A56 - A5063 - A5081

White City Circle

Where is it?

South west of Manchester City Centre, and not far from Old Trafford, where one of Greater Manchester's radial roads gets tangled up with Trafford's retail parks and office complexes.

What's wrong with it?

A series of 1990s redevelopment projects — an upgrade of the A56 Chester Road to a dual carriageway; the widening of the A5063 Trafford Road to serve new waterfront developments and the growing stadium of Manchester United football club, that sort of thing — got together at this point and decided to build something really big.

There's a gyratory here that is four lanes wide in most places. The Chester Road passes through the middle of it as a three lane dual carriageway. There are additional sliproads, that are also several lanes wide, cutting corners all around the junction. There are more traffic signals here than in the whole of Luxembourg. Not only that — because that, of course, could hardly be considered big enough — but the three busiest approaches to the junction also have an additional signal-controlled junction just metres away, giving scope for any amount of even wider carriageway, filter lanes, signalised crossovers and more.

If the aerial photo gives you a headache, imagine driving it. From the left-hand lane of the A5063, the opposite kerb is so far away that it's only visible on an exceptionally clear day.

Why is it wrong?

In the late 1980s, Trafford Borough Council provided some funding for a research project being carried out by UMIST (the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) into computerised junction modelling. The computer they designed for this purpose took up two floors of an office building on Medlock Street and after analysing data printed out its conclusions on paper tape.

Trafford Borough Council piloted this impressive technology with their proposals to build a roundabout at the junction of the A56 and A5063. They entered the predicted traffic flows on a magnetic tape. The machine whirred quietly for some minutes, and then printed "+++MORE LANES".

The engineers added lanes to all the approaches and to the roundabout itself, and put the new parameters in. The machine processed this and printed "+++MORE LANES".

Again the design was revised, and again, and again, and each time the computer said "+++MORE LANES". Eventually the Borough Council capped the cost of the new junction and the engineers were forced to build their latest design because, even though the computer was still insisting they add more lanes to their design, they couldn't afford any more tarmac or traffic signals.

Shortly after the plans were approved and work started, UMIST technicians found that a fundamental problem with the machine's programming meant that it churned out the same tired, generic response no matter what the question or problem confronting it. They decided the best thing would be not to tell Trafford, who might get a bit upset now that they'd spent all that money. The computer was sold off, and is now used to automatically write politicians' speeches, a purpose for which it is much better suited.

What would be better?

If the junction is really so busy that it requires all of these enormously wide carriageways, all of these many lanes, all of these traffic signals — then perhaps it's time to admit defeat and accept that a flat, signal-controlled junction might not be the right answer for this particular location. Perhaps, for example, the A56 might be happier passing underneath the junction, out of the way. Just a thought.


Right to reply

Rob 26 August 2011

Ah, White City... I've watched this transform and evolve over the last 20 years so I guess I don't give it a second thought. However, it's definitely a beast, and I've encountered at least one confused old lady traversing around it the wrong way. Spare a thought, however, for before the widening of Trafford Road, when there was a second roundabout all around the telephone exchange (along Wharf Rd) bolted onto this.

Declan Booth 28 August 2011

This junction really is terrible. It's a good job they've got a train station for Old Trafford as I couldn't imagine the horror on a match day.

Bryn Buck 3 September 2011

I consider myself a bit of an expert with Manchester's many big junctions. I'm not being an egotistical trumpet-blower when I say that.

Yet every single time I have to use this blasted thing I end up on the A56 towards Altrincham even if I started off in Altrincham. There is just too much going on in too small a space.

And finally - whoever allowed the massive retail park that surrounds this complex to be put into the mix needs to be strung upside down and dipped into the Ship Canal as punishment.

Ben 4 September 2011

What makes this junction (and the adjacent crossing by Trafford Road of the Ship Canal) so dreadful is the extent that lanes appear and disappear randomly and don't spiral consistently. The lack of gantries (despite a brand new enormous advertising banner in the middle of the whole thing) means that most of the traffic hasn't a clue what lane to be in.

To echo what Ben has said, this junction would work perfectly but for one thing: the lane instructions on the roadsigns don't correspond to the markings on the roads themselves.

You would think that the easiest manoeuvre would be north-south straight down the A56 but I have seen plenty of people perform the (quite unnecessary) act of moving around the roundabout part [only to re-join the A56!] because the markings are so confusing.

Although it might be geographically irrelevant, worth mentioning is the fact that the Eccles metrolink line crosses Trafford Road (just to the north of the junction), where trams get priority. Add to that woefully-phased traffic signals and you have an area best-avoided at the best of times.

Simon 23 August 2022

Try going round this using a Sat Nav when you genuinely haven’t a clue where you are going. My Sat Nav zooms in at low speeds and the junction is that big I couldn’t tell where it ultimately wanted me to go. Inadvertently I proper cut up some guy in a Range Rover who, quiet rightly, went bananas at me sounding his horn and giving me hand signals that are definitely not in the Highway Code. At one of the many sets of lights we both stopped and I shouted over to him “ sorry mate, I messed up. I’ve not a clue where I’m going, the Sat Navs crap and this junction is a joke, if I hadn’t cut you up it would have been someone else. Again, I’m sorry “ He looked so shocked that I’d said that instead of kicking off at him in response to his gestures he just said “ fair enough mate, you are right, this junction is rubbish “

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