A1 - A421

Black Cat Roundabout

Where is it?

On 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

Simon Curtis 28 February 2006

When the enquiry was held on the Great Barford by-pass I put forward a proposal to re-align the A1 East from a point around 200 metres North of the present roundabout to a point 500 metres South of the Roxton/Tempsford double bends. If one takes an aerial view, such as Google Earth, you can see this would in effect straighten the A1 considerably. The Highways Authority was against the proposition for a number of reasons. Impact on existing business! Only one would be affected and he was cock-a-hoop at the thought of being compulsory purchased. Alignment constraints.... None whatsoever in fact the road would have been straight and it is open fields to the East of the present road.

The new Southbound approach has been split into three lanes; two for Southbound traffic and one for Westbound traffic. The result is that, at peak times, Southbound traffic now speeds through effortlessly and Westbound also streams nicely having the effect of stopping the traffic on the Northbound carriageway. I now queue daily from Tempsford for 20mins+ to clear the roundabout. It is easier for me and hundreds of other car users to divert over the Blunham flyover and go through Little Barford to the St Neots by-pass but even now I notice this B-road is becoming congested on the approach to St Neots.

Joeey in response to Simon Curtis 22 July 2018

In reply to by Simon Curtis

I agree with this proposal. Why would it be so hard to have the A1 run east of this junction and have trumpet-styled sliproads to the A421. As for the unclassified road it could have a T-junction with the A421 a bit further down the road or at worst case maintain the roundabout's current position and use one of the old A1 carriageways for the unclassified road.

Rory Halliday 14 August 2007

This is the worst junction on the worst strech of the A1. I have never been there without a jam. It's so bad even the cat added at the latest re-design has gone walkies!

Tony Baker 3 November 2007

I have been using the whole length of the A1 twice a year since the late 50s when it was single all the way. Last year I was held up at the Black Cat by roadworks but assumed that great things were going to happen. Two weeks ago, I couldn't believe the delay until I realised that the roundabout had only been made larger. Ironically this makes things worse as southbound traffic heading for Bedford now comes across the northbound traffic at greater speed. Definitely the worst junction on the A1.

Mark H 7 February 2008

Those of us living in the area know what a joke this roundabout is! Imagine what it will be like when the M1 j13 to Bedford scheme is opened in a few years time! There will be a high standard dual-carriageway route from the M1 at j13 all the way to Felixstowe, except for the 'gap' between the Black Cat and the roundabout at Caxton Gibbet. This is bound to attract a much higher volume of traffic. At the moment St Neots is a building site for yet more houses and the St Neots bypass is already heavily congested.

When I put this to the Highways Agency recently I was told that the dualling of this final section will be looked into. But we all know that could be 10, 15 or more years away!

Here's the best bit: there is talk of the land to the immediate east of the Black Cat roundabout being used for quarrying, with the lorries having direct access onto the roundabout at the unused east 'gate'! You couldn't make it up! What's the betting there will soon be traffic lights, "for our safety", at the Black Cat soon?

TAnderson in response to Mark H 8 January 2023

In reply to by Mark H

They've added them in the 2014 redesign! Good things they're now finally planning to redo the junction!

Stephen 25 September 2008

Even worse than the approach to this roundabout from the A1 south is the way the road from Great Barford (former A421) joins in. There is simply never a gap in the traffic on the roundabout which means that this local minor road doesn't stand a chance. Even if by some miracle a gap in the traffic appears, the speed of traffic at this junction means that by the time you take off the handbrake and get moving, another vehicle will be coming round the roundabout at you at speed. You take your life in your hands at this junction.

Susan Boyd 11 June 2010

As a regular user, I can confirm this roundabout is truly diabolical - just spent over half an hour, quite typically, queuing from before Tempsford, northbound on a not particularly busy weekday afternoon. A motorist alongside told me he thought there must be an accident up ahead to cause such a huge hold-up... no, I told him, sadly it's just the curse of the Black Cat. Two seconds past the roundabout, hey presto, road virtually clear. How, how, HOW could the powers that be have spent so much time and money replacing the old roundabout with something that's so measurably WORSE than the original, in terms of accident potential and length of queues? Don't they have computer modelling at the Department of Transport? Did anyone ever get sacked over this? *sigh* Methinks not.... thanks Ed for at least providing one little space where frustrated drivers like me can vent. Made me feel SLIGHTLY better anyways :-)

Matt 25 July 2010

This entire section of the A1 is something of a joke, much like the section around Doncaster is, and parts of the route through North Yorkshire used to be. The A1's tendency to change, seemingly at random, from modern motorway to terrifyingly narrow and busy 1950's style arterial road (complete with moribund, period roadside restaurants) may be charming to some, but more often than not I find it just discourages me from using it at all when I'm travelling North or South. My dad loves it, probably because it reminds him of his youth. As a modern guy, I use the M1.

