Motorways Across the City
The need for a road network enabling faster motorised traffic first arose in the 1930s. The initial plans concerned the reconstruction of the quays of Pest and the first element of this plan – the underpass at the Chain Bridge – was actually constructed.
The plans developed in the 1960s envisaged a ring running over Hungária boulevard, connecting the motorways leading into the capital city in a radial pattern yet, in line with the spirit of the day, three urban expressway routes were also designated. The preference for road transport resulted in the termination of a number of tram services.
The country’s east-west axis led motorways from Western Hungary into the city through the BAH junction, the Elisabeth Bridge and Rákóczi Road. Due to the great amount of envisaged transit traffic, the reconstruction of the original Elisabeth Bridge was scrapped and a new bridge was constructed based on the model of a German motorway bridge, the Mülheimer Bridge of Cologne. This was to have been supplemented by two north-south axes, one connecting main routes on the Buda side and the other on the Pest side. Only a few short stretches of the latter were ever constructed, including the widening of the Szentendre Road.
The M3 motorway was originally planned to enter the city through the Népköztársaság (Andrássy) Avenue, crossing through City Park, but in response to intense protests, the plan was modified in 1971; the motorway was planned to reach the public road tunnel scheduled to be built at Csalogány Street through Rudas László (Podmaniczky) Street and Alkotmány Street. This way, it would have actually run as far as Moscow Square, cutting the entire metropolis into two halves. The closest the plan came to be being realised was in 1977, but the idea of a downtown tunnel for motorist appeared in strategic documents even as late as in 2009(!).
Converting the lower Buda quays into a four-lane motorway was probably the last serious attempt at constructing an expressway the crossed through the city. After heated debates, the leadership of the capital city finally dropped the idea in 2005.
“It is not at all for aesthetic, but rather traffic-related considerations that the need for the conversion of buildings along road sections by incorporating arcades arises. [...] This area is no longer sufficient for the increased motorised and pedestrian traffic. The only option is to convert buildings by establishing arcades in bottlenecks.”
Expert opinion on the broadening of Rákóczi Road at the meeting of the Budapest Council’s Executive Committee on 1 February 1957
(1) A publication released in 1971 by the Budapest Council envisaged a dramatic increase in motorised traffic in the capital city. The green cars represented the increase expected up to 1990, while the red cars indicated a long term continued increase on the outer stretches of Üllői Road. Recognising the issue, the transportation planners at the time considered the construction of expressways crossing the capital city as a solution.
(2) Widening of Csalogány Street, 1965. The planned expressway would have crossed the Danube through a tunnel, surfacing on the Pest side in Alkotmány Street.
(3) One of the first segments of Rákóczi Road where the ground floor streetfronts of the buildings were converted into arcades, near Blaha Lujza Square, in 1958. The actual motorised traffic was still modest, but urban planners were already expecting a need for creating as many traffic lanes as possible to accommodate east-west transit traffic through Budapest.
(4) They planned on directing much of Hungary’s east-west traffic through downtown Budapest. That is why the Buda bridgehead of the new Elisabeth Bridge was designed like a motorway junction in 1963-64.