The world’s first motorway was built in Berlin. In 1909 the German Automobile Club began investigating the feasibility of constructing a fast road to the west of the city. Work on the route, which was known as the AVUS (Automobil Verkehrs und Übungsstraße, ‘motor traffic and test road’), was interrupted by the First World War and it opened on 21 September 1921.
Designed as both a regular road and a racing circuit, it set the pattern for all subsequent motorways. A dual carriageway separated by a central reservation to minimize the risk of collisions, with long fast straights and gentle sweeping bends.
Meanwhile, in 1914, a single carriageway road some 40 miles long had been built on Long Island, to enable workers to commute quickly into New York City. Nine years later an Italian civil engineer, Piero Puricelli, took the idea a stage further by creating the multi-lane junction, or interchange.
Puricelli was also behind the development of the first long-distance motorway. However, the Autostrada’ running the 28 miles (45km) from Milan to Varese, which opened in 1924.
The first motorway in Britain was the 8-mile Preston bypass, completed in 1958 and now part of the M6. The following year saw the opening of the first section of the long-distance M1 from Watford to Rugby. The road would eventually link London and Leeds.
Tolls on motorways, a familiar feature in many countries including Italy and France, were long resisted in Britain but a toll road was opened in 2003 to relieve congestion on the M6 north of Birmingham. There are now more than 2,200 miles of motorway in Britain.
The sudden increase in the number of cars in the early years of the 20th century meant that planners had to come up with ways of ensuring safe traffic flow, especially in large cities. But the very first set of traffic signals pre-dated the motor car, being installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London on 10 December 1868.
It was a simple semaphore-like device, with red and green gas lanterns for night-time use. The modern electric traffic light was pioneered in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. It had just two colors, red and green. The first three-color, the four-way traffic light was introduced in Detroit in 1920. While these colors may be universal, possibly deriving from maritime signaling, the sequence and length of flashing vary from country to country.
The first stack interchange, in which one main road crosses over another on a bridge with connector roads crossing on further levels, was the Four-Level Interchange in Los Angeles, built-in 1949.
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