National Archives 2003-06-05

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Got up late (8.30) and had to skip breakfast, getting only a cup of tea, and actually got into the shower later than usual—9.20. But managed to get out by 9.38, get dressed etc., and make it to the rail station at a time approximating the usual.

DSIR 12/189

This contains mainly the BR series (RRL) between December 1963 and July 1964. BR is apparently a master series, and can include Laboratory Notes (LNs) containing research reports and summaries thereof. Some of the motorway-related material:

• Accidents etc on LBM • Paper by Rutley (May, 1964) on the possibility of using advisory speed signs for bends. Rutley considered several different strategies after a review of US and NZ practice: signing a specific advisory speed in MPH; altering the bend symbol on the main sign; and devising a grading system to indicate the severity of bends (one star would be a very mild bend, while five stars would be a very sharp and dangerous bend). Rutley cites results to the general effect that advisory speed signs dramatically reduce accidents. Although Rutley noted that US research had found differences of just 3 MPH in safe cornering speed between the best and worst-performing vehicles, he did not consider that this justified the provision of numerical advisory speeds on British roads because the British vehicle population was more diverse; instead Rutley suggested that a system of grading bends be tried. • Coburn on using accidents and delay to calculate COBA for GSJs on an individual basis on rural DCs (but Coburn cautions against applying the individual assessment to major corridor projects which are being considered for full GSJ, as the provision of GSJs may require a different alignment with different baseline costs). • COBA of paved hard shoulders vs grass verges. • Effect of gradient and curvature on accidents on LBM.

DSIR 12/188

This contains the previous tranche of BR research reports (February-November 1963). Some of interest:

• Jehu on glare fences and center barriers on LBM • BR 863, LN/386/FCB: “Effect of the priority rule at the New York Road roundabout in Leeds,” FC Blackmore. • Newby and Johnson on changes in accident figures on main roads neighboring the LBM. • Relative legibility of placenames and destinations on signs—apparently based on Worboys concepts since it compared relative legibility of white and yellow route numbers (there was no difference), and found that single-digit numbers could be read from 20% further away than three-digit ones.

DSIR 28/520

This is the RRL file (mostly correspondence, minutes, & drafts) about a proposal made in 1959 by Sir Harold Roxbee-Cox, to the general effect that the land acquisition costs of motorways could be avoided by putting them on viaducts 100’ high with spans of standardized length, built Meccano-fashion out of premanufactured components and innovative materials. The general idea was that the high cost of land acquisition in urban areas was a direct result of buildings on the land to be acquired (this leads to an interesting thesis: flat, sprawling suburbs in USA = indirect means of land/corridor preservation, since it raises the feasibility of acquiring residential properties for road construction?), and that the costs could consequently be avoided by building motorways OVER the buildings instead of tearing them down. (Prestressed concrete was then all the rage, but was not considered strong enough.) It was even suggested that a “design study” should be carried out into this concept simultaneously with a conventional works project in a conurbation having very high land acquisition costs, such as London. The analysis found:

• For roads in rural areas, land acquisition cost is 10% of total cost (rest is design and works). • A conventional viaduct costs 8X as much as a ground-level road (to build). A 100’ viaduct would require very long ramps or “lifts” (basically spiral ramps), with consequent very high land acquisition costs, and also possibly doubling the effective overhead width. These features would at least double the cost. (Question—it is portrayed as a stark choice between viaducts, ground-level roads, and trench freeways with sharp side slopes. Where were tunnels and MSE in this debate?) • A design study would have to be carried out in London, because if it doesn’t work in London, it’s not going to work anywhere else. But London is so densely built-up that support columns at standard spacing would hit houses etc as often as they missed them. • 1 SF cross-section columns would not work because the live load alone would be 1000 tons per SF. The maximum bearing capacity of granite was 200 tons/SF and for the typical clayey soils in London area, 4 tons/SF. As a consequence, at least 250 SF base area for each support column would be required just for the live load (750 SF was calculated based on materials then available, the extra to handle the dead load of structure and its components). This would erase some of the benefit of reduced land acquisition, especially as 250 SF is large enough to displace structures.

