Where is it?
Gateshead. No, really — this junction really is in the heart of Gateshead. Any journey to Gateshead, or through it, will involve this sorry tangle in some way.
It links the A167 — the main north-south road across Gateshead and Newcastle, which is grade-separated to the south and a motorway to the north, and also the road over the Tyne Bridge — to the A184, the east-west road across Gateshead, heading away towards the Metro Centre and Sunderland respectively.
What's wrong with it?
Is that a serious question? I mean, have you looked at it yet? It's like an explosion in a traffic light factory. It would be tempting to photograph it at night, to get one of those nice time-lapse pictures with all the streaky headlights and tail lights as the cars swirl around each other and all the signals blink red-amber-green, but to take that sort of picture you need all the cars to move to make the streaky light trails, and at this junction nothing moves very often.
It includes the rather interesting situation where traffic using the 270-degree loop passes through the same set of traffic lights twice.
The Mayor of Gateshead himself is often to be seen waiting at the side of the southbound A167 just past this junction. He awards medals to motorists who successfully find their way there from the eastbound A184.
Why is it wrong?
Not because something happened, but because nothing happened. Newcastle and Gateshead had big plans in the 1960s — what is now the A167 was supposed to be the A1, running right through the heart of the metropolis as a motorway. To the north, Newcastle built the Central Motorway East, now A167(M), to carry it. To the south, Gateshead built the elevated Gateshead Highway, now A167, to do the job. The Tyne Bridge provided a spectacular crossing of the river for the new road.
By the mid 1970s, the plans had effectively died off, leaving this junction (then a simple roundabout) as the only stopping point on the through route.
Since then, Gateshead Council have scratched their heads and rubbed their chins thoughtfully, and came up with this knotted web of confusion and misery to try to keep things moving. It's not a bad effort, all things considered; as a signalised junction it's actually rather clever. But it is evidently not enough and really something much more drastic is needed if we are ever to stop Tyneside commuters chewing holes in their steering wheels in frustration.
What would be better?
Those sixties motorway plans are never coming back and the unfinished stub-ends of flyover and sliproad on the Gateshead Highway are never going to be used to fix this mess. I've come to terms with that now and I am at peace with it. I am calmness and zen. I am raking neat stripes in a gravel-strewn garden. Ahhhh.
One reasonable idea is an east-west flyover parallel to the railway, carrying the A184 over the A167. A two-way bridge with a lane each way would be just enough, and could be squeezed in, leaving some sharp left turns on the west side to get in and out of the A184 at ground level, but crucially getting rid of that horrible crossroads at the north side of the junction. You could smooth out all sorts of things and free up some green-light time for the A167 with that change, and it's parallel to the railway so it's not too objectionable to build.
That's got my heart rate up again, so if you'll excuse me I'm off to fiddle with my meditation beads.
Right to reply
Actually, it's not quite so bad as it looks. It used to be a lot worse. The 270 loop solves two problems in one go: there used to be terrific tailbacks of traffic across the Tyne Bridge wanting to turn right onto the A184, and there was the potential of further gridlock once the Sage centre opened to the north east, which the loop also provides access to.
East-west and east-south traffic is directed round the south of Gateshead town centre (zoom out one on the map and it's the orange A184).
The truly insane bit is a little bit to the south east - A184(w) to A167(n). Nice outside lane merge for that sliproad. Good job both lanes often get clogged, really...
You can avoid the 270-degree loop, coming soutbound over the Tyne Bridge and wanting to turn right onto the A184 westbound. Stay in the right-hand lane and use that U-shaped loop so that you are briefly travelling north on the A167. Then use the slip-road on the left to join the A184 and bingo! - you're at the next set of lights.
Heaven help you if you are new to the area and want to get on one of the side roads off the A184/A167 or indeed off. With lots of one way roads, bus lanes and loading only roads it can be an utter nightmare trying to get somewhere around central Gateshead. I spent ages from Gateshead High Street trying to get on the A167 to get to the Swing bridge, ended up doing a loop on the A184...
We got on the wrong side of this junction (in more ways than one) both trying to get into The Sage and trying to get out of it. We're not from the area and weren't familiar with the road layout. To make matters worse, the signage for The Sage was really poor. Leaving the venue, we couldn't work out how to get onto the Tyne Bridge at all and ended up on the wrong road. You'd think the venue would do more to help with better signage, given that this area is a known 'bad junction' - not very sage on their part.
Bosun Higgs comment about avoiding the 270 loop was correct, but is not any more. Travelling north, there is now a No Left Turn enforced so that you cannot access the westbound A184 (Askew Road); so for drivers crossing the Tyne Bridge southbound, the 270 degree loop is now the only way to do it (without a detour through the back of central Gateshead). The reason for this is because Newcastle and Gateshead are becoming more "cycle-friendly" and removing the left turn there allows cyclists to traverse this junction heading northbound more safely without cars crossing in front of them here. That said, it is now real pain for the driver who does want to access the westbound A184 from the south side as they have to go round the back of Gateshead, where the traffic is already very busy.