Roads.org.uk turns 20 years old this month. Help yourself to a slice of cake and join us for a virtual celebration!
How do you know your peculiar childhood interest has turned into a hobby? Maybe you take your interest online and start posting stuff to the internet. And how do you know that hobby has turned into an obsession? Perhaps when you've been running a website about a very niche interest for two full decades.
First launched in August 2001, under the name "Chris's British Roads Directory", or CBRD for short, the first few pages were aimed squarely at the tiny but passionate crowd of UK road enthusiasts who had begun gathering online. The original name should tell you the origins of the project: a simple hobby site run from a teenager's bedroom.
Early hit features included Build Your Own, where visitors suggested new fantasy road projects; the Great C-Road Hunt, mapping places where elusive C-road numbers had appeared on signs; and a Motorway Simulator program that you could download and run on your Windows 98 PC.
There was also an "Intro to UK Roads", a sort of early FAQ, that opened with the question "what are the roads like?". The answer it offered was "sort of big, long, grey things with cars on". Perhaps some of that early material is best left in the past.
In fact, over the years, most of the material published back in 2001 has vanished, but two things survive from the earliest days: the Photo Gallery is still with us, as is Bad Junctions, which continues to be one of the most popular (and occasionally controversial) parts of the website.
Lots has changed since the summer of 2001, even in the slow-moving world of the road network. We looked back at some of the changes in our 2016 blog post marking the 15th anniversary of the website's launch. Things keep changing, too. In 2018, our 17th birthday was marked with a new name, finally dropping the clunky initials CBRD to become Roads.org.uk. We like to think of it as a coming of age present.
Speaking of presents, here's a birthday present from Roads.org.uk to you.
The return of the Simulator
The Motorway Simulator started life as a Windows desktop application, but soon migrated online, and developed into an interactive feature of the website where you could click your way around a virtual road network, looking at the road signs and reading a commentary of the road and its history. Some of the routes were contributed by visitors to the site.
The Simulator came to the end of its run in 2010, when the website was redesigned and some old features were dropped. It's been offline for eleven whole years now, and yet - rather incredibly - I still get asked about it on a regular basis.
"When is it coming back?" I get asked. "It's not," I reply.
Well, it's the website's twentieth birthday, and time to do something big and fun. So - for a limited time only - you can enjoy the Simulator all over again. It's available on its own little retro website here, complete with vintage CBRD theming from about 2009. Enjoy!
If the Simulator is just a bit too much excitement for you, how about some of our other greatest hits?
Twenty things from twenty years
You can learn a lot in twenty years. Here's something from every year we've been online - click one to read more.
Our famous Motorway Database started life in 2001, and the first motorway we published was the M1. There's more information there now than there ever was before, but there's at least one sentence of its description that's now had two decades online.
In 2002 we started collecting sightings of non-standard road numbers in The Great C-Road Hunt. You can still see pictures we published back then in our C-Roads gallery. https://www.roads.org.uk/photo/c-roads
In February 2003 we reported on a strange experiment happening on the M42 called Active Traffic Management. It was the beginning of what are now known as Smart Motorways. Our old page on ATM eventually morphed into this much bigger guide.
CBRD's first article written by a contributor appeared in 2004, and it documented the fascinating engineering behind the M1 extension near Leeds in the late 1990s, complete with pictures of the works.
Scammonden Bridge is a flyover carrying a B-road over the M62. When it was built, it was also the longest single span non-suspension bridge in the world. In 2005, we learned that the view from the top is amazing.
If you wanted to get rid of traffic jams, one place you could put them is underground. 2006 was the year we discovered a sixties plan to do exactly that, with a network of tunnelled motorways and car parks beneath London called the Underways.
We went big on pedestrian crossings in 2007. Why? Well, somebody has to. The strange history of crossing the road included a look at the Panda crossing, perhaps the most outlandish display of flashing lights ever to be installed on the roads.