OA Kerensky was a big player in this debate and even shared with Glanville a drawing he had prepared in 1957, showing how a 100’ viaduct might look. Kerensky was talking about double-decking, using steel girders, three lanes each direction; basically an elevated version of the Embarcadero freeway. But Kerensky and Price (RRL representative, Bridges Section, delegated to C’ttee by Glanville) eventually agreed, as did the rest of the committee, that the engineering and financial obstacles were show-stoppers, let alone the very serious amenity objections, and the reluctance of the LCC to sponsor ANY of their schemes for a design study. (This would have cost £50,000 according to an estimate at one point.) There are hints, however, in the file that the baby (Meccano-fashion construction with standardized parts) was thrown out with the bathwater (100’ viaducts), because Price, at Glanville’s behest, suggested that the Committee should have looked at the possibility of standardized construction rather than using the technical obstacles of 100’ construction to rule out the entirety of the original Roxbee-Cox concept, but the report does not seem to have been revised to take account of the possibility of standardized construction for lower structures.

ZLIB 12/123

This is actually a book—part of the library of the British Transport Commission (?), which is now kept in the PRO: LTC Rolt, The London-Birmingham Motorway. It is a lavishly illustrated 63-page book giving details of the planning, design, and construction of the LBM, with pictures of Owen Williams, the standard bridge designs, the flood arches, the pavement, etc. and descriptions of the process for estimating/dividing the road into contracts/soliciting tenders/arranging aggregate supplies/etc. THIS BOOK MUST BE GOTTEN SOMEHOW. Not even sure it’s referenced in Charlesworth’s bibliography.

Some interesting tidbits:

• It was hard to find gravel pit owners who wanted to supply the Motorway because the volume of material required meant they would lose a lot of their profit to the taxman while risking depletion of their pits. • 100 objections were lodged to the Motorway, notwithstanding the fact that it required demolition of only five houses plus three bungalows near Luton. Owen Williams & Partners managed to clear 60 of these through persuasion, while Owen Williams and JFA Baker went to the other 40 objectors personally and explained the purpose of the scheme. All but one withdrew their objections. • Owen Williams described as “enthusiastic” and willing to handle hard work. He carried out surveys along the line of the motorway beginning in 1951, and the call to prepare an actual design for a motorway came in 1955 (JFA Baker). Tender documents were ready by 1958, when the tendering process started. Laing appears to have been the contractor on all four contracts, for a total cost of £15m (about £375m in today’s money). It appears to have been 55 miles, Luton (north of St. Albans?) to Crick; not sure whether the St Albans BP was included in the original LBM opened in November 1959. • Tenderers were asked to submit on flexible vs rigid pavement, 19 months vs 31 months construction time for all 4 contracts—hence 16 tenders had to be prepared and submitted by Laing. They were gathering information on aggregate supply etc long before the tender documents became available in 1958. At its peak the project employed 4200 people; in addition to the army of laborers there were even nurses and priests ministering to their various needs. Construction commenced start of April 1958 and ended end of July 1959 (it appears from the labor engagement bar graph). This means that Laing carried out construction of a 55-mile, dual three-lane motorway with slip roads and various bridges (134 in the 55 miles, many of which were accommodation road bridges for farmers) in a little over a year at a cost of about $500 million—an accomplishment of fantastic scale by any standard. • Rationale for the famous/infamous Owen Williams bridge design: OW was not interested in using prestressed concrete technology, believing that the higher cost of the materials and the labor and the uncertain durability of the tensioning outweighed the weight and visibility benefits. (“Ton of concrete much cheaper than a ton of steel.”) Hence Owen Williams bridges made HEAVY use of mass concrete, especially in the abutments, and on either side of flood arches.

MT 120/95

This file establishes the administrative context for corridor-based road planning. The initiative for this began in the mid-1950’s (1955-56), apparently at the initiative of Reep Lintern and supported by Harold Watkinson. The general idea was that the DREs would be asked to have their staffs prepare Trunk Road Appreciations for each of the lengths of trunk road in their area, which would take into account the present state of the road, planned future improvements, and what sorts of additional improvements might be necessary to accommodate forecast traffic needs 20 years hence. These were to be assembled by Highways General Planning Division at HQ into a “Trunk Road Master Plan” which would then be used as a planning tool for the next 20 years, much like thoroughfare plans in the USA, although the British process seems to have been considerably more centralized.

