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Is the Street Tramway Doomed ?

2nd April 1914, Page 4
2nd April 1914
Page 4
Page 5
Page 4, 2nd April 1914 — Is the Street Tramway Doomed ?
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

By a Well-,known Municipal Engineer.

The recent papers, read before the lnstitutien of Civil Engineers, on Sonic _Recent Developments tee Commercial Motor-vehicles" and "Comparative Economies of Tramways and Railless Electric Traction " have again drawn attention to the questi.rn as to whethertire street tramway is the most satisfactory method for transporting the public at the present time.

Without following the arguments, in those papers, as to the economic side of the subject, let us deal with the important question as to whether the recent advances in self-propelled traffic have not rendered the street tramway almost, if not quite, obsolete.

The first street tramway constructed in this countly was in Birkenhead in the year 1860 by Mr. G. F. Train, an American. The cars were horse-drawn, aed the permanent way was not all that could be desired, and had to be removed alter a very short period, Liverpool followed in 1862 with a more complete system, and since that date the extension of street tramways has been very considerable, the substitution of electrical power for horse traction having given an enormous stimulus to the movement.

From the first there was considerable opposition to the use of our roads and streets for the purpose of what may be considered as railways, but from custom this opposition gradually died down.

Then came the motor omnibus, a successful rival of the tramcar and the question of the great inconvenience caused to the general traffic, by using part of our highways as railways, has revived. As to the success of this rivalry, as a public means of transport, it may be incidentally mentioned that, whereas in the year lull there were about 1000 motor omnibuses running in London, there are now upwards of 3400 of these public conveyances.

There can be no doubt that this form of conveyance is gaining in public favour, and the question naturally follows, why should the cumbersome and rigid be continued ? Is it right that any portion of a highway should be devoted to one class of traffic which is of such a rigid and inflexible nature that it cannot give way a sixteenth of an inch in order to accommodate the general traffic? The tramcar has no flexibility ; it can only move in two directions, forwards and backwards, and consequently is, at times, the inevitable cause of serious obstruction.

If a tramcar breaks down, or the line of tramway is obstructed in any way, the whole service of tramcars on that route is dislocated, with very serious results to the whole of the traffic on that particular road.

The speed also of a. tramcar is governed by that of the traffic immediately in front of it : there is no pos sibility of escape either to right or left, and consequently everything has to get out of its way in order that it may proceed.

The enormous size of the modern tramcar makes it a serious source of danger to the ordinary traffic ; it is impossible for anyone driving behind a tramcar to see what is coming in an opposite direction, and the great length involves considerable time when trying to pass it when travelling in the same direction. A further danger arises from the fact that, owing to the position of the tramlines the " rule of the road cannot be always followed in passing a tramcar and consequently it has frequently to be passed on the wrong side. This is especially dangerous to foot passengers who are obliged, by reason of the rigidity of the tramcar, to cross a portion of the carriage-way in order to reach the car on which they are desirous of travelling. It is even more dangerous

138 when passengers are leaving a tramcar in order to reach the footpath.

This want of flexibility in the movements of a tramcar makes the congestion of traffic really serious at important street junctions and also at corners, and is a source of great anxiety to policemen on point duty at such places.

In addition to these serious objections, there is also the fact that, owing to the tramlines being constructed generally in the centres of carriage-ways, and that they are paved within their statutory limits, where the margins are unpaved tends to attract all the slow-moving vehicles to follow the lines ot tramway, instead of keeping to their proper near side, an obviously dangerous and most inconvenient practice, and quite contrary to the now generally agreed upon necessity that all slow-going traffic should keep as near the kerb on the near side as possible.

There is another serious objection to the position of the tramlines in the centres of the carriage-ways where the margins between the statutory limits and the kerb are macadamized. It is universally agreed that the cross-fall or camber of a carriage-way can be greatly reduced where an impervious surface is adopted. But when tramlines were originally constructed the margins were almost universally left macadamized, and now that this practice is being abandoned the camber cannot be altered except at the enormous cost of relaying. the whole of the tramlines and paving, or by raising the kerb and footpath, which is often impracticable owing to the frontagers naturally objecting to being "buried."

There is another point worth consideration, and that is with regard to the repair of the tramway lines. This obviously takes time, with the consequent dislocation of traffic, both of the tramcars and the ordinary vehicles using the road or street. The noise also of these repairs, often carried on by night as well as by day, must be most disturbing to the residents in the neighbourhood, accentuated as it must be when the rails and other metallic substances are being struck with heavy hammers, There is one other point with regard to the positions of the tramlines which may hitherto have escaped observation. Owing to the extraordinary increase of traffic in our streets, it has become advisable to construct gre,at many more " refuges" or "islands " in the centres of streets for the safety of pedestrians. Owing to the limited space between the " up " and " down " lines of tramway there is no room to construct those refuges, and consequently where tramways exist, with all the increased danger to pedestrian traffic caused thereby, these refuges cannot be constructed. is the Street Tramway Doomed ?-----00n.

So much for the indictment against, street tram. ways as a dangerous obstruction to the proper user of our highways; let us now tutu to the point so often used in their favour that they are the democratic transporter of the " masses." This assertion may have had some truth in it before the inteodaelion of the internal-combustion quickrunnin engine and the absolute transformation of the traihe by the advent of the motor omnibus, but what do we find now 7 The tramcar is not, and never can be, a "door-todoor " or " kerb-to-kerb " conveyance like the motor omnibus.

On the contrary, the passengers by tramcar have to walk to a stopping place, and then have generally to cross half the carriage-way, sometimes at the risk of their lives, to reach their vehicle. The same.perforrnance has to be repeated at the end of their journey, whereas with a motor omnibus all this is rendered unnecessary.

Then again, for rapidity of transit tlie. tramcar cannot compete with the motor omnibus for reasons already given, and also from the fact that high rates of speed with a tramcar may mean its leaving the rails with serious consequences.

A breakdown of the tramway service means walk ing the rest of the journey, whereas if a motorbus breaks down the conductor will always transfer the passengers, free of cost, to another omnibus if of the same company. For " cross" routes also it is evi(lent that no tramcar can afford the iaeilieles which are now given by any well-organized motor-omnibus services.

There can be no disguising the fact that the street tramway has become old-fashioned and out of date; owing to the improved methods of locomotion which have now been introduced, the ponderous "democratic," Noah's Ark of traffic must give way to the more popular, lively and mobile motor omnibus.

We have put up with the improper use of our streets and roads for many years, but has not the time now arrived when this obstructive form of traffic should disappear, and our highways revert to the independent circulation of traffic for which they were originally intended

it is common knowledge that every pedestrian, every driver of a vehicle, every bigyelist who is obliged to use a road occupied by a tramway gives a sigh of relief when he reaches the terminus and knows that the road in front of him is free from this encumbrance.

The time has at last arrived when thc abolition of this grievance is in sight—" a consummation devoutly to be wished."