Resurrecting the Forgotten Bike Highways of 1930s Britain

Cycleway near Dorking, Surrey.
Cycleway near Dorking, Surrey. Courtesy of Carlton Reid

In the 1930s, Britain’s Ministry of Transport built an extensive network of bike highways around the country—at least 280 miles of paved, protected infrastructure dedicated to cyclists alone. For decades, it was entirely forgotten—overgrown and overlooked—so much so that no one seems to remember that these lanes had existed at all.

“There’s all this infrastructure, it’s been there for 80 years, and nobody knows what it was,” says Carlton Reid, author of the forthcoming book Bike Boom. Reid, who’s been a cycling journalist and historian for 30 years, rediscovered the network while researching his book. Now he’s teaming up with an urban planner to reveal the full extent of Britain’s historic cycleways.

Before starting research on the book, Reid knew of the existence of a handful of ‘30s-era bike lanes. But when he started studying the decade’s road-building policies, he found archival maps showing that as new arterial roads were built, they all had cycleways installed beside them. “Every one I looked at showed that there were cycleways built,” he said. “It was clear that there were far more than anyone had understood.”

A 1930s cycling sign.
A 1930s cycling sign. Courtesy of Carlton Reid

These bike highways were nine feet wide and surfaced in concrete, and they ran along major roads for miles. According to Reid’s research, the Ministry of Transport was inspired by newspaper reports of similar lanes in the Netherlands and contacted the Rijkswaterstaat, its Dutch counterpart. The head engineer of the Rijkswaterstaat sent the Brits “these incredible exploded diagrams of how they built cycleways next to the road and the railways and how they separated the traffic,” says Reid. “The Brits, in effect, were ‘going Dutch,’” decades before that phrase became a mantra among cycling enthusiasts who long for infrastructure as good as Amsterdam’s.

In the 1930s, cycling in Britain was at its peak, and cyclists far outnumbered motorists. As in America, it was British cyclists who first pushed the government to build smoothly paved roads between cities. Those roads, though, were catnip to motorists, too, and “motorists, if they wanted to use their cars and go fast … clearly had to get cyclists off the road.” These bike highways were intended in part to separate cyclists from the main rush of traffic and clear the way for drivers.

Building the...

Another California Water Crisis

It’s no secret that a vast amount of American infrastructure is in great need of upgrades, repairs or replacements. The repairs that are desperately needed will come, and they will come in one of two ways. Either proactive repairs can be made when problems are first discovered, or repairs can be made at considerably greater cost after catastrophic failures have occurred. As was the case with the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, we often pay in lives as well. Part of the problem is that infrastructure isn’t very exciting or newsworthy to many people outside of the civil engineering community which leads to complacency and apathy. As a result, it’s likely that you may not have heard about the latest struggle currently playing out in California even though it involves the largest dam in the United States and its potential failure.

Surprisingly enough, the largest dam in the US isn’t the famous Hoover Dam but the Oroville Dam at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At 235 meters, it is almost 15 meters taller than the Hoover Dam. It can store over four cubic kilometers of water but whether or not it will keep storing that water into the future is currently under question. In February of this year during a flood control operation damage was observed on the dam’s spillway where a massive hole had formed which only got larger as the dam was forced to continue releasing water. The hole quickly grew, and the floodwaters eroded much of the lower half of the spillway embankment, forming a canyon.

Spillway damage as seen on 2/27/17 [via

The greater threat to the dam itself wasn’t simply the damage to the main spillway, but the use of the dam’s emergency spillway. It was used for the first time after the main spillway had to be shut down, but once the water started flowing, the amount of erosion behind the emergency spillway was much higher than anticipated. It was thought at one point that the erosion might undermine the strength of the dam itself which would have let loose a 9-meter-high wall of water down the Feather River, destroying many communities in its path. An evacuation order was issued for residents of the area during these series of events, but luckily the main spillway stabilized (although heavily damaged) and was able to allow Lake Oroville to drain enough to alleviate concerns of a total dam failure. The snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada isn’t finished yet, however, so the dam and the engineers working on it aren’t quite out of the woods.

As of…

Roundup Of Cloud Computing Forecasts, 2017

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The City Of Atlanta Will Now Pick Up Its Trash Using An App From Tech Startup Rubicon Global

Cloud platforms are enabling new, complex business models and orchestrating more globally-based integration networks in 2017 than many analyst and advisory firms predicted. Combined with Cloud Services adoption increasing in the mid-tier and small & medium businesses (SMB), leading researchers including Forrester are adjusting their forecasts upward. The best check of any forecast is revenue. Amazon’s latest quarterly results released two days ago show Amazon Web Services (AWS) attained 43% year-over-year growth, contributing 10% of consolidated revenue and 89% of consolidated operating income.

