Tag Archives: London’s roads

All roads lead to . . . London: A1

One hundred years ago Britain’s main roads weren’t numbered because they didn’t need to be. Cars had yet to take over the world, so most important roads still had names from the era of the horse and cart. Most were named after the town at the other end London Road was a favourite or the direction in which they travelled such as Great North Road.

But then motor transport started to get popular and in 1921 the newly-formed Department of Transport decided that all of Britain’s major roads should be numbered.

As was said ‘all roads lead to Rome’, but at the Department of Transport, most roads lead to London.

Civil servants selected six particularly important roads leading out of London (most starting close to the Bank of England) and numbered them A1 to A6 starting clockwise from the north, these were as follows:

A1 London to Edinburgh (409 miles, originally the Great North Road)

A2 London to Dover (77 miles, originally Watling Street)

A3 London to Portsmouth (74 miles)

A4 London to Bath (103 miles, originally the Great West Road)

A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)

You might have thought that the remainder of Britain’s roads were numbered fairly haphazardly, not so, it works like this:

To number the roads, Great Britain has been divided into nine sectors, six of which radiate in clockwise order from London, and the remaining three similarly from Edinburgh. Sector I includes all the roads situated between roads A1 and A2, and so on clockwise for the remaining sectors.

Note: an exception occurs between road A2 and the estuary of the Thames which is part of sector II and not sector I. All roads take their initial number from the sector in which they start, eg A12 and A17 start in Sector I, note that a road does not necessarily terminate in the same sector in which it begins. The commencement of a road is determined by the end of it which would be reached first by the hands of a clock radiating from London.

In honour of the fact that the Ministry of Transport was formed in 1919 and exactly 100 years ago, they were completing their task of numbering the country’s roads, and that the first five arterial roads started in central London, I’m ‘calling over’ in the manner of The Knowledge. All Knowledge ‘Runs’ start or finish anywhere within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross, so I’m going to try to describe the first 6 miles of these roads as if I’m on an Appearance testing my knowledge of London to become a cabbie.

A1 London to Edinburgh

This 409-mile road begins at the unprepossessing Aldersgate outside the old Museum of London, but this wasn’t always the case. The A1 used to begin outside St Paul’s Cathedral, following an old coaching road north up the grandly named St Martin’s-le-Grand, that was before the IRA came along, causing City authorities to erect ‘the ring of steel’ in the mid-1990s.

The A1 now starts a few yards past an unstaffed security checkpoint at a shadowy characterless roundabout. A circular brick island rises in the centre of the roundabout. The A1 heads north from this lonely spot, unlabelled, unsigned, unnoticed.

F Aldersgate Street
F Goswell Road
R Islington High Street
F Upper Street
Comply Highbury Corner
L/By Holloway Road
R Tollhouse Way
L Archway Road
L & R Bakers Lane
B/L Aylmer Road
F Lyttelton Road
F Falloden Way
B/L North Circular Road
B/R Great Northern Way

5-mile ends at approximately Five Ways Corner with the opportunity to join the M1 for a faster journey north.

Twenty’s plenty

I’ve always thought of the 30 mph speed limit in London as having been imposed since the dawn of time.

The recent seemingly draconian measure by many local authorities to reduce this to a blanket 20 mph to many is a novel and unnecessary step.

Yet for many years 20 mph was the norm it being introduced 80 years ago.

[S]tatically for every 1 mph reduced in the average speed there are 6 per cent fewer accidents according to the Department for Transport who say that the limit imposed should be seen by drivers as the maximum speed rather than as a target to achieve irrespective of road conditions. The limit seems to have been successful with 1 death on the roads for every 20,000 cars.

There was a blanket 20 mph speed limit for decades at the start of the last century presumably once the requirement for vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

In 1903 the Motor Car Act made 20 mph mandatory. Presumably at that time a vehicle’s maximum speed was less than 50 mph, and had a stopping distance equivalent to a super tanker.

When in 1930 this Act was repealed carnage on Britain’s roads ensued. By 1034 with only one-tenth of the cars on the road compared with today’s traffic there was 4 times as many deaths.

A controversial Act was passed imposing a 30 mph speed limit, just how that figure was agreed has been lost in the mists of time and as with all British compromises chaos ensued.