2008 was Ringways year, with the publication of a comprehensive history of London's unbuilt urban motorway network. We're in the process of rewriting and republishing them all now. Among all the unbelievable road plans, we discovered that the Minister of Transport accidentally bought a flat next to one of the proposed motorways.
The UK's first roundabout was built in Letchworth Garden City in 1909. To mark its 100th anniversary, we paid it a visit in 2009.
Where would you go to find the oldest road tunnel in the UK? We went to Reigate, the unlikely home of subterranean engineering.
Our most-requested article, answering the question we get asked more than any other, is about black and yellow symbols on direction signs, and we published it in 2011. They're called Emergency Diversion Routes, by the way.
We paid a visit to Exhibition Road in Kensington, the site of a huge - and not entirely successful - experiment in "shared space".
From summer 2012 until autumn 2014 the website was on hiatus, so nothing new was published. Sorry!
It didn't launch in 2014, but one of the biggest updates when CBRD returned was a top-to-bottom rebuild of the Dictionary, our guide to roads and transport jargon. From A-roads to zebra crossings, it's all in there.
In Mixed Signals we explored the secret history of electronic signs, including the Motorwarn signal, built in a rush from bits of wood and car batteries. None were present at the press launch because the brand new signals had been stolen from the M4 overnight.
This was the year we learned that the Green Man signal, who helps pedestrians cross the road, has an extraordinarily diverse family. They appeared on signals in Trafalgar Square and have been there ever since.
Accident Black Spot signs were an invention of the 1950s that were quickly abandoned. It turns out they're making a comeback in parts of rural Essex, and in 2017 we paid them a visit to see whether or not they're a good idea. (Spoiler: they're not.)
In 2018 we learned that one of the UK's motorways is, in the most literal sense, built on top of Hyde Park.
We learned how to build a motorway from scratch, thanks to an incredible collection of almost 500 aerial photographs charting the construction of the M65 between junctions 1 and 3.
It was a weird year for everyone, so what better time to take a deep dive into a very weird road, as we explored the Imperfectly Odd A601(M).
So far it's been the year of the motorway nobody expected - the A1077(M). We took a look at it back in May.
Today Roads.org.uk is still a hobby site, but now a very big one. It's no longer written in a bedroom, which is probably for the best, and no longer written by someone who could ever pass for a teenager. But it does still aim to do the same things it's always done, which is to share all the things that make the UK's road network so strange and interesting and brilliant.
Whether you've been a faithful devotee since the earliest days, or you stumbled across Roads.org.uk for the first time this week, thanks for coming. I hope you discovered something new and interesting about those big, long, grey things with cars on. Let's see what we can all learn in another 20 years.
Many happy returns, Chris, and thank you for all the interest and entertainment which you’ve provided.
I think what you do is important in documenting a key part of human endeavour and I really appreciate all the time and effort which goes in to your research. Here’s to many more decades.
Not quite sure when I stumbled across this gem but I have been regularly popping on to have a look for at least 12 years. So thank you for the hours of entertainment you have provided, mostly because I now live abroad and it has provided me with this connection to home which is weird as I did not drive when I left the UK.
The Motorway Simulator is a brilliant waste of time! I "drove" several journeys here that I had driven in real life over 25 years ago and the comments were both witty and helpful (e.g. M60 J5 "Also for Birmingham and Wythenshawe (though I'm not suggesting that those places are of equal importance).")
Thanks to comments such as this, I was able to revisit a journey from the M6 to Wythenshawe, a journey I made perhaps a dozen times in the mid-90s, yet have been unable to do it via Google Maps since. But with the Motorway Simulator, it was easy!
And I didn't get lost once.
Thanks, Chris, and congratulations for making it to Junction 20.
Here's to another twenty years. Thanks Chris.
I must say that I enjoy the Motorway Simulator very much, but find it a pity that M50 wasn't on the list, and the A1 was it was 10 years ago
Why is this Simulator so much fun? I love it! Are there any plans to update it with any recent changes like the A5 around Dunstable?
