Elveden Memorial Underpass and New Bridleways now Open

With the opening of the newly dually A11, also comes the opening of a new underpass next to the Elveden memorial and some associated changes to the Public Rights of Way network.

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The new A11 underpass by the Elveden Memorial.

The orders for the changes were approved some time ago, but the new routes to the north of the A11 didn’t officially come into use until they were certified by Suffolk County Council on Friday 12th December. The key changes are as follows:

  • Icklingham BY 7 has been stopped up between the junction with Icklingham BY 6 at the north-west corner of Berners Heath and the A11 at the Memorial. A new Public Bridleway (Icklingham BR ?) runs along most of the old route, but ends at the underpass, rather than joining the A11.
  • New Public Bridleways (Elveden BR 7 and BR 8) have been created passing through the underpass at the Memorial.
  • A new Public Bridleway (Eriswell BR 11) has been created following the eastern and northern edges of Weather Heath, and then continuing west to join Shakers Road (Eriswell BR 8).
  • The section of Shakers Road (Eriswell BR 8 and Icklingham BR 13) between the new Bridleway and its old junction with the A11 has been stopped up, and so is no longer a public right of way.

You can view the Creation Order for Eriswell BR 11 and Elveden BR 7, which includes descriptions of those new routes, and a map is shown below. (The other changes were made by a DfT Side Roads Order as part of the main A11 works.) You can also see the detail of all the new routes on OpenStreetMap.

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Council map showing the new routes.

Public Bridleways provide a right of way for the public on foot, horseback and by bicycle. They must be maintained in a suitable state for pedestrian and equestrian users, though not necessarily for cycle use. Nevertheless, these changes now provide a useful new route for cyclists without having to cycle along or cross the A11.

Good Points

  • The new Rights of Way provide a continuous route from Thetford Forest along Shakers Road, through the underpass, and then either south to Icklingham or north-east to Thetford.
  • The surface of new route should be ok for use on an off-road bike, though it may be hard going in places.
  • The fenced in section round Weather Heath is nice and wide — 4.5m according to the description in the Definitive Statement.
The new Bridleway along the north edge of Weather Heath.

The new Public Bridleway along the north edge of Weather Heath.

Bad Points

  • There’s no cycle or pedestrian link parallel to A11 between Memorial and Elveden village. There’s a service road for the Elveden Estate that could be used, but it’s a private road not open for public use.
  • The signing by the Highways Agency around the new underpass is rather over-the-top and spoils the natural environment. Large green road-sign style signs have been used, rather than more fitting roundels or finger-posts, and far more signs than would be necessary have been used.
An example of the excessive and obtrusive signage provided by the Highways Agency.

An example of the excessive and obtrusive signage provided by the Highways Agency.

  • The surface of new Bridleways is not ideal for cycling; bumps and vegetation growth may be tiring around Weather Heath. It also may get overgrown, and it’s not clear how committed the council will be to keeping it well-maintained.
  • The barbed wire on fences either side of Eriswell BR 11 around Weather Heath, could be dangerous. Fortunately the wire is mostly on the outside of the posts, but there is one section a few hundred meters long where it is the other way round (a pre-existing fence along the heath boundary).
The new Bridleway on the east side of Weather Heath, showing the barbed wire on the wrong side of the fence.

The new Bridleway on the east side of Weather Heath, showing the barbed wire on the wrong side of the fence.

  • It would appear that the changes to the Rights of Way may have inadvertently cut off any lawful access to Horn Heath. The only access point I’m aware of is a kissing gate from the stopped up part of Icklingham BY 7. Users now need to trespass on the private estate road to access this from Icklingham BR ?.
  • No cycle parking has been provided for those wishing to arrive at the memorial by bike and then explore the access land on foot. Though presumably one could lock bikes to the fence posts.
  • There’s no easy access to Weather Heath at its north-west NW corner, which is now passed by Eriswell BR 11. There is a field gate there, but it was padlocked shut when I visited a couple of weeks ago.
  • On the section of Eriswell BR 11 west of Weather Heath, there are some overhanging branches, which will probably obstruct horse riders.

Newly Dualled A11 Finally Open

The final cones were removed and the completed dual carriageway of the A11 between Thetford and Barton Mills was opened today. This is great news for motorists and local businesses, but how will it affect cyclists?

The Thetford Area Action Plan contains proposals for a number of Cycle Loops from Thetford, and the Highways Agency have recently been instructed to ensure that all their new schemes are cycle-proofed, but has this scheme delivered any improvements for cyclists? To be fair, it was never pleasant or safe to cycle along or cross the old A11. But rather than looking at whether there has been a net improvement, we should perhaps be looking at whether the scheme took advantage of numerous possibilities for improvements.

Crossing Points

A dual carriageway inevitably forms a linear barrier to cycling, so it’s important that there are sufficient locations where it can be crossed safely. There are three key places where crossing points should have been provided. One has been done well, one acceptably, and one neglected completely.

At the Elveden Memorial, there is now a multi-user underpass (map), allowing safe passage for pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders. This has been linked in to the Bridleway network by a new route around Weather heath. For further details see this following post.

