Ernest R. Matthews

Engineering Record 66 (14 December 1912):662-664

The American journal in which this appeared referred to and introduced this article with the following paragraph in its "Notes and Comments" department on page 651 of the same issue: "City Planning, in its newer sense of planning beautiful cities, is receiving almost as much attention in the United States as abroad, and probably because of the early stage in which so many of the projects now are the subject has been receiving far more attention from architects than from engineers. In England, while more actual construction work has been done, the architects, nevertheless, seem to be the moving spirits and protests have been heard from the engineering profession. In the earlier work of city planning, in the fashion rather aptly described as "laying out a townsite," and in extending city areas in the natural course of events the relative attention to the matter by architects and engineers was in just the reverse proportion, the engineer giving it much attention and the architect but little. In its modern acceptance, or rather in its acceptance in the United States, the plan generally consists of the development of a civic center and is thus quite limited in scope. Within that scope, however, it presents artistic problems with which the engineer is not fitted to cope and since these are the determining features and the ones most talked about the engineer's share in the work has come in for but little attention. Manifestly a proper solution of the problem requires close co-operation between engineers and architects, such for instance as has obtained in working out the proposed civic center in New York City. A presentation of the engineering side of the case with reference to city planning on a broad scale and not merely to the development of a civic center is presented on page 662, and while referring to British practice and quoting British standards it indicates how necessary the proper solution of the engineering factors are in the success of the scheme."
Both in Europe and in America great attention has been given in the last few years to the intelligent development of cities and towns. In both the planning and discussion the architects have taken a very prominent part, so prominent that fears have been expressed that the engineering features of such developments are in danger of being neglected. For this reason the engineering side of the subject was recently brought out by Mr. Ernest R. Matthews in a paper, abstracted below, presented before a recent meeting of the Society of Engineers, England.


The town planning scheme prepared by Mr. Matthews for the Bridlington Corporation is one affecting a purely residential area. In preparing such a scheme the first matter to be dealt with is to fix the area to be planned. The next point to receive consideration should be the direction, width and method of construction of the various roads.

At the outset the direction of the through traffic roads should be fixed, and these should be in such a position that direct means of communication will be provided between one busy part of the town and another, or they should connect up important existing roads. The position of most roads will be determined by the best direction for main and intercepting sewers, and this is a matter for the decision of the engineer Mr. Matthews strongly urges that none of such roads should be less than 75 ft. in width, and that they should be constructed of tar macadam in order to ensure a minimum of dust and noise. The footpaths should be of asphalt, the road should be provided with grass margins and trees, and the houses should be set back 25 ft., making a total distance between the buildings of 125 ft. A brief description of such a road is as follows: Width of carriageway, 35 ft.; width of footways, 10 ft.; width of grass margins between carriageway and footway, 10 ft. Such a road is of sufficient width to take a single line of street railway cars in crowded parts and a double line on the outskirts

The secondary roads which are important roads, not carrying through-traffic, might be 50 ft. in width, constructed in the same manner as the arterial roads, namely, of tar macadam. The set back of the houses in these roads might also be 25 ft. and the distance between buildings would be go ft. The following widths would be used: Carriageway, 24 ft.; footways, 7 ft.; grass margins, 6 ft. A road of this width will allow three lines of vehicles passing.

These are roads which carry practically no traffic except vehicles coming to the houses in such roads. Under these circumstances they need only be very narrow, say 28 or 30 ft., with the houses set back 20 ft. These also, in Mr. Matthews' opinion, should be of tar macadam. While a large amount of heavy traffic will not come upon them as upon the roads already referred to, a certain amount of such traffic will do so in the way of loaded furniture vans and other occasional heavy vehicles, and the road should be capable of carrying such loads. The dimensions would be as follows: width of road, 16 ft.; width of footways, 4 ft.; width of grass margins, 3 ft.

It may be argued that a width of 16 ft. is insufficient, and it must be admitted that it is very debatable whether the cost of maintenance of such a road is much less than that of a road double this width, for the traffic upon a road is nearly always along the center half of such road, and therefore this concentrated traffic would cause the narrower road to require almost as much repair in proportion to the traffic passing over it as a wider road. Mr. Matthews, however, urges that as most subsidiary roads are connected to no important roads, and ordinary vehicular traffic on these roads will consist chiefly of light tradesmen's vehicles, a width of 16 ft. is sufficient.

