Coventry ring road

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A4053 shield

A4053
Coventry ring road
Junction 9 and Hill Cross flyover, looking south west
Route information
Length3.62 km[1] (2.25 mi)
HistoryConstructed 1959–1974
Major junctions
Orbital around Coventry
  A4114
A429
A4600
Road network

The Coventry ring road, also known by its road number, A4053, is a 3.62-kilometre (2.25 mi) ring road in Coventry, England, which forms a complete dual-carriageway loop around the city centre. The road's circuit encompasses the old and new Coventry Cathedrals, Coventry University, shopping areas including the Upper and Lower Precincts, West Orchards and Cathedral Lanes, the medieval Spon Street and the Coventry Skydome. With the exception of one at-grade roundabout, the ring road's nine junctions are entirely grade separated and closely spaced, with short weaving sections between them, giving it a reputation for being difficult to navigate. The junctions include connections with three other A roads: the A4114, linking Coventry to the A45, A46, M1 and M40, and also westbound towards Birmingham; and the A4600, which also connects with the A428, A444, M6 and M69; and the A429 to Kenilworth.

With the exception of Thomas Telford's Holyhead Road, central Coventry's road network comprised narrow medieval streets until the 1930s. To cope with a rapidly growing population, the city council tasked city engineer Ernest Ford with modernising the roads; he went on to build Corporation Street and Trinity Street, projects which involved large-scale demolition and relocation of residents. Donald Gibson was appointed city architect in 1939 and began work on a city centre redevelopment plan more radical than Ford's. After large areas of the city were destroyed by German bombs in the Coventry Blitz, Ford and Gibson formulated rival visions for its reconstruction. The council chose Gibson's more radical plan, which included the ring road. Priority was given initially to building the shopping precinct and central plaza, but detailed planning began in 1955, the council deciding to build the road in six stages. In 1959 the first section of the road was built, linking London Road and St Patrick's Road in the south east of the city centre. This was followed in 1961 by stage two, Bishop Street to Hill Street, in the north west.

The first two stages were built largely according to Gibson's designs, with at-grade junctions and the provision of cycle tracks and footpaths on both sides, envisaged as a surface-level "linear park". But following a pair of traffic surveys conducted in 1960 and 1961, the council realised that the design could not cope with the predicted increase in vehicular traffic, and it recommended amending the designs to include grade separation. With weaving distances of only 90 metres (300 ft) in places, it was the first urban road in the world to use this configuration at such a small scale. Stage three was the first to be built under the new design, linking Hill Cross and Holyhead Road, with a steel flyover carrying the road over the intermediate junction with the Butts radial road. Work began in 1962, and construction was completed in 1964, although the stage did not fully open until mid-1965. Stage four, Hill Cross to Holyhead Road, was built between 1965 and 1966 and featured two grade-separated junctions – an underpass at Holyhead Road, and a flyover at Radford Road. Stage five comprised the section of the ring road to the east of the city centre, and included two new junctions: the White Street interchange and the Leicester radial. It was the longest and most expensive stage thus far, and due to a difficult terrain it was built the mostly as an elevated carriageway. Work began in 1968 and the stage was fully opened by 1970. The sixth and final stage was in the south and completed the full circuit. It included a complete rebuild of stage one, to upgrade it to grade-separation. Stage six opened in September 1974.

As one of the few British cities to see its ring road project pushed to completion, Coventry has received considerable attention as a source of research for post-war architecture. An article by BBC News noted that opinions about the road were varied, concluding that "you either love it or you hate it". The road was the subject of a 2015 series of poetry films and driving on it has been likened to both a Scalextric and a roller coaster.

Route description[edit]

View of Junction 6 of the ring road

Coventry ring road forms a complete dual-carriageway loop around the city centre of Coventry, with the designation A4053 in the Great Britain road numbering scheme.[2] The road's circuit encompasses the old and new Coventry Cathedrals, Coventry University, shopping areas such as the Upper and Lower Precincts, West Orchards and Cathedral Lanes, the medieval Spon Street and the Coventry Skydome.[3]

Being a complete ring road, it does not have unique start or end points. The junctions are numbered, however, starting with junction 1, the road's only at grade junction and the northernmost point on the ringroad. Junction 1 is a roundabout with four exits: the eastbound and westbound ring roads, the B4113 Foleshill Road to the north, and Tower Street to the south, leading into Coventry's city centre.[4] Proceeding east (clockwise) from junction 1 the road runs to junction 2, a grade separated junction with Hales Street, White Street and Bird Street. This junction is the closest to Pool Meadow Bus Station. From junction 2, the main carriageway rises to become an elevated highway. Junction 3 is the easternmost on the circuit, and provides access to the A4600 Sky Blue Way, the former route of the A46 and the major road from Coventry to Leicester via the M69, as well as the M6. Junction 3 also serves the A428 to Rugby and the A444 to Nuneaton, via a pair of junctions half a mile (0.8 kilometres) to the east.[4]

