Roads basics – terminology

On terminology, Buchanan’s “Traffic in towns” (ref.602 of 1963 and see here) says:

“We think it is preferable to refer to the main network of any town as the town or primary network. This may then be broken down into district and local distributors as the conditions demand”.


 “We think this comparitively simple nomenclature could with advantage replace the present large number of terms – arterial roads, through roads, expressways, freeways, principal traffic roads, collector roads, service roads etc – which are freely used with little if any standardisation of meaning”.

See also Ray Brindle who, writing in 1979 (ref. 358) said:

“Of the many terminological confusions associated with road classification, the distinction between “collector” and “distributor” …. seems to be the most unnecessary. On the grounds that the distinction between the functions of collection and distribution is clearly only one of direction, it is wise perhaps to treat them synonymously”.

Nevertheless – taking one example at random – 45 years on from Buchanan we could still see roads referred to in terms of “arterials, collectors” (e.g. ref. 400, 2008).

Atze Dijkstra , in his book “En route to safer roads” (ref. 527) suggests classes of roads related to size of land use (in terms of number of inhabitants). Besides the many other interesting points which he makes, Mr. Dijkstra uses for his road classes the terms: “A, B, C, D, E”. He also goes on to define sub-classes for each of these, but still uses neutral terms such as: class A1, class A2.

There are two advantages of this approach:

  • it avoids confusion when road classes are discussed in different languages
  • It avoids, in English, Buchanan’s objection to  the use of “terms…. Which are freely used with little if any standardisation of meaning” (and one might add, with little if any common understanding of them).


358 – Brindle, Ray “Living with traffic: (6) urban road classification and local street function” (1979) re-published Australia, ARRB special report 53, 1995

400 – World Bank report , “Improving the Management of Secondary and Tertiary Roads in the South East Europe Countries“, Transport Unit, Sustainable Development Department; February 2008

527 – Dijkstra, Atze, “En route to safer roads, how road structure and road classification can affect road safety“, Leidschendam, Netherlands; SWOV 2011

602 – Buchanan, Colin “Traffic in towns“, London; HMSO 1963


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
This entry was posted in basics, classification and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s