The end of Road Schemes

Published: 28 March 2020

After 18 years, it's the end of the road for Road Schemes, the pages that list and track current UK road construction projects.

What a time to deliver bad news. We could all do with a bit of positivity just now, and I'm sorry this news won't deliver much of that. There will be more blog posts in the next few weeks with new things to read and happier news to share, but for now, here is something that's been on the way for several months. "Road Schemes" is now ending.

Back in 2002, this website (then called CBRD) launched a new section called "Futures" that set out to bring together information about all the major road construction and upgrade projects happening across the UK, regardless where in the UK they were or which branch of government was promoting them. There was then, and there still is now, nowhere else on the internet that brought them all together in one place. It's always been very popular. Today the same section is called Road Schemes.

From today, and with no small amount of regret, I'm announcing the closure of Road Schemes. Roads.org.uk won't be listing or tracking current road projects any longer.

How did we get here?

Regular visitors might recall that, in January 2018, I asked whether Road Schemes should continue. The reasons are in the blog post I made at the time, but in short, Road Schemes didn't seem to be very popular, it took a lot of time to maintain, and - regardless of the noble aim of listing all road projects in one place - its patchy coverage and lack of regular updates on most projects meant that it was never as up-to-date, accurate or reliable as I'd like. Indeed the difficulty of keeping it up to date was affecting the reputation of the whole website for accuracy and reliability.

The outcry was enormous - far greater than anything I expected. So, I changed the way I gathered statistics on my visitors, and it turned out I was wrong on one of those three points: Road Schemes was, and is, enormously popular and draws a lot of people to the website.

Two years ago, in March 2018, I responded by making Road Schemes more appealing and useful, in the hope that it would spur more interaction. If more people visited, more updates would arrive, and the pages would be more current and reliable. Among the changes were the introduction of maps to show the location and extent of each project, and new ways to search and sort them.

So why is Road Schemes closing?

It continues to be hugely popular, so it might seem strange to decide to close it down. There are several reasons.

It's still not accurate or up to date

Regular visitors might like the new map and search features, but not many new readers have arrived. More importantly, most schemes still don't receive progress updates regularly or even at all, so most pages are still - as they were two years ago - out of date. Some are so out of date that the information they contain isn't worth having.

It still takes too much time to maintain

It used to take 20-30 minutes to add a new project to the website; it now takes longer since a custom map is needed for each scheme. And, as above, that effort isn't producing the intended results.

What's more, there's dozens of projects that get emailed in but get stuck in a backlog of updates, and others never get sent in at all, so Road Schemes is not meeting its aim of listing every road project in the UK. It's increasingly clear that it simply can't. To attempt to add in every current project would require more time I can dedicate to the whole website, and nothing else would get done. There's now a whole new list of Highways England schemes, announced as part of RIS2 (on which there'll be a blog post soon), that would require dozens of new scheme pages.

It's still damaging the whole website's reputation

There's a new problem: I'm increasingly getting difficult enquiries and, in some cases, actual complaints about the effect of Road Schemes listings in the real world.

In one recent example, the rough sketch line on the map of one project happened to pass through a building that is not actually affected by the scheme, and the owners of the business that operates there claimed they were losing trade because customers were cancelling bookings, thinking the property was either due for demolition or would soon be hard up against a new road.

Over the last couple of years I've had other similar encounters, and it's plain that I cannot maintain a level of accuracy that would prevent such misunderstandings in future. I didn't start this project in the expectation of facing that sort of controversy and I don't intend to continue with something that brings it my way.

So, yes, Road Schemes is still very popular. But what's become apparent over the last two years, above all else, is that Road Schemes is something everyone agrees ought to exist, that lots of people like to read, but which doesn't receive enough contributions to make it sustainable. The result is a failing experiment. With regret, it's time to bring it to a close.

What happens next?

Right now, Road Schemes is still online, but the forms through which schemes are added and progress updates are submitted have been removed. Its pages are now static. No decision has been made about either archiving the pages or simply taking them offline, given that even the most current will quickly become irrelevant. The rest of Roads.org.uk will continue, of course, with more time and resources spent on the remaining sections.

I don't know if the closure of Road Schemes will spur someone to work on a replacement, but if I get word that anyone else is taking on the task, to pick up where Road Schemes left off, then of course I'll let you know on these pages.

Lastly, to everyone who has contributed to Road Schemes, especially the "regulars" who submitted thousands of changes and updates between them (you know who you are), and everyone who has visited and found them useful, thank you for everything you've done. It's been a fascinating 18 years - but all good things must come to an end.

Comments

KrozJr 28 March 2020

I vote we hold a funeral, make a YouTube montage with sad music, and all wear black to mourn the passing of this website institution.

Ian Smith 28 March 2020

It's a shame but I fully understand your reasoning. I suppose that as a minor positive, one of the reasons that you give for finishing, i.e. the fact that there will hopefully be many new projects and these will make the site even more challenging to update, does mean that in future we can look forward to more new roads opening than we have seen in recent years. One final hopeful suggestion, would it make it feasible to continue if you just concentrated on strategic motorway and A road upgrades and removed all the other projects from the site? Thanks for all the work you have done.

