The Word on the Streets…[Vale LEGO City Road Baseplates]

Over the last few weeks, we have started to see images of next year’s sets, and there are some changes afoot for LEGO City. The images, revealed by a Dutch retailer, and republished throughout the LEGO Fan Media, show a new design of LEGO Road based on a new modular plate system, rather than the traditional baseplate. I’ll look at the new system later, including a best guess simulation, as well as a new use for your old plates. But first, let’s remind ourselves of what we have known over the last 40 years or so.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Since 1978, roads in LEGO Town and subsequently City, have been based on baseplates. In a variety of greys with different road markings, we have had several consistent shapes over the years: Straight, 90º curve, T-Intersection and Crossroads. Other road plates have been produced, but are outside the scope of this discussion.

These plates are all 32×32 in size. Initially, the plates were sold in 2 packs – with double of the same plate.

In 1978: the plates feature a road bordered with green lines, and then 9 studs to build on, beside the road. Essentially leaving us with a road that is 14 studs wide ( with some offset for the road, and centre line) – around 5 studs/lane, at a time when the majority of vehicles are 4 studs wide. Cross walks are present on the straight and T interesection

In 1986, we see a subtle revision – removing an additional 2 studs from the verge on each side, leaving us with 7 studs to build on. Additional white printing along the edges of the road gives us some guttering. Crosswalks are now only to be seen on the crossroad and T-intersection

We see further changes in 1997: We now have roadside reserves, grassed areas, 8 studs wide, with a green strip along the edges of the road. Pedestrian crossings are on 2 sides of T-Intersection, and all of the crossroads. The plates are green in this iteration, and the road is printed on in grey.

In 2002, we have another revision, again on green pates. The roads are now dark grey. Only the side road of the T- Intersection, along with the crossroads has a crossing. these plates are only on the market until 2005, when the contemporary plates were released. Here, the studs are only present for 6 studs on either side of the road. This makes our road a total of 20 studs wide, roughly 10 studs per side, this is important now that we have an increasing number of vehicles that are wider riding the roads of LEGO City. With cars at six studs and trucks often 8 studs wide, the extra width providing that additional realism of allowing cars to park at the side, and preventing another vehicle from driving past them without crossing the median line, and increasing the risk of a head on collision.

The LEGO City Plates, as we know them today, have been on the market since 2005. They feature similar markings to the 2002 plates, except they are all printed on dark stone grey plates, and the drain grilles are printed in medium stone grey. I regard this as an attempt to reduce costs, by reducing the amount of printing required. However, this is the first time that the plates remove any form of ‘green’ from the plates – marking a descent into urban brutality, and moving away from the natural world. Initially sold in packs that combined Straight and cross roads; and T-intersection and curve, the packs were rearranged in 2019: Curves and crossroads; T and Straight.

Like the 2002 plates, these plates have 6 studs on either side of the road.

It has been some time now since we saw a street style baseplate, with studs and ‘flat’ included in a LEGO City set. In 2010, we saw one in the fire station (7208), we also had two examples in 2011: the 7498 Police Station, and the 3368 Space Centre.

The most recent appearance of any baseplate, as far as I can identify, in a ‘normal’ LEGO City set was in 2012 – the 4207 City Garage.

4207 City Garage, from 2012. The final appearance of traditional baseplates in LEGO City?

Thesed days. baseplates themselves are relative rarities: other than the Classic Range, they turn up annually on the bottom of the Creator Expert Modular Buildings, and larger sets such as the Ninjago City, and Ninjago docks. It would appear that we will also see a number of baseplates used in the 80107 Chinese New Year Lantern Festival in 2021 to make up its footprint of 48 x 32.

80107: Spring Lantern Festival, coming in 2021 – this proves that the baseplate is not entirely dead.

The Bother With Baseplates:

There have been fewer opportunities for baseplates to be used in recent years: but why might that be the case? Other than nostaglia value, what do they have going for them?

Baseplates are not entirely in system:

A baseplate is approximately half a plate thick, plus the height of the stud. The top of the plates is fine, but the bottom of the plate does not accept a stud. Never has. Probably never will. Baseplates do not join together without a fixed gap, either. This is never an issue with regular plates.

