Today I ran a stall for Sustrans at the annual Charles Burrell Centre Open Day. We were one of a number of local charitable and community groups present.
I had a good time chatting to visitors and providing information about local cycle routes and infrastructure problems.
I have now read through the draft Norfolk Cycling and Walking Action Plan, that Norfolk County Council are currently consulting on. There are some good points and bad points.
The targets to increase the levels of cycling and increase local expenditure are to be commended, as are the commitments to improve cycling networks and ensure cycling and walking infrastructure are designed in to new developments. However, the document is sadly lacking in specific plans for improvements. It would have been good to see either more plans for specific routes, or at least a commitment to set up working groups to develop such plans. The document also contains no clarity/commitment on where the resources will come from.
You can read my response in full.
Norfolk County Council are currently consulting on a “Cycling and Walking Action Plan”. As they say
Norfolk can boast a wide array of walking and cycling initiatives and have great success in the past at developing our walking and cycling networks. We want to encourage people in Norfolk to travel more actively so we are developing a Cycling and Walking Action Plan. As well as joining up existing initiatives, we want our plan to inspire everyone in Norfolk to walk and cycle more.
To view the draft document and submit your comments, go to the consultation website at https://norfolk.citizenspace.com/consultation/norfolk-cycling-and-walking-action-plan/
I have previously blogged about the new cycle track parallel to the dualled A11 just south of Thetford. The track links the Sainsbury’s roundabout in Thetford to the now de-trunked old alignment of the A11, which continues to Elveden.
While the track itself is excellent, it is not well connected at its two ends. I have recently heard some good news from Suffolk County Council regarding their plans for the southern end. It is planned to widen the existing footway on the southern side of the road to create a new shared-use cycle path alongside the old A11 to link the existing cycle path at Elveden Gap to the C633 junction. Following the old A11 south from this junction to the Elveden crossroads there will be advisory cycle lanes added to each side of the carriageway.
The scheme looks pretty good, and is much better than I was hoping for. I have two slight reservations, concerning the sharp corner where cycle path turns 90º from the existing route onto the new path at Elveden Gap, and the access to and from the new path at the C633. Hopefully my feedback will allow Suffolk County Council to improve both of these locations.
Once the work is complete, which is expected to be by the end of 2015, the remaining issue will be the connection of the new route to Thetford Town centre at the north end. Norfolk County Council it’ll be over to you…
Today I had a meeting with two people from Norfolk County Council to discuss possible improvements to cycling provision in and around Thetford. Those present were myself; the Council’s “Walking and Cycling Champion”, Cllr Hillary Cox; and the Environment Team’s “Countryside Manager (Trails and Projects)”, Dr Andrew Hutcheson.
We had a useful discussion about various issues in and around Thetford, and I learn about some of the plans the Council already has in progress. In particular, the Council has recently established a Walking and Cycling Working Group, which is in the middle of producing a strategy document coving the whole of the county. This will soon be available for feedback from stakeholders, before being put out to wider public consultation. Council officers are also currently involved in discussions with the Crown Estate regarding a possible upgrade of the Public Footpath along the Little Ouse between Thetford and Santon Downham to either a Bridleway, Restricted Byway, or Cycle Track.
This evening I was given the opportunity to make a short presentation to the planning committee of Thetford Town Council about my ideas for improving cycling provision in and around Thetford.
I spoke for around 15 minutes, and concentrated on two schemes: the first for a signed link from the town centre to the High Lodge forest centre, and the second for a cycle path along London Road to link the new A11 cycleway to the Thetford Connect Network.
The members were receptive to many of the ideas, and there was a useful discussion afterwards.
I had a useful and informative meeting today with Russell Wilson and Sharon Bland from Norfolk Trails. Russell and Sharon are delivering the “Brecks Forest Way” part of the HLF-funded Breaking New Ground project. They had agreed to meet with me to talk about the “Brecks Forest Way” and other cycling-related projects in the county.