Continuing clockwise, the road runs due south to junction 4 with the A4114 London Road. This road links to both the A46 southbound towards the M40 motorway, and also to the A45 eastbound to the M45 and M1 motorways to London. The main lanes of the anticlockwise carriagway at junction 4 lead to the exit, meaning through ring road traffic must move to the left, in a turn off to stay on arrangement, and then subsequently move back to the right to avoid the junction 3 exit. The section between junctions 4 and 5 is the features the ring road's only concave section, meaning clockwise traffic bears left rather than right.[4]

Junction 5 provides access to the southeastern part of the city centre, via the B4544 New Union Street, and also links to a pair of roads heading south towards the suburb of Cheylesmore. Junction 6, the southernmost junction, links to the A429 Warwick Road, signposted for Kenilworth, and is also the exit for the University of Warwick and Coventry railway station, which lies just outside the ring road loop. From junction 6 the clockwise carriageway proceeds north-west. Junction 7 is the B4101 Butts Road, linking to the suburb of Earlsdon, while junction 8 is the A4114 Birmingham road, formerly the A45 westbound. The road then runs north-east through the final junction, junction 9 for the B4098 Radford Road, before arriving back at the junction 1 roundabout.[4]

History[edit]

Background[edit]

The road layout within Coventry and its links to other settlements were developed through the Middle Ages, becoming stable by the 17th century at the latest.[5] During the 19th century some sections of road were upgraded to turnpike status, but development proceeded at a slow pace due to difficulty in securing funding, and much of the city's road network was narrow medieval streets.[6] A notable exception was Thomas Telford's road from London to Holyhead, which was built through the city between 1827 and 1830.[7] Telford used advanced engineering techniques for the time, with good drainage and stone foundations, and his road became the major route into the city from the west and the south east, replacing older routes on different alignments.[6][8]

In the early 20th century, Coventry was the fastest-growing city in the UK, as immigrants from across the country moved in to work in the expanding automotive, bicycle, aviation and armament industries.[9] The city's boundaries expanded in stages,[10] absorbing nearby villages as well as new residential areas.[9] As the city grew, the council built upgrades to the city's radial roads but these did not include the city centre, which retained its medieval character until 1930.[10] By then its buildings and infrastructure were unable to cope with the needs of the increased population and the council tasked city engineer Ernest Ford with modernising it.[9] During the 1930s Ford oversaw the construction of Corporation Street and Trinity Street as well as widening other roads. This involved large-scale demolition and relocation of residents to other areas of the city, and created the city's first sections of inner ring road, on what is now the inner circulatory route.[10] He also created the southern by-pass, re-routing the A45 around the city.[9] In early 1939 the council appointed Donald Gibson as city architect. A protégé of Patrick Abercrombie at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture,[11] Gibson assembled a young team or architects and began work on plans more radical than Ford's.[12] These were presented to the public at an exhibition in summer 1940 and included a new civic zone north-east of the cathedral, an area not well-developed at the time.[11]

In November 1940 and April 1941, following the outbreak of World War II, the city was attacked by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in the Coventry Blitz.[13] Large areas, including the cathedral, were left in ruins.[14] Faced with the need to rebuild rapidly, the council instructed Gibson and Ford to work together to agree a blueprint for the city centre. Shortly after the first bombing they met Lord Reith,[12] the government minister responsible for rebuilding, who advised them to plan the reconstruction "boldly and comprehensively" even if this meant high costs.[15] The two men did not work well together and they eventually produced two separate plans; Ford's emphasised maintaining as much of the existing architecture as possible while focusing on getting businesses running again as soon as possible, while Gibson advocated a comprehensive redesign with a new layout and modern architecture.[16] Gibson's plan included the use of ring roads to divert traffic away from the city centre.[15] The pair presented their competing visions in February 1941, and the council decided to adopt Gibson's.[16]

Gibson continued to develop his plan throughout the war, releasing an updated version in October 1945, after the end of hostilities, at an exhibition titled "Coventry of the Future". The council started work on the project in 1946, laying a commemorative stone on the future site of the shopping precinct and beginning the work to convert Broadgate into a green central square.[17] This first phase of work was opened in 1948 by the future Queen Elizabeth II,[18] with a statue of Lady Godiva added a year later.[19]

Planning the ring road[edit]

