From the start of the 20th century, the number of motor vehicles on London's roads gradually increased. By the end of the 1930s, over 350,000 Londoners owned a car, and lorries had mostly replaced horse-drawn vehicles. Congestion became so bad that, by 1938, traffic speeds in the West End had dropped below those of the horse-drawn era.
Registration plates have been used to identify vehicles since 1904. The original format contained one or two letters followed by up to four numbers, for example A 6738. The letters represented the place of origin: 'A' represented Greater London. Many different formats have been used since then, as vehicle numbers grew and the number of possible combinations required increased.
In the mid-1920s, London's busiest junction was Hyde Park Corner, which had about 51,000 motor vehicles and 3,300 horse-drawn vehicles passing through each day. In 1926, one-way traffic systems were introduced at Hyde Park Corner, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus, to help minimise disruption. Some of the earliest traffic lights were installed in London, including those on Piccadilly Circus (1926), Ludgate Circus (1930-2), and at the junction of Cornhill and Bishopsgate.
During the 1930s, the Ministry of Transport introduced road markings, road signs and pedestrian crossings lit by Belisha beacons (named after Leslie Hoare-Belisha, the minister who introduced them). The Road Traffic Act of 1934 also introduced a 30-miles-an- hour speed limit in built-up areas. The first speed cameras were installed in west London in 1992.
Zebra crossings had been in existence since the 1950s. When the number of cars on the road grew, controlled pedestrian crossings were needed. In 1962, the first 'Panda' crossing was installed outside Waterloo station. Pedestrians had to push a button and wait for the traffic to be stopped and a 'cross' signal to be given before they crossed the road. The crossings caused confusion and suspicion amongst drivers and pedestrians, and were described as a 'harebrained scheme and most dangerous'. As a result, the system was modified in 1969 to become the Pelican crossing familiar on today's streets. In the 1990s, the hi-tech Puffin crossing was launched. This used sensors to detect the progress of pedestrians and control the traffic lights.
Throughout the 20th century, new bypass and arterial roads were constructed on routes into London from the suburbs. These included the Great West Road (opened in 1925), the Great Cambridge Road, the Eastern Avenue, the North and South Circulars and the Kingston bypass. These roads were wider and faster so eased congestion and enabled industries to expand into the suburbs.
Towards the end of the 20th century, as the number of cars in London continued to grow, parking spaces became increasingly limited. Wheel clamps were introduced to deter illegal parking: illegally parked cars were clamped and their drivers forced to pay a fine to get the clamp removed.
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