chapter  3
Pages 16

John Burns, fiery socialist fallen among Liberals, told a group of civil engineers in 1919 that it had become their paramount duty "to make crooked roads straight and rough places smooth."] By that time the more sophisticated among the street reformers had come to recognize the truth in Haywood's insight that straightening did not in itself constitute a panacea. What then of the other half of Burns's pronouncement; might it be possible to leave the irregular web of London's streets more or less intact and ease the flow along it by introducing new paving surfaces and experimenting with regulating mechanisms? Particularly from the 1860s onwards, when it became obvious even to the congenitally optimistic that Shaw-Lefevre had probably been correct in predicting that a comprehensive restructuring of surface communication was not a practical expectation, this alternative gained in appeal, and a number of engineers and others concerned with traffic problems came up with a variety of suggestions. One of these engineers was a railway manager named John Peake Knight. He proposed in 1865 that semaphore signals be placed in every major intersection. Because his idea that drivers and pedestrians could be disciplined into becoming more orderly street users by means of an impersonal, mechanical monitor has such a range of metaphorical possibilities, it can serve as a template against which a variety of engineering and regulatory devices for smoothing the public way can be measured.