Longwater update

During the first half of this year we made several attempts to get a meeting with Norfolk County Council to discuss our concerns with their plans for a cycling and walking route across the Longwater junction and William Frost Way. Derek Williams gives a status update

Pedestrians and cyclists crossing the Longwater junction (Sunrise festival, September 2023)

Background

If you don’t know the background to all this, you really need to read through our mini site: Crossing the Longwater junction, but in particular this blog: Longwater – The full scheme explained.

The project was envisioned back in 2014 as simply a cycling and walking route to connect the new “Festival Park” estate now being built at Easton with the Longwater shops and the wider city on the other side of the A47. As such it is badly under-powered for the job it now has to do. This is especially important for the A47 bridge section, which is planned as a long, narrow 2m wide walking only (cyclist dismount) path.

In August 2023 we had an extensive meeting with senior planners at Norfolk County Council where we presented our concerns with the plans. These are the issues we raised, summarised in bold:

crossing the Longwater junction on foot
Pedestrians crossing the Longwater junction – a very common sight

Who will be using the route?

The Longwater junction has been a barrier to cycling and walking for over 30 years and it is one of the most significant “missing links” in Norwich’s cycle network. It must be able to cater for everyone wanting to use it and the route must be wide enough to allow people to pass safely in both directions.

  • The term “cycling” includes not only standard, but also non-standard bicycles, such as cargo bikes, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, e-scooters and adapted bikes as well as people using mobility scooters, wheelchairs etc.

One of the stated functions of the scheme as planned in 2014 is to provide a safe route to school for children and young teenagers attending the Ormiston Victory Academy in New Costessey to travel to school unsupervised. Of course there will also be students from the existing Easton village using this facility.

  • The route must be safe enough for children aged 11 and up to use unsupervised.

In addition to the new housing estate the route will connect the city and the Longwater shopping centre with the Park & Ride site, the existing village of Easton (pop 1,436), the Norfolk Showground (60 hectare of event grounds), and Easton College (5000 students). There are also projects planned such as the Food Court at the Showground and a major Food distribution hub (employing 3000) at Easton. It would also provide a commuter route from villages to the west of Norwich which at the moment have no safe cycle connection to the city.

It should be noted that the school students will be travelling eastbound at the same time as the college students will be travelling westbound.

Therefore we are asking that:

  • The route should be of adequate capacity to cope with the likely demand.

Design issues

The scheme is proposed as a single 3m wide shared-use path with a narrow 2m wide footpath over the A47 bridge. Given the potential demand, we have concerns that this is way below the required capacity. This is especially true of the A47 crossing, but also of the section between the crossing and Easton village which is likely to see cycling at speed given it’s dead flat and arrow straight. This is something we’re probably stuck with due to the 10 year old planning requirement given to Persimmon Homes, who are funding it, however the design standards for cycle infrastructure changed in 2020 with the introduction of new government guidance LTN 1/20.

  • Shared use is unwise and perhaps dangerous.

Junctions with side roads need to be properly designed and be cycle priority. This includes the two car park entrances on William Frost Way which carry high volumes of fast-moving traffic. These already exist and so are not technically considered to be a part of the scheme, although of course they are integral to the route.

Crossing the Next carpark entrance
Crossing the Next car park entrance
  • We have not been shown detailed designs for the side road crossings on the western section to Easton village, but early indications are of a low standard. All such junctions should conform to LTN 1/20.
  • The crossings of the car park entrances on William Frost Way need improvement to LTN 1/20 standard.

The at-grade uncontrolled crossing of Dereham Road has to be built to a standard which can accommodate a large number of cycles, including non-standard bikes (e.g. with trailers). It would need to be well lit and the speed of traffic controlled by design, perhaps by a speed table or road narrowing.

  • The crossing of Dereham Road must be designed to a good standard compatible with LTN 1/20.

The section between the slip road crossings, including across the A47 bridge

This is the most troublesome section of the scheme. The problem is the available space on the A47 bridge. The entire route between the slip road crossings all the way over the A47 bridge is proposed as a 2m wide walking only path. Clearly this cannot accommodate non-standard bikes and is too narrow for such bikes to pass safely.

  • It is important to build a route which is safe for the purpose it will be put to. This means the section across the A47 has to be rideable: “cyclist dismount” is not acceptable on safety grounds.

There are five sections to the A47 junction crossing: The slip road crossings on both sides, the path from the slip road crossings to the bridge on both sides and the path over the bridge itself.

