Grapes Hill Roundabout Critique

The government is trying to get more people out of their cars and on to two feet or two wheels (Policy paper – Cycling and walking plan for England), as a part of this approach it’s acknowledged that pedestrians and cyclists don’t just need to be accommodated, they need to be valued and prioritised.

So it seems strange that Norfolk County Council has spent a large amount of money from the government’s Transforming Cities fund to increase the traffic flow around Chapelfield roundabout at the expense of proper walking and cycling provision.

The potential the new cycle facilities have opened up is significant, but the way it’s been built will limit that potential, cause problems for cyclists and pedestrians and falls way below the standard we have a right to expect.

Ride-through of the new infrastructure on the day it opened

What happened?

The scheme meant the removal of two sets of traffic lights on the roundabout, one at Chapelfield North and another at Convent Road, including removing the cycling infrastructure that went with them, such as it was. The council justified this because, they claimed, it would make bus journeys faster. It might do that, but more obviously it will also make car travel easier. Indeed the council has also made great play of the time savings for car drivers, claiming it would save drivers 4 minutes in the rush hours .

As a result, cycling on the roundabout, which used to be possible by way of a cycle lane and advanced stop line at the lights has now become a very dangerous option. This scheme has intentionally made the direct route across the roundabout very much more dangerous for cyclists which is why the new “cycle tracks” have been created.

By way of compensation, cyclists have been confined to the footpaths along with the pedestrians. The best that can be said is this scheme totally lacks any ambition to increase cycling, worse, it not only falls short of design standards, but totally ignores them. It’s probably best to think of it as being little more than a box ticking exercise, which is a real pity.

We reported on these plans back in June 2021, when they were first drawn up. The scheme is now finished and we can see its strengths and weaknesses.

One very good feature is the improved cycle crossing of Chapelfield Road, the inner ring road. This is now much wider and will better deal with the large amount of cycle traffic it has to handle, but it’s way better than just that. There’s no button to press, a sensor on top of the pole detects cyclists waiting at the stop line (so it’s important to arrive at the right place) and a red light on the sensor will confirm it’s seen you. The lights will either change immediately or after a maximum wait of 20 seconds. This is all a very welcome improvement and gives a taste of what proper cycle infrastructure looks like.

The very much improved crossing at Chapelfield

Secondly it’s fair to acknowledge that they did rethink a part of the plan, whether it was because of our comments or not we have no idea, but we did point out that the proposed 3m wide pavement from Unthank Road along Convent Road was far too narrow and a part has indeed been widened, but only a part and it still narrows to a pinch point at the crossing. The rest of the scheme remains as first proposed.

Design Standards

In early 2020 the government issued a set of guidelines on building cycle infrastructure for local authorities to follow known “Gear Change” and “Local Traffic Note 1/20″ (LTN1/20). We have an outline of all that here and explain why it’s important. It contains some basic principles that should underpin any new project, including:

On urban streets cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians and should not share space with pedestrians (Principle 2, p9) These are all shared use pavements.

At crossings and junctions, cyclists should not share the space used by pedestrians but should be provided with a separate parallel route (Principle 2, p9) The new two stage crossing on Convent Road does not provide separate routes.

Cycle infrastructure should be designed for significant numbers of cyclists, as well as for non-standard cycles (Principle 5, p10) This simply isn’t, and that is likely to be the big problem

Schemes must provide direct, logical routes that are easy and comfortable to ride (Principles 18 & 19, p13) A significant part of this scheme is far from “direct”.

LTN 1/20 also states:

There will be an expectation that local authorities will demonstrate that they have given due consideration to this guidance when designing new cycling schemes and, in particular, when applying for Government funding that includes cycle infrastructure. (1.1) This scheme was funded from a government grant, so it would seem someone hasn’t done due diligence.

With the exception of the Chapelfield crossing, the whole project doesn’t even pay lip service to Gear Change or LTN 1/20, it’s as if just doesn’t apply to Norfolk. The scheme was funded by a central government grant which is supposed to insist on these standards.

