Christmas 'mega-jams' have been caused by shopping sprees for decades

Posted by ap507 at Dec 22, 2014 11:05 AM |
Professor Simon Gunn discusses how the desperate scramble for presents has changed very little since the 1950s

Those who have faced the Christmas shopping rush this year - and have wound up stuck in traffic because of it - may be surprised to learn that gridlocked city streets are really nothing new, according to Professor Simon Gunn (pictured) from the Centre for Urban History.

In December 1958, for example, central London was gridlocked by traffic caused by last minute Christmas shopping. The issue was so severe that questions were asked in parliament and the Conservative government of the day ordered the Ministry of Transport to take over the management of traffic in the capital.

“One consequence of the mega-jam was the introduction of traffic wardens and fixed penalties for illegal parking – legal practices still in use to this day,” said Professor Gunn.

The history of traffic is the subject of an innovative new research project entitled 'Motor Cities: Automobility and the Urban Environment in Britain and Japan, 1955-1973', headed by Professor Gunn and Susan Townsend of the History Department at the University of Nottingham. They are also writing a book, titled Motor Cities, which will tell the story of how the car came to dominate cities across the globe. 

He added: “Gridlock still occurs at Christmas, of course, as drivers head en masse to the shops to buy last minute stocks of food and presents. Yet despite the growing numbers of cars on Britain’s roads the problem has been eased somewhat by pedestrianisation and the rise of out-of-town shopping centres.

“We are unlikely ever to rid cities of cars but we may at last be learning how to make them our servants, not our masters.”