Gibson's 1941 plan for Coventry called for "a system of radial and ring roads",[20] with the innermost ring centred on a proposed new civic centre east of the Council House. His intention was to use existing roads wherever possible, widening them to dual carriageways and linking them to the radial roads with roundabouts. In his 1945 "Coventry of the Future" plan, Gibson moved the proposed route of the ring road to the north and west of that in the 1941 plan, with the new alignment centred on Broadgate.[21] This new route no longer made use of Corporation Street and Queen Victoria Road, and Gibson designated the land between these and the ring-road route for light industry.[17] The government did not initially approve the new route, citing concern that it encircled too much of the city. But the council's position was that the ring road could not run on Corporation Street and Queen Victoria Road as planned, due to the need for businesses to have direct access to those roads, and therefore must be sited further north west. The plan included provision for the inner circulatory route, a loop comprising existing roads inside the ring road, to serve as a distributor within the city centre.[21] The 1945 plan also featured two additional ring roads - a middle ring passing through suburbs, and an outer ring extending the existing A45 southern by-pass.[22]

Gibson and the council made minor changes to the design during the subsequent years including the addition of two new roundabouts, to make a total of nine. The council and the government then agreed the final design in 1948.[21] This version retained many of Gibson's early ideas, including a dual-carriageway layout, lanes for cyclist and pedestrians on both sides, and at-grade roundabout junctions connecting to all of the major radial routes out of the city.[23] The route was to be 3.62 kilometres (2.25 mi) long and would follow some existing routes, with new alignments for the remainder.[24] Although the plan had been agreed and signed off, the council did not begin start constructing the road. Its priority was the rebuilding of the bomb-damaged areas in the city centre and construction of the precinct, to enable businesses and shops to resume full operation,[21] and funding was still limited following the economic hardship of the war.[23] The city centre work lasted throughout the first half of the 1950s as the council and businesses had to negotiate the use of the space and conduct lengthy planning applications, as well as completing the actual construction work.[25] The ring-road plan remained active, however, and planners ensured that no new structures were situated close to the proposed route, to maintain its availability for road development.[23]

In 1955, with the upper level of the precinct completed,[26] Gibson left Coventry to become county architect for Nottinghamshire.[27] His replacement as Coventry's city architect was Arthur Ling, who had been Senior Planning Officer for the London County Council since 1946.[28] Ling continued Gibson's work in developing the city centre but he also conducted a review of some details of the city's development plan. He wrote updated proposals including pedestrianisation of the north–south axis of the precinct as well as the east–west, and also noted that city centre traffic congestion remained a major issue, which would be worsened by the extended pedestrianisation.[29][30] The council increased its lobbying of the government for permission and funding to the construct the long-delayed ring road. The government reduced investment expenditure significantly from late 1955, and in 1956 the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (MOT) denied the council permission to build the entire ring road, indicating that only the south-eastern portion of the planned road, close to the police station, was likely to be approved.[29][31] The council continued to campaign for the entire route to be built, approving a detailed plan in mid-1957, which was submitted to the government. They proposed to construct the ring road in six stages and it was estimated at the time that the entire route would be complete within six or seven years.[32]

Stage one: London Road – St Patrick's Road[edit]

The first stage of the Ring Road to be built was a 439-yard stretch in the south-east of the city, running from London Road to Quinton Road.[33] This section was intended to relieve nearby Parkside, Short Street and Much Park Street, which were heavily congested with traffic entering the city from the London Road. The design was based on Gibson's 1940s plan, which included provision of cycle tracks and footpaths on both sides of the carriageway,[34] and envisaged the ring road as a surface-level "linear park".[35] The carriageways of the road in stages one and two were constructed with a width of 7.3 metres (24 ft),[36] while the adjacent cycle tracks had a width of 3.7 metres (12 ft) and the pedestrian pavements 2.4 metres (8 ft).[37] The MOT granted official approval for stage one in December 1957, pledging to fund 75 per cent of the estimated £310,000 cost for the stage.[33] The MOT justified the grant, which was higher than was normal for the central government at the time, by citing Coventry's status as a "blitz city".[33][38]

After receiving MOT approval, the council began negotiations with businesses and homeowners along the proposed route, to purchase their properties for demolition.[33] A number of compulsory purchase orders were issued in June 1958,[39] and by the end of the year most of the affected properties were empty and awaiting demolition. The council also announced the closure of parts of Parkside, St Patrick's Road and Quinton Road for the duration of the project.[37] By April 1959, demolition of unoccupied properties was underway and the council served eviction orders on the remaining properties on the route. This included five pubs – the Cottage, the King's Head, White Friar Inn, the White Hart, and the Horse and Jockey – as well as a number of houses and shops.[40] Some features of the demolished areas were retained in the new road, for example stone setts from St John's Street, which were relaid as the divide between the cycle tracks and pavements.[41]

On 1 July 1959, with the demolition work almost complete, construction on the road itself began.[42] As part of the initial work, contractors working for Pirelli General Cable Works laid nine tons (9,100 kg) of power cable underneath the roadways,[43] after which the route was levelled in preparation for the laying of foundations, which began in mid-August.[44] The foundation consisted of at least 150 millimetres (6 in) of crushed stone, with 100 millimetres (4 in) of lean concrete above it, topped with concrete slabs with a thickness of 200 millimetres (8 in).[36] The surface of the road was tarmac, which contractors began to lay in early September, starting with the section from Whitefriars Street to Much Park Street.[45] With one carriageway fully tarmacked by late November, and the council considered opening one side of the road early, around 8 December, although ultimately they decided to defer this and open both carriageways together.[46][47]

