A1 - A421

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Where is it?

Junction diagramOn the Bedfordshire section of A1, notorious as an ancient section of A1 full of roundabouts and right-turns, where the A421 trunk route from Bedford joins in.

What's wrong with it?

This whole section of A1 is at best unacceptable, and at worst downright dangerous. The Black Cat Roundabout is certainly a contender for the most dangerous junction on it. Considering this stretch of all-purpose A1 is between two sections of A1(M), the place where it meets another trunk route (and one which is a grade separated dual carriageway just a few miles further on) is not the place for a cramped roundabout. The Black Cat is a regular on traffic reports for overturned lorries and general congestion as the sheer volume of traffic finds it hard to get through.

Why is it wrong?

This section of the A1 was upgraded quite a while before the sections around it — it was dualled when the rest of the road was still single carriageway, by slapping another two lane carriageway next to the existing one. Back in the 1950s it must have been a dream, but now, stuck between two sections of fast A1(M), it's abysmal and traffic using it isn't used to travel on such a low-grade overused road. This junction simply hasn't been updated and is long overdue for an overhaul.

What would be better?

The A421 upgrade works could have included a new junction. It wouldn't be achieving the impossible to build a new roundabout with the A1 flying over the top — basic and very much a plain-vanilla option but it would be perfectly adequate here. Sadly all that happened was that the existing roundabout was made larger. Alternatively, since there's no other roads involved, how about a free-flowing trumpet, costing not much more in land, less in overbridges, and returning more in capacity?

Right to reply

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These are the most recent comments on this junction. You can see all comments if you prefer.

April 2015

Nick is seeing red:

It seems fashionable at the moment to favour traffic lights over free-flow roundabouts, even though they consistently make peak queues worse. Not a great surprise then that the Black Cat roundabout has gone from 100yd queues to 3 mile queues since they switched on the lights. Well done all - £6m well spent, I say...

April 2015

Mal J has a message for the engineers:

Well done planners, you have now had three opportunities to do something about this junction and have always gone for the cheap option. Now we have got the ludicrous situation of a major East-West route meeting a major North-South route controlled by traffic lights. Who was the genius who dreamt this up? In a few years time when the traffic has finally ground to a halt for ever, what are you going to do next, make the roundabout even bigger. When it's the size of the M25 maybe the traffic may start moving again. You just couldn't make it up.

January 2015

Steve has an update:

Current works to this roundabout (Dec 14) include adding full time traffic lights and installing extra lanes. The Highways Agency told me "in peak hours we expect any congestion to be almost cleared in one full cycle of lights". A brave statement indeed, when you consider the rush hour tailbacks currently reach over 2 miles. I'll not be holding my breath then...

November 2014

An anonymous contributor has big ideas:

A trumpet interchange would best suit this junction in my opinion, and the A1 should be 4 lanes in each direction north of the junction and 3 going south. This would address the current ghastly and dangerous layout.

November 2014

Anonymous writes:

If both these roads are (almost) up to the same standards it could be a freeflowing junction.