We’ve been following the issues with the proposed “cycling and walking route” – as Norfolk County Council (NCC) and South Norfolk District Council (SNDC) call it – through the traffic nightmare of Longwater for over a year now. Derek Williams takes a look at the route in its entirety
Traffic on William Frost Way – Photo Derek
Video fly-through of the entire route
Video fly-through of the entire proposed cycle route over the A47 junction
The video follows the proposed cycling and walking route from the Festival Park estate across the A47 junction and William Frost Way. This is the first time this important cycle and walking infrastructure project has been presented in its entirety.
Why is the route needed?
The story behind the situation at Longwater is described in our micro site Crossing the Longwater junction .
The purpose this route has been designed for is to link the new Festival Park housing estate on the eastern edge of Easton, across the A47 junction and the Longwater access road William Frost Way, to the eastern half of Dereham Road. It should have been in place, ready for use, before the first houses were occupied, so it is now over a year late.
In fact the demand for this route is far greater than just that created by Festival Park but these other demands were not considered when this scheme was devised. This is outlined in our article Longwater – What’s wrong with what’s being proposed .
Who needs to use it?
Non-standard bikes are becoming common and need to be accommodated – Photo Derek
The term “cycling” includes the use of normal cycles of course, but also “non-standard” bikes such as cargo bikes, “bucket bikes”, bikes with trailers, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes (used to transport cargo and children) and micro travel devices such as e-scooters. Also of course, the route also needs to accommodate vehicles for disabled people such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters. All of these various modes of transport, together with walking, come under the heading of “non motorised users”, or NMUs.
So what we have is a piece of cycling infrastructure that will have to cope with a wide range of demands from NMUs, most of whom will be wishing to travel distances of several miles and potentially further. It therefore needs to be built to a high standard with ample capacity. But that isn’t what is being planned.
The scheme is just designed around the needs of Festival Park, although that alone had quite ambitious targets which were spelt out in the Travel Plan  for the new estate. The lofty aims included reducing car use by enabling people to cycle to the shops at Longwater and beyond to the wider cycle network.
Perhaps most importantly it is supposed to provide a safe route to school for students attending the Ormiston Victory Academy, a secondary school in New Costessey on the other side of the A47 junction. So the cycle route is intended to be safe enough to enable children of age 11 and older to cycle or walk to school unaccompanied by an adult.
What follows is a detailed look at the entire project in detail.
Detailed description of the route
The complete scheme breaks down into three distinct sections which make up the whole route:
- Easton to the Longwater junction
- Crossing the A47
- Crossing William Frost Way
Here we describe the entire route and draw attention to the many problems with the plans, but be warned, it’s a long read!
Pt 1: Easton to the Longwater junction
The scheme starts at the new Festival Park estate and runs alongside Dereham Road.
This section is a 3m wide shared-use footway running along the southern side of Dereham Road, it looks quite good at first sight. However it is to be shared-use, which means pedestrians and cyclists sharing the space which at best is far from ideal.
The Equality Impact Assessment puts the problems pedestrians will face very gently:
“The positive impact for children and young people may cause a negative experience for other users of the facility at the start and end of the school day, when the pathway may experience heightened use.”
That’s a massive understatement. Shortly after leaving Festival Park the cycle track crosses the first of four side roads, the college entrance.
This will be the destination for the students and there are likely to be quite a few of them. They will of course be travelling along the cycle track in the opposite direction to children heading to school.
So for the rest of the route traffic along here is likely to be dominated by children and teenagers on bikes, which will certainly “cause a negative experience for other users of the facility”. There are likely to be a lot of conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists if it’s built as shared use.
The side road crossings
We haven’t been shown the design of these crossings, but the drawings we have seen seem to indicate a simple drop kerb crossing at the mouth of the junctions. If so, they would be very dangerous and difficult to use.
These side road crossings need to be designed to the standard laid down in the government guidelines known as LTN 1/20 .
To the A47
For approximately 1.4Km (0.8 mile) the path is mostly arrow straight and dead flat, so ideal for riding a bike.
The last of the side entrances is the main entrance to the Norfolk Showground which is likely to become a busy place now the new food hall plan has been approved.
