The primary road we traveled, Rte. 2, on this cross country trip dates, I suspect, to pre WWII. It follow the path of least resistance such as property lines and/or obvious geographical boundaries such as rivers and lakes or hills and mountains. The super highways, which we were on occasionally, obviously date to the 1950’s when the country made the push to create the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system.
The older roads are not as straight as a rule and have fewer bridges to deal with ravines and small streams which makes for more up and down rides and are more prone to flooding. They are by definition more circuitous. One thing they don’t use a lot of is extra space. They are, within reason, as narrow as they can be. I would certainly not argue that the older roads are better and I am not certain that they are cheaper to maintain. Their scale, however, is much more human than are the interstates.
I draw this distinction to point out that design is fluid for lots of different reasons–larger trucks for one, more travelers for another. What is acceptable at one point in time may not be twenty years later. What is also clear to me is that designers of certain types of things, most definitely roads, feel comfortable, are probably even mandated, to use a certain volume of space.
The pleasure of Route 2 lies in it’s meander and it’s unsuspected pleasures be they fruit stands, old towns that are largely untouched, or scenery that is unadulterated by huge intersections and, of course, fewer trucks. There is, at times, the feeling that you are getting snapshots of the past. I wonder what Robert Moses, New York City’s grand planner, would think of such nostalgia? Probably not much.