Azara Blog: Sampling of the UK motorway network

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Date published: 2005/06/24

Common folklore has it that the UK road network is badly designed and implemented, as with the rest of the UK transport system. Take any trip on just about any motorway or major road and your worst fears can be confirmed. The road surfaces on UK motorways and major roads are perfectly good but that is about their only strong point.

Some examples from one day's travel. The interchange between the M11 and A14 is convoluted (not to even mention that the A428 does not even have an interchange with the M11). The interchange between the A14 and the M1/M6 goes via two pathetically small roundabouts. There is no real interchange between the M6 toll road and the M54 although the end of the former is near the beginning of the latter. Where the A5 is not dual it does not quite have enough space for four lanes so instead there are two large lanes and cars play chicken passing other vehicles down the middle of the road.

The M6 toll road is interesting. It is not that well used, and in particular there is hardly a truck to be seen on it. Trucks pay 7 pounds (during the day) so any time saving they make (on average) is obviously worth less than that amount to them. And unbelievably when you approach the toll road there are no signs indicating what the expected delay might be on the (untolled) M6, which of course would give you an idea whether the toll road should be used. It's possible the government is just in hock to the toll road operator and so purposefully keeping its citizens in the dark, or it could just be that the government is incompetent and cannot figure out how to implement such a system. If you go on the Péripherique in Paris, there are signs every few hundred meters telling you the estimated time to various upcoming exits, and the estimates are pretty good. Perhaps it's time to let the French take over the planning and running of the British road network. (In Britain you can pay lots of money to third party operators to get an estimate of congestion.)

As further proof of the ridiculous motorway IT systems, approaching exit 16 on the M40 (the first from the M42) the flow is fast but there is a sign saying "heavy congestion between exits 16 and 15". How could it be, with the flow so good, so everybody ignores the 40 mph flashing speed limit and rushes ahead. But lo and behold, between exits 16 and 15 the traffic suddenly grinds to a halt, and then crawls along at a few miles per hour. It surely must be an accident, or road works. Eventually another sign says that both lanes 1 and 2 are closed, and so there is a furious merge into lane 3, hence the problem. Except that some people are not merging: perhaps they are just the usual cowboys who cut in at the last minute. But no, it turns out there is no blockage anywhere in lanes 1 or 2, the sign was completely incorrect, so the flow shortly speeds up again. To add insult to injury there is another sign half a mile later saying it's the end of the non-existant blockage.

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