Our terms of reference were 'to study the long term development of roads and traffic in urban areas and their influence on the urban environment'. We were required to look at urban areas as a whole and in a general way. We were not asked to produce proposals for any specific place, least of all for London, and certainly not to produce any kind of national road plan.
The subject proved to have many ramifications. In the event we have been led to attempt a description, in terms understandable to the non- technical reader, of a problem which must surely be one of the most extraordinary facing modern society. It arises directly out of man's own ingenuity and growing affluence--his invention of a go-anywhere self- powered machine for transport and personal locomotion, and his growing ability and inclination to invest in it. It is an extraordinary problem because nothing less is involved than a threat to the whole familiar physical form of towns.
The briefest acquaintance with the conditions that now prevail in towns makes it clear that traffic congestion has already placed in jeopardy the well-being of many of the inhabitants and the efficiency of many of the activities. The potential increase in the number of vehicles is so great that unless something is done the conditions are bound to become extremely serious within a comparatively short period of years. Either the utility of vehicles in towns will decline rapidly, or the pleasantness and safety of surroundings will deteriorate catastrophically--in all probability both will happen together.
The problems are such that small-scale road improvements designed merely to keep traffic on the move are unlikely to be of lasting benefit, being overtaken by the increase of traffic almost as soon as they are finished. Such schemes may in fact make matters worse by diverting attention and resources onto local problems, while only slightly postponing the day when large-scale measures, possibly of a quite different nature, must be initiated. Large-scale measures, however, will be extremely expensive, and will involve great physical complexities of architecture and engineering; they can only be justified on the basis of a comprehensive approach to the problems of urban transport--public as well as private, goods as well as people--in order to ensure beyond any shadow of doubt that they will discharge the roles for which they are designed. It has therefore been one of the main objects of our study to suggest the broad outline of a comprehensive approach to the problems raised by traffic in towns.
As we proceeded with our task, however, we realised we were being drawn inexorably into a much wider range of problems. Some of these were concerned with the future deployment of the population, and their gravity and complexity can scarcely be exaggerated. Where, in this small island, within the next 45 years, are we going to find accommodation for a further 20 million people, or even more? Where are they going to work, and what work will they be doing? Where will they find their recreation, and what kinds will they want? Where and how are they all going to move about? How are we going to build all the necessary accommodation--the equivalent of a new Bristol every year for forty-five years--when we . . .