London's Ringways Plan

ABB125

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Kind of spurred by comments made in one of the (numerous!) East-West Rail threads, I thought I'd start one about the 1970s (I think) plans for an enormous amount of road-building in London. It's fascinating to look at the plans and imagine what London would be like had the proposals gone ahead in full. Most of the roads were cancelled, due primarily to the absolutely astronomical costs and opposition from people whose houses would be flattened; there are isolated sections that were built though.
The ringways are far too complex for me to write about here, so here are some links to websites which do just that:
(There's many hours of reading here about ringways; there's also a huge amount of other interesting content on these two sites!)

Personally, I think the ringway proposals were rather too excessive if everything was to be built. However, elements of the plans should have gone ahead, such as the completion of Ringway 2 (ie: the North Circular), with the major radial routes extended to it (the M23, for example, just fizzles out into nothing inside the M25) but with no improvements inside the ring (so a bit like the Peripherique in Paris, but a bit further from the city centre, so maybe the A86 instead). When compared with other major European cities (Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam etc) London really is the poor relation when it comes to road provision. (Perhaps surprisingly, Berlin doesn't actually have that many major roads through it (although I suppose that's down to its recent history), so perhaps it's the best model for my vision of London.)

What do other forum members think?
 
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py_megapixel

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Here's a great semi-comedic summary of the topic, which I'm sure many members will have seen before. It's not too long (barely over 10 minutes) and well worth a watch in my opinion:
 

ABB125

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Here's a great semi-comedic summary of the topic, which I'm sure many members will have seen before. It's not too long (barely over 10 minutes) and well worth a watch in my opinion:
That's an... interesting video! Not seen it before myself, but it gives a bit of an overview.
 

edwin_m

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Kind of spurred by comments made in one of the (numerous!) East-West Rail threads, I thought I'd start one about the 1970s (I think) plans for an enormous amount of road-building in London. It's fascinating to look at the plans and imagine what London would be like had the proposals gone ahead in full. Most of the roads were cancelled, due primarily to the absolutely astronomical costs and opposition from people whose houses would be flattened; there are isolated sections that were built though.
The ringways are far too complex for me to write about here, so here are some links to websites which do just that:
(There's many hours of reading here about ringways; there's also a huge amount of other interesting content on these two sites!)

Personally, I think the ringway proposals were rather too excessive if everything was to be built. However, elements of the plans should have gone ahead, such as the completion of Ringway 2 (ie: the North Circular), with the major radial routes extended to it (the M23, for example, just fizzles out into nothing inside the M25) but with no improvements inside the ring (so a bit like the Peripherique in Paris, but a bit further from the city centre, so maybe the A86 instead). When compared with other major European cities (Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam etc) London really is the poor relation when it comes to road provision. (Perhaps surprisingly, Berlin doesn't actually have that many major roads through it (although I suppose that's down to its recent history), so perhaps it's the best model for my vision of London.)

What do other forum members think?
I disagree profoundly. Case after case shows that building more roads creates more traffic, and doesn't even shorten journey times for drivers. Both Paris and Madrid are now realising their mistakes and pursuing policies of traffic restraint and road downgrading, which hasn't resulted in unacceptable congestion. Step out of Atocha, the main station in Madrid, and you are faced with a twelve-lane highway, which isn't even the main ring road! In Paris the Peripherique acts as a social barrier cutting off the suburbs from the city.
 

ABB125

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I disagree profoundly. Case after case shows that building more roads creates more traffic, and doesn't even shorten journey times for drivers. Both Paris and Madrid are now realising their mistakes and pursuing policies of traffic restraint and road downgrading, which hasn't resulted in unacceptable congestion. Step out of Atocha, the main station in Madrid, and you are faced with a twelve-lane highway, which isn't even the main ring road! In Paris the Peripherique acts as a social barrier cutting off the suburbs from the city.
I suppose one way to reduce the social barrier effect is to put the road on a viaduct, or even better, in a tunnel*. I think the main argument in favour of good quality urban roads is that you can then virtually eliminate cars from the old streets which have been replaced, thus significantly improving the quality of life of users of the streets for residential and commercial purposes.
The A86 round Paris was only completed in the last few years I believe - I wonder whether this was so that it would be easier to reduce traffic closer to the city by forcing it to use the ring further out? As for Madrid, I agree entirely that it's just ridiculous the amount of good-quality roads through the city! In fact, it puts most American cities to shame (though you can't beat the USA for their bowls of spaghetti: here's my favourite!).