By December 1959, the contractors were in the final stages of construction. Several roads at the end of the stretch were closed temporarily, to allow it to be joined to the existing road network and sodium lights, mounted on 11 metres (35 ft) poles, were installed between the carriageways.[48] Stage one was opened on 23 December 1959, Lord Mayor William Henry Edwards cutting the ribbon at a ceremonial opening ceremony before being driven along the road in his civic car.[47] The new road had traffic lights at each end at the time of opening, although stage two work on the London Road roundabout at stage one's eastern end commenced shortly afterwards.[36]

Stage two: Bishop Street – Hill Street and London Road roundabout[edit]

Stage two is the earliest section of the ring road still in use unaltered
The original London Road roundabout, viewed in 1967

Stage two of the ring road project consisted of two separate works - a roundabout at the eastern end of the stage one work and the main part of the stage, a new stretch of road to the north west of the city centre. The government approved stage two on 28 November 1958, providing a grant of £232,000 as part of total costs of £310,000. The new road began at Hill Cross, close to Lamb Street, and ran roughly along the line of King Street to Swanswell Terrace, a total distance of 440 metres (480 yd) Like stage one, the stage featured cycle paths and pedestrian pavements on both sides, as well as a junction with Bishop Street at its upper end.[37]

Compulsory purchase orders for homes along the route of stage two were issued by late 1959. Objections to the main stage two section were raised by the Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital Saturday Fund, Mitchells & Butlers, and two other companies whose premises lay on the route. These objections were withdrawn after the council provided assurances that the organisations would not be evicted until they had completed relocation to alternative sites.[49]

Demolition of properties along the route was underway by March 1960, including the Canal Offices building and properties on King Street.[50] A 29 feet (8.8 m) section of Coventry's ancient city wall and a square watchtower were discovered during the excavation, dating to between 1350 and 1400. The wall section had been incorporated into the cellar wall of an 18th-century property on King Street, which was among those demolished.[51] A team of archaeologists led by Charmian Woodfield worked on the site for the next year, discovering a mediaeval cesspit containing 15th century pottery and a trench outside the wall which was built for additional protection.[52] As of 2020 the watchtower and a short section of the wall surrounding it remain in place.[53] Demolition work was slow, due to issues with relocating residents as well as squatters, and the work was still ongoing at the end of 1960.[54]

By June 1961, excavation work was underway at the northern end of Bishop Street to process piping and electrical services in the area.[55] to install piping was complete, The foundations for the new road were laid from July 1961, starting with the southern side of the road at the intersection with Bishop Street.[56] Work on the roadway was underway by early August,[57] Tarmac work began on southbound stretch from Swanswell Terrace to Hill Cross during the week of 14 August, and it opened to traffic on 22 August.[58][59] The southbound carriageway on the Bishop Street to Radford Road section opened on 22 August 1961, with the northbound carriageway following on 8 November 1961. At the time of opening, the road had at-grade temporary junctions with Bishop Street and the old Radford Road (now Leicester Row), as the new radials linking those roads to the ring road were not yet complete. Unlike stage one, stage two had no official opening ceremony – the road opened when construction workers moved barriers away from the access roads and traffic began to use it immediately.[59]

Stage two also included a separate project to construct a roundabout at the eastern end of the stretch constructed in stage one, at the junction with London Road, Gulson Road, Whitefriars Street and Paradise Street. To facilitate the construction of the roundabout, the council issued compulsory purchase orders on buildings owned by various shops and businesses close to the site.[60] Two of these businesses, a petrol station and a scrap metal merchant, objected to the purchase and an inquiry was held. The council argued that the petrol station was too close to the road and that it would be difficult to secure access routes from the new layout. The Minister of Transport upheld the landowners' appeal, agreeing with them that much of the land was not required for the road. The stage two plans therefore had to be altered.[61] Construction of the roundabout necessitated the destruction of most houses in Paradise Street, and its residents moved out in early 1960.[62]

Stage two cost £535,445 including compensation to landowners. The London Road roundabout opened to traffic in early December 1960, although peripheral work and finishing continued for a further few months.[63]

Traffic surveys and redesign[edit]