Crossing Dereham Road
After crossing the Showground entrance the path ends and we have to cross Dereham Road to reach the other side. This is done with an uncontrolled crossing, i.e. not a Toucan crossing with traffic lights. There is to be a centre island refuge, but again we haven’t seen detailed plans for this. As a minimum the centre island must be wide enough to hold groups of people and long bikes such as cargo bikes and trailers.
This section of Dereham Road carries heavy, fast-moving traffic. The Equality Impact Assessment treads very carefully here:
“It is also possible that people with sensory loss may benefit from an alternative provision to the pedestrian refuge”.
In plain English, this crossing is not good enough, something better is needed.
Once over Dereham Road, we pass over the entrance to the hotel which does look to be properly designed, and then we approach the A47 junction along the side of the on-slip.
Pt 2: Crossing the A47
This is the section of the route causing the most concern.
The A47 on-slip crossing
The cycle track arrives at the crossing of the on-slip to the A47 and a sign saying “Cyclists dismount”. For the next 260m (284 yards) people are expected to dismount and push their cycles. Yes, seriously.
This crossing is planned to be a Puffin crossing, narrow and intended for pedestrians only.
For most of the route over the crossing the path will only be 2m (6ft) wide, this is below the minimum width to be safe for cycling. It will not be wide enough for two people pushing bikes to easily pass without stepping into the road. Passing a mobility scooter or wheelchair on foot would also be difficult.
The Equality Impact Assessment has this to say about another issue in it’s rather convoluted way:
“Within the 2m pathway, there may also be points where infrastructure such as streetlights, brackets and fixings for guard rails / fences may reduce this provision further thereby impacting negatively on people with restricted mobility such as wheelchair and mobility scooter users and parents with pushchairs. It may also impact upon cyclists using adapted bicycles who do not wish to transfer on to the road.”
The idea that anyone using adapted cycles would “wish to transfer on to the road” is simply not going to happen – or is actually not even possible given this is some way along a one-way slip road. In plain English objects like street light columns will make the route even more unusable for disabled people and those riders of non-standard bikes we listed above.
In short, only able-bodied people and people capable of pushing their bikes will be able to use this path, everyone else is excluded from using it by design.
Crossing the bridge over the A47
The proposed path would be just 50cm wider than at present – Photo Derek
There is a narrow path over the bridge at present – albeit not connected to anything at either end. The present path is 1.5m wide, so the proposed path will be just 50cm wider.
Pedestrians will be sandwiched between the bridge parapet fence and fast moving traffic, including HGVs. This means large lorries will be passing at speed inches away from the kerb line.
The Equality Impact Assessment describes the conditions on this path:
“The pathway, at this point is also subject to traffic noise from the A47 which may be considerable, potentially leading to sensory overload for people who are neurodiverse.”
Again in plain English conditions on the bridge will simply make the route unusable for people with a range of sensory disabilities. It’s important to remember this route is supposed to be used by unaccompanied children going to and from school.
Get off and push?
Of course it is very unlikely children and teenagers in particular will dismount and push their bikes over the bridge, it’s just not reasonable to expect them to comply. This has indeed been acknowledged by the Stage 1 safety audit:
“Use of the footway by cyclists cannot be discounted and the designer has acknowledged this by providing a higher 1.4m parapet.
Network Management Decision: Response accepted”.
So the council accepts people – especially children – will ride over the bridge. NCC are therefore proposing to build something they know to be substandard for the use that it will be put to.
What’s needed instead?
See our proposals for the junction .
The route across the bridge should be both safe and perceived as being safe (“Routes should be appealing and be perceived as safe and usable.” – LTN 1/20).
What is needed as a minimum is to continue the 3m wide path over the bridge via proper Toucan crossings over the slip roads. There is also a need for a protective barrier between the path and the traffic which should not take space from the cycle / walking route. This will mean taking some road space from the traffic.
Clearly what is really needed is a separate bridge for cycling and walking parallel to the road bridge. This would be expensive but it cannot be dodged for long.
Once over the bridge the cycle track then runs through a lay-by for maintenance workers, which they intend to keep. If there are vehicles parked there the path will become all but impassable.
