A couple of weeks ago, I went to a country house in a heavily wooded part of Southern England. Even using a map, I nearly failed to find the way. A modern version of Parzival –in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s great work–, who gets lost in the trackless forests around the Castle of the Grail. The “B”-road was left behind as I took a quite narrow lane at an acute angle. A few miles further on and an easily-missed small sign almost at ground-level told me to turn off onto a lane so narrow that it was more like a track, tarmacked long ago (probably in the 1960s) and never repaired. Uneven, with large potholes. The forest pressed in on all sides. A stag with magnificent antlers ran across and into the dense wood as the car approached at a slow 5-10 mph. Squirrels were there aplenty, as were many birds. After what seemed miles, the destination was suddenly in front of me.
That experience made me wonder what roads would be like in a future of automated cars, buses, passenger drones controlled by computers, lighter than air craft akin to Zeppelins, automated trains etc.
One could imagine a future where the roads are scarcely used and so not funded, or perhaps only the motorways or major highways funded. A network of automated rail, light rail, branch lines, narrow gauge, ultralight trains, Thames river services etc. Commuters (if they still exist) travelling easily by those means, such as airships docking on top of high towers or buildings, ultralight trains going to almost every street or road. Conventional roads might become a thing of the past, especially if commuting and travelling regularly by car become uncommon.
It is not necessary to travel far back in time (say, 1800) to find a Britain in which roads were in most cases almost unusable most of the time. It may happen again. Society moves on. Until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s (and the others in the 1950s and even prior to that), there were many railway lines in existence which, today, are all but forgotten.
The alternative vision is that roads will still be necessary even if vehicles become computer-controlled. We wait to see. In the meantime, we speculate.
Update, 31 July 2019
Elegiac song about the Beeching cuts of the 1960s…