The cost of road construction is a vital point with the landowner, for it determines to a large extent the class of buildings which he must erect if he is to be recouped for his outlay. The by-laws of English towns and cities are unreasonable in their requirements both as regards width and method of construction of roads. How, for example, can one build workmen's cottages when the roads on which these are to abut must be 40 ft. in width, with flagged footways and a heavy type of curbing, as is the case in many towns? In Mr. Matthews' opinion it is a waste of money to lay flags and an equal waste to make such a road 40 ft. wide. It has already been suggested in this paper that 30 ft. is an ample width for a street of this class, and the footways should be of asphalt with grass margins, the latter being protected by stone edging, say 10 x 4 in. Not only will this effect a great saving in cost, but roads constructed in this manner will present a more rural and pleasing appearance.

The by-laws requiring roads to be 40 ft. wide, oblige the man who is intent on building small houses to erect these with narrow frontages and deep backs, a class of house which is objectionable in many respects, a wider frontage with a shallow back being far preferable. Mr. Matthews deprecates the terrace type of cottages, which have been designated "colliers' rows;" this class of house would in many cases not have been erected if it had not been for the cost of roadmaking, required by the by-laws, making it necessary for the landowner to crowd as many houses as possible on to his land.

It sometimes happens that a residential area in time becomes one through which heavy traffic passes to an industrial area which has sprung up beyond. Who is to pay for the reconstruction of the through-traffic roads in the residential area should such conditions arise? A proposal has been made that in laying out land for residential purposes the developers should be called upon only to lay out and construct such roads as are needful to deal with the traffic of such area, and in the event of existing industrial conditions or future developments causing a need for heavier traffic bearing roads through these residential areas, the extra cost of such roads, over the cost of roads constructed for domestic traffic, should be borne by the community.

In designing a town planning scheme it will probably be necessary to allow for the widening of some of the existing roads. This has been the case at Bridlington, where Cardigan Road which now averages 36 ft. in width, is to be widened to 70 ft. In this instance the east side of the road is built up with large residences, but on the west side no buildings have been erected up to the present. The owner of this vacant land, however, is now desirous of erecting houses on that side of the road, and the city is asking him to give up a 35-ft. strip of land for the purpose of increasing the width of the road. Experience has shown that owners of land in various parts of the country have, generally speaking, been quite willing to give up a portion of their land for road widening purposes, for the reason that if their remaining land abuts upon a wider road it will be of more value to them, and the same argument applies to any houses which the landowner may erect facing the wider road. The city would, of course, construct the road. This matter of the improvement of existing roads is an important one, and must have full consideration when preparing a town planning scheme.

In planning a residential area it is necessary to determine the best positions for parks, tennis courts, bowling green, children's playground, garden enclosures, sites for future public buildings, such as public library, town hall, municipal offices, etc., unless the town is already well provided in that way, and land should be reserved for these purposes. In these matters the engineer will confer with the architect, and of course consult the various landowners and others who have interests in the scheme.

Having dealt with the roads in the proposed area, the next matter for consideration is that of sewerage. The engineer must ascertain (a) if the existing sewers and disposal works are capable of taking the drainage from the proposed area, and, if not, whether it is proposed to enlarge them, or to construct new sewage disposal works for the area to be laid out; (b) whether the levels permit of the area being drained into existing sewers; (c) how the storm water is to be dealt with. The land developer should be expected to pay only for sewers of sufficient size to drain the area, and if he is required by the local authority to put in larger sewers, such as may be required eventually if the area is very considerably extended, the authority should pay the difference in cost.

The lighting of the area by means of gas or electric light is a matter of great importance, and the cost of laying down of mains and cables from the nearest supply will have to be ascertained; if the corporation own these undertakings they may have to seek powers to extend their lighting area in order to include the town planned area. The same remarks apply to the supply of water in the area.


The planning of an industrial town or city is a far more complicated matter than that of a residential town. From an engineering and economic standpoint a number of important matters have to be considered; some of these are as follows:

(1) The first point to be decided is the position of the industrial area; to arrive at this one must have local knowledge; that is to say, information regarding existing trades and manufactures, and which of them is likely to develop considerably; the scheme should also be arranged for the inclusion if necessary of any new industries, for it must be borne in mind that the industries of to-day in some of our towns were not thought of a few years ago, and that every month fresh industries are being started, some of them doubtless having come to stay. The automobile industry might be cited as an example.

(2) The proximity of this area, with its works and factories, to railway sidings and to main lines for the supply of the raw material and coal, and for the disposal of the finished materials, is a very important matter. Land adjoining railways, rivers and canals will, generally speaking, be admirable for inclusion in a manufacturing area. In certain trades of course it is important that the works shall be situated where there is much water. Bleach and dye works, for example, are generally found on the banks of a river, stream or canal. These points will have to be considered fully by the engineer when planning the industrial area.

