Our proposals for the Longwater junction

Norwich Cycling Campaign has produced indicative drawings of the minimum provision needed at the Longwater junction to provide a safe and direct crossing for “non-motorised users” – i.e .cyclists and pedestrians. Derek Williams explains

The Longwater out-of-town shopping centre – designed for cars, not people

For the background to all this, see Cycling through Longwater, a sorry tale of unplanned development.

The minimum design

Overview map

The minimum design, taking one lane of traffic from the A47 bridge (click image for a larger version)

Detailed views

Detailed view of the William Frost Way crossing
(click image for a larger version
Detailed view of the A47 crossing and southern roundabout (click image for a larger version)

The minimum proposal provides for a continuous segregated cycle and pedestrian route from the existing shared-use cycle track on Dereham Road (shown in green), across William Frost Way and the A47 junction – conforming to current design standards (known as LTN 1/20) – and connecting to the proposed developer-funded shared-use cycle track to Easton. It features five Toucan crossings: three across William Frost Way and one each for the slip roads on and off of the A47.

There simply isn’t room over the bridge for two inbound lanes of general traffic and even a single shared-use path, which is why Norfolk County Council have proposed a substandard “cyclist dismount” section using a narrow footpath across the bridge. In this proposal, in line with current regulations, a fully segregated cycle track and footpath would displace one lane of general traffic from the bridge. There would be a crash barrier to protect cyclists and pedestrians from the heavy traffic using the bridge.

This is far from ideal, but doable within the tight cost constraints and is the only practical option. The five Toucan crossings would impose a huge delay for people crossing and would therefore need to be fully responsive. The need to take one traffic lane from the bridge would cause traffic queues. However, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists should come higher than considerations of traffic handling. Providing a cycling and walking route through the junction is supposed to be a priority.

A large part of the whole problem is caused by lax planning by the council in the development of William Frost Way, the Longwater shops, the industry in the valley and the massive new housing estate of Queen’s Hills. This has created an impossible situation around the roundabout, on the city side of the junction in particular, but also for the whole A47 junction.

Norfolk County Council saw the chance to force a quart into a pint pot by tweaking the design of the junction, but that came at the expense of pedestrian and cycling safety. In truth, some major changes are required at Longwater that go far beyond the scope of this project. However, the fact we are in this situation comes down to poor planning control. Given the granting of recent planning applications for a new supermarket and an industrial unit it’s clear no lessons have been learned.

What’s currently being proposed

In order to achieve the aims of the conditions put on the development of the new housing at Easton in 2015 by Norfolk County Council (our emphasis in red):

“… a key element of the development is the delivery of a 3m wide shared use footway/cycleway from the development, along Dereham Road to the Longwater Interchange, over the Interchange and connecting into the existing footway/cycleway on William Frost Way and then along Dereham Road to Costessey. Crossing of William Frost Way will be by using a new controlled crossing.” (source)

So the scheme was supposed to connect across William Frost Way to the Dereham Road cycle route into the city. Within the limited scope of this project it’s important this happens, because the route across William Frost Way is a part of the “safe route to school” for the pupils of the nearby Ormiston Victory Academy in New Costessey. From the same document:

“The local Highway Authority considers the delivery of the facility as a fundamental pre-requisite of the development as no such facility currently exists and it will provide an appropriate route for vulnerable road users particularly school children.”

This is what NCC is currently planning to build

The council’s third-rate and dangerous plans for Longwater dating from 2015 (click image for a larger version)

From the west, the shared-use path from Easton would end at the Puffin (pedestrian only) crossing where everyone would be expected to walk. This would lead to a narrow (2m) wide footpath across the bridge with two lanes of heavy traffic running close to the kerb line and no physical barrier to protect people on the narrow path. It would then cross the second slip road by another pedestrian only Puffin crossing before re-joining the shared-use path to Longwater. This takes us to the wrong side of William Frost Way.

Crossing William Frost Way

The original plan for a crossing of William Frost Way was to upgrade the existing crossing at the entrance to the Longwater and Next junctions. The following drawing was produced.

Original plan for a crossing of William Frost Way from 2014 (click image for a larger version)

(Note that the drawing has been modified to improve clarity. You can view the original here.)

The drawing shows the Next car park on the right with the entrance to the Longwater car park on the left. Cyclists and pedestrians would have to cross both arms of the Next entrance, then cross the two carriageways of William Frost Way (with a two-stage Toucan crossing) and then one arm of the Longwater car park entrance. Although far from convenient and unable to handle large amounts of pedestrian and cycle traffic (and certainly hazardous given the amount of traffic) at least it was there.

