Norwich Cycling Campaign has been highlighting for some time Norfolk County Council’s sub-standard and dangerous plans for a pedestrian/cycle route across the notorious Longwater junction. Derek Williams explains why the junction is such an important part of Norwich’s cycle network.
A traffic nightmare
The Longwater junction is a traffic nightmare caused in no small part by the existence of the out-of-town “strip mall” style shopping centre. We tell the story of how this came about in our “Crossing the Longwater junction” feature: Longwater – the background story.
The result of all this chaotic car-centric development is, not surprisingly, a junction overloaded with cars. Norfolk County Council is trying to squeeze every last bit of capacity out of the existing arrangement.
We understand this is a huge problem, but it’s one created by Norfolk Country Council over the past 30 years. What’s required to solve it is way beyond the scope of the planned works and it would be hugely expensive. The problem has just been allowed to drift, with sticking plaster upgrades to the existing road network in an effort to keep things moving. Things have now come to a head with the acceptance, at long last, of the need for a pedestrian/cycle route over the junction.
We describe the proposed scheme in our blog Dangerous plans for Longwater that ignore cycling, but in summary it’s proposed to build a narrow footpath only with no cycle track across the A47 junction bridge and no direct crossing of the busy William Frost Way, which will leave the whole Longwater junction as a barrier to cycling to the west of Norwich, making it all but impossible to cross safely by cycle.
Part 1: What is the demand for cycling across the Longwater crossing?
Dereham Road follows a ridge between two river valleys (the River Tud and the River Yare), meaning the road avoids hills – an important consideration for active travel.
There has been a lot of development in recent decades west of Longwater Lane on the edge of New Costessey, both residential and commercial. As a result there are now several large cycling areas of origin and points of destination strung along Dereham Road on both sides of the junction.
The map shows the large housing estates and employment, educational and recreational destinations around the junction within easy cycling distance, with Dereham Road being the essential route connecting them. A good quality cycle track exists to the east of the junction and one is proposed to the west.
Western side of the junction
Easton village (including the new “Festival Park” estate
The proposed Easton Food Hub
Park & Ride – at present just serving the hospital and UEA
Honingham village (2.7km / 1.7 miles)
Eastern side of the junction
The Longwater shops
The Longwater industrial area
Queen’s Hills estate
Hampden View estate
The Ormiston Victory Academy school
Norwich city centre (4.4Km / 2.8 miles)
The only community and destinations taken into consideration by Norfolk County Council for assessing the demands on the junction crossing were the Festival Park estate (now under construction), the Longwater shops and the Academy school. The scheme came about purely as a requirement of the planned new estate some nine years ago at time of writing and have not been updated since then. We explain this in our “Crossing the Longwater junction” feature: The 2014 plans.
These destinations are all places significant numbers of people would want to and should be able to cycle to.
Home of the Royal Norfolk Show, the Showground sometimes attracts several thousands of visitors to events. These are people unfamiliar with the area and the dangers of the junction. The Showground website advises people who want to cycle to the event:
“The Royal Norfolk Show is very easy to get to – we are just off the A47 Norwich Southern Bypass at the A1074 on Longwater Interchange junction.
There are secure cycle parking facilities near the King George VI gate by the public drop off area on Dereham Road. For cycle maps and routes visit the Norwich City Council website”.
The Pedalways map, issued by the City Council doesn’t go as far west as the Showground.
The college website transport advice mentions getting there by rail (which isn’t possible because there’s no station), driving by car or taking the bus. It doesn’t mention cycling at all at time of writing.
When asked about cycling to the college, a tutor said:
“I can stress personally as a commuter-cyclist that crossing the Longwater junction is the most difficult part of the journey. In conversation with staff and students, many are put off from cycling to Easton college because of this junction and fears that it is unsafe for them to do so.
We have had a number of students that live in the Queens Hills area, only a short distance away from the college who have relied on funded transport to attend college that have expressed their willingness to cycle to college if there was a safer route across the A47 to Easton. Furthermore, it would be of real benefit to explore cycle routes from the college as part of developing young people’s independence and travel training in a sustainable manner if there were suitable, safe routes available”.
The Food Hub
The Food Hub is still in the development phase (see the Lanpro website) will become a major employment centre. It is intended to employ around 3,000 unskilled and semi-skilled people who are not likely to be on high wages, many of who will depend on cycling to get to work.
The Ormiston Victory Academy
The local secondary school for students from Easton village is located across the junction in New Costessey. One of the main reasons for providing the link across the junction is to allow children to walk and cycle to school from the Festival Park estate, in line with government policy on active travel.
Part 2: Why the proposed plan is unacceptable
We have a critique of the Stage 1 Safety Audit and the Equality Impact Assessment for the proposals in our blog: Longwater junction update.
Here is a summary of why this project is inadequate, not fit for purpose and dangerous.
A47 junction crossing
The actual bridge crossing will be reached by simple Puffin (pedestrian only) crossings over the A47 slip roads, where cyclists are supposed to get off and push. The whole, long, windswept path across the bridge is supposed to be walking only.
The path over the bridge is to be widened by just an extra 50cm which makes the path 2m wide, not wide enough for two people pushing bikes to easily pass each other. The thundering traffic will be given two very narrow traffic lanes (just 3m wide), meaning the wheels of HGVs will be just inches from pedestrians who will be in the blind spot of the lorry, so invisible to the drivers as they pass.
Non-standard bikes / mobility scooters
No thought has been given to people wishing to cross with a cargo bike, or those who use adapted bikes (who of course can’t get off and push). Riding a mobility scooter across this bridge would be a truly terrifying experience.
No protection from the traffic
There is to be no barrier to protect pedestrians from the traffic, so the perceived danger would be very real.
The Stage 1 Safety Audit (download PDF) conducted by the council accepts the fact that despite the path being too narrow, people will ride across the bridge (as they do now) and that because of this the parapet of the bridge will be increased in height to prevent cyclists from falling onto the road below.
Norfolk County Council are therefore proposing to build something they know will neither be suitable nor safe for the use it will inevitably be put to.
The William Frost Way crossing
Despite one of the main reasons for the proposal, that of providing a safe walking and cycling route to school from the new houses at Easton, the scheme doesn’t connect across the dangerous William Frost Way. The crossing originally proposed which would have provided a direct link to the eastern section of Dereham Road has been relocated some distance away down the hill, so there is no practical connection across the whole junction.
The overriding priority of Norfolk County Council with any road project should always be safety. Given the distances involved, this route is likely to appeal more to cyclists than to pedestrians, so not providing for cycling is absolutely inexcusable. Cycling infrastructure should conform to the government guidelines called LTN 1/20.
See our blog Our proposals for the Longwater junction where we present an indicative plan for what is needed in order to meet current government standards.
As an absolute minimum there needs to be a reasonably direct cycling and walking route between the two parts of Dereham Road which is safe and inviting to use for anyone between the ages of 8 and 80. The guidelines state that such routes should not only be safe, but should be perceived as being safe. Clearly the proposed scheme does not come anywhere near these design standards.
Over the past year we have been told by Norfolk County Council that the government guidelines don’t apply here because the scheme was designed before they were introduced. However, they certainly do.
We have also been told that because various parts of the scheme are funded by the developers and not public money the guidelines don’t apply, but again they do.
And finally we’ve been told they will try to comply with the guidelines where they can. Well, no, that’s not acceptable either.
This sorry tale has been dragging on for over eight years now. During that time Norfolk County Council has had several opportunities to apply for funding under various government schemes such as the Transforming Cities Fund, but none were made. For some reason this essential cycle route has been ignored for 30 years.
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