The Route at Present and the Scheme Overview
As it stands, The Long Shoot is a very wide corridor with a 40mph speed limit (though I expect that’s often exceeded). Footpaths flank each side, and patchy shared use cycling facilities which are not obvious, well-connected or easy to use, can be found on the northern side. Traffic here can be heavy including large lorries accessing Nuneaton from the A5. There are a number of pinch points created by islands and the surface can be in a poor condition.
If you want to take a “virtual ride” along the road, I’ve put together both east bound and west bound clips in the video below which play at 2x normal speed. This is annotated for the junctions to make it easy to see what is being looked at. And of course, there’s always Google Streetview.
As a confident (if not necessarily fast) rider, I use the main carriageway in either direction as opposed to navigating patchy infrastructure, and it is not uncommon to see others like me doing the same. I’ve experienced plenty of close passes here, though fortunately no actual incidents. Less confident and younger riders can be found on the paths. It’s certainly not an attractive nor welcoming road to ride along in any case, but it is practically the sole route to travel between Nuneaton and Hinckley by cycle, and so it is an important link.
Warwickshire County Council’s plans for the route can be seen at https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/longshootcycling. In summary, they propose to develop a 3m bidirectional cycleway on the north side of the carriageway which will be mostly (but not entirely) separated from pedestrians, but will maintain separation from motor traffic. The route crosses a number of side roads, some of which will provide cycle priority, but others which will be signal controlled. The scheme limits are between the roundabout with Eastboro Way to the west, and the A5 to the east.
Looking at the Plans
I’m going to take a look at a number of points in this scheme, but just to note beforehand, I am strongly in favour of implementing cycle infrastructure here and am pleased to see this scheme progressing. Again, as the sole route between Nuneaton and Hinckley – two nearby towns with a direct line distance of under five miles between town centres – it is important to properly enable safe cycling here. That said, there are problems with the plans as proposed.
I also want to make clear that I am commenting here as a layperson. I have no formal experience or involvement with highways design and all of the complexities involved, though I do know there are competing demands for road space and compromises may be necessary. My point of view is from that of an everyday cyclist that wants to see the best possible outcome for infrastructure, which should be to a standard that the Dutch would be happy with!
I have also not given any particularly priority or order to these issues as I have listed them
Issue 1 – Width
This first scheme-wide issue is a tricky one to comment on because the road varies in width depending on where it is measured and what is including in that measurement – some places, particularly to the east, are extremely wide (maybe 20m+) with large green buffers or concrete hard-standing; at other points the road pinches in or space is occupied by junction infrastructure, where available space is maybe 12-13m (these measurements include footways).
As noted, the plan is to provide a 3m bidirectional cycleway – i.e., 1.5m per direction of travel. This is the absolute minimum width given in cycle infrastructure guidance where the recommended width is 2m.
I can acknowledge that at places, achieving the recommended width will be difficult if not impossible, but in my opinion, it should be the default target width, with the cycleway narrowing only so far as is necessary (to the absolute minimum 1.5m per direction) when space constraints require it. This would perhaps require the full removal of central hatchings (some of which is already proposed) and maybe a redesign of larger junctions (see comments on Greendale Road, below).
Issue 2 – A Bidirectional Cycleway with No Buffer
The next overall issue covering the entire route, is the decision to implement a single 3m wide cycleway on the north side of the carriageway with very little (if any) buffer between the edge of the cycleway and the main carriageway.
A design like this naturally means that cyclists travelling towards Nuneaton (east to west) will be travelling in a contraflow fashion, against the flow of traffic. It can be quite unnerving having vehicles closing against you, even at slow speeds, and especially at night when headlights also come into play – also for drivers who will be presented with the white lights of bicycles coming towards them on “their” side of the road. Factor in also that large vehicles including lorries use this road and the air turbulence they can create, it could actually be quite dangerous being buffeted in such a manner, or dazzled by oncoming vehicles.
I’m not entirely sure why a bidirectional cycleway has been favoured over two with-flow single direction cycleways on either side of the carriageway – except maybe for cost. There may be a slight additional width required where two sets of separation kerbing are required – one for each cycleway – as opposed to one, but that must surely be minimal.
It is fair to note that all along this road there are residential properties and associated driveways to deal with. However, this shouldn’t be an insurmountable issue with a grade-separated cycleway, further grade separated footway, and appropriate kerbing to allow vehicles to cross whilst maintainting a level surface for people walking and cycling.
