"User" of the Road• from Opposite Viewpoints.
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Buyers of commercial motors seldom have trouble with highway authorities; their position is a happier one, in this respect, than that of many owners of traction engines. The use of the steel-tired heavy wagon, with its eight-ton load on the back axle, occasionally gives rise to complaints and protests, though we have seen not a few cases—one of which was quoted in our pages last week—where positive benefit to some roads has been acknowledged by the local councils. We cannot, however, pretend that any such magnanimity of attitude is the rule. Users, erroneously, are prone to think that compliance with the requirements of the Motor Car Acts and the Heavy Motor Car Order is a full answer to any objections by road-makers, but this view is not necessarily the correct one. True, all the roads in the United Kingdom were declared open, in 1896 to the vehicle of three-ton unladen weight, and in 1904 to the .vehicle of five-ton unladen weight, but " user" is allowed only in accordance with statutory provisions, and upon due regard for a variety of apparently-complex yet natural obligations towards the general body of ratepayers. Let us examine the situation, as it is unfolding, from the viewpoints of the road authority and of the user. We premise: that four decades of neglect, consequent upon traffic absorption by railways, occurred between the years 1850 and 1890; that many roads nearly became derelict: that the woes of cyclists and the charms of cycling broke an evil
• spell; that private motoring began to add material influences about the year 1902: and that, with a disconcerting rapidity of suecession, there came the more-exacting demands of heavy moter traffic, the adherents of which asked for strength in addition to surface. In these circumstances, one might have postulated trouble for everybody. Some, of course, have had it ; a few—on both sides—hare borne it ill.
The user! He wants everything for nothing. assert the old-school engineer and surveyor and his road committee; he sends his — wagons along our roads when they are not fit to carry them : his drivers go too quickly
his loads are habitually : he pays nothing in taxation; he does endless damage; his traffic is clearly extraordinary the tires are too narrow, and the al:mei-diameters -Coo small ; his machines " tear up the roads." The roads! They are a public scandal, retort the owners: other and contiguous highways bear this traffic without hurt; your methods are out of date: you waste money in wholesale remetalling. when timely patching would have kept the surface in condition : you don't use tar, or you apply it improperly : you bind the metal with a big percentage of mud " to save time." instead of consolidating by dry rolling; your roads should suit the traffic of to day, not that of 15 years ago; if other surveyors be able to repair their roads so as to bear modern traffic, and to save money into the bargain, why can't you P Who may not overhear an interchange of courtesies (sic) of the foregoing nature, and who shall say that the indignation of one " side " or the other is either righteous or feigned? Generalities are dangerous: this is especially true when it is sought to apply them to roads and the effects of motor traffic. Reason must be invoked, to say nothing of charity: mutual respect for honesty of behaviour and motives is the first essential to an understanding, and it pains us to have to confess that there are grievous hindrances and offenders in both camps."
The road congresses of 1908 and 1909, at two of which the writer was the delegate of the Commercial Motor Users' Association, have done much to bring about a recognition by road-users and road-makers of the fact that there are disadvantages and limitations on both "sides." The user has convinced the engineers that those of their profession who are so ignorant or conceited—in spite of the disgraceful state, maybe, of the very roads for which they are responsible—that they imagine they know everything about roads, and therefore won't learn, must give place to others who have more brains and a. capacity for accommodation : the engineer has convinced the users that there are "black sheep " in their ranks, that it causes disproportionate damage to send heavy wagons along certain classes of by-road, and that the roads of the country can only be brought up to the requisite standards of strength and surface by degrees. The intelligent minority foresaw all these circumstances long ago.
