Spaghetti Junction

Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham (c) Dave White

Britain from the Air - Spaghetti Junction

Spaghetti Junction was Britain’s first motorway interchange without roundabouts and traffic lights

Today all motorway turnoffs and junctions have slip roads. Just imagine the congestion if instead we still relied on traffic lights. The Gravelly Hill junction - nicknamed Spaghetti Junction - is still the most complicated junction in Britain. It links the motorways of the south and east with those of the north and west into central Birmingham and other nearby towns. It is a key meeting point in our motorway network and, to make the construction even more taxing, the junction spans a main railway line, two rivers and three canals.

Stuck in traffic

Designed to reduce congestion and speed people on their way, this junction and the motorway network as a whole, struggles to keep up with the continuing growth in the number of
motor vehicles. Nearly 4 times more traffic uses Spaghetti Junction each day now compared with when it was built - perhaps hardly surprising as the number of motor vehicles registered in the UK at the end of 2012 was 34.5 million. Until the recent recession, and despite rising petrol prices, we continued to use our cars more each year in Britain.

Greenhouse gas 

There is little doubt that high levels of road traffic damage the environment. We no longer have poisonous lead in our petrol. but burning fuels such as petrol and diesel emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here it contributes to climate change as a so-called ‘greenhouse gas’. These gases trap the heat from the earth, preventing it from escaping back to space. At ‘normal’ levels they keep us pleasantly warm, but as gas levels increase they cause the atmosphere to heat up, changing patterns and intensity of rainfall. About one quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions - with carbon dioxide as the main part - comes from transport and most of that from motor vehicles.

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Location: Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham, B6 7TG
Grid reference: SP 09213 90358

Britain from the Air - Spaghetti Junction credits

Thank you to -

Dave White for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

The average speed for traffic in central London today is 15kph - pretty similar to the speed at which horses and carriages normally travelled 100 years ago.