The scheme

This is a map of the new arrangement, the dark grey lines are shared use pavement “cycle tracks”, dotted lines are two stage signalised crossings.

Cycle routes around Grapes Hill roundabout (google maps)

Main problems with this design for cycling

The whole thing is slow and underpowered because cyclists are mixed with pedestrians and at one point forced through a narrow pinch point.

1: Convent Road

Convent Road is a traffic dominated place with nothing to appeal to passers-by, it’s the sort of place you don’t want to go to, rather just pass through as quickly as possible. That is an important consideration because anyone cycling along here will understandably want to be going at a reasonable speed. It was already a busy pedestrian access between the city centre and Unthank Road which makes it totally unsuited to shared use.

The previous arrangement that allowed cyclists to ride the roundabout was direct and fast, but wasn’t for the faint-hearted and took a high level of confidence to use. Because of this the scheme has, to a large extent, removed one of the “missing links” for Norwich cyclists. A direct link from Unthank Road into the city has been long wanted and is likely to prove a very popular route.

This can’t be overstated, the ride from Park Lane to Chapelfield by way of Unthank/Convent Roads is more direct (0.6 Km/0.38 mile) and potentially quicker than the Pink Pedalway route via Essex/Vauxhall Street (0.74 Km/0.46 mile) and it avoids the steep hill and the narrow road of Essex Street. Unthank Road does carry a lot of traffic and it has a 30mph limit, but it’s quite short. There is now a good case to extend the 20 limit to the roundabout and install some traffic calming along here.

It isn’t just bikes of course, this route will also appeal to e-bikes, e-scooter and cargo bikes. It’s also used by food couriers who understandably don’t want to hang around. All this traffic is now expected to mix with pedestrians.

Although the Unthank Road end of the pavement has been widened to something like 5 metres, it progressively narrows to around 3 metres or less at the pedestrian crossing. This is barely wide enough for two cargo bikes to pass, let alone get around people waiting to cross. The planners have the attitude that his is a shared area, where cyclists and pedestrians must share the space “respectfully”, a euphemism for “slowly”. That would seem to be an unreasonable assumption to apply to a busy commuter route like this.

The Convent Road cycle track is a much needed addition to the cycle network in Norwich and will be a very popular option. The problem is the shared use nature of what has been built will struggle to cope. It will cause problems for pedestrians – especially partially sighted and less mobile walkers – who will now experience cycles, e-scooters and the rest inevitably speeding past at close quarters. This section is totally unsuited to shared use, that should have been obvious to the planners.

The narrow section past the new crossing on Convent Road is barely 3m wide.

2: The new crossing of Convent Road

This is a combined cycle/pedestrian toucan crossing with a central reserve surrounded by guard rails. It joins the Convent Road shared use pavement at its narrowest point. The issues it raises are obvious.

LTN 1/20 has this to say about such crossings (Page 102 10.14.9)

On wider roads and at busier junctions, a staggered toucan crossing is often used to combine pedestrian and cycle movements and minimise delay to motor traffic. However, negotiating a staggered refuge can be highly problematic and sometimes impossible for those using non-standard cycles. It can also give rise to additional conflict with pedestrians in the confined space available. (see Figure 10.8)

At pedestrian refuges, pedestrian guardrailing should not be installed as a default choice. The advice on the use of pedestrian guardrailing in Local Transport Note 2/09: Pedestrian Guardrailing, and Chapter 6 of the Traffic Signs Manual, should be considered.

At this location the refuge should be designed for two cargo bike to pass comfortably, along with pedestrians. Finally it says

10.4.20 Where it is necessary to stagger pedestrian crossing facilities, a separate single stage crossing for cyclists should be provided (see Figure 10.9), or alternatively an angled crossing on a wider central refuge (as at Chapelfield)

The Centre Island on Convent Road, just how not to do it according to LTN 1/20.