*Underways anyone? :D
 

edwin_m

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One important factor when comparing the UK with the Continent is that by the time British cities really started to grow, attack by land was highly improbable so city walls had been abandoned or demolished. On the Continent many major cities were given much more extensive fortifications in the 19th century and the possibility of attack remained right up to WW2, although by then advances in weaponry meant that those sort of defences offered little protection. Thus, in the late 20th-century era of roadbuilding, there was a tempting opportunity to demolish the remains and build an inner ring road. This is the origin of the Peripherique in Paris and many others.

As British cities never had this, inner ring roads tended to be much more haphazard. Birmingham and Glasgow carved new high-speed roads through their inner cities and the hideous example in Newcastle is less than half what they actually intended to build (see the Pathetic Motorways site linked above).
 

ABB125

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One important factor when comparing the UK with the Continent is that by the time British cities really started to grow, attack by land was highly improbable so city walls had been abandoned or demolished. On the Continent many major cities were given much more extensive fortifications in the 19th century and the possibility of attack remained right up to WW2, although by then advances in weaponry meant that those sort of defences offered little protection. Thus, in the late 20th-century era of roadbuilding, there was a tempting opportunity to demolish the remains and build an inner ring road. This is the origin of the Peripherique in Paris and many others.

As British cities never had this, inner ring roads tended to be much more haphazard. Birmingham and Glasgow carved new high-speed roads through their inner cities and the hideous example in Newcastle is less than half what they actually intended to build (see the Pathetic Motorways site linked above).
That's an interesting point, thanks for bringing it up. I don't think anyone would disagree with the assertion that Britain's roads (or railways, or anything for that matter!) were haphazard!
As for Newcastle, I think the bit they built was only a tiny part of the overall planned network (I read an article about it last year, it may have been on Pathetic Motorways, I can't remember now). It does get bonus points for being the only double-deck motorway in Britain! (Tinsley viaduct doesn't count, because both M1 carriageways are on the top.)
 

Hey 3

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In the Ringways plan, Ringway 1 was seen as too far out of Central London, going out to Harlesden/Willesden and Hackney Wick and Kidbrooke, but the North Cross Route went ever so close to Central London(it would have ran through or under Camden Town). There was even a proposed link road from Camden Town to Euston(I think it was called the Euston Spur).
 

ABB125

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In the Ringways plan, Ringway 1 was seen as too far out of Central London, going out to Harlesden/Willesden and Hackney Wick and Kidbrooke, but the North Cross Route went ever so close to Central London(it would have ran through or under Camden Town). There was even a proposed link road from Camden Town to Euston(I think it was called the Euston Spur).
I think you're referring to the Camden Town Bypass - here's a route map for it:
1617622196552.png
(From the linked website.)
 

ABB125

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I wonder if this scheme is a development of the plan drawn up in the "County of London Plan" dated 1943?
According to one of the websites linked above, the County of London Plan was drawn up by Patrick Abercrombie, but failed to be implemented in the post-war rebuild of London. I think it then formed a kind-of "baseline plan" for later road proposals.
 

Bald Rick

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I have a copy of the book “Motorways in London”, the official report by a working party set up in 1969 to study this issue. It covers proposals made from 1903 onwards, including:

Royal Commission on London Traffic (1903-5)
General Highway plan (1911) - this has clear lines of what became the M25, M1, M3, M4, M23 and A41
The Bressey & Lutyens Plan (1937)
Forshaw & Abercrombie (1943) - included ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ rings
Greater London Plan (1944) - this built on the previous study, adding a ‘D’ ring
General Highway pattern (1947)
And finally the London Transportation Study (1969) with Ringways 1-3, plus an ‘Outer Orbital’

Importantly, all the plans included radial routes as well as orbital - and many of the radial routes did of course get built. You can often ‘see’ the routes planned for the motorways that didn’t get built, by following the lines of newer houses. One example is the M1 had it been built to the junction with Ringway 1 at South Hampstead - it would have flown over the N Circular, along the back of Cricklewood yard, then immediately east of the MML where you can see mostly 80s built housing, flying over the line just south / east of Mill Lane, then running just south of the MML, again where there are more recently built houses and flats. Then a massive spaghetti junction interchange with Ringway 1 (North Cross) where Sainsburys / Vue are.

Similarly you can follow the M23 up from Hooley to Streatham. My Dad has an OS Map of West London c1975 which shows the dotted blue line of ‘planned’ for this, petering out near Balham.