By 1960, despite stage one being open and demolition work underway for stage two, the city council realised that it needed a better understanding of Coventry's long-term traffic requirements. There was little vehicle-movement data recorded at the time, and road-design theory for large-scale car use in cities was also not well developed. The council therefore carried out a survey on the ground to establish traffic patterns. Interviewers were stationed close to the planned line of the ring road, where they stopped drivers and asked them for their point of origin and their destination. The results of the survey were published in late 1960,[38] and concluded that there was likely to be a 150 per cent increase in light traffic and a 75 per cent increase in heavy traffic during the subsequent twenty years.[64] The city engineer decided that the plans as they stood would not be sufficient to cater for this growth. In particular, the placing of nine roundabouts on the short span of the road was predicted to lead to considerable congestion.[38] To remedy the problem, the council investigated the use of grade-separated junctions to replace the planned surface roundabouts. The use of such junctions had not at the time been tested at the scale required in Coventry, either Europe or the United States. But the Road Research Laboratory, at the time a UK government agency, had produced a formula to determine distances required for safe weaving of traffic between such junctions. The city engineer used this formula to conclude that the ring road's layout could cope with grade separation, and recommended its use going forward.[65]

In 1961 the council began a thorough review of its road transport policy. The city's planning department had begun to question the entire ring-road concept, arguing that they were not the best solution to traffic congestion and formed damaging divides between urban communities and city centres. A fresh traffic study was launched, producing a development plan for the transport needs of the whole city, which continued for much of the next ten years and produced several large volumes of results.[66] The council determined early in the study that it would proceed with the ring road, remodelled to include grade separation per the city engineer's recommendation.[67] The redesigned road was to be quite different in character from that of Gibson's design, with the cycle paths removed to make way for wider lanes and slip roads, and the "linear park" concept replaced with a largely elevated motorway-type road. After completion of the ring road, the development plan's long-term goals included construction of a Y-shaped pair of high-capacity "urban motor roads" in the city's suburbs, to cater for traffic growth through to the 1980s. One of these roads was to be aligned north–south and the other east–west, providing uninterrupted dual-carriageway links between the ring road, the A45 and A46 roads in the south and the M6 motorway in the north.[68]

Stage three: Moat Street flyover and Butts radial[edit]

The third stage to be built was the section of the road on the western side of the city centre, between Holyhead Road in the north and Queen's Road in the south. The route was previously occupied by low-cost housing and small factories. Stage three featured the ring road's first grade-separated junction following the council's redesign. This linked the ring road to the planned Butts radial road via slip roads and a roundabout, with the road passing over the junction on an overpass known as the Moat Street flyover.[69] The stage also divided Spon Street, which in mediaeval times was the principal route from Coventry to Birmingham, into two disconnected sections.[70] The flyover was built using steel girders, a technique not commonly used for bridges at the time, the project benefiting from an ongoing downturn in the construction steel industry which enabled it to source material cheaply.[71]

Compulsory purchase orders for properties on the route were made in August 1961,[72] and by February 1962 all objections by affected businesses had been withdrawn, clearing the way for work to proceed.[73] The demolition of properties along the route was underway in September 1962,[74] and by November the preparation for the building of the flyover had begun.[75] The construction of stage three was carried out by several companies. Dorman, Long and Co. erected the steel supports for the flyover and McKinney Foundations the piling,[76] with the main carriageway work carried out initially by local firm G. R. Yeomans. But in December 1963 the City Engineer, Granville Berry, ended Yeomans' contract, citing a lack of progress, poor workmanship and the company's financial health as reasons for the termination. Galliford & Sons took over to complete the remainder of the work, and 1,000 feet (300 m) Moat Street Flyover.[77]

Construction of the Moat Street flyover was completed in November 1964, and it had been anticipated that it would open at that time. But with the Butts radial road not yet complete the council decided to defer opening the flyover, citing potential driver confusion at the southern end of the flyover if complex temporary measures were put in place.[78][79] Traffic was routed between Queen's Road and Spon Street via the new road's slip roads for a few months, and in May 1965 the flyover finally opened to traffic connecting the same two roads.[80] A car park in the centre of the junction's roundabout was in use by August 1965, serving employees of the General Electric Company's plant in Spon Street.[81]

Along with stage three, the city also constructed two link roads to the new Moat Street junction. The first was the Butts radial road, for which construction began in July 1965. This was built by Turriff Construction of Warwick,[76] and its purpose was to provide access to the ring road from Coventry's south-western suburbs. It ran from the Moat Street junction to The Butts, joining the existing road network close to the then Coventry Technical College.[82] The Butts radial was completed and opened in late May 1966, with a pair of subways under the radial and the Moat Street roundabout allowing pedestrian access to the city centre.[83] The second new road was Croft Street on the city side of the roundabout, which opened in July 1965 and carries traffic through to the inner-circulatory route at Queen Victoria Road.[84]

Stage four: Hill Cross – Holyhead Road[edit]