So why have we got this sub standard arrangement? It’s the same reason we have a shared use pavement instead of a proper segregated cycle track; the aim of the project was to increase traffic flow through the roundabout and that was the over-riding concern for the planners, everything else had to fit into the available space left over. It was considered more important to provide three lanes on the approach to the roundabout than to provide really high quality walking and cycling facilities. This scheme promoted motorised traffic over active travel.

3: The route to Earlham Road

Once across Convent Road, cyclists follow a shared use pavement around several blind corners to Earlham Road. The final bend past the pub requires extreme care, it is impossible to see pedestrians coming the other way until you’re right on top of them. A conflict at that bend seems inevitable.

The dangerous blind bend by the Temple Bar pub

The overall route isn’t too bad surprisingly but it is shared use, the blind bends and probable delays at the crossing undermine its potential as a usable route.

Other issues:

Joining and leaving the cycle tracks from the carriageway

Unthank Road

The crossing from Unthank Road to the new cycle route looks quite good.

Joining from Unthank Road is quite good, there’s a well marked short route across the centre island and a marked crossing to the shared use pavement. Sight lines are good, you can easily see the approaching traffic as you try to cross and it’s direct.

Leaving the new cycle route is not so good

Going the other way however, leaving the route is badly engineered. At the end of the shared use pavement cyclists are expected to re-join the carriageway by turning sharply, stopping and waiting for a gap in the traffic before turning sharply again onto the carriageway. Expecting cyclists to give way to traffic like this is unrealistic, it’s inconvenient, slow and will struggle to handle anything more than the occasional cyclist. In practice it’s easily possible to take this at a low angle and merge into the traffic, but if that’s how it gets used a proper merge arrangement, deigned to be used in that way, would obviously be better.

Convent Road north side, west bound shared use pavement

The assumption made seems to be that few people were likely to ride west between the crossing and the Earlham Road roundabout on the other side of Convent Road, so the original design was for a short length of shared use pavement provided for cyclists following Convent Road to join the cycle track to access the crossing. The shared use pavement was intended to end abruptly at this point, becoming a normal pavement, leaving anyone who tries to head west to get off and push.

Anyone wanting to visit the Roman Catholic cathedral will likely want to go this way.

Shared use pavements have to be two way (you can’t have one way pavements). It would be possible to extend this shared use pavement to the traffic lights at the Earlham Road roundabout but that wasn’t a part of the plan, this issue has been raised and we wait to see what will happen.

Earlham Road

The end of the Earlham Road cycle track ends on the sharp bend by the cathedral

The end of the cycle route simply meets the road at a right angled junction on the sharp 90 degree bend around the Roman Catholic cathedral. Cyclists are expected to make their own way across Earlham Road as best they can. At busy times this will not be easy.

Low hanging signs

There are two road signs overhanging the cycle routes which look very low. They have headroom of 2.3 meters. The traffic sign regulations state (P 22 5.4.2.)

Where signs are erected above footways and cycle tracks, adequate clearance must be allowed for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. Interim Advice Note 195/16 ‘Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network’ requires a minimum height for such structures of 2300 mm for pedestrians and 2400 mm for cyclists

Although it goes on the allow an height of 2300 mm in cases where the environmental impact of the sign would be undesirable, such as with a large sign.

In fact this seems unlikely to cause a major problem, but it’s important to realise these clearance guidelines are minimums, not an instruction. It’s perhaps telling that the designers have opted to use the narrowest safety margin they are permitted to use, that seems a generally unwise approach to health and safety..

Dangerous desire lines.

One of the most important considerations planners are supposed to take into account are “desire lines”. Desire lines are the reason you see bare tracks across grass areas made because people always take the direct route. More importantly desire lines are the reason people make dangerous crossings of roads even when a pedestrian crossing is nearby. A significant number of people will always take the direct route, both pedestrians and cyclists, it’s just human nature and shouldn’t be ignored.