Increasingly, we have seen regular plates form the base of LEGO City buildings, as well as those in LEGO Friends sets. The base of Old Trafford – the Creator Expert set released earlier in 2020, is a network of Technic frames. A base to a diorama that is five plates thick (eg a brick and two plates) is the perfect thickness to incorporate a tidy SNOT Frame. A baseplate will not.

Baseplates limit the size of packaging. Once you put a 32×32 plate into a set, you have defined the minimum dimensions of the box. If smaller road elements can be developed, then it will not influence the size of the packaging as much.

Baseplates are relatively flimsy:

Certainly, once a baseplate becomes greater that 16 x 16 studs, it becomes relatively flexible, and potentially prone to breakage.

Baseplates are no longer manufactured in house:

I have heard this from multiple sources over recent weeks, but I do not have specific details. Certainly, if regular road baseplates are discontinued, only the ‘standard’ baseplates need to be continued: reducing the process to only one mold: around 48 studs wide, allowing the excess plastic to be trimmed off and recycled. The need for the molds for the four different road plates will be eliminated.

BUT nothing will change the fact that for covering a lot of area quickly, baseplates are terribly convenient. And, if you have been accumulating parts for a few years, you will quite possibly have more than you can comfortably use.

We have looked into the Future, and it is (very nearly) here.

So, what can we expect to see in the new road system? We have seen images from some of the 2021 LEGO City sets, and it appears that at this point in time, we can expect to see road elements in at least four of the 17 sets that pictures have been seen for (source: Brickset) What elements can we see?

Let’s look a little closer at the road pack 60304. Today, I am just looking at the road elements, and ignoring other elements such as the signage, plants and the cool glow-in-the-dark 1×2 plates used as street lights.

The roads appear to be 2 plates thick, and there appear to be 16×16 and 8×16 variations. The sets also come with ramp elements, a curved slope 4×8 studs, to facilitate cars going on and off-road. It which appears that it might well be this element, seen here in 60074 Bulldozer.

As far as I can can see, the plates had 1×4 studs between the 3rd to 6th; as well as the 11th-14th stud position, where applicable. A 1×4 tile will edge the road nicely, where a 2×4 will connect to a neighbouring plate. Yellow 2x4x 33º slopes will be available to use as speed bumps. This is the first time we have seen this element in this colour since 1996.

The 8×16 elements appear to come in unprinted and printed versions (showing a pedestrian crossing). The 16×16 elements appear to be unprinted, with the option to insert 2×4 tiles with a street line printed in them.

It would appear to be relatively simple to convert a straight to a T intersection or cross roads, but I am uncertain as to how a curve might be created here.

I appreciate that the road plates are relatively versatile – with plates allowing the addition of a skate park, or street hockey goal nets, while printed tiles can create lane division. Indeed, you could attach 2 side by side to create a multilane highway.

I also apprectiate that the 60304 road pack comes with a few plates to place signs on. If the road plate is flush against a footpath, then the signs could be placed on that footpath..

There appear to be both printed and unprinted 2×4 tiles available, with 4 places for a 2×4 tile to be installed in the road plate.

Putting it all together: Simulation of new road elements

I do not have access to the new street elements yet, so I attempted to reconstruct them, based on what I can see in the pictures that have surfaced from some online retailers recently. I expect that they will look a bit like these. I expect that the studded recesses in the plates will have holes in them, to allow removal of any plates or tiles you insert. They will also be in Dark Stone Grey only at this time.

I am left wondering if I have now found a solution to my dual problems – what do I do with my old baseplates, and how do I make a modular building flush with the new road system?

A New Problem, a New Solution

So… Here is a modular building, with its basic layer of baseplate and tiles. It’s a little dusty, please ignore that. As you can see, the footpath is a little shorter than the level of the new double plate road. As you can see, the new road element is likely to be higher than the footpath.

I now have many redundant baseplates, that are no longer ‘supported’ in LEGO City. Perhaps I will use them to support LEGO City:

As you can see, the street is now just a little lower than the modular’s footpath, even giving a feeling of a slight gutter.

Problems solved!

Might these new roadplates be a better option?

These are just my thoughts: the 16 stud square foot print will make them easier to pack into standard packaging, to say nothing of using the same moulding technology as the other elements manufactured by LEGO. Reduced packaging size also means potentially reduced shiping costs and environmental impact per item delivered.

