… or how Julius Caesar started car-free days and pedestrian safety BC (Before Christ & Cars)
By Stephen Coulter & Krystyna Weston, Zipidi Micromobility Insurance
In recent years major cities have begun having car-free days or removing cars permanently, to make cities more liveable and focussed on communities and citizens. It surprised us recently to learn this can be traced back to BC Roman days!
In a fascinating recent discussion with leading global climate scientist, Professor Tim Flannery, Tim talked about how he had been studying Roman history and discovered how Julius Caesar had first banned chariots from Roman streets for pedestrian safety.
Around 44BC, chariots were thundering around Roman roads and streets injuring and killing pedestrians, and generally creating unnecessary noise and havoc. Roman road rage already existed — chariot drivers yelling and swearing at other drivers and pedestrians.
Insurance was not possible — while slave owners were paid market value for slaves killed by chariots, there was no value on free people, and hence their deaths had no compensation.
Traffic calming devices were not totally effective, pedestrian crossings (perhaps the origin of our zebra crossings), were raised wide stepping stones across roads. This allowed citizens to avoid stepping in pollution, water, and whatever else was trapped on the roadway between gutters.
Small gaps were left between stepping stones, and skilled chariot drivers would need to ensure their wheels aligned with the gaps so as not to damage chariots on the “speed hump” stepping stones.
Julius Caesar had had enough and decreed all chariots would be banned for the first 10 daylight hours and only allowed to operate in the last two twilight hours before sunset. An exception was made for chariots carrying vestal virgins and priests.
All chariot deliveries had to be made in the twilight hours or at night.
These new laws continued for several centuries, and future caesars added further traffic calming measures — e.g. chariot drivers had to dismount and walk their chariots through towns.
It’s ironic in the 20th century AD (Anno Domini or Automobile Domination?)“civilisation” repeated the mistakes of 2,000 years earlier with automobiles!
Cars have dominated cities for too long — we need to learn from leading car-free and car-lite cities and allocate space back to communities, pedestrians and micromobility. An article published on Birmingham and Ghent in Belgium this week provided more evidence of the benefits.
How a Belgian port city inspired Birmingham’s car-free ambitions
Birmingham — once, proudly, the UK’s “motorway city” — has announced plans to entice people out of cars and on to bikes…
We would love to compile a list and links to information on car-free/car-lite cities — whether permanently or just some regular days, e.g. Warsaw, Mexico City. Please add cities and links in the comments to this article.
For more information on the history of Roman bans on daytime chariots have a look at these links:
The Embattled Driver in Ancient Rome
By: Kenneth D. Matthews, Jr. View PDF As a driver do you become annoyed with present-day traffic conditions? Most…
Roman Urban Street Networks
The streets of Roman cities have received surprisingly little attention until recently. Traditionally the main interest…
To hear Professor Tim Flannery’s latest views on addressing global warming have a look at his recent Ted Talk: