When planners designed Stevenage new town only 1 in 10 families owned a car. Although they planned for some growth, they didn’t predict the explosion in car ownership that meant it doubled in the 1950s alone. By 1970, as the newer neighbourhoods were built, half of households owned one or more cars and today four in five have at least one car. What that meant for local residents was that parking and garages were always in short supply and still are today.
Building in safety
Did you know that Eric Claxton, the engineer who helped plan the town, wanted above all to make it safe, and a big part of that was preventing accidents:
“Behind all this was my experience of the terrible carnage of wartime, and in my heart I, I’d made up my mind that if I could possibly help it, nobody should ever be injured again. So, Stevenage sets out, and it set out from its very beginning to be as safe as I could create it.”
To do this, he thought very carefully about the road layout:
- He separated cars, bikes and pedestrians and built over 26 miles of dedicated cycleways.
- He designed the bigger roads to be straighter, helping traffic flow.
- In contrast, residential areas had roads that twisted and turned, to force cars to travel more slowly.
- Some later neighbourhoods were built using the Radburn Plan, a layout inspired by an American planner, where cars access houses from service roads behind, with gardens, footpaths and shared green spaces at the front to be enjoyed without worrying about traffic.
Meanwhile, in the early years of the new town, the Great North Road (A1) still went through Stevenage, cutting off the industrial area of Gunnels Wood Road from the new homes to the east. Every morning and evening hundreds of workers had to cross the road, traffic was fast and lighting was poor. Local people highlighted the danger in the Stevenage Residents’ Federation newspaper, The Stevenage Echo, but nothing was done and eventually someone was killed. A protest was organised and people took a coffin for a slow walk where the accident had happened, causing traffic jams as the country’s main east coast artery was clogged. They demanded a safe way of crossing the road.
In response, a footbridge was erected where Broadhall Way now crosses the road and the Stevenage by-pass (A1M) was finally opened in 1962.
Along with the hunger for cars came the petrol stations to fuel them. If you are local you may remember some of these!
Don’t forget the children!
And finally . . . just because they are great photos, here are some younger residents getting up close to cars.