Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Little Width on the Hips

The Romans knew a thing or two about roads. They built over 50,000 miles of high quality stone-surfaced roads across their empire, enabling the rapid movement of their armies, and allowing trade and commerce to link distant outposts. 

We have one in our neck of the woods; Stane Street. It's 56 miles long, and links Chichester (or Noviomagus Reginorum as the Romans snappily called it) to London Bridge in more or less a straight line. In fact, like many of the Roman Roads in Britain, much of the route is still used as a road, bar a section over the downs near Halnaker where walkers can still tread the original 2,000 year old stones poking through the grass.

Being of a pragmatic mindset, the Romans standardised the width of their roads around the need to allow a couple of carts or companies of soldiers to pass by one another without interference, and decided that 24 feet (in the context I make no apologies for going all Imperial on you) was a sensible dimension.
Stane Street on the South Downs

Oddly (or not), 2,000 years later, the UK Highways Agency's standard width for a two lane road is still 24 feet. This is for the same millennia old reason; two horses side by side are about 5ft wide, as is a cart or carriage roomy enough to carry two seated adults between it's wheels, so to allow them to comfortably pass each other, a road width of eight yards is required.

When motorcars replaced horses and carts, not much changed. Karl Benz's Patent Motorwagon from 1886 was a couple of inches under 5ft wide, and by 1959 Ford's 100E Popular family saloon still measured only 5ft 1inch across.  The original Porsche 911 spread a little; 5ft 3inches, while Jaguar's seminal E Type was 2inches wider. Just the 2 inches mind you.

These thoughts occurred to me when I saw photograph of Jaguar's new F type next to its 1961 predecessor; the F type is a girdle busting 6ft 4 inches across it's arse, nearly a foot wider than the E. 
One is designed for Stane Street, one for I95....

In its latest incarnation the svelte 911 has expanded to 6ft 3inches in 991 C4 form, and the Ford Popular's successor as family transport, the Focus, has grown 13inches to 6ft 2inches.

We're all supposed to be getting fatter, so its not really surprising cars are. But at least in a UK with a roads infrastructure based on a 2,000 year old EU standard, its not surprising that there's just not the room to have fun that there used to be.


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