribution is in emphasizing how ephemeral the criteria are by which we judge artificial changes to the landscape. Motorways were once regarded as objects of beauty that symbolized hope for the future, but now they are seen as scars on the countryside. It is quite possible, Moran argues, that motorways will once again be viewed as historical artifacts to be loved. Much the same has occurred to railways, as Moran points out -- once reviled for ruining the countryside, now associated with environmentalism and historical charm. Society's sense of what is aesthetically pleasing changes with each generation, and similarly, each generation has things it hyperventilates about. For example, it's hard to believe that when automobiles first became common, one of the biggest complaints was the ugliness of petrol pumps. To the people of 2020 or 2030, our current aesthetic values may appear equally out of date. After all, it wasn't that long ago that people regarded brutalist modern architecture, with its massive concrete slabs, as beautiful.