However, a supermarket has been given planning permission further down William Frost Way on condition they provide the new crossing. This new developer-funded crossing will be even further down the hill and simply not a viable route for people following Dereham Road. While it will be useful for bus passengers, it’s of little value to the Longwater crossing scheme.

So the crossing of William Frost Way seems to have been entirely forgotten in the final proposal, meaning children will be expected to cross all three arms of William Frost Way without the aid of a controlled crossing. This is clearly totally unacceptable.

Important issues

There are likely to be far more cyclists than pedestrians using this route, given the quite large distances involved, so only providing a pedestrian route over the bridge is not reasonable.

All this was back in 2015, eight years ago at the time of writing. In that time Norfolk County Council has continued to allow the virtually uncontrolled expansion of the Longwater shops and increased industrial activity, together with the construction of Queen’s Hills which has made traffic conditions there close to intolerable.

This minimum provision only related to the needs of the new housing development at Easton. The existing requirement for proper walking and cycling provision through the junction from the existing village, access to the large Easton College and the Norfolk Showground were simply ignored. They are, however, significant.

The college draws many of its staff and students from the city side of the junction and many would prefer to cycle. Some do in fact, braving the dangers of the totally unsuitable road.

The Norfolk Showground holds many events attracting thousands of people, many of whom would cycle if there were a safe route to do so.

Norfolk County Council would seem to be negligent in their assessment of the full needs of the route.

Building to the current design standards

Perhaps an even bigger problem for the council is that since the plans were drawn up in 2015 the “get off and push” section across the bridge is no longer acceptable in the design of cycle infrastructure. The current design standards (LTN 1/20) are now nearly three years old and Norfolk County Council is required to conform to these standards when planning cycle infrastructure.

Our proposal of taking a lane from traffic is the minimum needed to comply with the current standards for such projects.

Norfolk County Council accept that their proposals fall below the minimum standard for cycling infrastructure while acknowledging it will be used in that way, especially by children. They are therefore arguably negligent in knowingly constructing a route that falls well short of the current standards and which is unfit for the purpose it will be put to. In short, they are knowingly planning to build something dangerous.

A narrow (2m) footpath across the bridge, with no protection from HGVs crossing in narrow traffic lanes right next to the pavement is clearly unacceptable even if it was not going to be used as a cycle route.

Doing the job properly – a separate walking and cycling bridge

Short of a redesign of the whole traffic circulation at Longwater and/or a total redesign of the Longwater junction – both ideas way beyond the scope of this scheme – the best we could hope for is a parallel cycle/foot bridge adjacent to the present road bridge. This could either be a free-standing bridge, or perhaps a cantilevered extension to the side of the current bridge.

If that were possible, we show how it could work.

A better option where the cycle track and footpath have their own bridge (click image for a larger version)
Detail of the A47 crossing, showing a parallel cycle/foot bridge (click image for a larger version)

The five Toucan crossings would still be a problem, but with responsive traffic lights the delays could be minimised. A maximum pedestrian wait time of 20 seconds would be acceptable.

A parallel bridge would of course be expensive, but it would be a vast improvement on the minimal design above and would deal with the capacity problems. Of course, it could always be added if money became available later, which of course should be a priority.

Why are we in this mess?

This raises the question of why hasn’t proper funding been sought, seeing as this scheme has been with Norfolk County Council for eight years or more? The answer to that would seem to be that they consider cycling and walking to be a very low priority, despite their many fine words. The priority here has always been to provide for motor traffic above all other considerations. But more than that it demonstrates a total lack of joined-up thinking within the council, because there was another “box ticking” scheme to deal with cycling and walking.

As a part of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) which the council drew up, an extension to the Green Pedalway has been proposed which is to run from Bowthorpe to the Park and Ride, across the A47 on Long Lane.

This would run to the south of Dereham Road and would cross the A47 by a large (and far more expensive) bridge about half a mile along the road. The road is running at ground level here, so to get over this bridge would require cyclists and pedestrians to climb around 5m and then go down again on the other side. Although this would serve the Park and Ride, it would be little use for getting to the Longwater shops, for commuters following Dereham Road or for people from Queen’s Hills or New Costessey. On the city side it would involve going down into the valley and up again before crossing the bridge. An initial bid for funding for the scheme fell through and therefore the future of the scheme would seem to be in doubt, so we’re left with nothing.

What this means is that while money has been spent trying to cope with ever increasing levels of motor traffic around the Longwater junction – which itself is created by a series of bad planning decisions – no effort was put into developing a better, more useful route for walkers and cyclists across the junction. Several opportunities for funding were not followed and were simply missed.

The Longwater route involves no hills and the road is in a cutting at the junction, so a bridge here would be at the level of the cycle track and it serves all the transport needs.


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