London’s other forgotten motorways

Published on 24 August 2023

We’ve spent years documenting the unbuilt urban motorway network planned for London. Today we’re unveiling more new routes that have never been seen before.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that roads.org.uk is home to the Ringways, an epic project to exhaustively research and document the 1960s urban motorway network that would have ringed and bound London. Research has been ongoing since the early 2000s and we’ve been publishing the current set of pages about them in batches since 2017.

Until now, all the motorways we’ve written about have been online before in some form, since we’ve hosted a Ringways mini-site since about 2006. Our work since 2017 has been to bring those pages up to date, expanding them from a few notes about the route and the history to a series of detailed accounts that explore every detail of every route.

Today we’re doing something different, and publishing brand new pages about the Secondary Road Network - the other main roads that would have complemented the Primary Road Network of Ringways and radial routes. For the most part, the SRN would have been London’s existing main roads, upgraded and widened - but there would also have been a number of new routes, some of which were motorways in their own right, to be built along with the roads we’ve already documented.

An underground motorway through East London? Click to enlarge
An underground motorway through East London? Click to enlarge

What’s new?

The pages online today include one road you’ll know very well: the notorious Westway, now part of the A40, which is now London’s biggest, most noticeable and most controversial urban road. You might be surprised to discover that the Greater London Council’s masterplan considered it a secondary road.

They also explore a whole series of roads you might not know well or might even not know at all: the Eastern Avenue Extension, Radial Route 6 and the Richmond Hill Tunnel.

And of course, they get the same treatment as all our existing Ringways pages:

  • All-new text, benefitting from years of research, with copious illustrations and diagrams
  • Detailed route maps with junction layouts, based on Ordnance Survey mapping
  • Costings of routes, where they’re available, with 2014 equivalents
  • Full listings of our sources for information and pictures.

If you’ve enjoyed our Ringways pages so far, you’ll be thrilled to find a whole new set of road plans that were, in the main, almost entirely unknown until now.

What’s next?

We are getting really close to the finish line now. With the Secondary Roads online, there are just two more pages awaiting publication (and also, er, waiting to be written). They will be very different, and they have been saved until last partly because they are quite unusual, and partly because it is a daunting task to begin writing them.

The aim is for an alternate history of London: first, London with the Ringways will explore the city as it might have looked and grown if its massive motorway network had been built; then Driving the Ringways will take a tour around London’s motorways as they would appear today.

We're also working on publishing the full Ringways map: you can see extracts from it at the top of each page, highlighting individual routes, but at some point soon we'd like to make the whole London map available to explore. We'll let you know where to find it once it's ready to go.

We’ve smashed through enough deadlines in this project so we’re not putting a date on those things finally appearing. But today we can, at least, say that all of the roads are now online. We hope you really enjoy seeing how London’s familiar main roads would have changed, and discovering the incredible new roads that were planned to accompany them.

Elsewhere on
Roads.org.uk...

Ringways

The story of an incredible plan to reshape London into a city of motorways, with the history from creation to cancellation and details on every unbuilt road.

Comments

Stephen 24 August 2023

Does anyone have any plans from around the 1980s for a proposed bypass for Shirley in Southampton? I have a vague memory (as a Shirley resident) of seeing something in the newspaper at the time but can’t find anything on it. It would be fascinating to find out more. Similar schemes came to fruition in Portswood and Bitterne but thankfully Shirley missed out.

Patrickov 29 August 2023

Allow me to express my congratulation on your awesome accomplishment.

Anonymous 30 August 2023

Brilliant work. your Ringways site has always been one of my favourites and can't wait for driving the ringways

Fred 30 August 2023

Also would like to express congratulations on your Ringways section, looking forward to the last two articles and gives one much to think about on what-could-have-been both the positive and negative.

Paul Rodgers 1 November 2023

Any idea when you will get around to the City of Ro*****er Urban Motorway?

I don’t know what that is or what city you’re referring to?

From the asterisks I think hes referring to Rochester in Kent, and it hasnt been a city for over 20 years.

If it is that, it'll be a long time before I write anything about it, because I've never heard of it before!

Peter Howley 19 December 2023

Nice

Brad 15 January 2024

Found this amusing:
"As a result, any journey by car would involve leaving your local area, joining the nearest Secondary Road, then proceeding only along Secondary and Primary Roads until you turned off into a local road that took you to the doorstep of your destination. Travelling any distance on local roads would be impossible."

You mean... like a London-wide LTN?

Yes, or maybe more precisely a London entirely converted to LTNs.

GLC documentation made a lot of the fact that, relieved of all through traffic, each environmental area could be treated however residents wanted. Presumably some would have ended up very much like an LTN and others might have been more porous for motor traffic. But the vision was very much the removal of through traffic from streets in residential and commercial areas. 

Richard 14 February 2024

I watched a documentary on the PBS channel about New York City. In the sixties the council there had major plans for ring roads in NYC. People in NYC were up in arms about the plans and the council and mayor eventually had to stop the plan. On the documentary it was stated that because the ring roads werent built it meant that people could live in NYC and not need a car, apparently NYC is the only major city in the USA where you can live without needing a car. Mind you NYC does have a very good public transport system.

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Picture credits

  • Artist's impression of the Westway is taken from Greater London Council (1970). "Western Avenue Extension". London: Greater London Council.
  • Plan of below-ground motorway is extracted from MT 106/406.

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