There is also an access issue by designing one bidirectional route as opposed to two single direction cycleways on each side of the carriageway – that of how people in homes on the south side access the route. I’ve detailed that below.
Issue 3 – Connectivity
A5 End (east)
Connecting to the new cycleway at the A5 end requires using the existing shared infrastructure and potentially a number of crossings. However, there is little that can be done under the scope of this scheme as the A5 is under the remit of Highways England, not the county council.
However, I do think it would be better to continue separation to the end of the scheme, rather than merge pedestrians and cyclists together early. This would be in anticipation that maybe (just maybe) Highways England will incorporate high quality infrastructure towards Hinckley as part of their proposed widening scheme, and may well work as a supporting argument for the continuation of a route along the A5 (“we already have it to here. Now do your bit”).
Eastboro Way End (west)
As can be seen in the drawing, at the western end, the scheme comes to an abrupt end before it joins a short piece of road mostly used as parking. However, there is no apparent means of getting on and off this route for those travelling to/from town on Hinckley Road (west). Given there is no cycling infrastructure on that road, riders must find a way to join or leave the carriageway and it is not clear how this should be achieved.
There is a pelican crossing point for pedestrians only west of the roundabout but the scheme doesn’t reach it nor indicate that it will be upgraded to accommodate cycles travelling westbound. Nor does that get people off the carriageway heading eastbound to join the scheme.
Similarly, for those travelling to/from Eastboro Way, there is no connection. There is a new-ish housing estate in the space to the east of Eastboro Way which has shared use paths, and although these are substandard infrastructure in their own right, this scheme needs to connect to them as part of creating a cohesive network.
I understand that there may be plans to bring improved infrastructure to Eastboro Way, and if that does come to fruition, that may solve this connectivity gap. However, in my opinion a connection to what already exists should be solved as part of this scheme to maximise its benefit where waiting on a possible later project that may not happen for some time is a risk. Having small gaps like this benefits nobody, creates its own safety issue, and limits the usefulness of the new scheme.
Accessing to/from Homes on the South Side
Related to the bidirectional nature of the cycleway (see above) is the issue of access from properties located on the opposite side of the carriageway. Apart from at the existing pedestrian crossings, it is not clear how riders should join the route from the south side of the road, and with no cycling provision to be found there, presumably riders would then have to cycle on the carriageway to the next crossing point – or perhaps more realistically, cycle on the pavement in conflict with pedestrians.
This is an advantage to providing two single direction cycleways, one on each side of the carriageway – everyone benefits. Whilst those on the south side who want to travel east bound may still need to go out of their way slightly to locate a crossing point, they would at least be able to do so safely and legally. As it stands though, it appears those people miss out.
Issue 4 – Bus Stops
There are at least three bus stops on the northern side of the carriageway which will be impacted by this scheme. The plans only go so far as to suggest that they will be relocated to the new kerb edge or retained as they currently are. If this is the case, it has the potential to create conflict with bus users both as they wait for buses and as they board or alight. In the latter case particularly, it could be quite dangerous as pedestrians step into a live cycleway.
Best practice would be to create floating bus stops where the cycleway is routed behind a pedestrian “island”. Pedestrians have to cross the cycleway (facilitated by a zebra crossing) where they can safely wait for, board, and alight buses without conflict with cyclists. There is no indication here that this will be provided – it’s a significant missing element.
Issue 5 – Junction with Greendale Road
Whilst the cycleway has been given priority over a few smaller side roads which is good, this larger junction has been left alone with the new scheme merging into existing shared use facilities. This means that cyclists using this section are not only in conflict with pedestrians in a maximum 3m width space (remember, this is bidirectional cycling on what could be a busy commuter road, mixing with pedestrians), they must also navigate a two-stage toucan crossing with the associated awkward angles, limited space central refuge, and poor visibility beg-buttons and signals that already exist here.
This appears to me to be one of the biggest failures of the scheme as planned. It is likely to slow cyclists down with the result that confident, experienced and faster cyclists will avoid the provided infrastructure and instead opt to use the main carriageway. Depending on the construction, they’ll either bypass at the junction only or avoid the entire mile-long stretch. It limits capacity and attractiveness, which in turn limits the potential for cycling. If this is indeed the case, it will result in a failure of the scheme where all cyclists should feel that the infrastructure is serving them – especially given that this would be a commuter route.