This new arrangement ignores one long established desire line and has created a second, expecting people to walk take detours so that traffic can be prioritised. In the bad old days of 1960’s car-centric urban planning, desire lines had fences to prevent people trying to cross at dangerous locations, that isn’t done anymore and would now be regarded as a visible sign of bad planning.

Two desire lines are ignored

The “desire line” from Chapelfield Road to Grapes Hill (Shown red)

The first is a route directly across the roundabout end of Convent Road. People have been going that way for a very long time, including since the construction of the inner ring road 50 years ago, so it’s a fair bet some will continue to do so instead of walking the extra distance to use the crossing. In the view of the council planners the detour to the controlled crossing of around 15m, is considered “reasonable”. They also claim that the desire line has been closed because they’ve removed the the drop kerbs previously there.

The “desire line” from the new route alongside Grapes Hill to the nearby Chapelfield North (shown red)

The other is a direct cycle route from Earlham Road to the city. This would have required either a new crossing of the inner ring road on Grapes Hill leading to Chapelfield North, or a rebuilding of the footbridge into Upper St Giles so it could take cycles. Neither of those were considered, probably because of expense. The problem is the new cycle route alongside Grapes Hill heading toward Convent Road is very close to Chapelfield North on the other side of the dual carriageway, offering a really short and tempting desire line. However, again the planners believe the lack of a drop kerb will deter people from following this desire line.

Both of these direct routes would be very dangerous to attempt because of the speed and quantity of the traffic.


The improved crossing at Chapelfield is superb

The prime purpose of these changes were to increase traffic flow around the roundabout and that outcome was considered more important than providing a high quality walking and cycling environment for the rest of the scheme. If successful and the traffic flow is increased it will increase the traffic on Earlham and Unthank roads, an outcome no-one wants.

Although a very desirable route from Unthank Road to the city has been opened up for cyclists, the underpowered shared use pavement will limit its potential.

The roundabout has now been made vastly more dangerous to cycle on, but people are still doing so as they are legally entitled to do.

The scheme would seem to fail on the following principles laid out in of LTN 1/20 (pages 9-13):

Principle 1 – Cycle infrastructure should be accessible to everyone from 8 to 80 and beyond: it should be planned and designed for everyone. The opportunity to cycle in our towns and cities should be universal.

Principle 2 – Cycles must be treated as vehicles and not as pedestrians/ On urban streets, cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians and should not share space with pedestrians. Where cycle routes cross pavements, a physically segregated track should always be provided. At crossings and junctions, cyclists should not share the space used by
pedestrians but should be provided with a separate parallel route.

Principle 3 – Cyclists must be physically separated and protected from high volume motor traffic, both at junctions and on the stretches of road between them.

Principle 5 – Cycle infrastructure should be designed for significant numbers of cyclists, and for non-standard cycles. Our aim is that thousands of cyclists a day will use many of these schemes.

Principle 6 – Consideration of the opportunities to improve provision for cycling will be an expectation of any future local highway schemes funded by Government.

Principle 8 – Cycle infrastructure must join together, or join other facilities together by taking a holistic, connected network approach which recognises the importance of nodes, links and areas that are good for cycling

Principle 10 – Schemes must be legible and understandable. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike must be in
no doubt where the cycle route runs, where the pedestrian and vehicle space is and where each different kind of user is supposed to be. Some schemes deliberately create confusion or ambiguity with, for instance, only minimal signs in a paved area to show that cycling is permitted. This is another way of managing cyclist-pedestrian interactions that inhibits cycling and is not suitable for places with large numbers of cyclists and pedestrians.

A strong case could be made that it also fails on principles

Principle 18– Cycle routes must flow, feeling direct and logical

Principle 19 – Schemes must be easy and comfortable to ride

Principle 20 – All designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads as a cyclist.

Principle 21 – Schemes must be consistent.