|Birmingham Inner Ring Road|
|From:||Holloway Circus (SP068863)|
|To:||Lancaster Circus (SP074875)|
|Distance:||2 miles (3.2 km)|
|Met:||A38, A456, A457, A41, A34, A38, A47, A41, A441, A4400|
|Now part of:||Part A38, B4100; Part demolished.|
|Route outline (key)|
The A4400 number was allocated to the former Birmingham Inner Ring Road. Finished in 1971 and opened by Queen Elizabeth II on April 7 that year, the ring road was part of Birmingham's grand traffic visions under the city's engineer, Herbert Manzoni. It consisted of a tightly drawn loop around the city centre, acting as a distributor for the Aston Expressway which opened in 1972. The road was remarkable in that it only took 13 years to complete when a timescale of 20 years was expected, and in that it was so completely destructive to vast swathes of the city that it never looked the same again.
The A4400 as was certainly had everything, flyovers, tunnels, pedestrian subways and bridges, and it even boasted a 40mph speed limit despite much of it being flanked by buildings and parts being full of non-vehicle activity. It was truly a motorists' heaven but for the rest of the city it could only be described as a disaster in the making. As a result much of the city's post-war history owes itself to the formation of the ring road, and the moniker 'motor city' would certainly have never come about if it wasn't for the public perception that Birmingham was just a city of car factories and car-friendly dual-carriageways sprawling across the entire area. The demise of the car industry in the area has certainly resulted in a demise of car-friendly dual-carriageways, but it wasn't always this way, as the history shows.
A Brief History
The earliest section of the ring road was the Smallbrook section, which ran from New Street Railway Station to Bristol Street, and was completed in the late 1950s. This was a prototype road, and it influenced design across the UK, in particular places like Croydon which later built similar dual three-lane roads flanked by huge brutalist buildings. The scale of just this small section was huge and the effect on pedestrians, who were routed under the system via subways was to become an infamous planning disaster that would cause headaches for the next 40 years.
The other sections of the ring road varied in their style, but each of them was completely imposing and dominated the surrounding area. One of the most infamous sections was St Martin's Circus outside of New Street Station. This is where the A41 met the ring road and was absorbed into it by a giant roundabout that encircled a market. Again, pedestrians were relegated the subways below, whilst traffic above was able to flow around at 40mph as per Manzoni's vision. The shopping centre surrounding the junction, the Bull Ring, became very unloved and was one of the most derided buildings in the UK until it was swept away in 2000, with the exception of the Rotunda which remains.
Another notorious section of the ring was Masshouse Circus, a huge elevated roundabout that spawned the A47 and also the Priory Queensway into the heart of the city centre. This junction also was deeply unloved by the city and it was referred to for years as a 'concrete collar', finally meeting its demise in 2002.
The western section was still destructive but the topography of the city allowed much of this road to be placed in underpasses and tunnels. The longest of these is the tunnel under Paradise Circus. The other tunnels are at Holloway Circus and St Chad's Circus. This section features direct frontages along the old line of Great Charles Street and is very built-up despite being grade-separated. The pedestrian overbridges highlight Manzoni's vision that this road was not to be walked along. In later years the city council would start to reverse this policy by reducing the speed limit and removing some of the bridges.
Whilst there was the loop of the A4400 around the city centre, a direct line across from St Chad's to Masshouse was filled by the Priory Queensway, Old Square, and Colmore Circus sections, which was marked on some maps as part of the A41. This route was never envisioned as a major through route but it was still huge and designed purely for motorised traffic. Old Square was famous for having shops in the subways under it, and being very isolated by traffic. This was removed at the same time as Masshouse Circus. A sad casualty of the redevelopment was the mosaic patterns in the subways.
Whilst much of the removal of the ring road has been blamed on late 1990s 'anti-car' sentiment, the first realistic proposals to get rid of it surfaced as early as 1987 when plans to replace the Bull Ring Centre were first mooted. Again Birmingham became a pioneer, as the first city to implement massive inner city relief roads, it became one of the first to demolish them. The whole ring road lasted just 40 years and has been regarded as one of the worst 1960s planning disasters in the country, although from a Sabristic point of view, the entire system was a masterpiece of urban road excitement.
The Inner Ring Road Today
Today the Inner Ring Road simply doesn't exist. The A4400 number was removed, and signs on the western section changed to state A38. However, as late as 2009 several signs still reading Inner Ring Road remained.
The eastern side is now completely changed; traffic from the former A34 passing under Lancaster Circus is deposited straight into the B4100, a 20mph surface boulevard, and directed straight onto Digbeth and thus the A41. It is therefore very difficult to cross the city down the eastern side now by car as a result of these changes.
Whilst the tunnels still remain on the western side of the ring, St Chads and Paradise Circus have since been extensively rebuilt and no longer resemble anything like the original junction designs.
In early 2010, the 40mph speed limit was removed and lowered to 30mph. Through traffic is slowly being directed towards the A4540 Middleway, which now carries the role of Inner Ring Road - albeit much less stylishly than the original.
Naming of the System
The naming convention of the old ring road is interesting in that all the sections are known as the street suffixed by Queensway, a name which came about in error when the Queen inadvertently referred to the entire system as Queensway when she meant to refer simply to the tunnel under Paradise Circus. Before this, the system was known as Ringway, a name which resurfaced when the eastern side was removed in 2002 - the new street was renamed back to Moor Street Ringway.
A much more comprehensive history of the Inner Ring Road, featuring photographs from the 1960s, is available here.
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