Category Archives: 1940s

UK government 1946: “Segregation should be the key-note of modern road design”


Long before Buchanan’s Traffic in Towns of 1963 (which dismissed cycling as a transport mode in decline and therefore unworthy of design considerations) there was an official Government style-guide: Design & Layout of Roads in Built-up Areas. This was issued by the Ministry of War Transport in 1946, and coloured transport thinking for a number of years.

This document recommended segregated provision for the growing number of cyclists, worrying that “conditions obtaining in early post-war years will tend still further to popularize the cycling habit.” The team led by Sir Frederick C. Cook believed there was a strong case for the “necessity of making ample road provision for pedal cyclists.” This ample, segregated road provision for cyclists never got built (and it wasn’t the fault of cycling organisations).

“Objections to cycle tracks have been stimulated by the indifferent surfaces with which some of the early tracks were laid,” admitted Cook’s report, and this didn’t allow for an uninterrupted ride, a design flaw that had to be remedied. “The profile of tracks should be unbroken across intersecting vehicular entrances, and they should approach side roads with an easy ramp,” advised the report, and – predicting the green cycle tracks still far off in the future – the report also suggested that “the surface is best formed by materials of pleasingly distinctive colour.”

The report said that: “Segregation … should be the key-note of modern road design … Police supervision would be necessary to ensure that … cycle ways are not used by other classes of traffic or otherwise abused” and such “segregated tracks for cyclists” should be provided “as a matter of course on arterial, through- and local-through routes …”


In 1946 the UK government knew that the Netherlands had been building separated cycleways for half a century, and had even built this giant two-level roundabout in Utrecht from 1941 to 1944, above. The “Berekuil” – or bear pit – junction had been designed in 1936, and is still in use today, although it has been modified over the years. This is the sort of infrastructure that, in the same period, the British government said would be too difficult and too expensive to build for cyclists in England.


However, a grade-separated roundabout to aid motorists, and supposedly protect pedestrians, was built in 1939 on the A22 Caterham by-pass – the Wapses Lodge roundabout was way ahead of its time, and quite the eyesore today so it must have looked incredibly alien in 1939. Pedestrians rarely use the underpasses. (At the beginnings of the 1960s a number of similar grade-separated roundabouts for pedestrians and cyclists were built in Stevenage – they were modelled on the Berekuil.)


Design & Layout of Roads in Built-up Areas proposed that this arterial to be built in Birmingham should have separated cycleways running alongside it. The arterial got built; the cycleways didn’t. Again, I have to stress it was not the opposition of CTC and the forerunner to the British Cycling Federation which scuppered these cycleway plans. Separation by mode was also the desired wish of all of the UK’s motoring organisations, a number of parliamentary committees and the fifty or so members of the British Road Federation.


Design & Layout of Roads in Built-up Areas also included technical drawings showing how cycleways should be carried around roundabouts, offering protection all the way around. Such roundabouts are only now being installed in the US and the UK, but have been common in the Netherlands for many years.

Design & Layout of Roads in Built-up Areas was a fleshed-out version of various Memorandums issued by the Ministry of Transport; the first had been issued in 1930 followed by a revised edition in 1937 and the further revised Memorandum No. 575 of 1943. This called for “Cycle tracks, footpaths, and suitable crossings for pedestrians” beside and on the new “arterial” roads and bypasses then being constructed. Subsequent official memoranda recommended that “dual carriageways” should be 120 feet wide, allowing for three 10-foot motor traffic lanes, as well as 9-foot cycle tracks.

The illustration below is of a model from the Road Architecture Exhibition organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects at its 66 Portland Place HQ in London. Note the mention of cycle tracks.

RoadArchitecExhibitionRIofBritArch66PortlandPlIllustrated Sporting and Dramatic News10March1939

In 1948, the Ministry of Transport produced large models of how it proposed the roads of the future would look, and displayed them for lawmakers in the Houses of Parliament. One of these models featured an “all-purpose road” with a roundabout junction with three flyover bridges – two were to carry motor traffic; the third – in the middle – was for pedestrians and cyclists to enable “the free and safe passage of motor traffic.” When such roads were built in the 1950s the model was ignored for reasons of cost, with the infrastructure for the cyclists and the pedestrians omitted.


At a meeting of the Town Planning Institute on 5th May 1949 at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, E.B. Hugh-Jones, who soon thereafter became the Chief Road Engineer at the Ministry of Transport, “described the most recent designs approved by the Ministry for future road construction.” This included providing a “track 10 feet wide for pedestrians … and cyclists. It would be highly advantageous to segregate these forms of traffic from fast motor traffic but the surface of such a track should be equal to that of the carriageway in surface.”