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Mail address: P O Box 245 6906 North Perth, WA, Australia
E-mail: Information for Action is a non profit environmental organization committed to environmental change in our global community. Work on the website began in 1999 by President Rowland Benjamin and is maintained by a group of talented volunteers.


History of Roads

Roads have been constructed since ancient times. The Roman system of roads was very extensive and well thought through. An ancient administrative document of the first century, drawn up by the geometer Siculus Flaccus, reveals the Romans classified their roads according to their importance. The most important roads were viae publicae (public roads), which were funded by the state. Of secondary importance were viae militares (military roads), built at the expense of the army; these became public roads. Local roads, or actus, followed; and finally there were privatae (private roads), built and maintained by the owners.

Massive social changes have occurred over the past 50 years as the world has had to adapt to the car. Our cities have changed to keep pace with the rapid advance of car ownership. Up until the 1950s, most people had been using the same forms of transport for generations; trains, trams, trolley buses and even the horse and cart. Furthermore many people did not travel very far from home. Children walked to school; mums shopped locally on foot; dads went to work on public transport or a bicycle.

Dozens of Third World countries are becoming industrialised. Because of corruption, poor legislation or lax policing, pollution is many times higher than is considered safe for human health. Lead is being phased out of petrol in many developed countries, but in developing countries, petrol contains dangerous lead levels. Lead affects the brain and depresses children's intelligence.

When people first got cars they used to go for a drive just for the sake of taking the car for a spin! A culture of car use was created and today, car use may be approaching a saturation point where most people are spending as much time in their cars as they want to. With the arrival of the computer more workers are able to work from home and in future we may find the need for mobility will be reduced.

The dismantling of the public transport system in the United States.

Prior to 1930s most US cities had efficient and reliable public transport systems which used electric light rail or trams - called streetcars in the US. Less than one person in ten owned a private car. In 1936 General Motors (GM), backed by Standard Oil and Firestone tyres, successfully conspired to destroy these public transport systems. First they created a bus company called National City Lines. Then they began buying up the tram-lines and by 1950 they controlled public transport systems in 83 cities. The tram-lines were allowed to deteriorate and were gradually replaced by GM buses. To ensure that the light rail system could not return, the tram-lines were pulled up and stations torn down.

GM employed public relations companies to explain the replacement of streetcar lines by buses as a process of "modernisation". In effect, GM demolished a good public transport system to maximise its profits. Deteriorating public transport forced more commuters into private cars. More private cars clogged roads, slowed buses, lowered the number of bus riders and "justified" further public transport cutbacks. Government spending on road construction and the infrastructure necessary for the maintenance of the car increased and by the end of the 1950s the conversion to private transport was more or less complete. It has been estimated that to replace the light rail systems, which GM destroyed, would now cost around US$300 billion.

Between 1985 and 1990, in the USA, Britain and many Western countries there was a massive growth in out-of-town shopping centres. Prior to 1985, most people did their shopping at small grocers close to their place of residence. With the growth of large out-of-town shopping centres, towns emptied, town-based commerce was decimated and car travel increased.

Until the mid-1990s, Britain's wildlife habitats were being destroyed for housing and roads at a rate of 200 to 300 sites per year. As roads and motorways became too expensive to build, there were cut backs. As the Treasury was short of money motorway proposals were scrapped or shelved, but environmental concern was peripheral to the decision making process.

Australian cities have the highest proportion of their wealth going into transport, the buying and operation of cars, buses and trains and the building of the required infrastructure.

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