We now have control over how wide our roads might be, and with the ever expanding dimensions of LEGO vehicles, we need a wider road today than we had in 1980. There have been multiple revisions to the LEGO road system in the past 40 years, but the current plates have been in use for over 15 years. Over this time, we have seen many builders abandon road plates for a brick built version (often competitive in price), particularly in city layouts at exhibitions.

Where do I stand? I’m torn. Over the years, I have made a significant investment in the old road system. However, I don’t have a fulltime LEGO City layout on display. I am curious to try the new system, and will endeavour to do so in the new year. I do wonder if a ‘curved corner’ option will become available. I doubt it, but I live in hope. I believe that the new system provides an option for a ‘Green verge’ to the road, rather than the grey offered by the current plates, and that might also increase the amount of parkland we are automatically drawn to create in LEGO City. Of course, this change has been prepared for in part, through the use of 2 plate thick elements in the juniors range, in recent years.

We are getting to the time of year where next year’s modular is due to be announced ‘Real Soon Now’ – I wonder if it will continue to be set on a baseplate, or on the ‘new normal’ plates? Hopefully we shall find out soon.

What do you think of the new modular road system? Do you think it is potentially an improvement, or to the detriment of LEGO City? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

In the meantime,

Play well!

7 thoughts on “The Word on the Streets…[Vale LEGO City Road Baseplates]

  1. now it is easy to accpet new things and you mentioned negatives of baseplates – but what about positives? And here are few, from old mocer:
    I use mainly 48×48, I use 32×32 only for city (because of streets and modulars) and for special projects, and here is why I love baseplates:

    – I build large scale diorama, and baseplate gives me the strenght to lift moc and put it in box – sure the same could be done with bricks, but the price would triple, including all the bricks to make it one solid base

    – same thing for movin grom table to table – actually, my whole point is for moving

    – I also build large scale mosaics, 4x4m – I use baseplates and 1×2 bricks – I could use 16×16 plates and then connect them, but that would increase the height of mosaic, and make it oh so much flimsier

    – baseplates are in no question flimsy – any brick can be broken if you bend it in some angle, and I have found out that baseplate can be extremly durable to some forces

    – the lower surface is smooth, and they are easy to move on most surfaces used for exibiting – do it with 16×16 plates, and if only one connection is not ideal – the whol thing will get stuck, and depending on a force you have put into moving it – you can break oh so much 🙂

    – at the moment I am building 24×12 (48×48) The Lord of the Rings diorama – that is 24×12= 288 baseplates. Now imagine you are doing it with 16×16 – that is 2592 plates – not counting how you are going to connect them

    – using baseplates it is easy to make large scale mocs modular – same could be said about plates, but the issue is connection – one bad aligement and mocs is getting stuck on transport box, cloth on the exhibiting table, bump on the table etc. And one bad implementation of force (bending it) and the whole thing can crack in the middle – not with baseplate, where the whole surface is one part.

    Now lets go trough things you mentione as negatives:

    – they are not within system – well in some ways they are not, but in others they are. And when you connect them with bricks – the gap between them can not be seen. And it impacts nothing – so that is not an issue
    – they are flimsy – sure, but as are, more or less, most of other bricks. And 9 16×16 plates connected with one leyer of other plates in shape of 48×48 baseplate si MUCH more flimsy then that baseplate. You have to put at least two leyers of plates connecting them, four idealy – which means you have five leyers of plates to make base that is stronger and less bendy then baseplate – the costs alone are deterent.
    – Baseplates are no longer manufactured in house – they never have been, trust me, as a decade old ambassador 🙂 Even if they did it in some past hundred years ago, now, in modern age – they are commisioned – like many other things we use in sets, like metal bar for train wheels, for example. This changes nothing for us, as last user, maybe lowers the profit for TLG (The LEGO Company), but they have means to produce them, if they so desire, if profit is factor
    – baseplate limit the size of packaging – true, but that is, again, the issue of TLG’s profit, not ours, as a final user – we don;t care what size the box is, maybe a very small % thinks about enviroment, or storage, but vast vast majority of LEGO buyers really don;t care, this way or another – there was a studdy and TLG evolved from large packages to unified ones we see today, as customer base declared they wouldn;t buy less if the box become smaller – similarry, they wouldn’t buy less if box was biger, so, again, this is TLG’s issue and their profit (savings in reducing packaging size), and although I am all for assisting TLG in any way possible – but there are limits, excluding baseplates is one of them. (Would you give all your baseplates so TLG can make more profit? I thought so)