The Ringways section of Roads.org (formerly CBRD) has been many years in the making!
 
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Hey 3

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I have a copy of the book “Motorways in London”, the official report by a working party set up in 1969 to study this issue. It covers proposals made from 1903 onwards, including:

Royal Commission on London Traffic (1903-5)
General Highway plan (1911) - this has clear lines of what became the M25, M1, M3, M4, M23 and A41
The Bressey & Lutyens Plan (1937)
Forshaw & Abercrombie (1943) - included ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ rings
Greater London Plan (1944) - this built on the previous study, adding a ‘D’ ring
General Highway pattern (1947)
And finally the London Transportation Study (1969) with Ringeays 1-3, plus an ‘Outer Orbital’

Importantly, all the plans included radial routes as well as orbital - and many of the radial routes did of course get built. You can often ‘see’ the routes planned for the motorways that didn’t get built, by following the lines of newer houses. One example is the M1 had it been built to the junction with Ringway 1 at South Hampstead - it would have flown over the N Circular, along the back of Cricklewood yard, then immediately east of the MML where you can see mostly 80s built housing, flying over the line just south / east of Mill Lane, then running just south of the MML, again where there are more recently built houses and flats. Then a massive spaghetti junction interchange with Ringway 1 (North Cross and West Cross) where Sainsburys / Vue are.

Similarly you can follow the M23 up from Hooley to Streatham.
As you can follow the M11 from South Woodford to Hackney Wick(in fact, most of the alignment is now the A12).
 

ABB125

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I have a copy of the book “Motorways in London”, the official report by a working party set up in 1969 to study this issue. It covers proposals made from 1903 onwards, including:

Royal Commission on London Traffic (1903-5)
General Highway plan (1911) - this has clear lines of what became the M25, M1, M3, M4, M23 and A41
The Bressey & Lutyens Plan (1937)
Forshaw & Abercrombie (1943) - included ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ rings
Greater London Plan (1944) - this built on the previous study, adding a ‘D’ ring
General Highway pattern (1947)
And finally the London Transportation Study (1969) with Ringways 1-3, plus an ‘Outer Orbital’
Sounds like an interesting book!
The fact that the "outer orbital" was never officially part of the Ringways (in the way that Ringways 1-3 were) is just a bit daft. Especially as the (southern half of the) outer orbital later became the M25.
Importantly, all the plans included radial routes as well as orbital - and many of the radial routes did of course get built. You can often ‘see’ the routes planned for the motorways that didn’t get built, by following the lines of newer houses. One example is the M1 had it been built to the junction with Ringway 1 at South Hampstead - it would have flown over the N Circular, along the back of Cricklewood yard, then immediately east of the MML where you can see mostly 80s built housing, flying over the line just south / east of Mill Lane, then running just south of the MML, again where there are more recently built houses and flats. Then a massive spaghetti junction interchange with Ringway 1 (North Cross) where Sainsburys / Vue are.

Similarly you can follow the M23 up from Hooley to Streatham. My Dad has an OS Map of West London c1975 which shows the dotted blue line of ‘planned’ for this, petering out near Balham.
I read somewhere (probably on Roads.org!) that originally the plan was just for orbital routes, with radial access to the city being via public transport. Then someone came up with the idea of adding loads of radial roads, and one on the major authorities with a say (probably the one in charge of public transport) decided they no longer supported the plans.
As for spaghetti junctions, whilst there were some brilliant ones planned (if only Highways England had such vision nowadays!*), they aren't a patch on what can be found across the Atlantic. If you haven't already, please do take a look at the one I linked in an earlier post; it really is something else!

*To be fair, they seem to have had some sort of divine inspiration on the Lower Thames Crossing, to the extent that the junctions (especially the one with the M2) are perhaps too trying too hard. (And it should be opened as a motorway, rather than an all-purpose "special road" :D)
The Ringways section of Roads.org (formerly CBRD) has been many years in the making!
It's only in the last two years or so that I've come to appreciate roads in a way that requires visiting sites like this, so I've always known it as roads.org. I see all these references to "CBRD" and think "what's this CBRD everyone's going on about?!" :D
As you can follow the M11 from South Woodford to Hackney Wick(in fact, most of the alignment is now the A12).
Now imagine that bit of the A12 as a 4 lane motorway (with hard shoulders) with two-lane "local" roads either side. Basically 14 lanes wide in total.
 