Glad you're enjoying it! No current plans, sadly - it's back temporarily, perhaps for a couple of months. Bringing it back permanently would require quite a lot of development work to bring the files up to date and to make new additions possible.
Congratulations for 20 years of this fantastic site.
I had been among the people who had asked you about the Motorway Simulator a few years ago, as I had never seen it when it was online aside from via the Wayback Machine, where I found the front page for it but most of the other content was broken, rendering it unusable. Unfortunately it's not a 3D driving simulator, but I never expected it to be, especially considering when it was made. It's still interesting to see what it was like and it's more or less exactly what I expected.
I find it amusing how you mentioned the speed camera signs on the M4 between J15 and J17. In reality I would have said that speed checks are no more common on this stretch than most other stretches of conventional (non-smart) motorway, but the frequency of the signs is unusual for a conventional motorway - they're found near to or by at least every other bridge. Do you know how many years ago those camera signs were installed along the M4 through Wiltshire (they've been there since at least the mid 2000s)?
May I also ask why you chose at the time to add the services operators on the signs in red text on a white background? The signs found in the mid 2000s (which have nearly all been replaced since as franchised brands are now allowed to be advertised from the road) usually had the logo of the operator at the top, and while for intellectual property reasons you wouldn't be able to use their logos, you could probably have still chosen a corresponding colour for each operator, so red text for Roadchef, turquoise for Moto and dark blue (before 2006) or black (after 2006) for Welcome Break. The red text reminds me a little of the signs for the eastbound-only military junction between J13 and J14 of the M4.
I can't really remember why the operator is always in red. It's probably because that was the colour of the top panel in the sample services sign in TSRGD, which is where all the graphics come from. The example had a dummy operator called "GOOD FOOD" with a red-on-white logo, I think. The Simulator wasn't remotely sophisticated enough to offer different colour text for different operators - they all had to be the same, so they are all the same generic style.
Perhaps next maybe you could add back the motorway builder or whatever it was called ( i jonied recently and this is the one i would like to see the most)
I’m the author of the M2/A2, M4, M20/A20, M48 and M49. I have been enjoying some happy memories going through these roads once again - and cringing at all the mistakes I made at the time, whilst thinking what I would put were I making this today! I think I still have the files I created all those years ago...
Here’s to another twenty years of this site!
Hey, just found this website today, bit late to the party but im super happy i found it! This wonderful knowledge of roads I grew up on and roads I may drive and discover on the future. Thank you Chris!
I found this site by chance when I first went online in 2002, looking for photos of the old A1, and have visited regularly ever since. Also ties in nicely with SABRE, who are big promoters of this site.
Have been dipping in and out of this great site for nearly ten years. Living in Singapore now it gives me the opportunity to remember proper roads (good and bad) from time to time… Congratulations on 20 years.
For some reason my fonts are not working. I've downloaded them onto the computer but they don't seem to be showing up on the programme.
It depends on what kind of computer you have, but you usually need to unzip them and then move the font files to a special fonts folder in order to use them. On most systems, once you’ve unzipped the file you can right-click on the font file and there’s an option to “install” them which will move them to the right place.
It's really great to see the motorway simulator back again. That was always great fun. However when journeying south on the simulator M6, at M6 J32 there is a sign that says "For Preston N (A6) follow M55 For Preston E & S follow M6". I don't remember ever seeing this on the real M6 J32. Forgive my curiosity but was this sign your own Chris for the sim or was it a sign from the early days of the M55 that was taken down at some point?
At this stage I've literally no idea! Someone who was a regular user of the M6 20 years ago might be able to say with more certainty. It wouldn't be unusual if the sign didn't really exist though, often extra signs would be inserted to make the commentary flow better or to fill in where the Simulator didn't have space for all the destinations listed on a real sign.