    So, final thoughts: baseplates are there for a reason. From busines perspective they are bulky and need to be replaced with something that is made in house, costs same or preferably more, and influence people to buy it – I am all for that, why not, fi people like old system. But for most, baseplates, as easier to use and build on (and cheaper, not only the price of baseplate but also price of extra bricks you need to cover 9 16×16 so the base is sturdy to move, and also to make it look cool) and already in stock – they will never go away. I believe TLG will make VERY slow transition of at least five years inluencing AFOL community and general customers to switch to non-baseplate builds (general community are going to be easier to convinve as AFOL projects tend to be more masive), and TLG will keep some stock in shops for at least 5 to 10 years, during which they will say they don;t plan to stop producing them until year, year and a half before the deadline, when they will isue “unfortunatly it is time to say goodbuy to old and dear friend – baseplate, but fear not, his younger brother 24×24 plate is here!” and that will be the end of it, until they realise the copy cat firms are selling a lot of their baseplates, when I don;t know what will happen 🙂 But the fact is, the moment there is a minus in baseplate quantity, copycats will slide in with their products (Aliexpress is full of chinese 32×32 already – I do not reccomend them, support brand you love, buy original, as long as they produce them

    In any case, baseplate (for me 48×48) is an old and battleweary friend with whom I have been trough so many adventures 🙂 I just today said to a friend “I need more baseplates, damn, you can never have too many of these) and I have around 10.000+ of them, and only few hundreds of 32×32 (literary just for one truly huge city:)

    In short, inovations are cool, I like the new modern city look – but baseplates will be there forever 🙂

    Hopefully my name will be visible from login, but if not, I am Ivan Angeli 🙂

    • Ivan, thank you for taking the time to give us your insights.
      I do not know that I agree with your first statement. Change is not universally embraced, and I think anyone who has been incorporating LEGO City road baseplates for years will undergo some challenging emotions in the face of their potential withdrawal.

      While I personally find road plates to be difficult to work with, I am fond of Baseplates in general, as you are, particularly as a way to build up a modular layout, and I would not say that any of us must divest ourselves of them.
      While I suspect we have seen the end of specialty baseplates such as roads, I think we shall have regular 32×32 or 48×48 Baseplates with us for a while at least.
      I agree that when working on a certain scale MOC, there are advantages to regular Baseplates. And sliding them across a fabric covered table would be one of them.
      However, I wouldn’t discount plate oriented techniques as a structural base for a model- it involves a change in thinking about how you approach the lower level: it is not necessary to build a base out of multiple layers of plates, but rather to incorporate appropriate structural elements into the lower layers of a model.
      The aspect of limiting the size of packaging is more an issue when considering putting road elements into a regular LEGO city set: Brick based road elements will add less to the final volume size of a City set in its box, than the same set with a baseplate in(if the box is smaller than 30x30cm ).

      I would suggest that your use of Baseplates is at a significantly greater scale than the majority of users around the world.
      I agree that as a backing for a mosaic it is hard to walk past. would not be typical of many.

      Personally, I hope ‘normal’ baseplates remain in production for the reasons that you mention, but I am not convinced that keeping the City Road plates is entirely necessary.

  2. Here’s how I am contemplating integrating the modulars with the new roads:
    1. Put down two 48×48 baseplates next to each other
    2. Cover the two short sides and one of the long sides of the 96 x 48 rectangle with the new roads. This leaves a 64 x 32 rectangle uncovered, surrounded by a “U” of new road plates.
    3. Put some plates on the 64 x 32 rectangle (use the green ones that came with the road sets)
    4. Put 2 modulars (unmodified!) on top of the plates (rest their baseplates loose on the studs)

    The modular sidewalk is now exactly one plate higher than the road. You should not see the side of the baseplate that the modular is built on, but you should see the entire side of the tile on top of it. The roads keep the modulars in place.

    If you wanted to, you could connect studs on top of the baseplate that the modular is built on to studs on top of the road. The are at the exact same height. Since the Lego modular and the road exist within the same Lego geometry, this allows for doing all sorts of other clever things, like constructing alleyways and such that connect to the technic holes in the side of the buildings, etc.

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