Iain Dobson 28 March 2020

This is a big problem across a number of hobbies, everyone wants the information but people don't want to contribute! With a lot of people it is a one way street, their way. In another hobby the people who hoover up information and never contribute are legendary.

Then you have the people who say, we did not send you the information as we thought you would know! Like you have a crystal ball on your desk.

I do think that going out on a high is better than having to take something down. In some cases, no information is better than old and mouldy gen.

Why not offer help to someone who wants to set up a new roads scheme web site? Provide them with a link from Roads.org. What do you think are the chances of dying in the stampede of willing volunteers? About nil.

Thanks for the good work you have done.

Edward 28 March 2020

Very sad day. Road schemes was the only reason I found this site, and only reason I still read it. I love roads. And the ambition and scale of this Government's road building plans with RIS1 and forthcoming RIS2, not to mention the duelling projects in Scotland, represent the first time since the 70's that our taxes have been collected and used to make our lives better on such a scale. But alas, this very site which serves to collate all these projects and allows us to follow their progress is being closed down. I understand some of the shortcomings, and the patchy nature of the updates, but to just give up on it at a time when there is such a renewed interest from Government to deal with our creaking infrastructure, seems a real shame. If the workload is too high, you should consider closing other sections. Bad junctions is awful. Shut down Twitter. Blogs about road signs and roundabouts are not needed. Look at the time and energy you put into Ringways. Very good, but they don't exist! If people can't follow the schemes which are happening all around them, and indeed across the country, why would anyone come here anyway? Because I probably no longer will...

I’m sorry you’re so disappointed, and if you won’t be back then that’s up to you. I’d remind you, though, that all you read here is the work of one person and I do it in my spare time and at my own expense. I understand that you might be unhappy it’s ending, but it’s not a public service or an entitlement.

If you think it’s so important to have a single listing of all these schemes, you could always start your own, and I’m sure it would prove popular. I’d be happy to share a link to it so that everyone who regularly visited Road Schemes on this website can find it. 

''Bad Junctions is awful'' ?!! I love that section. Trying (and often succeeding) in providing a better system than the one in place is great fun (and shows how incompetent designers often are). Also, if you have no interest in the history of roads, signage/fonts, people who were involved, designs etc and all the anomalies- strange stubs of roads that you've always wondered about and weird layouts that make no sense, (until Chris informs us about them) - and the fantastic 'Ringways' pages that are fascinating to many of us (even though I live miles away from London), and you're only concerned with the new schemes, what's the point in you being here anyway?

Patrickov 29 March 2020

I actually became a visitor to that feature after the 2018 review. I think sometimes not even the authorities were keen to provide updates so I understand the difficulty involved. I will stay tuned to see whatever fascinating ahead.

A real shame. I always enjoyed reading your updates.

Blake Ashton 29 March 2020

It would be great if you archive it.

Phil 29 March 2020

It’s a shame but understandable. You’ve got a life to live, Chris... perhaps people could get their fix from other sites like the Highways Agency or Sabre? Look after yourself matey.

Floyd 30 March 2020

No no no no no!
Road Schemes is the first page I usually visit. It doesn't matter if I know the area where the new scheme is to be, or not. I even often look at the old ones from years ago.
Well, many thanks Chris, I've greatly enjoyed this section and am very sad to see it go.
And you know what they say, ''it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all''!

Andrew 30 March 2020

Understandable, most of the schemes never happen or linger for years. The A40 duelling from Oxford to Witney has been in the news since I was a child, it was back on the table again recently.
Since stumbling on CBRD by chance a few years ago I regularly visit to read the history pages as they are fascinating.
Keep up the good work Chris, a hobby shouldn't become a chore!

Nick 31 March 2020

Appalling decision ! I completely agree with "Edward's" comments. The site will dry up without this section or maybe live a half-life like a website about the courses of old canals, catering to the really dweeby instead of the moderately dweeby.

You're entitled to your views (and to feel appalled), but I don't believe there is anything about the Road Schemes section that was sustaining the rest of the website. It's certainly not going to "dry up".

I often follow old railway lines and canals on old maps (side by side is great), as well as roads. I am not particularly 'into' railways, or canals for that matter, but the history of what once was, (and/or nearly was) is very interesting- to me at least- flyovers that go nowhere and roundabouts with stubbs off them stopping in mid air and what 'nearly' was. I also love seeing old photos of road construction and how things have, or haven't changed over the years- recognising a building in the background for eg. In any case I don't see why someone who IS into canals or railways is anymore 'dweeby' than the ones like me who like roads. Maybe you and Edward would be better using another site if all you are interested in are new builds and have no interest whatsoever in the history of our network.

David 31 March 2020

As someone who has previously run several websites and struggled to keep them up to date I can understand your perspective on this and have a lot of sympathy. However as a site user I am deeply disappointed. As you acknowledge, there is nowhere else online that tries to create a central list of all the UK's major road schemes.