Bald Rick

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It's only in the last two years or so that I've come to appreciate roads in a way that requires visiting sites like this, so I've always known it as roads.org. I see all these references to "CBRD" and think "what's this CBRD everyone's going on about?!" :D

Chris’s British Road Directory.

If you haven't already, please do take a look at the one I linked in an earlier post; it really is something else!

Yep, I’ve been driven through it!
 

A0wen

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Whilst the Ringways ended up being scrapped for political reasons, the legacy of that decision has left parts of London crippled with a poor road network. The "South Circular" is a complete joke - and the move from build the Ringways to "do nothing" was incredibly short sighted.

Ironically the much maligned M25 ended up being a hybrid of Ringways 3 & 4.
 

ABB125

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Whilst the Ringways ended up being scrapped for political reasons, the legacy of that decision has left parts of London crippled with a poor road network. The "South Circular" is a complete joke - and the move from build the Ringways to "do nothing" was incredibly short sighted.
Quite - whilst the Ringways were rather excessive, some sort of improvement would have been nice.
Ironically the much maligned M25 ended up being a hybrid of Ringways 3 & 4.
There are some nice bodges on the sections joining the two Ringways.
https://maps.app.goo.gl/8cw7NTCmVwUUDHWf9 here, the spur to Watford was originally meant to be the mainline (hence being wide enough for 3 lanes plus hard shoulder), although I'm not sure what the plan for beyond the roundabout was.

https://maps.app.goo.gl/ZGRtExWNQoDyuYuK6 the classic "huge gap between the carriageways", clearly indicating that the mainline was meant to continue south of the current A1/M25 junction

I think I also read somewhere that the fact that the M25 has no hard shoulder through the A2 and M20 junctions shows that it wasn't originally meant to be such a high profile route
 

A0wen

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There are some nice bodges on the sections joining the two Ringways.
https://maps.app.goo.gl/8cw7NTCmVwUUDHWf9 here, the spur to Watford was originally meant to be the mainline (hence being wide enough for 3 lanes plus hard shoulder), although I'm not sure what the plan for beyond the roundabout was.

Basically Hunton Bridge has ended up as envisaged as part of Ringway 4 - so from there it headed south with the A41 before heading through the north part of Watford, though the northbound A41 was probably meant to be dual carriageway, in fact all but about a mile was done !

From Hunton Bridge to the A414 / B1455 junction east of Hatfield the A405/A414 is pure Ringway 4 - though the A1 tunnel at Hatfield didn't arrive until the mid 1980s. The missing 'bit' of Ringway 4 in the north is from the A414 / B1455 junction which would have headed across to Hoddesdon and onto Harlow, though the A414 has been upgraded to dual carriageway all the way to Harlow now on a slightly different route, the downside is it runs through the middle of Hertford, which ought to have been bypassed.


Where the M25 heads north-east avoiding Hunton Bridge to London Colney is "new" i.e. not part of the Ringway plans, whereas from London Colney across to Thurrock is more or less Ringway 3.

Ringway 3 would have run from South Mimms north of Borehamwood and joined the A41 / M1 near Bushey before heading through Moor Park and towards Ruislip and Denham.
 

Bald Rick

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though the A414 has been upgraded to dual carriageway all the way to Harlow now on a slightly different route

/PEDANT/ - there’s about 100 metres that isn’t dual carriageway, where it passes under the Hertford Loop.
 

ABB125

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Basically Hunton Bridge has ended up as envisaged as part of Ringway 4 - so from there it headed south with the A41 before heading through the north part of Watford, though the northbound A41 was probably meant to be dual carriageway, in fact all but about a mile was done !

From Hunton Bridge to the A414 / B1455 junction east of Hatfield the A405/A414 is pure Ringway 4 - though the A1 tunnel at Hatfield didn't arrive until the mid 1980s. The missing 'bit' of Ringway 4 in the north is from the A414 / B1455 junction which would have headed across to Hoddesdon and onto Harlow, though the A414 has been upgraded to dual carriageway all the way to Harlow now on a slightly different route, the downside is it runs through the middle of Hertford, which ought to have been bypassed.


Where the M25 heads north-east avoiding Hunton Bridge to London Colney is "new" i.e. not part of the Ringway plans, whereas from London Colney across to Thurrock is more or less Ringway 3.