The lay-by for maintenance workers which will block the path – Photo Derek
Crossing the A47 off-slip
We then cross the off-slip from the A47 by way of another sub-standard Puffin crossing, after which the 3m wide shared-use path resumes.
Pt 3: Crossing William Frost Way
Our destination, along Dereham Road, is now very close and easily visible, but there’s no way across the three arms of busy of William Frost Way. Instead, cyclists and walkers have to take a 130m (140 yard) detour along William Frost Way to reach a Toucan crossing which at least seems to be properly designed and which can be cycled over.
So once over the final slip road from the A47, we then re-join a 3m wide shared-use path which connects to the existing facility following William Frost Way.
We are not aware of any safety audit or equality impact assessment relating to this section of the route, which of course already exists, but there are two major problems here.
Side road crossing: Longwater shops car park entrance and exit
Before we get to the William Frost Way crossing, we have to cross the vehicle entrance to the Longwater car park.
The crossing of the Longwater shops entrance – Photo Derek
This carries a lot of traffic and is designed to be driven at speed, the entrance road having a gentle curve from the William Frost Way dual carriageway. Heading north on the cycle track, fast moving traffic approaches from behind and cuts directly across the cycle route.
After crossing to a small centre island we then have to cross the outbound traffic flow. This is easier if there is queueing traffic, but if not, emerging traffic can be fast moving in order to join the flow on William Frost Way, this all makes this crossing extremely hazardous.
Once over the William Frost Way crossing, we double back on ourselves and head south back towards Dereham Road.
Side road crossing: Next car park entrance and exit
We now have to cross the entrance to the Next car park. This is similar to the entrance to Longwater, designed for high speed and used by a lot of traffic which approaches very fast from behind. Again it involves a small centre island refuge and as with the other car park entrance is way below an acceptable safe standard.
Crossing the Next car park entrance – Photo Derek
The route now joins the shared-use path toward New Costessey, where the school is and indeed, towards the rest of the city.
Car traffic on a Sunday heading for the Longwater out-of-town shopping centre – Photo Derek
We accept the problems with the Longwater interchange and William Frost way are intractable. The bridge over the A47 is a structure owned by National Highways (i.e. central government) and so everything the council does in terms of the road space over it needs to be done within the existing structure.
The priority of NCC and SNDC has always been and remains accommodating the traffic. However access across this junction is required by vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists. We therefore have the situation where traffic planners are trying to do the impossible, squeezing a quarts worth of traffic into a pint sized junction.
Of course, this situation hasn’t come about by accident, it’s been created by a series of planning decisions taken over the past few decades . Indeed, since this scheme was drawn up in 2014 the area has seen several major traffic-generating planning applications approved, a new industrial unit and major supermarket at Longwater together with a food hall at the showground,
It has been clear for some time that a major problem has been developing at Longwater and that some kind of major redesign is needed. Such a scheme is far beyond our remit to suggest but it seems obvious that a long-term solution at the very least needs a separate bridge over the A47 for the cycle / footway and a more direct way across William Frost Way.
Finally no assessment has ever been made of the existing and growing demand for a cycle / walking route through the junction beyond that created by the new housing development at Easton. This suggests that we now have a critically serious problem which is not even recognised by the councils that has been growing for thirty years.
In the short term any pedestrian / cycle route through this problem area has to be safe and inviting to use, all the more so as it’s intended to be used by unaccompanied children as a safe route to school. In addition of course the scheme has to be able to safely accommodate the full range of active travel, such as going shopping using a cargo bike, as well as being usable by people with disabilities.
The only way to achieve this adequately would seem to be by accepting that three traffic lanes over the A47 bridge is unrealistic for now. Work on a long term solution, which would need negotiations with National Highways, should begin immediately.
The scheme as proposed is below the minimum standard, is dangerous, is not accessible by people with a wide range of disabilities or by people using non-standard bikes. It is certainly not suitable for a safe route to school for unaccompanied children.
1: Crossing the Longwater junction (micro site)
3: Festival Park Travel Plan (PDF download)
4: Stage 1 safety audit (PDF download)
5: Equality Impact Assessment (PDF download)
6: LTN 1/20 (Government design guidance for constructing cycle routes)
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