The weekend before Valentine’s Day this year, we visited New York for my wife’s birthday. We opted out of the expensive hotel with a dramatic overlook of Central Park, because in February that look is not overly scenic. Instead we stayed at a hotel a bit removed from Central Park, with a view from the 36th floor overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Her brother and sister-in-law joined us for the festivities, and It was all very nice.
What’s interesting is how we got there, and my new preferred way of getting between DC and New York: the Bus. The standard price for a bus ride is about half the cost of rail. Furthermore, the bus leaves from a metro station near us in Fairfax City, not Union Station in downtown D.C. This saves us another twenty dollars and the hour it would take to get us to and from Union Station to home. The ride is a little bumpier, but like the train, I can focus on doing work (the bus fare also included wireless something Amtrak does not provide). As long as I trusted the driver, I could do whatever I wanted. This would not be possible if I were driving a car on the highway. This is the same exact highway that the bus is taking, but without the worry, hassle and obligation of driving for four hours, worrying about death.
The great thing about the highway is the paving it provides, the right of way of that paving and the access to it. Anyone can use this strip of pavement, and I-95 is a major one. The I-95 corridor that we were on was shared with tens of thousands of other passenger cars and freight trucks that same day, though we stuck with a platoon of a few dozen of them throughout our journey.
The I-95 corridor runs along the Fall Line, the geographical break between the coastal plain and the rolling piedmont. I-95 is as inland as it can be while still being flat. On the way up, there were hills to our left and plains to our right. I-95 is parallel and inland to a much older road, the first Post Road, between Portland, Maine and Savannah Georgia. The Road started along Algonquian trails in the 1600s, meaning that the alignment of US-1 is centuries or millennia older than the first written or mapped accounts of it.
Roads have always been built and maintained for the traffic on them. The roads of the Penobscot or Pequot people of Connecticut, or the Powhatan of Virginia, were footpaths similar to today’s Appalachian trail, because that that was the traffic they carried. The trails were maintained through yearly burns of emergent grass and bushes. The cleared “right of way” around the roads made for better hunting along those paths, a vital resource in times when long journeys could take days on foot. Of course, very few journeys of more than ten miles were taken in those days and it was better to stick to one’s home fires.
When Europeans came to America, they came by sea. For two centuries, they did nearly everything by sea, including intercity travel and messaging. It was not until 1640 that the first inland road was surveyed form the Penobscot Path, and then it was narrow even for horse traffic. The first map of any road in America was by Phillip Lea, in 1690, showing the inland (US 30) and coastal (US 1) alignments of the “Kings Best Highway”, or Boston Post Road. By 1776, these roads had extended to connect all the East Coast cities between Boston and Savannah.
With that commerce came expansion. However, the Boston Post Road , the one we travel parallel to now, was merely a dirt track until the end of the 19th century. With the rise of turnpikes in the late 18th century, a speculative boom in road construction built a web of inland roads around and beyond the post roads by the 1820s. Still, these roads never had to be wider than a couple of wagon lanes. The post roads were never systematically widened to a regulated width until the advent of the automobile.
None of this activity was possible without the roads themselves. I cannot use the word paving as it is too limited a term. The roads varied from a cleared dirt path for foot traffic, a wider dirt path for horse traffic, an even wider gravel, wood-block or plank road for wagon traffic. For rail traffic, there were wooden, iron, or steel roads and an oil, brick, MacAdamed, or a modern paved road for automobile traffic. All of these roads were appropriate to their traffic, and were improved for their service. Clearing stumps from footpaths was just as much an improvement over winding footpaths in 1000 AD as the evolution from gravel roads to the first paved highways in 1900. Cobblestones and stone setts, which today annoying bikers and drivers alike, were great for horses and their wagon loads who needed rough purchase to pull loads along city streets.
Transportation is about the movement of vehicles and people from where they are to where they want to be. At the same time, people’s ideas about where they want to be is a function of how good the roads are for the traffic upon them.
Busy weekend coming up. I may post on Tuesday about CEO pay or Bureaucracy. I am writing a loose canon.