The problem with any road that feeds from a motorway1 into the centre of a large town or city, is that everyone seems determined to use it simultaneously... except for the locals who have got wise to the traffic jams, and instead spend their time gridlocked on smaller and, therefore more interesting, B-roads2.
The A52 is a case in point, taking motorists (eventually), west to east, from the bustle of the M1 motorway, at Junction 25, into the heart of Nottingham, England, UK.
The first stretch of road is dual carriageway3 that underwent considerable renovation in the second quarter of 2000. Beyond the M1, the A52 provides a route into Nottingham from Derby, so there is considerable commuter traffic on the road. The initial stretch terminates at a roundabout4 with access to a Japanese water garden centre, the suburbs of Stapleford and Toton, and a supermarket which can be found within a mile of the A52.
A short distance before the terminating roundabout is a bridge used primarily by school children in the mornings and early afternoons.
The second stage continues with two lanes each side and the traffic is usually free flowing up to the last 100 yards, where a third lane appears, as do a set of traffic lights on a large roundabout. The primary problems with this second stage break down into two parts.
Those who insist on running red lights are faced with a very narrow margin for error, as the other lights on the roundabout seem to switch extremely rapidly to green. A car running a red light heading northwest into Stapleford risks collision with vehicles from any of the three lanes of traffic charging into its flank en route to Nottingham.
Which Lane to Take
The first lane, on the left, tends to be favoured by buses and large goods vehicles. The upcoming stretch of road also has a large number of connecting roads on the left: into residential areas, recreational areas and towards a school. Therefore, there are usually a large number of drivers in the leftmost lane who will be indicating5 and slowing down the moment they clear the roundabout.
The second lane is for those drivers who don't wish to get caught behind the larger, slower vehicles and potentially want to overtake or undertake6. The majority of drivers use this lane, as they don't want to get caught in the first one and don't feel they have the nerve to use the third one. As a result it ends up being the slowest and most congested lane.
The third lane is potentially the fastest and is therefore usually occupied by sporty cars with high-powered engines. You will also, occasionally, find 'souped up' Escorts and Beetles in this lane with exhausts the size of waste-paper bins and a growl like an incontinent elephant after a dose of All-Bran. The lane offers ample opportunity for overtaking vehicles in the other lanes and fantastic potential for accidents, as individuals in high-speed cars, grimly determined to deliver children at any cost to the school, swap lanes to turn off one of the side roads to the left of the carriageway.
Halfway down the following section of road the third lane tends to become heavily congested due to a controlled junction which leads to a road on the right, which goes to Beeston town centre, so it's vital to use only this lane for the first mile and then get out as soon as possible.
At this stage, the best route to continue along the A52 is to take the third lane and make a switch to the second lane further down the road.
The third section of road takes you down towards another roundabout edged with pedestrian traffic lights near a gathering of shops, a filling station and a large Toby Inn pub. Having passed the right-hand turn and traffic lights that feed traffic towards Beeston (next to a pub called The Nurseryman), the road continues in three lanes towards the roundabout. Depending on the day of the week, the week of the year and the general weather conditions, the traffic waiting to get on to the roundabout may comprise a couple of cars or a queue stretching 300m. In the former instance, this can get very awkward. Cars coming from Beeston will attempt to feed across from the right onto this road, until their red light blinks on... and a few will roll through just afterwards. With no box junction the result is what is technically known as a mess.
Once you've crossed the roundabout, congested with traffic from both the north and south, the road narrows to a single lane for the next two miles. Trees and parkland, obscured by a tall red and black brick wall, surround the road. There is a blue traffic camera perched on a pole about a third of the way along the road; so speedier drivers should, temporarily, take note of the 40mph (60kph) speed limit.
While the road effectively narrows to a single lane, it's a very roomy one. There is space for two cars to sit side-by-side without locking wing mirrors or hanging over the centre-lane/left-hand kerb. This, however, assumes that the drivers involved have a clear sense of the size of their cars and ample awareness of the position, speed and the concentration of the drivers around them. Drivers of lesser ability tend to occupy the centre of the lane and irritate everyone behind them. Impatient drivers will skirt around this obstacle by slipping into the opposite lane when there is a suitable gap7. Indicator use during this activity is, however, fairly rare and is usually very short-lived when it does occur.
During the rush hours, at the beginning and end of the day, the two-lane traffic (sometimes on both sides) is usually in operation. In the morning, the inbound lane is normally doubled-up; while the outbound lane is home to two streams of traffic in the evening. During the day, a single lane, with occasional over-enthusiastic speedsters, is more common.
If one is travelling during the operation of the double stream, it is recommended that the second, right-hand lane be used until the road reaches a traffic light with a higher-and-lower light set (about two thirds of the way along the stretch). After this point, the first lane becomes faster, as it approaches another roundabout and splits into two lanes: so moving across as quickly as possible is very much to be recommended.
The next roundabout is a large one with pedestrian-controlled traffic lights on the east, west and south entries/exits. This is the home of Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre (or QMC), in addition to blocks of Nottingham University. The roundabout bridges another main road, the Nottingham Ring Road, which provides access to light industry, and out-of-town shopping and leisure to the south and residential areas to the north.
Whatever the intended destination, the best choice of lane is the middle one. It allows access to the South Ring Road, as well as the A52 into the city centre; and, if the traffic is heavy in every direction, you can always let a right-hand turn evolve into a complete circle and take the exit of your choice.
The A52, continuing to the east, now develops a bus lane, which appears and disappears all the way into the outskirts of the centre of Nottingham. Traffic alternately clogs the right-hand lane and dives into the left, depending on how many parked cars are blocking the left-hand lane (when it isn't a bus lane).
The best bet is to simply remain in the left-hand lane, as parked cars appear quite unexpectedly, which leads to an eternity of sitting with indicators on, trying to merge with the solid stream of traffic on the right.
The A52 at this point is a leafy avenue with some shops, several small hotels, an arrangement of rough-looking student accommodation, the Savoy Cinema8 and a few restaurants. For anyone who doesn't want to venture into the centre of town in a car, there are a lot of connecting roads where you can park your car, though a considerable percentage of these are available for 'Residents Only'. If you do manage to find a space, buses run every couple of minutes that will take you into the centre of town for a reasonable fare.
The Final Stage
The A52 finally merges into the centre of town, losing its identity quickly, and leaving most drivers to pick their way through numerous road signs. Car parks and shops abound, with plenty of space on the sides of the road for those with a taste for danger and living on the edge.