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Multi-user underpass by the Elveden Memorial.

At the northern end of Mildenhall Woods, new paths link Icklingham Public Footpath no. 2 and the end of the C616 opposite to the B1112 underpass (map). It’s a bit of a detour for anyone wanting to cross there, but it’s better than nothing.

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B1112 Underpass, with connecting paths to Midenhall Woods.

Finally, at the Thetford end of the new dual carriageway, it was planned for one of the Thetford Cycle Loops to cross the A11 just south of the Rifle Range (map). No provision has been made for a crossing point here at all. Thetford Forest is now severely cut off from the Town of Thetford by the A11, which represents a great loss of amenity. Shame on Breckland Council and Moving Thetford Forward for not raising this issue with the Highways Agency during the planning phase. The only realistic possibility for the future would be if traffic lights are installed at the Sainsbury’s roundabout, and included pedestrian and cycle crossings.

Parallel Routes

For those wanting to travel parallel to the A11 it is another mixed bag of results.

The good news is that there is a new high-quality cycle path on the south side of the new road linking the Thetford roundabout (map) with the old A11 north of Elveden (map). This provides a good route from Thetford to Elveden. Or at least it would if there was a suitable way to get from the centre of Thetford to the start of the cycle path. The access to the new route is along London Road in Thetford, which has a 40mph speed limit and is a principal lorry route to two industrial estates. So not suitable for cycling. Norfolk County Council say they have no plans for adding any cycle infrastructure to the road. It is most disappointing that such provision was omitted from the A11 Scheme. At the other end of the new cycle route there are also issues with how users are expected to re-join the carriageway, which I have written about previously.

Further south, it is also inexplicable why a cycle route was not provided between the old A11 through Elveden (map) and the Elveden Memorial (map). A new high-quality tarmacked service road has been provided for the Elveden Estate precisely along this route, but as far as I know it is not available for public use. I don’t understand why it could not be opened up, as it was presumably publicly funded, will probably carry little traffic, and is wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass safely. Another fail from the planners I feel.

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Private service road for the Elveden Estate.

Conclusions

While there is some good news from the scheme (notably a new route between Thetford and Elveden, and the new underpass at the Elveden Memorial) on the whole the scheme seems to be dominated by missed opportunities. We’re told that the works came in under budget. It’s a shame some of the unspent cash couldn’t have been used to allow more provision for cycling.

Joe Blunt’s Lane Surface Improvements

A cycling issue I’d been chasing with Norfolk County Council for several months has finally been addressed.

As part of the Thetford Academy building works, some adjustments were made to the north-west end of Joe Blunt’s Lane in Thetford. A new path was added alongside Croxton Road where Joe Blunt’s Lane  meets the road, and a new path crossing the Lane from the main Academy site to the new car park was added a few meters further down.

In both these places, a new shingle surface was added adjacent to new hard-surfaced areas. This is dangerous to any cyclists using the Lane, and as the gravel dispersed, step-changes in surface height would be left behind. I complained to the council about this, who informed me that the single surface was contrary to the agreed plans. They asked the contractor to replace the shingle with a compacted sub-base material, which would be much safer for cyclists.

It took several months and further chasing with the Council, but I’m pleased to say that when I visited the site today, the shingle had (mostly) been removed and the new sub-base material had been installed.

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The only slight snag is that a quantity of shingle remains just below the new surface at the Croxton road junction. This isn’t too bad, however, as it will naturally disperse over time.

Thetford to Elveden Cycleway Issue

Yesterday, I went to have a look at the newly opened junction on the A11, that allows southbound traffic to exit north-east of Elveden on to the old London Road through the village. This is also the place where the new cyclepath that runs parallel to the A11 from the Sainsbury’s roundabout in Thetford re-joins the carriageway.

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The current juction configuration, with the A11 exit sliproad and the cycleway coming in from the top right, and London Road proceeding out of the botom left towards Elveden. (Image © Thunderforest, CC-By-SA; data © OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL.)

I do not know if the current configuration is intended to be final, but the route that south-bound cyclists are currently forced to take is somewhat dangerous. The cycle-path rejoins the carriageway opposite the exit from the turning loop, which is great for those heading north. However, those heading south are forced to use the narrow single-lane one-way section of road opposite the turning loop. The traffic here is likely to be fast moving as it will have just come off the A11. The physical width of the lane means that there is insufficient physical space for cyclists to be overtaken safely.

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View looking west towards Elveden from the cycle-path exit, showing the narrow single-lane section opposite the turning loop.

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View looking east from the turning-loop island at slip-road coming off the A11 and the cycle-path exit.