The slip road crossings

The crossings of the A47 slip roads are proposed as Puffin crossings – pedestrian-only light-controlled crossings. Cyclists are expected to dismount before using the crossings and to push their bikes all the way across the junction. Simply, this is not a reasonable expectation.

  • The crossings must be Toucans, not Puffins, i.e. crossings that can be cycled across.

Note there will be a total of four light-controlled crossings on the whole route (two slip road crossings and a two-stage crossing of William Frost Way). This will represent a significant delay for users, it’s therefore essential the dwell time is kept to a minimum.

  • The crossing lights should respond to a crossing request as quickly as possible, 20 seconds should be the maximum wait time for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Sufficient space must be provided for people waiting at the lights.

In order to minimise delays for drivers, it is proposed to locate the slip road crossings some way along the slip road, away from the roundabout. This would require a significant diversion for pedestrian and cyclists and would encourage chance crossing of the slip roads along the desire line path.

  • The slip road crossings should be as close to the desire line as possible.

The path from the slip road crossings to the bridge should be designed for cycling.

  • The route across the junction has to be safe to cycle across, the paths from the slip road crossing to the bridge should be 3m wide or more.

There is a maintenance lay-by on the eastern section between the A47 bridge and the slip road crossing which blocks the route as proposed.

  • The maintenance lay-by must be redesigned with a cycle route by-pass or moved to a different location.

The A47 bridge

Following our meeting our concerns seem to have been accepted and funding is being sought from central government for a separate bridge for cycling and walking. But this is unlikely to materialise for some years, even if successful. In the meantime, we have to make what we have work.

Bridge profile
Showing the convex curve of the path over the bridge

So for now the bridge is the major problem area. We acknowledge space is limited here, but the route must be safe to ride across.

We note that space is only limited because a higher priority is given to traffic capacity than to providing a full-specification cycling and walking route.

Note also that because the council accept people will cycle over the bridge (first stage safety audit), the parapet is to be increased in height to prevent cyclists falling onto the A47 below. Therefore the route over the bridge must be safe to cycle.

One-way working across the bridge might be a possibility, but the bridge is very long and has a convex curve, meaning one end can’t be seen from the other.

  • The bridge crossing must, as a minimum, be safe to use and must be safe to cycle across. It is difficult to see how this can be done unless the path width can be increased. If this really isn’t possible, then space must be taken from the road.

Adjacent traffic

A further problem is traffic flowing across the bridge mounting the pavement, or pedestrians and cyclists falling or stepping into the road.

Vehicles, including HGVs, which will be running in very narrow lanes across the bridge, could easily mount the pavement. Pedestrians and cyclists will be in the blind spot for HGV drivers as they cross the bridge.

  • We require protection from traffic mounting the kerb. This can be done by using a containment kerb. A simple fence would prevent people stepping or falling onto the road (see image below). This will require a further 0.5m of space. Such arrangements are common, with several in the city.
kerb and fence protection
Containment kerb and fence (Mile Cross Road, Norwich)

Crossing William Frost Way

The situation is further complicated by William Frost Way, a heavily trafficked dual carriageway road which serves not only the out-of-town shopping centre, but also a major department store and a supermarket, as well as various other businesses and industrial concerns in the valley and in addition is the only access route to the huge Queens Hills estate. This road has to be crossed by the cycle track.

This is to be a two-stage crossing, i. e. with two sets of crossings over each carriageway. Toucan crossings are proposed but to provide sufficient capacity these should instead be parallel light-controlled (Sparrow) crossings.

  • It must be designed to produce as short a delay as possible for walkers and cyclists.
  • The crossing must have sufficient capacity to deal with large numbers of people crossing in both directions.
  • There must be sufficient queuing space for cyclists and pedestrians waiting to cross.

Conclusion

This is how we left it all following our meeting in August. It is a lot for the engineers to consider, but they are not unreasonable demands. Bear in mind that even if all of these concerns are addressed, it will still be a pretty weak scheme and hardly direct. But it should at least be safe enough for children to use, which is one of its main functions.

Perhaps most importantly, it would, after 30 years, finally provide a cycling and walking route across the junction.

Finally it’s worth pointing out that the whole mess of Longwater is the result of bad planning decisions over the past 30 years. It’s getting to the point now where a major re-build is necessary and that won’t come cheap. Perhaps when that inevitably happens, we can get a properly designed active travel route across this whole disaster area. In the meantime, we’ve got to make this work.

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