Along the Mancunian Way, Manchester's 'Highway in the Sky'
It snakes along the southern fringe of Manchester city centre, carrying thousands of vehicles every day. It was completed in 1967, extended in 1992, has a quintessentially Manchester name chosen by a member of the public, and like much of the rest of Manchester, it's grey, grimy and flawed but interesting: It's the Mancunian Way, once dubbed Manchester's 'Highway in the Sky'.
The Mancunian Way forms the southern section of the ironically titled 'Manchester and Salford Inner Relief Route'. The A57 from Liverpool in the west to Lincoln in the east runs along the Mancunian Way (A57M) as far as the A6 junction where it becomes the A635 through east Manchester, Tameside and across the Pennines to Doncaster.
The Mancunian Way was intended to link into a network of local urban motorways, but on the maps it remains an isolated wavy blue line set amongst a tangled web of red and green A roads.
Prior to the Mancunian Way, Whitworth St was the main east west route south of the city centre. The opening of the Mancunian Way provided a new and faster route, particularly for lorries on their way to and from the Docks and Trafford Park, drastically reducing the cross-town journey times. The name was chosen by schoolchildren. There was a school competition throughout the north west to name the new road. Five pupils came up with the same name, and were invited to come the opening ceremony where they met and shook hands with Prime Minister Harold Wilson. (Previously I wrote that the name Mancunian Way was chosen by a member of the public. Thanks to Brian Peter Crossley, one of the 'famous five' now resident in Hong Kong, for correcting me on this.)
The Mancunian Way is a symbol of the new post-war Manchester, appearing shortly after the Piccadilly Plaza (1965) and around the same time as the Hulme Crescents.
Like many examples of what we refer to as 'sixties planning' it soon turned out to have serious flaws. The bare concrete, hailed as ground-breaking in its time, soon turned grimy and became a symbol of urban alienation. The landscaped pedestrian areas within the roundabouts, planned as relaxation areas for local residents, quickly deteriorated into no-go areas with crime problems. The Mancunian Way acts as a giant concrete rampart, severing the city centre from areas to the south. On recent street maps it is used to mark the city centre's southern boundary, which was once the River Medlock.
Once opened, the Mancunian Way fulfilled its basic purpose, providing a vital east-west artery, and saving the city centre from total gridlock. But the growth in traffic had been woefully underestimated by road planners, and soon the queues lengthened, especially at the approaches to the roundabouts at either end.
In 1992 the Mancunian Way was extended with a new flyover at the A6, replacing the former roundabout and landscaped pedestrian footpaths. At the western end, a new underpass was built beneath a new 'stop go' roundabout. The rickety flyover I used to enjoy driving over in my VW Beetle was, like my Beetle, dismantled in the early 1990's. The Mancunian Way forms part of the Manchester and Salford Inner Relief Route, which was officially opened on 19 July 2002. Not so much an urban freeway as a series of assorted roads, some newm some old, some widened, some very narrow, all tacked together via 15 sets of traffic lights.
And there are still rush hour queues at both ends of the Mancunian Way - I know because I use it almost every day. It has a flawed design - drivers joining at Brook Street have to queue at the top of the ramp, then 'jump' into the middle lane to avoid going down the next slip road. Some people describe the Mancunian Way at rush hour as Manchester's biggest elevated car park, but somehow the traffic keeps moving, and I've never seen an accident at the Brook St ramp.
We love to hate our roads, and yet our lives would grind to a halt without them. People don't take much interest in contemporary utilitarian structures, but maybe there will be a time in the future when tourists will take pleasure tours on the Mancunian Way, admiring the views, much as people enjoy walking along Chester city walls.
In recent years 'The Mancunian Way' has been adopted as a term to describe a Manchester attitude, sensibility, and way of doing things. It was much used during the Commonwealth Games, it's the title of a glossy photography book, as well as a recent art project at the Victoria Baths.
Whether or not we find it beautiful to look (and there are some who do), the Mancunian Way is a defining structure in Manchester, which divides and delineates the city. Imagine what Manchester would be like without it, or if the money had been available to build a tunnel.
What will the Mancunian Way look like in the future? Keep visiting Eyewitness in Manchester to find out!
Here are a few interesting facts about the Mancunian Way:
If you're interested in roads and the features around them, check out the book 'Around the M60, Manchester's Orbital Motorway' by Matthew Hyde, Aidan O'Rourke and Peter Portland, published October 2004. For more details, please contact me .
All photos and articles © Aidan O'Rourke Thanks to Phil Blinkhorn and Steven Gibson for their assistance in preparing this feature.
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