Additional key takeaways from the roundup include the following:

  • Wikibon is predicting enterprise cloud spending is growing at a 16% compound annual growth (CAGR) run rate between 2016 and 2026. The research firm also predicts that by 2022, Amazon Web Services (AWS) will reach $43B in revenue, and be 8.2% of all cloud spending. Source: Wikibon report preview: How big can Amazon Web Services get?
Wikibon Worldwide Enterprise IT Projection By Vendor Revenue

Wikibon Worldwide Enterprise IT Projection By Vendor Revenue

Rapid Growth of Cloud Computing, 2015–2020

Rapid Growth of Cloud Computing, 2015–2020

Worldwide Public Cloud Services Forecast (Millions of Dollars)
Gartner Says Worldwide Public Cloud Services Market to Grow 18 Percent in 2017

Worldwide Public Cloud Services Forecast (Millions of Dollars)

  • By the end of 2018, spending on IT-as-a-Service for data centers, software and services will be $547B. Deloitte Global predicts that procurement of IT technologies will accelerate in the next 2.5 years from $361B to $547B. At this pace, IT-as-a-Service will represent more than half of IT spending by the 2021/2022 timeframe. Source: Deloitte Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions, 2017 (PDF, 80 pp., no opt-in).
Deloitte IT-as-a-Service Forecast

Deloitte IT-as-a-Service Forecast

  • Total spending on IT infrastructure products (server, enterprise storage, and Ethernet switches) for deployment in cloud environments will increase 15.3% year over year in 2017 to $41.7B. IDC predicts that public cloud data centers will account for the majority of this spending ( 60.5%) while off-premises private cloud environments will represent 14.9% of spending. On-premises private clouds will account for 62.3% of spending on private cloud IT infrastructure and will grow 13.1% year over year in 2017. Source: Spending on IT Infrastructure for Public Cloud Deployments Will Return to Double-Digit Growth in 2017, According to IDC.
Worldwide Cloud IT Infrastructure Market Forecast
Worldwide Cloud IT Infrastructure Market Forecast

Worldwide Cloud IT Infrastructure Market Forecast

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) adoption is predicted to be the fastest-growing sector of cloud platforms according to KPMG, growing from 32% in 2017 to 56% adoption in 2020. Results from the 2016 Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey indicate that cloud adoption is now mainstream and accelerating as enterprises shift data-intensive operations to the cloud. Source: Journey to the Cloud, The Creative CIO Agenda, KPMG (PDF, no opt-in, 14 pp.)

The Case for Preserving the 20th Century Tollbooth

Tollbooth in New Harmony, Indiana.
Tollbooth in New Harmony, Indiana. Library of Congress/LC-DIG-highsm-04189

Massachusetts is destroying its toll plazas. By the end of this year, every single one on the Massachusetts Turnpike will have been demolished. Drivers will still pay to use the road—they will zoom through the metal arches of electronic tolling infrastructure—but the routine of slowing down, stopping to grab a ticket, and waiting for the barrier to rise will be gone.

Massachusetts is being more aggressive than most places about sweeping away its old tolling infrastructure, but all across the country, from New York to Florida, Texas to California, road authorities are switching to all-electronic tolling. While it’s too soon to declare the tollbooth dead, it’s easy to imagine a future in which roads are unencumbered by boxy plazas and simple gates.

If toll plazas are an endangered species of infrastructure, though, no one seems worried. Most of the time, when familiar landscapes are altered, people who have become accustomed to them kick up a fuss. But in this case there’s little love lost. When toll plazas are gone, will anyone miss them? Will future generations think ours shortsighted for letting this piece of history be demolished? Is there anything about tollbooths worth preserving?

A toll house on the National Road.
A toll house on the National Road.

It’s not that Americans are entirely lacking in nostalgia for toll-collection infrastructure. Along the historic roads of the United States, it’s possible to find toll houses dating back to the 1830s. “Especially when you go to the 19th century, there’s more interest in the toll houses than the road itself,” says Paul Daniel Marriott, who specializes in preservation planning for historic roads. The original toll houses of the National Road, for instance, were built by the federal government before it handed over operation of the country’s first major artery—from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois—to the states. Each toll house had a hexagonal second floor with windows on all six sides, so the toll keeper could look up and down the road for travelers.

But it’s rare for preservationists to pay attention to more modern toll structures. A representative of the Society for Commercial Archaeology, which is devoted to preserving motels, neon signs, and other aspects of the 20th century’s “commercial landscape,” asked around but could find no member who’d done any work on tollbooths. In fact, there may have been only one major preservation effort to save a 20th century toll plaza—a 1988 campaign to save the tollbooths of Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway.

The Merritt Parkway.
The Merritt Parkway. Library of Congress

As high-speed roads go, the Merritt is extraordinary pleasant, a leafy, tree-heavy drive that meanders under dozens of bridges, each with a unique design. The parkway, which was completed in 1940, was meant to be more than “another highway catering to the burgeoning commuter population,” writes Bruce Radde in The Merritt Parkway. “It was lauded by design professionals and critics for its excellent engineering, it respect for the natural environment, and its inherent beauty.”

The tollbooths were added to the parkway before its second half was finished, and were designed by George Dunkelberger, who was also responsible for the road’s iconic bridges. The booths looked like log cabins that might not be out of place…