Pieces of paper were plastered over existing signs, or tin discs used. Where authorities had managed to erect a regulatory sign these were often torn down, some ended up in lakes.

Now with greater traffic volumes and the huge increase in cyclists on London’s roads the debate has been re-ignited.

The Lib-Dems considered a 10 mph maximum in some areas, while many more pragmatic types of council have opted for 20 mph in residential streets supplementing this with as many road obstacles as it’s possible to imagine.

At 20 mph, if we adhere to Department of Transport guidelines, our average speed should be around 17–18 mph about the rate of travel for more sedate cyclists.


Unfortunately the modern car (or cab) hasn’t been designed to be driven at a continuous 17 mph. The gear ratios are incorrect, fuel consumption higher and engines emit more particulates. In a world of electric cars this wouldn’t be a problem.

Failing this utopian world the most effective way I’ve seen is the average speed camera. Only a fool and the thief would fail to comply with the speed limit under those watchful eyes.

Local authorities will just have to bite the bullet and invest if they want everyone traversing their land adhering to their diktats.

The Non-Mad Way to Run a Car in London

Driving in London is hard work – I should know.

In this Guest Post Daniel Solomou promotes the use of the Toyota Aygo and has some sage advice for London motorists, you could, of course, jump in a cab.

When you approach the subject of running a car in London (particularly central London) the overwhelming response is usually “You’re mad”. This usually being due to . . .

The Cost
You’ll be told how expensive your insurance will be (£985 on average in inner London) and how much it costs to park (£38.20 for 4-24 hours at an NCP). Not to mention the £9 due every day you go inside the Congestion Charge Zone; the amount of parking attendants waiting to slap a fine on you if you park too long; the cost of fuel (currently just less than 130p per litre) and indeed the amount you will need to spend on your road tax, MOT and servicing etc. Some people will also point out…

The Alternatives
You’ll be told about the virtues of the various Car Clubs available in London, such as Zip Car, Car Club and Streetcar Club, who all offer hourly rates of car hire once you’re a member (e.g. £6/hr and £54/day.

There will also be many ready to wax lyrically about the benefits of public transport on financial, environmental and convenience grounds and as a way of avoiding London’s gruesome traffic jams.

They’re all fair points and well made, but what if you HAVE to run a car in London?

Reasons could include the arrival of a new baby, the needs of an elderly or disabled relative, or perhaps due to you having a small business, whatever. So what’s the best way to run a car when all signs still point to “DON’T”?

1. Subscribe to ‘Bangernomics’
‘Bangernomics’ is essentially the practice of minimising your expenditure on everything related to your car, particularly the car itself.

For example with this approach you would purchase perhaps a 15 year old diesel Ford Mondeo estate for a couple of hundred pounds. Your insurance costs would be minimal (even in central London it could be roughly £400 per year) due to the undesirable nature of the vehicle and fuel costs would be low, as even old diesels tend to get great mileage.

You can’t do much about the Congestion Charge or the parking costs etc. but with ‘Bangernomics’ you take such a big chunk out of the cost of running the car your bank balance will still look pretty sane.

You do have to drive a banger around all the time though. And it is likely to break down a bit, but then parts are cheaper too for such a common car.

2. Choose a Hybrid Car
If you wouldn’t be seen dead driving a banger around all day then you should consider opting for a hybrid car. You do get to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling knowing you are doing your bit to help the environment, but more importantly they offer drivers numerous financial benefits.

Many hybrids boast the ability to cut fuel expenditure by using 15-20 per cent less fuel per mile.

For Londoners bitterly opposed to the Congestion Charge, those with certain hybrids enjoy the ‘Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles Discount’ which is currently a discount of 100 per cent.

As Road Tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) is based on emissions, owners of a typical hybrid sit in a bracket effectively 4 notches lower than non-hybrid vehicles.

Hybrids tend to have much higher re-sale values when compared with non-hybrids of the same age. While some cars lose 20 per cent of their value the second they’re driven out of the showroom, hybrids may only lose 10 per cent over 3 years. This is due to hybrids ability to maintain the same level of fuel efficiency over many years and the fact they are easier to maintain and more durable.