We are obliged to impress upon the user the fact that he cannot send heavy wagons upon the roads indiscriminately, unless he be prepared to "take the consequences." What are the consequenese? What damage may be done, and is the wagon owner to be held responsible in every case? Any wagon with an eight-ton axle-weight may damage weak and water-logged macadam roads, it may fracture gas and water mains or open the joints of the smaller pipes therefrom, it may break man-hole coverings or the grids over gulley-traps, and it may side-slip against the kerb and displace one or more of the flagstones. Liability, however, is determined by so many factors, that any claimant is usually going upon a mere presumption when he makes an application for recoupinent. A claim for alleged road damage, whether in respect of undue frequency of "user " or excessive weight of load in relation to the ordinary traffic of the district, can, very properly, be substantiated only when there is irrefutable evidence that it has been brought against the culpable party: the Courts, nowadays, look with growing disfavour upon the efforts of negligent and ill-advised councils, which fail in their duties and then seek to build up new and stronger roads at the expense of a single carrier or trader. That abuse of legal process may be regarded as at an end. Gas and water companies must, as a rule, Recording to their private acts and to local bylaws, lay their mains sufficiently deep. but there are unfortunate exceptions; most trouble is caused by jerry
liiiilt connections to homes, and not by the mains, whilst liability to make good entirely depends upon the facts and merits of each ease. Road gratings and covers are required to bear the traffic which goes over them, and debits in that conneetioneven in the rare event of an owner's feeling satisfied that one of his machines was the cause of the breakages—should be repudiated by return of post. The displacement of kerbstones or flagstones is generally due to the proximity of dangerous angles of camber and side-fall in the carriageway; in respect of this, the prospects of compensation for the owner, who should, if the .facts are favourable, claim against the local highway authority on the score of misfeasance, become brighter each year, since traffic changes may not be ignored. Owners have, in a protective sense, when they want to work within an " unfriendly " area, two main courses of .action open to them: the first is to lit indiaruhber tires, which re-duce wear upon both the vehicle and the road; the second is to instruct their drivers to avoid by-roads as much as possible. Mutor-wagon traffic upon main roads is no longer inherently extraordinary, although we do not seek to disguise the continued existence of a risk—small though it be--in certain counties. The regular use of a low-standard road by an isolated owner is the most-difficult case for subsequent defence. Our advice, in conclusion, is that long contracts should be subject to a determining clause in the event of the development of any unforeseen road deficiencies, or that in instances where an uncertainty has to be accepted, the contractor should cover himself-as many shipowners doby separate registrations under the Companies Acts. We do not urge this course as a means to the escape of obligations; it is a means, none the less, by which the bitter and unjust antagonism of particular local councillors, who act from selfish or interested motives, can be effectively circumvented. People who resort to unfair methods of attack ltpon motor transport .d who, under the guise of a composition, se-IT to levy heavy blackmail, must he fought by all .,LC resources which the acts in question confer upon the industrial community. Far be it from us to advise an evasion of responsibility : we are merely pointing out one way to countervail extortion and deliberate repression.
In the preamble to the article in our last issue, when .dealing with the inauguration of the French trials of • commercial-motor vehicles, our representative alluded to his unfavourable impressions of the growing anarchy of street traffic in the French capital. This impression, based on an intimate knowledge of the varying characteristies of London's surface traffic, may well assist us more fully to appreciate the present condition, and the possible development, of road use in the heart of a neighliouring empire. There is little doubt that the state of -affairs, in which vehicles of all classes, horse-drawn and automobile, Tire permitted, in disorderly array, to render unsafe the streets of Paris, has become considerably worse during the past few years. We behold a city which boasts unrivalled widths of main thoroughfares, and many great open " places " where these arteries intersect a city, in fact, where created facilities for the orderly control of traffic are exceptional ; yet, it is undeniable thnt traffic. anarchy prevails. that the police control of the circulation of road vehicles is hut little more than a. name, and that much of the driving of automobiles is execrable. It has long been a truism to assert that the policemen at the Mansion House, and at other great crossings in London, are objects of wonderment and admiration to the provincial visitor, and to the foreigner. In spite -of the • tortuous nature of many of the main streets of the Metropolis, the heterogeneous character of its vehicles, the crush of its population, and the need for their own rapid transport and that of their goods, the traffic in London is, indeed, well handled by the police. There is, of course, some room for improvement in the matters of the equitable treatment of all street users, of cheeks upon the tramway monopoly, of the diversion of the slow-moving homed vehicle, -of the reduction of the noise of horse-drawn vehicles and electric tramcars, and of other incidental fac tors. In the French capital, hoe-ever, with many advantages in its favour, almost all of those " places " in the centre of the city where important thoroughfares cross each other are continually in a state of chaos. Only at intermittent periods, when time muddle has slowly and painfully disentangled itself, does the gendarme intervene with his baton. Occasionally, a too-enterprising equine receives a tap across the nose, or a recalcitrant cabby is threatened with reprisals; but, as a general rule, the opposing streams of traffic are encouraged to decide amongst themselves as to which shall have the right of way. Tile imperious outstretched hand of the London constable, and the unquestioning obedience, which this potent symbol of the law exacts, have no parallel in Paris. It has been humorously suggested, elsewhere, that the gendarme hesitates to extend his hand to stay oncoming vehicles, in the fear that " ze 'orse bite it."