The Hill Cross flyover was constructed in stage four

The fourth stage of the project was the missing link joining stage two to stage three and included completion of the junction and underpass at Holyhead Road as well as construction of a junction and new radial road at Radford Road, which the ring road traversed on the Hill Cross flyover.[85][86] Work on this stage was closely aligned with that on stage three as the two connected with each other at Holyhead Road and stage four preparation and building began before much of the prior stage was opened. The council selected the principal stage three contractor, Galliford, as the primary contractor for stage four, including the Radford radial, while McKinney and Dorman Long once again performed the piling and the steelwork respectively. PSC Equipment were also involved for post-tensioning work on the concrete.[76] The council had originally intended to make an advance order for the steel required for stage four in 1962, following the successful and economical work done on stage three. But the government vetoed this plan, and by 1964 when the Hill Cross materials were ordered, the steel market had recovered and costs were significantly higher.[87]

Compulsory purchase orders for the ring road section and the radial road were made in 1963,[88] and were approved by the ministry with the exception of two properties on Radford Road whose land was deemed nonessential to the project.[89] Preparatory work, including rerouting of sewers under Hill Street, began in October 1964, with various temporary diversions put in place in the area.[90] By early 1965 the route had been cleared and diversions were put in place to allow work on the Hill Cross flyover.[91] The link between the two sections of Holyhead Road was severed permanently from the beginning of 1965, to allow work to begin on the junction itself. Slip roads used to carry traffic from Spon Street to Holyhead Road while the full junction constructed.[92] The city-side section of Holyhead Road was left as a dead end, having previously been a major thoroughfare, which caused losses to some businesses on that section.[93] Dorman Long began erecting the steel girders in May 1965, transporting them from their Middlesbrough factory by train.[94] Work on the roundabout underneath the junction, slip roads and the Radford radial was also underway by mid-1965.[95] By November 1965 all steelwork was in place for the flyover, and it was ready for the concrete surface to be laid.[96]

The first part of the stage four work to be completed was the Radford radial, which was opened to traffic in February 1966 providing a through route from the Hill Cross ring-road junction to Radford Road, heading out of the city. The section of the old Radford Road between Light Lane and the city centre was cut off from the rest and left as a dead end.[97] The slip roads on the section were brought into use in early June, allowing traffic to travel between the junctions but not yet on the flyover or the underpass. This opened up a through route from Warwick Road and Queen's Road in the south all the way through to Foleshill Road in the north, via the Moat Street flyover and the stage four slip roads, allowing traffic to bypass the city centre for the first time.[98] The Hill Cross flyover and Holyhead Road underpasses were both opened on 18 July 1966, three months ahead of schedule, with construction workers removing the barriers and allowing traffic to flow. This completed the western section of the ring road from Queen's Road through to Foleshill Road, allowing through traffic to bypass the city centre from south to north.[86]

Stage five: Foleshill Road – London Road[edit]

The ring road at White Street junction, five years after the opening of stage five
Elevated ring road at the Leicester radial junction

Stage five comprised the section of the ring road to the east of the city centre, linking stage two at the Foleshill Road roundabout with stage one at London Road. The section included two new junctions: the White Street interchange and the Leicester radial, connecting to what was at the time the A46 road due north east. The line of the stage crossed the River Sherbourne, downstream from the city centre, and surveyors determined that the area contained an artesian aquifer. This difficult terrain, combined with the need for grade separation at the junctions, made it impractical to build the road at ground level and it was decided to build the road mostly as an elevated carriageway while also culverting the river as it ran underneath the Leicester radial junction.[99] Following the sharp increase in steel prices between stage three and stage four, the council did a full cost analysis of various options and concluded that prestressed concrete supports would be more economical than steel. They programmed a LEO III computer to assist with predicting the structural load on the roadway.[87] Stage five was the longest stage to date with a length of 1,200 yards (1,100 m), 950 yards (870 m) of which were elevated,[100] and also the most expensive stage to date, with an eventual cost of £4.6 million including land purchases.[99]

The detailed plans for the stage were released in June 1965 during the construction of stages three and four, with compulsory purchase orders for the properties on the route issued at the same time.[100] The contract for the construction of the project was put out to tender in late 1966,[101] with Galliford chosen once again.[102] Demolition and clearing of the route was underway by late 1967,[103] and a £3.2 million MOT grant was approved, despite a government freeze on public spending at the time. The construction was projected to take two and a half years to complete.[104] Work began in March 1968, and by June of that year the culverting work on the Sherbourne and erection of the concrete vertical supports was underway, with around six columns completed every week.[105] From September 1968 the first of 765 concrete box beams began arriving in the city, each weighing around 41 long tons (42 t) with lengths up to 82 feet (25 m), and brought by road from the Dow-Mac concrete plants at Tallington and Gloucester. T-beams were also imported for use on the slip roads. Galliford used a pair of 50-long-ton (51 t) cranes to lift the beams into place.[106][107] The beam-laying work was finished in mid-1969, and was followed by approximately ten months of road surfacing and finishing including the placing of decorative slabs made with white spar from the Isle of Skye, which the designers hoped would "soften the starkness" of the concrete.[108][99]