First, the bad news: despite the bid document stating that the project would “create a multi-use route, with short sections and circular paths, connecting Thetford to Brandon along the Little Ouse valley”, the agreed plans are now only to provide a river-side cycling route between Santon Downham and Brandon. This is a great shame, as that’s the one part of the route where there are already suitable cycling alternatives — either on the quiet C622 or off-road along Santon Street. The section where there is the greatest need, at the Thetford end, is now not to be upgraded or improved for cyclists.
Russell and Sharon seemed unaware of the intentions expressed in the bid document, so I’m not sure if the plans have been changed somewhere, or the impression from the original document was in error. The reason they gave for only concentrating on the section between Santon Downham and Brandon is that this is already a Bridleway, whereas the rest of the route is only a Public Footpath. While they would be keen to see it upgraded in the future, there were no resources to do so within the Brecks Forest Way project. This is all very disappointing, especially given the importance given to establishing a cycling link from Thetford to High Lodge in the Thetford Area Action Plan. Thetford is now missing out on any benefits from either of the cycling projects in Breaking New Ground.
On a more positive note, I learn about various other plans for cycling improvements. Russell and Sharon seemed keen to improve cycling facilities in general and to sign and promote new routes. The main problem holding them back at the moment was a lack of resources. But various bits of funding may become available thanks to new housing developments in the county.
Within the Brecks Forest Way project, there are plans to extend the route west from Brandon to Lakenheath, making use of existing Rights of Way, with some missing links being upgraded from Footpaths to Bridleways.
On the other side of Norwich, there are plans to extend the Marriott’s Way alongside the Bure Valley line to Wroxham. From there the planned Three Rivers Way will provide a link to Horning and Lundham on the Broads. There are also plans for a link back to Norwich from Wroxham, which will then form an excellent 50-mile loop with the Marriott’s way.
The Norfolk Trails teams are investigating the possibility of a new multi-user route running from Kings Lynn to Thetford. Presumably this will follow the existing Fen Rivers Way for a while, before branching off to Thetford.
I also learnt that Norfolk County Council have recently appointed a “Walking and Cycling Champion”, which apparently is a pre-requisite for accessing certain funding streams. I didn’t get a chance to ask who this was at the meeting, but I believe it is Cllr Hilary Cox.
I went out today to have another look at the new cycleway parallel to the A11 between the Sainsbury’s roundabout in Thetford (map) and the new A11 slip-road at Elveden Gap (map). This is something I’ve previously blogged about.
Unfortunately, not much progress has been made since the previous post. At the Thetford end, the new cycleway ends abruptly at the roundabout, with an annoying “Cyclists Dismount” sign.
There’s then no way for cyclists to legally and safely get from the roundabout to the centre of town. The choices are either cycling along London Road (used by heavy lorries and with only a 40mph speed limit), or to cycle on the pavements. I asked the Highways Agency contractor whether they had any discussions with Norfolk County Council regarding the route there, but they never got back to me. I contacted Norfolk County Council a few months ago, who said they had no plans to add a cycle route along London Road, and the necessary investigation, planning, and installation would be likely to cost in the region of £100,000.
At the southern end of the cycleway at Elveden gap, there is still a problem with how the route re-joins the carriageway. Things are a little better than they were, as the shared-use footway parallel to the narrow one-way section of the road has been widened and a better turning radius has been provided to allow south-bound cyclists to turn left along it more easily.
However, the additional width and turning space parts have only been surfaced with compacted material, and it’s unclear whether they will be properly surfaced in the future. There’s also an issue that the natural place to re-join the carriageway is at an entrance used by agricultural vehicles, which is currently rather muddy and uneven.
The compacted surface and the section where cyclists rejoin the carriageway all need to be properly tarmaced, some paint markings should be provided to direct south-bound cyclists along the shared-use path and road users away from rejoining cyclists, and some cyclist warning signs should be installed on the slip road.
I will be following these issues up with the Highways Agency.
Update (2015-05-01): The Highways Agency tell me that Suffolk County Council are planning to work on the cycleway at the southern end this Summer. I’ll see if I can find out the details.
Update (2015-10-05): I’ve had some more information from Suffolk County Council, and it looks like they are planning to extend the shared-use off-road path further south to the C633 junction. Full details.
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.
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.
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.
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.