Public thoroughfares have invariably been laid out to meet the requirements of age-old horse-and-buggy equipment and little thought has been given to the needs of the future. Until the middle of the last century, man was dependent for transportation upon his own strength or upon that of the animals that he could domesticate. Caesar could have traveled from Rome to Paris as quickly as could Napoleon 17 centuries later. Now, the humblest American farmer could make the round-trip with his whole family in less time than either emperor could travel one way. Within the last century have been developed in rapid succession the railroad train, the steamship, the electric trolley-car, the automobile, the motor truck, the tractor and the airplane.
The most permanent thing we have is land; the very slowness and regularity with which buildings are replaced tend to make a route and the width in which it is established almost as permanent as the land of which it is a part. In many European cities buildings are clustered so closely together that it is difficult for a wheeled vehicle to pass through the streets. The natural tendency of persons residing along a highway is to encroach upon it if an opportunity presents itself, so that the trend is toward making it the minimum possible width, and little regard is had for the future. America's early settlers changed many of the old European conditions and set up new standards on a broader scale.
In Detroit, three instances of broad vision and courage in route-planning are outstanding. After the fire, in 1806, the Governor and the Judges, the governing body at that time, having obtained authority from the Congress, laid out a new city based upon standards of right-of-way width of 200 ft. for major thoroughfares, 120 ft. for secondary radial arteries and 60 ft. for residential streets. But subsequent generations have failed to conform to the plan, except in a few instances.
In 1824, Governor Cass obtained authority to lay out five great radial thoroughfares as military roads, 100 ft. in width, and, between 1877 and 1883, a group of citizens obtained and dedicated to public use 11.6 miles of right-of-way, varying in width from 150 to 200 ft. and extending from a point opposite Belle Isle around the city to its juncture with the Detroit River on the west. With the exception of these three examples of planning, Detroit has grown along its radial arteries in a more or less haphazard manner.
In the automobile, a mechanism for replacing the horse, man has found a substitute for the railroad train, the steamship and the trolley-car, which are essentially for mass transportation. With it the owner has increased his ability to earn and that of his family to enjoy life. The 53,000 automobiles that were added last year to the registration of Wayne County have a carrying-capacity of 265,000. If all the cars were to swing into Woodward Avenue at Grand Circus Park at the maximum rush-hour rate per lane of traffic, it would require seven and one-half 12-hr. days before the last vehicle would reach Jefferson Avenue. Parked on both sides of the street, they would require a street 86 miles long.
Because the individual's range of action has been increased from 10 to 20 times, his capacity for purchase has been correspondingly enhanced. Land formerly of no value because of its inaccessibility is now more accessible and of more value.
Having developed the automobile, Detroit is now making an effort to provide the proper facilities for its use. Fortunately, because of a hobby of E. N. Hines, chairman of the Board of County Road Commissioners, Wayne County has a greater mileage of concrete roads than any other county in the Country or in the world. Of the 400 miles of improved roads in Wayne County 365 are of concrete. Through the assistance of Governor Groesbeck in reestablishing the fundamental principle that roads should be built by routes and not in disjointed sections, much progress has been made in providing a solution of Detroit's problem. A description is given of the master plan to which Detroit is endeavoring to make its street improvements conform, and the suggestion is offered that additional rights-of-way should be acquired at once, before other improvements are carried out that will make condemnation expensive or impossible. A plan is outlined for a superhighway that will meet modern requirements and make rapid operation safe.


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