Roads (PART 1)

We’ve talked about how we and our bodies shaped driving but what about how we came to have the modern roads we drive on today?

Before the development of modern communications, roads were what connected us as people. As such, they were driven by economic, political and military forces. People needed to get produce to market. The government wanted to tax and enforce its power on those it controlled and from the government’s point of view, the more people it controlled, the more tax is raised and the more powerful the government became.

The first roads were tracks and people themselves carried the loads. We then started to domesticate animals, for food, company and to help grow crops. It was inevitable that we would then start to use animals to help carry loads. The development of further transport was limited by the environment, would an Inca peasant working on his mountainside terrace need and be able to use a cart?

As we discovered mechanical advantage, animals began pulling our carts and we wanted better tracks to get us from A-B. The compacted dirt road pretty soon turned to mud in the rain and dramatically increased its resistance to a turning wheel. The wheel itself, if too narrow would sink down into the road and in the dry, dust became a problem.

The solution to the sinking wheel was to be a harder stone road. Big stones at the bottom becoming smaller at the top. The ride would not be smooth but you and the load were getting to your destination. Rainwater was still a problem but this was solved by John Metcalf. He did this by giving the road a camber and good drainage.

Next week we’ll dive deeper into how and why the roads we know today came to be.

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