Heartsease – the story of a roundabout

After eight months of roadworks the Heartsease roundabout has finally re-opened. Was it all worth it? Peter Silburn reports

It’s been quite a saga. To get from where we started to where we are today, with the junction being seen generally as a success, has been quite a journey.

One thing to clear up right from the start: No, it’s not a Dutch-style roundabout!

The first (and currently only) Dutch-style roundabout in the UK was built on Fendon Road in Cambridge in 2020. Norwich had the opportunity to become home to the UK’s second Dutch roundabout when it successfully bid for £4.4m from the Transforming Cities Fund for a redesign of the Heartsease junction to provide “significant improvements for cyclists and pedestrians”.

The Heartsease junction under construction – Photo Archant

A full Dutch-style roundabout was considered but was rejected on the grounds that traffic modelling showed “an unacceptable increase in delays for drivers”.

Norfolk County Council also said there wasn’t physically room at the location. We challenged both of these assumptions but to no avail. It would have been a tight squeeze certainly, especially without any land acquisitions – something that the council were initially reluctant to do but ended up doing anyway.

When the initial plans came out we were dismayed. What was presented was a totally inadequate design which failed to address the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, as we made no bones about pointing out! The consultation had over 500 responses and there were a lot of concerns about the proposals.

Although we were clearly disappointed not to get a Dutch-style roundabout when Norfolk County Council approached us we agreed to work through their initial design to get the best possible result.

Among our suggestions that made it into the final design were:

  • Building a segregated cycleway and footpath, rather than shared-use (for three of the five arms of the junction)
  • Using different colour asphalt to highlight the cycle crossings
  • Implementing a 20mph speed limit for the whole junction
  • Ensuring the existing cycle lanes on St Williams Way connected seamlessly to the paths on the junction

Accommodating the segregated paths required land purchase on three arms of the junction. Fortunately this was completed quickly enough to not delay the project.

The result is a junction that is unquestionably an improvement on what was there before. It’s safer and more convenient for both cyclists and pedestrians. The whole area is now calmer and quieter.

One of the new cycle priority crossings – Photo Peter

Segregated paths do however mean there’s a lot of tactile paving, which is used to mark the transition from segregated paths to shared-use at the crossings. Arguably there is too much in such a tight space.

It would have been better to have built a kerb-separated cycle track instead, which was something we suggested early on, and which has a clear separation of cycleway from footway. As part of the “snagging list” of remedial issues that will need to be fixed, it has been identified that the delineation between the cycle track and the footway is insufficiently clear and will need to be made more visible.

The changes to the junction will take some time to bed in as everybody gets used to the new layout. At the time of writing the junction has been open for just over a month. Subjectively there do seem to be more cyclists on the junction, and cyclists of all types – from road racers to shoppers on upright bikes – are using the cycle tracks. There are many more pedestrians using the crossings too.

Combining a busy ring road with a place where people live and shop was always a tall order.

It’s easy to forget just how dreadful the previous junction was. A wide expanse of tarmac that encouraged drivers to rush through at high speed. Any cyclists that braved the junction took their life into their hands. Many will have simply avoided it.

Riding with the sharks, Heartsease before the redesign – Photo Derek

An often overlooked feature of junction design is signage, and we’re pleased to see that on the approach to all five arms of the roundabout there are signs telling drivers that they are entering a 20mph zone, that they should expect to see both pedestrians and cyclists crossing and that they should not block the crossings.

We’ve been told by County Highways engineers that – somewhat counter-intuitively – the slower speeds have improved the overall capacity of the junction.

It can perhaps be considered as “halfway to a Dutch roundabout”. It’s probably close to the best that can be achieved without going for a full Dutch-style design.

We’ve recently learnt that the UK’s second Dutch roundabout will now be built in Sheffield, so good luck to them. The design is of particular interest as it shows how a junction built on Dutch principles can be adapted to fit into a tight space.

It could have been us…Sheffield’s Dutch-style roundabout

Last year we took both local councillors and County Council officers on visits to Cambridge to experience for themselves what is still the UK’s only fully Dutch roundabout. Maybe one day we will see a little piece of the Netherlands in Norwich?

Riding the Heartsease junction crossings – Video Derek

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4 thoughts on “Heartsease – the story of a roundabout

  1. It’s amazing how Dutch roundabouts are now such desired features. The last time I cycled in Holland – 1986 – there were no roundabouts at all; they were an apparently desired British feature. Which other countries have roundabouts?

  2. Well done for getting some changes though, left to their own devices it would have been totally UnDutch, watered down and not fit for use.

    Coloured & segregated:
    We have enough stealth (minimalist markings ) actual cycle paths in Norwich (the ex-one near Cathedral), Westlegate etc. that noone realises it a cycle path.

    Not shared use: which is cheap& easy (but not quick to build apparently) and results in dangerous infra – especially with deaf elderly about (look at Bluebell road). They don’t like it either and are trying to get cyclists banned from it with their grey-pound influence as Strawberry Fields development spreads. They just need a tunnel to Waitrose with a travelator.

    Joined up: Because of NIMBYS including rich schools most new Norwich infra has gaps from planned connections the previous piece of infra. This is a happy exception.

    Also can we please all spend a moment hoping Cllr Plant gets a headache today for his totally unacceptable egotistical and dictator-like non-transparent practices sabotaging active travel.

    1. The irony of Bluebell Road is the cycle track there was build by developer funding from the company that built the old people’s flats.

      The cycle track in Tombland isn’t an ex-track, it is still a cycle track. The problem with it is when phase 2 of Tombland was done a few years ago, Norfolk CC took the light controlled crossing from Princes Street away “to make the traffic flow better”. Yes, seriously. Incidentally, that must be one of the most expensive bits of cycle track in the country, just 100m long it cost £900,000. Oh and it’s of no use to anyone heading for Magdalen Street, which is the vast majority of cyclists in Tombland. It’s a long story…

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