The golden age of the motorway

“The great highway will never look empty again.”

When they opened, the first motorways were the sparsely populated playgrounds of the privileged few — the few who could afford a car.  They could drive as fast as they liked and would never meet a jam.  But perhaps they could see even then that the motorways would create the traffic to fill themselves, and that this was a solution that wouldn’t scale.

But it will not be many years before they look this way again.  It is currently a matter of faith amongst electric vehicle proponents that we will make the technology and/or infrastructure breakthroughs that would make them suitable for long-distance journeys, and nobody even dares think about post-oil long-distance haulage.  (The aeroplane and the jetpack should serve as warnings to everyone with blind confidence in the impossibility or inevitability of a breakthrough, though.)  But however it is powered, whatever happens, the private car — and building your whole life around using one — will never again be the attractive choice it was (or people thought it should be) in the eighties and nineties, and whether you think that’s a good thing or not, no amount of tabloid whining will ever change it, politicians will never have the power to prevent it, and new generations are growing up for whom the car is increasingly irrelevant.

A lot of individuals and businesses will invest in adapting to the way the world now is.  Other individuals and businesses are being born unburdened by investment in the old world, and they will flourish.  And a few individuals and businesses will carry on whining and blaming the government for their ever more expensive lack of change.  Those privileged few will enjoy a new golden age of the motorway.  And then they will be gone.

(Video via the absolutely delightful BBC Four series, The Secret Life Of The Motorway.)

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