The Wensum Link – but what about cycling?

Inadequate and dangerous cycle infrastructure, but at least it exists. A47 Postwick viaduct.

The proposed Wensum link, officially called the Norwich Western Link (NWL), is a plan to connect the A1270 Northern Distributer Road (NDR) from the point where it joins the A1067 Fakenham Road, across the Wensum valley on a viaduct, to join a newly-dualled A47 at Honingham. This is a very controversial road proposal. The Wensum valley is a Special Area of Conservation, a place of great natural beauty with wildlife-rich ancient woodlands and a beautiful chalk river, the Wensum. If built, the road will cause a huge – and frankly unforgivable – amount of damage to this delicate environment.

The position of Norwich Cycling Campaign (NCyC) is to oppose the project. Road building of this type is always detrimental to cycling, especially when fast dual carriageways sever existing roads radiating out from the city to the surrounding countryside. Also, because this road will enable development of suburban sprawl around the north-west of Norwich, it will inevitably increase car dependency creating a poorer environment for people wishing to get around by bike.

However, we recognise that huge commercial pressure will probably force its construction through. If this is to happen, it’s important that the proper cycling provision which appears to be guaranteed by government policy is actually honoured. Sadly, in this respect, it seems Norfolk County Council (NCC) are intent on doing all they can to cut corners by not providing a parallel cycle track at all.

NCC has a website promoting the NWL which you can see here

The Norwich Western Link proposal – connecting the NDR with the A47

The dual carriageway road will cross the valley on a huge viaduct and NCC are insisting no cycle track be incorporated into its construction. This is unacceptable as it means there will be no accommodation for cycle traffic along the new road. The viaduct cycle track is therefore the biggest issue facing NCyC because if it’s not included in the construction of the bridge it would be very difficult and expensive to add later. 

Why are NCC so against providing a cycle track over the viaduct?

These are NCC’s reasons and NCyC’s responses:

The road isn’t intended for cycle traffic, its role is to connect strategic routes on the road network
However, the NWL is not a “special road”, special roads are roads which only certain types of traffic can use, such as motorways. Therefore, at least in theory, the NWL will be open to all road users. However, by deliberately making the road unattractive and frankly dangerous for slow moving traffic, NCC will be creating a new road which excludes non-motorised traffic by design.

There is no demand
Currently there are no genuinely cycle friendly routes across the valley – the hills on the southern side especially are very steep. The new road would create a cycle friendly route by virtue of its embankments and cuttings giving a far smoother profile. NCC claim there is not much reason to cycle the whole route as there is currently very little development around Honingham to the south – unless you live there of course! However, it’s important to remember this road needs to be designed for the future and usage will change over the coming decades as Norwich inevitably expands. During the consultations, the option of a cross valley cycle route has never been offered, so potential demand has never actually been tested.

The road will have no intermediate junctions with the local roads along the valley
While that is true, why couldn’t a parallel cycle track have junctions with these local roads? These would open up many new route opportunities that haven’t been considered, including from the line of the present NDR into the valley – the important section over the viaduct. Again such an option has never been offered in the consultations.

Riding over the viaduct would be intimidating given the proximity to the high volume of fast heavy traffic expected to be using the new road
This is clearly only a matter of proper design. The cycle track should be separated from the road with a crash barrier and, assuming proper noise pollution sound barriers are to be installed, the cycle track could run on the outside of those. So riders would be insulated to a large extent from the traffic.

The extra 3m or so width required by the cycle track would have an unacceptable impact on the delicate environment of the river valley
Given the massive amount of damage the road is going to cause anyway, clearly this is a fatuous claim.

Why is this a bad decision?

Cyclists should be able to safely use any road open to general traffic, if it is not safe to cycle in the general traffic then a separate cycle track is essential.

We would make these two observations:

The “cycle track” isn’t just for pedal cycles, it will also serve for e-bikes and e-cargo bikes
Over the next few years we can expect to see big developments in battery technology with the shift to electric vehicles. These improvements will also impact e-bikes, giving longer ranges and better carrying capacity for e-cargo bikes. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the role of e-bikes and e-cargo bikes in particular will grow. Unless a proper route is provided, these vehicles will be forced onto the main carriageway, which will obviously create a dangerous situation.

In June 2021, NCyC wrote to the consultants WSP to request that the issue of the cycle track on the viaduct be re-examined. Our case was based on the expected improvements in e-bike technology and the wider range of applications and travel distances such e-bikes would afford. Unfortunately, their reply failed to address this central point. You can read their reply here (PDF download).

The bridge will stand for a long time
Since the viaduct will stand for the next hundred years or more, we also raised the issue of the bridge being a long-term investment

The WSP reply states on page 9: “This is acknowledged and the modelling work for the project looks forward in time to a design year of 2040, based on planned developments which are certain or near certain to be taken forward in that timescale“.

If the road opens in 2025, this would mean a design life of only 15 years. This is incredibly short-sighted. The bridge should be able to cope with changing demands over a much longer time period, at least the next 50 years would be more reasonable period.

Of the cycle routes that are planned, most of those along the valley will be on roads shared with traffic, much as now. NCC claim there will be significant reductions in traffic using these existing routes, however these predictions are little more than speculation and even if true, will erode over time if car use continues to increase at current rates. So in effect no real cycle provision is planned along the valley beyond a little traffic calming, speed humps etc. There are some off road shared use pavements especially around the junction with the A47, however these are incomplete and, again, fail to properly connect.

The relevant government policy is covered in “Gear Change” and the “LTN 1/20” guidance notes which state that cyclists should be treated as traffic, not as pedestrians and that routes should be continuous and connect with other routes. The existing NDR has cycle tracks, albeit built in a substandard way in places, and so these ought to connect with the new road in order to provide this linked up infrastructure. New roads should be designed to accommodate cycle traffic safely with segregated cycle tracks.

Making the same mistake?

Our suspicion is that the real reason for not including a cycle track is financial. Adding a two-way segregated cycle track would of course incur extra cost, but having to retrofit the track to the viaduct would mean far higher costs later. If cost saving is the real reason, it would be a false economy.

The photo at the top of the page is of the A47 viaduct at Postwick, on the Norwich Southern Bypass, built in the early 1990’s. A very substandard narrow path was included and is used by quite a few cyclists, despite the unprotected proximity to fast moving traffic and only a low fence separating the rider from a sheer drop into the valley below. But at least it exists. A far better cycle track is clearly required here, but adding one would be a difficult and expensive undertaking.

The Norwich Southern Bypass was built 30 years ago.

We’re supposed to be taking cycling more seriously these days.

We really must not make this mistake again.

We’d love to hear views. Get in touch here

A campaign exists to oppose the construction of this road, called “Stop the Wensum link”, their website is here

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2 thoughts on “The Wensum Link – but what about cycling?

  1. Yeah, well that is the point I was making, thanks for the info about CDM. Can you point to whereit says this in the document?

  2. Please ask NCC why they are not complying with CDM regs 2015 in designing for all potential users as pointed out the road is not a ‘special’ road such as a motorway so they have a legal duty to ensure the road is safe for all road users. The other aspect is the road being funded by the DfT which is to ensure that any road design incorporates provision for active travel or risk the withdraw of funding sadly these words may need testing as when it comes to committing money – climate emergency or not they seem persuading to release any coinage for active travel.

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