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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Private service road for the Elveden Estate.
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.