In recent issues there have appeared some very scathing remarks about kerbs alongside roads. As one who is responsible for building and maintaining several thousand miles of road, may I explain ?
To begin with, our roads are not only inadequate for the volume of traffic using them, but are also quite unsuitable for modern speeds. This engineers know very well, but they cannot help it. The answer is for motorists on every possible occasion to express their views in public, not merely to the converted, such as highway engineers and your readers. Instead of merely complaining, they should write to the papers, both local and national, speak at ratepayers’ meetings and, most important, press their Members of Parliament.
Dealing now with the technical side ; I fully agree that roads in the open country should generally not be kerbed, and indeed in my county we avoid it wherever possible. But where the footpath immediately abuts the carriageway, we must use kerbs, for if we do not bad drivers endanger pedestrians. I agree that footpaths should really be set back behind a grass verge of reasonable width, for this is not only far safer but also cheaper to construct and maintain. Unfortunately, there is usually insufficient width between highway fences to do this. It would not, of course, be difficult, in the open country at any rate, to buy land to widen the road, but here we come up against Government policy, which is strongly opposed to “works of capital investment,” ie, works involving land acquisition, which they call “major improvements” (size does not enter into the definition, only the purchase of land). For improvements of this sort funds are extremely limited and do not go nearly far enough. It is not, generally speaking, that the local highway authority do not see the need for these works, it is solely that the Government will not permit them to be done. The cure is in the hands of motorists.
Sometimes we have to kerb roads to prevent motorists from parking on soft margins, places insufficiently strong when wet to carry the weight of wheels. If we do not, the margins quickly become a morass, and the shoulders of the carriageway give way. If we had the money, we should harden out such places and make standing bays.
As regards isolated kerbstones, these are usually (though not always) drainage offlets, and I agree they are frightful things. We no longer put them in„ and are removing those existing as quickly as our limited funds will permit. It is always a question of money nothing else.
May I now ask your readers who complain about road defects for a little indulgence ? We have to make roads for all classes ol traffic, and we cannot yet build motor roads, single-purpose roads that would satisfy fast drivers. An all-purpose road must be a compromise and cannot be a perfect solution to all problems. Fast drivers must, therefore, in present circumstances be reasonable in their demands. To give an example of complete unreasonableness in the opposite direction : in my most rural district the inhabitants demand that roads shall be built exclusively for horses, they shall be rough (reasonable superficially. I will not here go into the difference in coefficient of friction between steel hooves and stone and between rubber tyres and stone) and bumpy (to discourage speed) ; they shall not be straightened, nor shall bends be opened up to view. Is this any more unreasonable than altering our existing roads to suit 100 mph drivers ? Let us be moderate, but at the same time press our demands for better roads.
Lest you should think that road engineers drive stuffily in stuffy cars, may I add that I greatly enjoy my Jaguar XK140, and I do make a practice of driving in as many different cars at I can and over a wide range of speeds, so as to understand all demands.
I am, Yours, etc.,
JHH Wilkes. Taunton. (County Surveyor, County of Somerset).
[We were delighted to receive this letter of explanation from someone who is in a position to influence those in authority, at all events in our pleasant section of this Island, over matters of kerbstones and road construction. If main routes need kerbstones let them be chamfered to give a skidding or swerving vehicle a chance, not made like miniature walls, like those lining the Newport/Wolverhampton road, for instance. And why do side roads on building estates and in country villages need kerbstones? To cite but one disadvantage of this subtopian risk, pram-pushers are encouraged to walk in the road to avoid lifting the pram up and down the kerbs and when an approaching vehicle makes return to the footpath prudent, this is impeded again, by the presence of kerbstones. But otherwise our thanks to Mr. Wilkes for his commonsense views and interesting explanations–would that all county surveyors drove enthusiastically in high-performance cars. Ed]