The Master Plan initiative seems to have run out of steam by 1960—one civil servant tells another in what appears to be a pawky vein, “There appears to be a recession in the Master Plan industry.” Part of the reason was that work on existing initiatives (getting pavement on the ground) reduced the staff time available, and the practice of keeping the scheme almost-secret meant lots of parliamentary questions (PQs) to answer, and problems of whether to involve the RAC/AA but not the Roads Campaign Council. Great numbers of Master Plan appreciations do not appear to have been deposited in the PRO, and it is doubtful whether the MOT received them/the scheme was carried out in full.

MT 120/96

This file actually contains most of the important material on the Master Plan/Trunk Road Appreciations. While Reep Lintern may have liaised with the Minister regarding the need for a Master Plan and Trunk Road Appreciations, it was Nigel Despicht who appears to have had overall responsibility for getting the TRAs off the ground, in 1956. A form for the TRAs was agreed, although speed data was not to be collected straight away due to continuing widespread petrol rationing, and sent off to DREs to fill out. These were then processed at HQ, consolidated to combine info collected by different DREs for different lengths of the same trunk road, and then circularised as part of the process of developing and propagating the Master Plan. Problems swiftly arose, particularly with the speed timings required, and by 1960 only 108 out of the total 162 appreciations had information ready to go (Wales in particular had not sent in complete info for 12 trunk roads contained wholly within Wales and was holding up TRAs for roads which were also in Wales. Paisley wrote a tart letter to Liptrott, DRE/Wales, on this general topic). By 1965 the paperwork flood had grown so much that it was necessary to write histories of the TRA collection effort, position papers on the pros and cons of various methods of keeping the TRA information up to date, and the consensus had developed that while the TRA information was very useful as a planning tool, the way in which it had been gathered had high start-up costs in terms of staff time at DRE level and had (to an extent) gotten in the way of project delivery, notwithstanding HQ’s permission to DRE’s to put the TRA work on hold while preparing schemes for construction.

FCO 76/580

This file is largely concerned with the UK govt’s efforts to get certified copies of the Vienna convention so they could be printed in the UK treaty series and ratified by Parliament. The FCO went to the DOE, which tried to get copies from UNECE, and it turned out that certified copies could be obtained only from UN HQ in New York (although UNECE received uncertified copies which it believed to be true). For some reason it was not considered practical to get the copies from NY. So the FCO finally agreed that uncertified copies could be reproduced under Miscellaneous Treaties; the idea of Parliamentary ratification appears to have fallen on the wayside at this point, since of course ratification could not be made using uncertified copies since various countries made reservations as they adopted the Vienna convention and these became part of the agreement, though applying only to those countries.

This is a really boring admin file. The brightest part of it is the FCO’s copy of a DOE circular, it appears Circular Roads 1/72, containing info on pre-1981 bus lane signing. The pre-1981 concept called for the following:

• Turn prohibition signs with “Except buses and coaches”/”Except buses” supplementary plates • Advance indication of curbside with-flow bus lane: “100 yds ahead [bus symbol] [cycle symbol] only” | up arrow | down arrow “2 lanes” lane designation sign, with the opposite directions separated by a dotted line, and the bus lane separated from the general-purpose lane by a solid line. BoW generally. • Indication of curbside with-flow bus lane, erected at start of restriction, repeated at every intersection thereafter: same as previous except bus, cycle etc. indications replaced by “No motor vehicles” roundel with “Except buses” supplementary plate (patched). • Pedestrian info sign, arrow + “FAST BUS LANE”. WoBl generally. • Mandatory sign indicating one-way street with contraflow bus lane: up arrow | up arrow | [bus symbol] “only” down arrow. Two parallel lanes separated by a dotted line (hey, was wrong, that is not a different-direction indicator), while bus lane gets solid line. Also, on none of these signs do any of the lane indicator symbols run out all the way to the border. This particular sign is WoBl. • Advance direction sign for side roads: this is elaborate and represents 3 lanes of a with-flow bus lane arrangement. The example shown is like this (top to bottom): right arrow / left arrow / [bus symbol] left arrow “bus lane” with top two arrows being separated by a dotted line. BoW all over.

Interesting stuff . . .

FO 371/136050

This file is mislabelled—PRO catalogue says it contains material dealing with “traffic signs and signals Thailand” but in fact it is an (ambassadorial?) dispatch on the 1958 opening of the Friendship Highway in Thailand, which cost $22m and was paid for partially by a direct US grant of $21m.