Ringway 3 would have run from South Mimms north of Borehamwood and joined the A41 / M1 near Bushey before heading through Moor Park and towards Ruislip and Denham.
Thanks very much
 

BRX

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I disagree profoundly. Case after case shows that building more roads creates more traffic, and doesn't even shorten journey times for drivers. Both Paris and Madrid are now realising their mistakes and pursuing policies of traffic restraint and road downgrading, which hasn't resulted in unacceptable congestion. Step out of Atocha, the main station in Madrid, and you are faced with a twelve-lane highway, which isn't even the main ring road! In Paris the Peripherique acts as a social barrier cutting off the suburbs from the city.
This!

Parts of London are currently going through trials of "Low Traffic Neighbourhoods" which are predictably controversial but hopefully enough people can be persuaded of their benefits that at least some of them will stick.

One of the objections these provoke is that removing traffic from residential roads just makes it worse on the "main roads" where the traffic gets displaced to. The argument against this is that much of the traffic simply disappears. People start to use other means of traffic. Essentially traffic will just fill up whatever capacity you give it - reduce capacity and you can reduce traffic - but increase capacity and you'll increase traffic. In a city, those main roads still have to pass places where people live, and the pollution and noise from them can spread further than their immediate surroundings.

I live in a house that would almost certainly have been flattened had they built the inner ring road through south london.
 

ainsworth74

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(though you can't beat the USA for their bowls of spaghetti: here's my favourite!)
Now, I cannot say for certain that upon viewing that I said out loud a phrase which begins with "What the" and ends with "is that!?!" and has a four letter word starting with 'F' in the middle but equally I would struggle to deny such an accusation.
 

AndrewE

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The "enormous amount of road-building" isn't over and is still contentious. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvertown_Tunnel and https://silvertowntunnel.co.uk/ You might say they are just NIMBYs, but there is no doubt that better road infrastructure increases traffic. It might be claimed that improved trunk roads take traffic out of towns, but volume always increases and all those journeys start and end in other towns.
 

Wolfie

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Now imagine that bit of the A12 as a 4 lane motorway (with hard shoulders) with two-lane "local" roads either side. Basically 14 lanes wide in total.
There in a nutshell is why there was massive opposition and the plans never happened. Great for visiting drivers, absolutely awful for residents and their quality of life. Imagine the pollution too. See also how badly smaller scale implementation of such plans damaged cities such as Birmingham.

Now, I cannot say for certain that upon viewing that I said out loud a phrase which begins with "What the" and ends with "is that!?!" and has a four letter word starting with 'F' in the middle but equally I would struggle to deny such an accusation.
Easy to do that when you have the land area/population density that the US does.
 

A0wen

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This!

Parts of London are currently going through trials of "Low Traffic Neighbourhoods" which are predictably controversial but hopefully enough people can be persuaded of their benefits that at least some of them will stick.

One of the objections these provoke is that removing traffic from residential roads just makes it worse on the "main roads" where the traffic gets displaced to. The argument against this is that much of the traffic simply disappears. People start to use other means of traffic. Essentially traffic will just fill up whatever capacity you give it - reduce capacity and you can reduce traffic - but increase capacity and you'll increase traffic. In a city, those main roads still have to pass places where people live, and the pollution and noise from them can spread further than their immediate surroundings.

I live in a house that would almost certainly have been flattened had they built the inner ring road through south london.

But the "do nothing" approach once the Ringways were cancelled was equally damaging.

The North Circ nowadays is a passably good road, you can get from Hanger Lane to Edmonton or Barnet in a reasonably sensible time whereas a similar journey from Kingston to Bromley is horrific and the South Circ absolutely isn't fit for purpose and arguably the pollution and congestion are much worse because nothing was done there.
 

Wolfie

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But the "do nothing" approach once the Ringways were cancelled was equally damaging.

The North Circ nowadays is a passably good road, you can get from Hanger Lane to Edmonton or Barnet in a reasonably sensible time whereas a similar journey from Kingston to Bromley is horrific and the South Circ absolutely isn't fit for purpose and arguably the pollution and congestion are much worse because nothing was done there.
Agreed. The South Circular is an unfunny joke.
 

BahrainLad

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I live about 2 minutes walk up the road from where the M11 would've blasted through Wanstead, the idea that a 6 lane motorway could've been built there is horrifying... for a start the land take would've been far more than was ever indicated on the map.

Visit Brussels if you want to see how urban motorways don't work.
 

A0wen

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/PEDANT/ - there’s about 100 metres that isn’t dual carriageway, where it passes under the Hertford Loop.

Quite correct, I'd forgotten about that. Though in my defence m'lud it's been nearly 2 decades since I lived in the area and probably a similar time since I drove through Hertford.
 

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