The first section of stage five, the 400-yard (370 m) stretch from the Foleshill Roundabout to White Street, opened to traffic in August 1969.[109] The road linking Foleshill Road with Stoney Stanton Road and the Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital was closed to traffic, other than buses and ambulances, with other vehicles using the ring road and White Street.[110] The remainder of the stage was completed on schedule with an official ceremony on 4 June 1970 at St Mary's Guildhall and inaugural drive on the road by the Lord Mayor, followed by the opening of the road to the public.[111][112] The completion of stage five meant that only the southern section between St Patrick's Road and the Queen's Road remained to be completed, and traffic could circumnavigate the city centre without having to use the inner circulatory road. Despite this, the council found that many motorists were continuing to use the old routes in the immediate aftermath of the opening.[113]

Stage six: London Road – Queen's Road[edit]

The final stage covered the section south of the city centre, completing the full ring by joining the end of stage five at London Road with the stage three at Queen's Road. The stage replaced part of St Patrick's Road and also included a complete rebuild of stage one, to upgrade it to the full-width grade-separated standard of the later sections of the route.[107]

A preliminary price estimate of £4.7 million was announced in September 1968, as the plans were submitted to the city council's highways committee.[114] Compulsory purchase orders were issued in November 1969. And the "five ways" junction at Warwick Road had become a major bottleneck by then.[115] By 1971 the cost had risen to around £5.5 million, of which slightly more than £4 million was to be covered by a government grant.[116]

The compulsory purchase orders for this phase were issued in late 1969,[115] with an inquiry held in July 1970 to examine two outstanding objections from property owners. The orders were upheld in November by the MOT, which noted that the public benefits of building the stage on the line proposed outweighed the objections.[117]

Two monuments were temporarily removed during the construction work and put into storage. The first was the Coventry Martyrs memorial, which was located in a small garden at the intersection of Quinton Road and Park Road and was put back in the centre of the junction five roundabout. The other was the monument to the nineteenth century bicycle entrepreneur James Starley, which was taken from Greyfriars Green and put into storage, then relocated to another position on the green after work was complete.[118][119]

It was initially proposed in the early 1960s that the work in the area would include a significant widening of Warwick Road, but there was significant local opposition on the grounds that 47 mature trees would be lost during the work and the plan was later abandoned.[120][121]

Stage six was opened on 19 September 1974 and as with stage five, there was an official ceremony to mark the occasion.[122] There was a minor dispute between the city council and the newly formed West Midlands County Council regarding the attendees at the ceremony. The latter authority had been given responsibility for transport across the county in April 1974 and had supervised the final few months of the work which meant they were responsible for the opening. But representatives of Coventry city council, which had managed the ring-road project for most of its 25-year duration, felt that they should be leading on the occasion.[123] The Lord Mayor of Coventry, Dennis Berry, cut a length of tape across the Warwick Road underpass to declare it open. In his speech Berry congratulated the various officials from the council who had overseen the project since its inception, but also lamented the "frustration and delay" which had lengthened the work from its original six-year timetable.[122][124] There were also speeches by two officials from the county council.[122]

Design and construction[edit]

The ring road forms a complete loop around Coventry city centre and is entirely grade separated with the exception of junction one.[30] The weaving distance between junctions is only 90 metres (300 ft) in places and it was the first urban road in the world to use grade separation and weaving at such a small scale.[65][125] The Ringway St Nicholas section, between junctions nine and one, retains pavements on both sides as well as the cycle track on the anti-clockwise side, per the stage two specification.[126] Following the junction six redesign, a 100-metre (330 ft)-wide walkway crosses over the ring road underpass to link the railway station and the city centre.[127] On all other sections pedestrian areas are segregated from the road by fences and walls, with foot access between the inside and outside achieved via a series of bridges and subways.[128] The road is not an official motorway and it is legal for cyclists to use it, but after the decision in the early 1960s to drop the road's cycle lanes and convert it to a full grade-separated dual carriageway, most cyclists consider it too dangerous.[129]

The ring road features a number of different junction designs, reflecting the nature of the road in the area concerned as well as the dates at which the stages were completed.[130] The two elevated junctions constructed during stages three and four – Moat Street and Hill Cross – utilise a roundabout with slip roads and a flyover. The designers chose a viaduct structure rather than an embankment at these junctions and positioned the abutments some distance from the roundabouts and slip roads, to maximise visibility. The close spacing of all nine junctions necessitated a trade-off between the gradient of the slip roads and the length of the weaving space between the junctions. The designers gave the latter consideration relatively more importance than the former, with the result that the slip lanes are all quite steep, ranging from 5.5 to 7.1 per cent gradient.[131] The White Street intersection at junction two features joining and leaving lanes for both carriageways but with an unusual design – the proximity to the Foleshill Road junction led the designers to position all of the slip lanes to the south of White Street, the north-facing lanes forming curved loops underneath the main carriageway.[132]

