London was almost turned into an L.A.-style highway hell by 1960s urban planners

I was suprised how much I didn't know about London's midcentury plan to raze vast swathes of the inner city to build raised highways—the same kind of urban redevelopment madness that wrecked cities the world over, especially in the U.S. But London's plan was so ambitious—several "Ringways" looping the inner city, the suburbs and finally the whole conurbation—that discussion stretched into the 1970s, and by then it was obvious what a bad idea it was and only the outermost circuit survived to become the beloved M25. In London's Lost Ringways, Michael Dnes writes about how amazingly fortunate the city was to avoid its fate, but also the price paid: an implacable NIMBYism that to this day limits Britain's ability to plan infrastructure.

As for Peter Stott – the head of the GLC's transportation department and London's answer to Bulldozer Bob – he was a shy engineer who seemed painfully conscious of the damage that traffic was doing to London. As early as 1969 – well before it was fashionable – he was trying to convince his counterparts at the Ministry of Transport that the best use for London's expensive new system of computer-controlled traffic lights would be to slow traffic down, rather than speed it up, in order to balance the flow of traffic across the city as a whole. He was even so worried about exhausting the national supply of trees suitable for roadside planting that he convinced the council to buy its own tree nursery. If these men were not monsters, why did they propose such monstrous works?