This particular junction fully deserves vilification not least because there is absolutely no reason it could not be upgraded tomorrow - one word, "flyover", and there's plenty of room here. That said, purely in terms of their ability to make a mess of your journey up or down the A1, the main Sandy roundabout to the south of here, and *particularly* the Buckden roundabout some way to the north, merit equal ire in my opinion.

Steve 12 September 2010

My daily commute to Milton Keynes takes me past the Black Cat twice a day. This junction always used to be bad but has become progressively worse, lately, in the main due to 'improvements' in other areas.

The Bedford southern bypass increased the amount of traffic using the A421 as a route to the M1. The Great Barford bypass (required due to the additional volume heading through the village) compounded the issue and surely the completion of the latest A1/M1 link in December 2010 will bring even greater traffic volumes. I am bracing myself for bigger tailbacks at this junction as a result. Surely road planners think about the junctions at either end of new stretches of road nowadays?

Michael F 18 March 2011

This junction nearly killed me in June 1969, when I wrote-off my 6 week old Triumph Vitesse. Approaching from Bedford at night, the road markings were entirely wrong, and there was a sharp bend just before the roundabout in those days, which took me by surprise because of these markings, the lack of any chevrons or signs indicating a bend, and no hedge or buildings for my headlights to reflect onto.

The bend forced air out of my rear tyre, I lost control, and ended upside down the far side of the roundabout, after demolishing one keep left bollard, a lamp post, and resting against another.

I still have one hub cap that came off the car, and only the boot lid was undamaged.

Luckily, there were no seat belts, I fell across the front footwells, and the hinged seats came forward and protected me. The roof was sat on the top of the dashboard and parcel shelf, all the pillars had collapsed, and all windows were out.

I was a stranger to the area, and did not know the road, and relied on the signs and markings to guide me, especially at night. These were all changed after my accident, but it made no difference to me being prosecuted for 'due care and attention'!

Glenn Aylett 28 April 2011

I used to think the old A74 Cumberland Gap was bad until I saw this. How on earth this dangerous throwback persists as the congestion is atrocious and anyone who lives in Great Barford must be taking their lives in their hands trying to get onto the A1 or the A421. More proof that the government should have pressed ahead with making the A1 into a motorway all the way to Newcastle. However, instead we got piecemeal improvements, which while welcome, left out such sixties relics as the Black Cat Roundabout, which should have been replaced 20 years ago.

Bain M 15 June 2011

I would agree with all comments that this junction is a nightmare. I work out of St. Neots, and I actually avoid this roundabout by heading south through the villages before joining the A1 at Sandy.

I think the main problem with this junction is the marina just to the south. There's some nasty turns in the dual carriageway there, and any improvement to this junction in terms of a flyover would be hampered by its close proximity. A solution would be to shift the whole lot east a bit into the fields, and then give the A1 a flyover above the junction, also adding in a decent "straight" river crossing.

Tony 24 August 2011

We all agree that this roundabout is a dangerous blackspot. Did you know that Bedford Borough Council is about to abstract gravel? That means 200-500 slow moving trucks per day coming off those fields onto the roundabout starting March 2012.

Wojciech 1 November 2011

There has been a study to upgrade A428 between Black Cat roundabout and Caxton Gibbet.

If such thing ever gone into action, I guess it should include some improvements to Black Cat roundabout. An overpass for A1 traffic should really be considered there...

Sam 27 October 2014

Currently they are widening the roundabout again. This must the second time they've done this in the last 15 years or so. Surely it would have cost less to put in a flyover in the first place. Short term thinking is great isn't it!

Anonymous 1 November 2014

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

Anonymous 3 November 2014

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.

Steve 2 January 2015

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...

Mal J 9 April 2015

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.

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