Wensum Bridge: creating conflict

Generation Park is proposed in the area between the railway and the Wensum
Generation Park is proposed in the area between the railway and the Wensum. © OpenStreetMap contributors

Never heard of Wensum Bridge? It’s the proposed new bridge that will be the sole access for motor vehicles to the development (subject to planning consent) at the utilities site, also known as Generation Park. As well as providing access to the site it will be part of an improved cycling route between Thorpe and Trowse or the city centre. So why is the design so seriously flawed?

Norwich Cycling Campaign met with planning officers to discuss our concerns about the design of this bridge. Whilst we had a good discussion it’s not clear if any substantial changes are going to be made.

There will be around 80 parking spaces for people living on the site and in addition to those people coming and going there will be one large lorry a day taking away ash from the power station. On top of that there will be delivery and service vehicles for the housing, shops, offices, laboratories and cafes on the site. Overall not a great deal of traffic will cross the bridge because it is a dead end.

The bridge has a carriageway width of 6m with a median of 0.8m on each side and then a 3m wide footway that is also intended as a viewing area up and down the river. This is a perfectly acceptable basic design for a low traffic environment but unfortunately it’s seriously compromised by the mistaken use of ‘shared space’.

The developer original had a conventional design for the bridge but at the insistence of officers at Norwich City Council this was changed to this flawed design:

Plan of Wensum Bridge showing the available width and bollard layout
Plan of Wensum Bridge showing the available width and bollards (circles)

Intrusive bollards

Bollards at Kings Cross station, London. The ones on Wensum Bridge would be similar. Picture: Google Streetview
Bollards at Kings Cross station, London. The ones on Wensum Bridge would be similar. Picture: Google Streetview

The shaded area in the plan of the bridge above shows the walkway that is cantilevered out from the bridge and can’t take the weight of vehicles. So bollards are needed to ensure a vehicle does not stray on to this area and damage the bridge. That’s fine however the sensible place to put these would be parallel to the road in the median (on the solid horizontal line in the plan above). Here they would cause no obstruction to people walking across the bridge.

Instead the bollards cut across the footway and will cause an obstruction for the visually impaired and those with pushchairs, amongst others. The picture of bollards at Kings Cross station shows how intrusive and closely packed the bollards will be.

Unnecessary narrowing

Would you design a road to force children to cycle in front of large vehicles?
Would you design a road to force children to cycle in front of large vehicles? Picture: The Alternative DfT

The 6m width of the bridge’s carriageway is about the same as a standard road in residential areas and this allows vehicles to pass one another, or for a motor vehicle to pass a person cycling and allow plenty of room.

Instead here the carriageway is visually narrowed using studs in the road to encourage motor vehicles to drive in the middle of the road (see the dotted horizontal lines in the plan). This will force people cycling in to conflict with motor vehicles, and this is intentional: the design uses people in the road to try and slow down cars and lorries!

According to council officers a cyclist who comes face to face with an HGV can escape to the footway… but to do that you’d have to turn through 90° to get between the bollards. If you don’t manage that you have a gap of only 1m between the bollards and the wheels of an HGV.

Consideration for all people

We were astonished to hear that Norwich City Council has not sought the views of any visually impaired people. We believe the bollards and lack of features on the bridge deck could lead to people walking diagonally across the bridge. Some visually impaired people describe ‘shared space’ areas like this as no go areas!

Fixing the flaws

The serious problems with the bridge are in the detail — the basic width of the bridge is OK. Simple changes can be made to the design now which will make the bridge much safer and pleasant for everyone to use.

There is still time to influence the design. Once it’s built there will be neither the interest nor money to modify it. Yes, there’ll be a safety audit and it will probably recommend putting up some ineffective signs. By then it’s too late.

Although the formal consultation process for Generation Park (Planning Case 15/00997/F) has closed the planning authority are still accepting comments. We urge you to object to the design of this bridge.