If your choice of hybrid qualifies as an ‘ultra-low emissions’ car, the government may be able to offer you their Plug-in Car Grant to cover 25 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

Also, as hybrids have been around since 1997, you can now buy one second hand. Saving you a bit on the upfront cost too. Or if you just have to have the latest model, there are an increasing number of hybrid car offers available thanks to the number of new brands offering hybrid models leading to increase competition.

3. Be Generally Smarter
Once you have selected your new/old non-mad car for driving in London, all you have to do is to make smart choices when out and about.

· Don’t go in the Congestion Charge Zone if you can help it
· Don’t park in a multi-story car park for 24 hours
· Don’t park illegally
· Do consider sharing journeys with friends/colleagues
· Do shop around for the cheapest petrol station in your area (usually a supermarket)
· Do compare your car insurance to ensure you have the best deal

With the right car and by making sure you use common sense when out and about, you can easily run a car in London without being considered mad.

Goswell Street Road

One of the oft used and pointless pieces of trivia is that the City of London has no ’roads’.

The Square Mile has streets aplenty, along with ‘Lanes’, ‘Gates’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Docks’, ‘Places’, ‘Alleys’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Yards’, but no ’roads’. Along with a veritable smorgasbord of throughfares that don’t fall into any category, ’Old Jewry’, ’New Change’, ’Crutched Friars’.

[O]f the many theories of the dearth of roads one is that the Old English verb to ride has as its past tense ’road’. While the old Scots form of ride is raid which later would come to mean riding with hostile intent.

So by the 16th century a fixed route for getting from one place to another over land came to be known as a road. As with many words of modern usage the term ’road’ to mean a thoroughfare was first used by William Shakespeare. In 1589 it appeared in Comedy of Errors, Act II, Scene 2:

Go hie thee presently, post to the road:
An if the wind blow any way from shore,
I will not harbour in this town to-night:
If any bark put forth, come to the mart,
Where I will walk till thou return to me.
If every one knows us and we know none,
‘Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.

For us to refer to a long distance highway (as the Romans would) a street seems to have the wrong connotation. We rarely refer to Watling Street, Ermine Street, or Dere Street preferring the more prosaic: A1, A2 or A5. So because a road had to go somewhere and in London you were already there ’roads’ would commence outside the City gates.

Another theory is that a ’road’ has to be able to accommodate two carts passing one another, a feat performed with difficulty in London’s narrow medieval streets.

All this trivia was great for the tourist guides (and cabbies) enabling them to demonstrate their knowledge of London. That was until the good Burghers of the town halls moved the City’s limits.

Goswell Street was renamed Goswell Road, in the past the northern section (that being furthest away from the City) was named Goswell Street Road, which probably denoted that by the time you reached the name change you were on the road to somewhere.

In 1994 boundary changes brought the eastern half under the jurisdiction of the City of London, while the western carriageway remains firmly in the Borough of Islington.

The boundary now runs down the middle of the road, pedants might argue that this still, technically, means that there isn’t a single road within the City of London, merely a half-road.

Twenty’s plenty

Twenty is plentyIslington Council has a long history of discouraging the use of cars within its boundaries; passengers have told me of having their cars taken to the car pound one day after their residents’ permit expired.

Another wealthy resident said his cul-de-sac which was 100 metres long had 8 speed humps ‘to prevent excessive speed’.

The existing speed humps, which were designed to keep speeds below 20mph, have only managed to impair the emergency services. All the ‘boy racers’ went out and purchased wide-wheeled 4x4s and continued to drive furiously.

Islington’s next ploy was to build ‘pincer points’ which allow only one vehicle through at a time and construct innumerable pedestrian crossings on Upper Street. This has resulted in an 18 hour-a-day traffic jam with cars belching out noxious fumes and pedestrians resolutely refusing to cross at the designated places.

[T]he slower a vehicle travels reduces the risk of injury to pedestrians, but so does observation and driving. In Islington you spend an inordinate amount of your journey looking out for obstructions installed by the council.

Vehicles are not designed to travel at 16mph (the speed you should travel as 20mph is the maximum), use far more fuel and increase their emissions at these low speeds. In addition many odometers are inaccurate at low speed resulting in drivers having to maintain a speed of 15mph.

If this north London council is serious about keeping speed limits below 20mph it can only enforce it by a complex system of average speed cameras, just how much would that cost the ratepayers?