DfT Guidance Note LTN 2/08 gives the the minimum width required for an HGV to safely overtake a cyclist at 30mph as 5.05m. We are likely to have significantly higher speeds here, and the carriageway is only 4.7m wide here. It appears that the pavement on the south side of the old A11 has been designated as a shared-use path. But this only slightly improves things. The path is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons:

  • The turn from the new cycle path to the footway is too sharp.
  • The effective width of the footway is only about 1.5m at its widest, below recommended guidelines. The path narrows below this value as you travel south.
  • Given the fast-moving vehicles on the road and the narrow carriageway, cyclists will still be too close to the moving traffic. The problem here is made worse by the right-hand white lane line on the carriageway being so far from the right-hand curb, which will have the effect of moving vehicle trajectories closer to the footway side of the road.
  • It’s unclear how far the footway will remain shared-use, but given the narrowing further south, cyclists may still want or need to return to the main carriageway. There seems to be no facilities for this merging.

I have written to the Highways agency to enquire whether the configuration is supposed to be final, and if so to ask if they will reconsider. Ideally an additional short section of smoothly joined-in full-width cycleway would be provided so that south-bound cyclists can rejoin the main carriageway further south after it has returned to two-way traffic. The merging with the carriageway should be into a short section of cycle lane with vehicle diverted outside this, as shown on page 28 of the Sustrans Handbook for Cycle-Friendly Design.

Update (2014-09-17)

I have now had a reply from the Highways Agency’s contractor. Apparently the current configuration is not final and discussions are still ongoing about the junction with Suffolk County Council. I took the liberty of sending a sketch of how the current layout might be improved (assuming a shared-use path isn’t to be provided all the way along the old A11).

slip-road-junction

Route Inspection: RR30 Bridgham to Thetford

I went out for a route inspection ride today, to check on Regional Route 30 and National Route 13 between Bridgham Lane and Thetford. The condition of the surface on the lane itself was surprisingly good. I think the recent wet weather has stopped it becoming too snady over the summer. The rest of the route was fine, and all the existing signs were in good condition.

New Route Investigation: Downham Market – Oxborough – Swaffham

Today I went out for another ride to investigate possibilities for some new National Cycle Network routes around Oxborough. The idea is for one route to run from Route 11 at Downham Market to Route 30 at Weeting, via Oxborough (see my previous post) and for another to link Oxborough to Swaffham and on to Route 13 at Bradenham.

I was looking at options for the route to cross the A134 near Stoke Ferry, and also for the routes from Oxborough to Swaffham. The most promising crossing point so far seems to be at Wareham, where there is an staggered crossing with an island. From Oxborough to Swaffham, the direct route through Cockley Cley would be ok, but the route further north via Beachamwell and Drymere seemed to be more pleasant and on quieter roads.

Route Inspection: RR30 Thetford to Thelnetham

I checked the section of Regional Route 30 between Thetford and Thelnetham today. The route itself was fine, and the surface of the Peddars Way section was ok. However, there were a few places where some additional signs were required:

  • At the junction with the B1111, the black and white chevrons sign has been replaced, and so the sign originally on one of the posts is gone.
  • On heading East from the Knettishall crossroads, there’s a convenient pole for a confirmation sign on the right-hand side of the road.
  • At the Hopton crossroads, the left-hand “Stop” sign is still hidden in bushes, so the cycle route sign on the back is not as visible as it could be.
  • At the Thelnetham corssroads, there’s a convenient sign post that should have confirmation signs added to it.

Route Inspection: RR30 Weeting to Thetford

brandon-lamp-postI checked up on Regional Route 30 from Weeting to Thetford today. The route and signs were all fine, though I did notice one issue that I hadn’t spotted before. When the street lamps were replaced in the area around the Brandon level crossing, it seems that one of the new columns (labelled “1 Brandon Road”) was placed within an already narrow section of cycle path. The width between the post and the painted white line is now only about 75cm, and the width from the post to the edge of the curb is less than 110cm. Both of these measurements are far less than DfT guidelines (Local Transport Note 2/08) for the minimum width of shared use cycle paths.

I have therefore contacted Norfolk County Council Highways to enquire how the lamp column came to be installed in such a poor position and what can be done to improve things now.

Update (2014-08-04)

I’ve now had a comprehensive reply from Norfolk County council. Apparently the column was supposed to be positioned off the cycle path, but when the contractor came to install it, they discovered some underground services in the way. As a result, the column location was moved. The council say they weren’t consulted about the move, and are investigating whether it will be possible to move the column back off the path. If not, they say that they’ll try to make it more conspicuous.

Possible New Route: Downham Market to Weeting

Today I went on an exploratory ride to investigate a possible new NCN route form Downham Market to Weeting, via West Dereham, Oxborough, and Foulden. Such a route would provide an alternative to the existing Route 30 between Weeting and Ten Mile Bank, provide a link to the National Trust property Oxburgh Hall, and also make it easier to eventually link Swaffham in to the NCN.

Most of the route I tried seemed fine. There are a couple of options near the start: namely whether to cross the A143 at Wereham of Stoke Ferry. There’s also a busy stretch on the C873 into Weeting at the end. I tried an off-road alternative to the east via Pilgrim’s Way, but I think the condition of the surface there isn’t good enough.

I’ll be liaising with other members of the ranger group to get their input on the route, and then hopefully we’ll put together a definite proposal for Sustrans to consider.

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