In the early 1960s it was planned for there to be direct links between the ring road and rooftop car parks in the central shopping area, via a series of bridges, with the goal of reducing traffic on surface roads. This plan, which would have involved further demolition of properties,[133] was later abandoned on the grounds of cost and practicality with access to car parks instead provided via the inner circulatory road. A number of new car parks were built, with space for 10,000 vehicles arranged such that long-stay parking was close to the ring road and short-stay closer to the shopping areas. Several of the car parks are situated directly underneath the elevated sections of the road itself, including under the long stretch in the east built during stage five and inside the roundabout under the Moat Street flyover.[128] The latter was initially reserved on weekdays for employees of the General Electric Company factory in Spon Street but as of 2020 it is a full-time public car park.[134][135] The White Street junction boasts a coach park, constructed in the spaces enclosed by the junction's curved slip lanes.[107] The coach park, which is accessible on foot from Pool Meadow Bus Station, was used as a car park for nine years in the early 21st century but then reverted to being a coach park, due to low usage.[136]

Reception and popular culture[edit]

Coventry Council and the ring road's engineers generally regard the road as a success.[137][138] Speaking in a 2009 documentary produced in partnership with the Coventry Transport Museum, Duncan Elliott, the council's head of city centre property development, said that the road "works brilliantly", citing a lack of traffic congestion in the area as well as the low accident rate – he described it as "probably the safest road in Coventry". In the same production Brian Redknap, city engineer during the construction of the road, noted that it was designed for the predicted traffic flows in 1981, but said that in 2009 it "still worked extremely well, considering it was 25 years beyond the design period".[139] The road also has some critics, for example architects Caroline and Jeremy Gould, who wrote that "the tight circle drawn by the ring road and its configuration as an urban motorway with grade separated junctions has sharply and arbitrarily divided the centre from the remainder of the city".[140] In a 2009 report commissioned by English Heritage and used as evidence by Coventry City Council in planning city centre development,[141] Gould and Gould recommended that the ring road be "rethought as an encircling boulevard, not an urban motorway and the connections to it from both the centre and outside made negotiable and attractive".[142] Demolishing part of the road was considered as part of the 2004 Swanswell Regeneration Plan, but in the late 2010s, the council instead invested in refurbishing the existing roadway.[143][144]

As one of the few British cities to see its ring road project pushed to completion, Coventry has received considerable attention as a source of research for post-war architecture, as well as from road enthusiasts.[145] The road has developed a reputation for being difficult to navigate, particularly for drivers from outside the city, as a result of its nine closely spaced junctions and complex lane layout.[146][147] BBC News, in a 2014 article titled "Are these the worst ring roads in England?" included Coventry on its list, citing these driver difficulties, along with the view that the road creates a physical barrier isolating the city centre from its suburbs.[146] In a follow-up article, the BBC revealed that they had received many letters from readers agreeing with this negative view of the road, but that numerous other respondents had praised the road, citing its design and the speed with which the city can be navigated by using it. The piece concluded that "you either love it or you hate it".[148] Journalist Christopher Beanland, writing in the Guardian, likened the road to a roller coaster.[145]

In 2015, a group of nine writers and nine film-makers, led by Coventry artist Adam Steiner, created a series of poetry films about the ring road.[145] Titled Disappear Here, the project was funded with grants from Arts Council England and Coventry City Council and was used as part of Coventry's successful bid for the status of UK City of Culture 2021.[149][150] In interviews with the BBC and the Guardian, Steiner commented that "it is the duty of artists and citizens to engage with issues of public space, control of architecture and the human experience of our built environment" and cited for ring road as having a "great presence, not dissimilar to the old city walls".[150][145] He also commented that driving on the road was reminiscent of a Scalextric slot-car toy.[145]

Junctions[edit]

  1. Roundabout beginning of Ringway Swanswell. Junction with Foleshill Road (B4113).
  2. Junction with B4109. Beginning of Ringway Whitefriars.
  3. Junction with A4600.
  4. Junction with A4114(S). Beginning of Ringway St. Johns.
  5. Junction with minor roads (leading to B4544). Beginning of Ringway St. Patricks.
  6. Junction with A429. Beginning of Ringway Queens.
  7. Junction with Butts Road (B4101). Beginning of Ringway Rudge.
  8. Junction with A4114(N). Beginning of Ringway Hill Cross.
  9. Junction with B4098. Beginning of Ringway St. Nicholas.

Source: [4]

Notes[edit]

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  12. ^ a b Redknap 2004, p. 23.
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  17. ^ a b Gould & Gould 2009, p. 21.
  18. ^ Redknap 2004, p. 32.
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  150. ^ a b "Coventry Ring Road inspires verse amid City of Culture bid". BBC News. 16 March 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2020.

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Coordinates: 52°24′11″N 1°30′37″W / 52.4031°N 1.51019°W / 52.4031; -1.51019