(3) The facilities for vehicular traffic to and from this area. The position of main arterial roads, relative to the proposed area. While in a residential area it adds to the picturesqueness of the district if the roads are radial in plan (and the author would strongly recommend this), in an industrial center direct communication between the area and the railway, wharf and principal parts of the city is of the utmost importance. The connection of the proposed arterial roads with existing roads is also an important matter.

(4) The necessity for constructing any new roads leading to this area in such a substantial manner that they will carry the heavy traffic likely to come upon them. All streets of this class should be paved with stone setts laid on a good concrete foundation, and they should be wide enough to take a double tramway track.

(4a) The provision of roads for rapid and slow traffic. On an arterial road leading to an industrial area Mr. Matthews recommends the provision of two distinct streets, side by side, but intended one for rapid, the other for slow and heavy traffic. Such a provision is necessary owing to the increasing number of motor cars and other speedy vehicles using the roads. The footpaths are flagged, 10 ft. in width, and the rapid-traffic road is constructed of tar macadam, 30 ft. wide, while the slow-traffic road is paved with setts and is 34 ft. wide, a 6-ft. refuge or footway dividing these two roads. The total width of the street would be 90 ft. It is not suggested that trees should be planted in such a street. Some have recommended that the width of the main arterial streets should not be less that 100 ft. or even 120 ft., but Mr. Matthews sees no reason why they should be of this great width.

(5) The area to be occupied by workmen's dwellings, and the proximity of this to the industrial area. There is a difference of opinion regarding the best position for the houses of the work people. Some maintain that these houses should be away from the industrial area, but situated in an adjoining housing area, while others consider the houses should be built in the same locality as the works and factories, so that the factory hands will be close to their work and will not have to walk some distance to their homes. The author favors the first suggestion, chiefly on the grounds of health. Easy communication can be provided between the two areas, and if they adjoin there need be no reason why the workmen cannot get home to dinner each day. Larger gardens can be better arranged for if the houses are in a separate area, and the fact of the dwellings being away from the works has a tendency to enable the factory hands to forget their daily avocation after working hours.

(6) The supply of electrical energy to the manufacturing area for power and lighting purposes. If the electricity supply is in the hands of the city the electrical engineer should be asked to advise his committee to obtain, if necessary, powers to extend their area of supply so as to include this proposed industrial area. Cheap rates for power and lighting purposes should be offered to the factory proprietors to induce them to take the current.

(7) Whether water carriage is available, and if so, the position for wharfage upon rivers or canals must be selected, and the estimated cost ascertained.

(8) Provision of water and gas. It is necessary to consider the advisability of supplying water power in an industrial area.

(9) Efficient sewerage and sewage disposal system.

(10) The disposal of storm water.

(11) That the area is sufficiently large to allow of ample provision being made for the future development of the various industries

(12) In deciding the position of the proposed industrial area the prevailing winds should be taken into account, and the area selected should be one so situated that the prevailing winds will carry the smoke away from the residential area.

(13) The advisability of constructing subways under the main arterial roads to accommodate gas and water pipes, telephone, telegraph and electric cables, hydraulic mains, compressed air and sewer pipes. This, in the author's opinion, is a matter which in this country has not received sufficient consideration. The present method of laying sewers, water mains, gas mains, etc., under streets is altogether unsatisfactory. These streets are continually being opened for the purpose of connecting to one or the other of these, and this constant opening of the principal roads is an intolerable nuisance, while the reinstatement is not always satisfactory, and leads to a great deal of correspondence with the departments concerned relative to the unsatisfactory reinstatement of trenches. The construction of a subway is the remedy, and Mr. Matthews recommends this, but owing to the cost he would build the subway in the main arterial streets only.

(14) In the industrial area might be included refuse destructor works, tramway depot, car sheds, abattoirs, ice factory and cold stores; it is always best to group these together, and to place them as far away from the residential area as possible.

(15) The construction of tramways or light railways in the area is also a matter of consideration.

(16) Folly of limiting the height of buildings. If the maximum height of the buildings which will abut on the new street is specified in a town planning scheme the owner of the land will be almost sure to build to that height, considering it more economical to do so. If it be four-story buildings that are allowed and not higher, then there is a danger of a monotonous row of four-story buildings being erected, whereas a variation in the height of the buildings will be preferable.

(17) Having decided the industrial area, the residential area must then be chosen, and the developments of this will proceed on the lines already indicated in the first part of this paper. 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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