A118 - A406

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Name
Ilford Interchange

Where is it?

Ilford, East London, where the North Circular Road meets the A118, a local road serving the endless suburbia.

It was nominated by Andy Carter.

What's wrong with it?

The A406 North Circular Road is, on its journey past Ilford, an entirely new road built in the 1980s, well-aligned with just a few spaced-out junctions. Here, in order to cross the Great Eastern Main Line railway and the River Roding, it runs on a viaduct, which makes it difficult to build a conventional junction with the A118 underneath.

The unconventional junction that exists instead does not work very well. The southern part thinks It Might Be A Roundabout, and from some angles, with appropriate make-up and flattering light, might be mistaken for one. But it's not a roundabout. It's a Not Quite A Roundabout. If you attempt to circulate around it you'll end up back at the traffic lights on the A118 under the viaduct. The entrance to the A406 northbound is positioned, counter to all expectations, on the inside of the curve. There's no approach to this junction that makes it obvious what's going on to the unfamiliar motorist.

An unconventional layout that isn't very obvious on the first attempt would be forgivable if it worked brilliantly, but sadly it doesn't. Approaching from the A406 sliproads, the view of approaching traffic coming around the Thing That Is Not A Roundabout is not very good and accidents caused by traffic pulling out when the road isn't clear are commonplace. Worst of all, the whole free-flowing, fast-moving This Isn't A Roundabout At All relies heavily on the traffic lights on the A118 to keep everything moving, and if a queue builds up at a red light, it stacks back around the corner, blocking the entry sliproads to the A406, which in turn causes queues back around to the traffic lights again, and soon the whole I Can't Believe It's Not A Roundabout is at a standstill.

If you visit in the rush hour, pack sandwiches. If you visit at any other time, bring your wits.

Why is it wrong?

If you go to one of the bigger Ikea stores, you'll find that there's a part of the warehouse where you can buy whole motorway-style interchanges at very reasonable prices. The cost saving compared to having one built by a major civil engineering firm is, of course, because they come flat-packed in a number of cardboard boxes, and as well as assembling them, you also need to find a way to load them into the back of your car.

Flat-pack junctions were in their infancy when the South Woodford to Barking Relief Road - what we now call the A406 in these parts - was being designed. They weren't going to be used at all until a particularly ebullient highway engineer insisted that this largely untried idea would represent a major cost saving.

He got his way and, having bought four interchanges and loaded them into his Ford Sierra, he drove back to Ilford with the boot open and the boxes tied down with bungee cords. Having assembled Redbridge Roundabout and Barking Interchange, he then stopped in the time-honoured fashion for a takeaway curry and a couple of beers before starting work at Ilford late in the evening.

Unfortunately, he'd put his complimentary poppadoms on the instruction leaflet for the "Interchångør" junction kit, and the grease had turned the paper transparent, making them unreadable. Full of enthusiasm (and beer) he got on with it anyway, reasoning that it couldn't be too hard, and bolted all the parts together as best he could.

By the end of the night, Ilford Interchange as we now know it had been built, and the engineer had half a roundabout left over. He quietly put it in a drawer with the little allen key and five mysterious unused screws, and hoped that nobody would notice.

What would be better?

The physical arrangement of this junction would be very hard to change now, given that large parts of it are on elevated viaducts. So one has to assume that it's not going to be substantially altered any time soon.

One thing that might help is to reconstruct the Don't Call Me A Roundabout so that traffic leaving the A406 and traffic joining it are segregated as much as possible. That would mean that, when queues start building up at the traffic lights with the A118, they don't block the path of traffic trying to get away from the lights and on to the A406. To do that might require a signalised crossover and a box junction where the southbound exit sliproad joins the Shh, If Anyone Asks, Don't Tell Them I'm A Roundabout, but it could be a worthwhile change (and it would also get rid of the problem where traffic coming off the A406 reaches a Give Way line and can't see what's coming very well).

That might be the best we can hope for unless someone can find that half a roundabout that was left over and a clean instruction leaflet.

Routes
Region

Right to reply

Anonymous 4 September 2015

Until drivers learn to use the lanes properly (as determined by the highway code) and further know how to drive properly (which it seems most of the users in and around the area are unable to accomplish) the entire junction is akin to the Wacky Races. At peak times you are busy making sure you are not hit from all sides by other vehicles. A simple solution would be to warn people to choose the correct lanes and stay in them. Or actually put the small bollards into the lanes, thereby compelling drivers to choose the correct lane.

John of Chilwell 8 May 2017

I have only used this junction twice, both times as an A406 u-turn (from M11 to Blackwall Tunnel, to avoid a long queue at Redbridge). As I see it, a major contributor to the problems is signposting:

On the slip-road from A406 to the not-quite-a-roundabout, the lane signs are A118 Ilford and A118 Stratford. But (a) that is counter-intuitive [on the A406 southbound, Ilford is left - but you have to be in the right-hand lane for Ilford ... uh?], and (b) many motorists won't want either of Ilford or Stratford, or won't know which they want. East / West would help, as would "Central London".

When you get to that not-quite-a-roundabout and are passing under the A406, there are no signs for the A406 north [left lane or right?]. It's not just u-turners who need that sign - anyone from the A118 to the A406 north needs it too.

This junction shares some of its problems with Great Barr (M6 / A34) in that the slip-road comes off the inside of the inside of the not-quite-a-roundabout.

And there are too many cross-over movements at a small junction.

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