Not only, however, must some meed of praise be bestowed upon the individual policeman of the British metropolis, but it must be conceded, the more readily because of the comparisons we are drawing with our neighbours, that the average London driver of a horse-drawn or motor-propelled vehicle has considerable sense of orderliness. Left to himself, the omnibus, van, or cab driver can, generally, quite well avoid turmoil and chaos at difficult parts of the thoroughfare ; an excellent example of this state of affairs is the clever way in which converging streams of traffic intermingle, without mishap, at such difficult spots as the southern approach to London Bridge, the junction of Park Lane with Piccadilly, and many of the great traffic centres at night time. There are, of course, individual backsliders, but there is little doubt that the average man in charge of a vehicle in the London streets is possessed of " traffic sense."
There is probably no more-amusing sight, to the Londoner in Paris, than that of a gathering crowd of vehicles, unable to find a break in the stream of carriages crossing it obliquely, deciding, for itself, that, when sufficient weight has been congested behind; an attack shall be made. Headed, invariably, by a " General," threehorsed omnibus of vast proportions, and convoyed by innumerable dare-devil taxis, a way is literally pushed through the thwarting stream, which, in its turn, is forced to wait, and to gather sufficient head again, before it can dispute the right of way. Drivers sit promiscuously on the near or off side of their conveyances; any side of an island is the right side; the speed of motorcalis is invariably close upon the mechanical limit—that around corners and across frequented thoroughfares is, if anything, accelerated; hooters are consistently blown all along a thoroughfare, until such time as a dangerous crossing occurs; vehicles, unloading, draw up anywhere within 20 ft. of the kerb ; the worse the road surface, the higher the speed at which motor vehicles, at least, are driven over it. As important crossings are being left to control themselves, so is the traffic, itself, automatically classifying its own components ; the horse vehicle is surely being hustled to the sides of the main streets, leaving a speed track in the centre for motor-driven vehicles. The most-remarkable instance of this development, which we admit to be of considered arrangement and selection, is to be seen in the Champs Elysees, and photographs of the clearly-divided streams of fast and slow traffic along this magnificent highway—one of the few well-surfaced thoroughfares in the capital—have, on various occasions, been reproduced by " The Motor." The lesson of all this chaos in Paris, which, although familiar enough to many Englishmen, has not always been credited with its full significance, is that, whatever means he adopted, be it " Henry Howlers." or merely the tactful enforcement of existing regulations, excessive speed must be continuously discouraged in London with a firm hand. We must not, particularly, allow the taxi-driver in London to acquire the " joy-riding " habits of his Parisian eonfrbre, who, more often than not, treats his machine outrageously, and the pedestrian with scorn. We have nothing to learn from our friends across the Channel in the matter of traffic control per se, but we may well proceed further to organize our own in London.