A road is a path connecting two points. The English word ‘road’ comes from the same root as the word ‘ride’ –the Middle English ‘rood’ and Old English ‘rad’ –meaning the act of riding. Thus a road refers foremost to the right of way between an origin and destination. In an urban context, the word street is often used rather than road, which dates to the Latin word ‘strata’, meaning pavement (the additional layer or stratum that might be on top of a path).
Modern roads are generally paved, and unpaved routes are considered trails. The pavement of roads began early in history. Approximately 2600 BCE, the Egyptians constructed a paved road out of sandstone and limestone slabs to assist with the movement of stones on rollers between the quarry and the site of construction of the pyramids. The Romans and others used brick or stone pavers to provide a more level, and smoother surface, especially in urban areas, which allows faster travel, especially of wheeled vehicles. The innovations of Thomas Telford and John McAdam reinvented roads in the early nineteenth century, by using less expensive smaller and broken stones, or aggregate, to maintain a smooth ride and allow for drainage. Later in the nineteenth century, application of tar (asphalt) further smoothed the ride. In 1824, asphalt blocks were used on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. In 1872, the first asphalt street (Fifth Avenue) was paved in New York (due to Edward de Smedt), but it wasn’t until bicycles became popular in the late nineteenth century that the “Good Roads Movement” took off. Bicycle travel, more so than travel by other vehicles at the time, was sensitive to rough roads. Demands for higher quality roads really took off with the widespread adoption of the automobile in the United States in the early twentieth century.
The first good roads in the twentieth century were constructed of Portland cement concrete (PCC). The material is stiffer than asphalt (or asphalt concrete) and provides a smoother ride. Concrete lasts slightly longer than asphalt between major repairs, and can carry a heavier load, but is more expensive to build and repair. However over the remainder of the twentieth century, the vast majority of roadways were paved with asphalt. In general only the most important roads, carrying the heaviest loads, would be built with concrete. Fundamentals of Transportation/Geography and Networks
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