I seem to recall that in 2018 you suggested that the way Road Schemes operated might be changed so that the workload of coordinating updates was distributed among a number of (other) people, which would largely free you up to deal with other aspects of the site. What happened to that thought? Surely there are enough people with a vested interest in keeping this going that we could work together on this?

I looked into that at the time and discarded the idea after some investigation, because the software the site runs on really isn't set up for it and I'd have to put in a lot of effort to make it workable. I also have to keep coming back to the undeniable fact that, over 18 years, Road Schemes has never attracted enough input from visitors to keep all the scheme pages updated and relevant, and I don't think granting a few people a greater amount of freedom to edit pages would change that.

Steve 31 March 2020

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Thanks for all the time you've put in to Road Schemes Chris, and indeed all the work you put in to the rest of the site. I enjoy the blogs, Bad Junctions, Ringway features etc, and although I will miss Road Schemes it certainly won't put me off visiting the site.

Chris. Thanks for all your hard work on this. It was very informative and I really enjoyed. However I understand your reasons for not continuing. Thanks again.

Peter Freeman 2 April 2020

The 'Road Schemes' section will be sorely missed Chris, but thanks for many years of enjoyment. The rest of your site is still great, and long may it continue.

Richard 2 April 2020

this has, for me, been the easiest site to see all new schemes in one place - and see how little has been acheived over the last 10 years! the maps are lovely, but i would rather not have the maps than not have the site. i can find Highways England and Transport Scotland easily enough, but you found info, even their existence, on the harder to find schemes such as the Hereford by-pass which are very tricky to get to otherwise - sabre is of course the next most reliable source. love the ringways too btw. i guess if it was no longer fun, why should you do it. but thank you for this over the last many years.

Thanks for all the great work keeping road schemes going! It's always been great to see what's going on in one easy-to-find place but I thoroughly understand the difficulties in putting it all together and keeping it up to date! I for one always had the forlorn hope that the powers that be in Whitehall, and elsewhere, would use the Road Schemes pages as a kind of to-do list and it would nudge them into getting on with schemes that were long overdue! Wishful thinking I'm sure, but a comfort for those of us who have long been waiting to see towns and villages crippled by outdated roads ploughing through the middle of them! Or those of us waiting for regions like East Anglia to be better connected! And as electric vehicles gather pace, maybe road-building won't be quite such a dirty word environmentally, in the future? So thanks again, Chris. I'll still be a regular on the website; keep up the good work!

It is a shame but things move on and I quite understand it takes a lot of time and effort to keep this site running. If we had a half decent Dept. for Transport they would have the information on new roads on their website but we don't and it isn't fair to expect Chris to provide the service for them. This is still the best repository for roads information and will be for years to come. I wont be going anywhere :)
Thanks for this site and all your work.

David 5 April 2020

Thank you so much, Chris, for all your hard work on the Road Schemes and all of your wonderful site!

This is a real shame, it’s by far my favourite part of the site. Could Road Schemes not be set up as a wiki that anyone can contribute to with a few moderators - wiki software for web sites is free and widely available. Seems a real shame to dispense of something that’s been developed over so long with so much interest.

Yes, the technology is there to make something openly editable (though Road Schemes did operate like that, until 2017, and still didn’t get any more contributions than it does now). But after 18 years I’m not inclined to put in any further work to set up something new. There’s nothing stopping someone else setting it up, of course, and I’ll gladly publicise it here if someone decides to do that. 

Huzaifah 6 April 2020

Hi Chris,

I understand your troubles with the Road Schemes section, however, is it not possible for you to simplify it (e.g. omit the parts that you're finding hard, maybe remove the map or don't give seasonal updates)?
Nevertheless, thanks for this, this website is quite fantastic!

The point was always that it was driven by updates from visitors to the site, and I don’t see what changes I could make that would bring more of those in. Leaving out more information and updating it less regularly would probably encourage even fewer contributions and make it less up to date and reliable than it is now. 

John Randall 8 April 2020

Some of the comments here are more than a little rude. It's a shame that such comments always come out of the woodwork after years of Roads.org.uk asking for people to spend a little bit of time keeping the listings up-to-date.

One good thing is we are living in an era where it's (relatively) easy to create your own powerful online tools, so hopefully somebody will be inspired to pick up the baton. Meanwhile Roads.org.uk can devote more time to the things it does best: research, analysis, and tiny little graphics of every motorway junction in the country!

Gerry McKenna 11 April 2020

Hi Chris
A shame but completely understand your reasoning. It doesn't help when some of the official websites e.g. Transport Scotland are woefully inadequate. They still have the Forth Replacement Crossing and M8/M73/M74 Improvements listed as "under construction" !
Anyway still an extremely interesting website.
Keep up the good work.

Geoff 24 April 2020

Sorry to see the Road Schemes site close, though I understand your reasons Chris. I probably haven't gone to the site as often as I should, but when I have done, found it most useful. We won't realise how helpful it is until it's gone!

Shame, but then the rest of the site is still a wonderful resource. And really I don't see why you should have to be an unpaid national resource for road scheme updates. Maybe the government should provide one.

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