Instead, a redesign of the entire junction should enable space for the dedicated cycleway to continue through separated from pedestrians and without the delay and difficulties that the toucan crossing points would bring. Traffic turning into Greendale Road would need to be held at a red signal whilst cycles are permitted to move straight on (or turning left into the side road), and in turn all cycles would need to be held at a red signal to permit that turning traffic. However, in my view this would be preferable to essentially giving up on the scheme here.
It might mean of course that the central island on the A47 may need to be removed to make space – I can envisage some reluctance to do that seeing as it only went in 2-3 years ago. However, it could be suggested that it is poor historical planning and shouldn’t stand in the way of good quality cycling infrastructure now.
Issue 6 – Junction for the Calendar Farm Estate
This junction, further east of the one above, has a similar issue – only perhaps worse, this time there is no shared use path and it is proposed that one should be added before approaching the junction which will be signalled controlled. It’s not clear to me what form this signalisation will take – will it be a toucan crossing, or a parallel crossing? I suspect the former given the mixed use of the pathway either side of the junction. So, as before, we have a situation where bidirectional cyclists are being mixed with pedestrians clearly in conflict at the crossing itself, and having to deal with beg-buttons and potentially awkward turns and signal sight-lines (depending on the final design).
What isn’t clear to me is why this junction is treated so differently to Sunburst Drive (the next side road heading east) or Summerhill Drive (the next side road heading west). There appears to be good visibility to create a cycle priority crossing and space for a holding area for turning vehicles to wait for cycles and pedestrians to pass. If traffic levels are forecast to be too high for that, it would appear there is enough space for infrastructure at least to continue with separation from pedestrians on the approaches, and for a signalled parallel crossing on the junction (similar to a toucan, but with clearly delineated areas for walking and cycling). In this case, it’s important for cycles to be detected on approach in order to give the green signal at their arrival as often as possible in order to minimise delays (accepting that this couldn’t necessarily happen too frequently to avoid build-up of traffic on the main carriageway).
Again with the current design, what we have is a crossing that slows down and hinders cycling on the new infrastructure compared with the main carriageway. And as mentioned above, confident and faster cyclists will simply prefer to use the carriageway itself rather than be slowed down – either at the junction itself, or for the entire stretch depending on how easy it is to leave and rejoin.
Concluding with the Positives
Having gone through all these points, it may leave an impression that I’m not happy about the scheme, but as I said at the start, I am very supportive of putting in good quality infrastructure here. These criticisms come about because I want this to be the best possible scheme that can be accommodated, a scheme that will mean all cyclists – young, old, experienced or novice – want to use it in the knowledge that they will be broadly safe and can travel easily.
With that in mind, let’s finish by looking at what’s good here.
- First of all, the speed limit for the road will drop from 40mph to 30mph, and carriageway will narrow. This will result in slower moving traffic which benefits everyone’s safety and should reduce noise and pollution levels.
- it is broadly separated infrastructure. Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, all three road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers – are kept apart. This is a big benefit for everyone. Pedestrians feel less at risk especially from faster riders; cyclists don’t feel pressured by drivers to ride faster than they’re comfortable/capable nor at risk from bad passes; drivers don’t feel held up by slower moving riders.
- The cycleway achieves the minimum width standard of 3m (1.5m per direction) – of course, the recommended width of 2m would be preferred, but space constraints place a limit on what is possible. Saying that, and as already noted, where the road is wide enough (and I believe in places it is), the cycleway should widen out to 2m per direction (so, 4m for bidirectional).
- Cycle and pedestrian priority crossings are given over two side roads where the surface will maintain its level for people walking and cycling (i.e., drivers are presented with a raised table/speed bump).
- It’s a visible and direct route (in terms of distance, if not time) – following the main road has obvious navigation advantages, as well as safety benefits versus routes that take an isolated, detoured line.
It’s also worth noting that if/when this scheme does go ahead and is completed, this won’t be the end of the story. The intention is for a later scheme to continue the route west connecting into Nuneaton town centre, and other projects for different routes elsewhere in the town are under consideration.
A consultation is running between now and 18 March 2021, to allow people to have their say on the development of the A47 Long Shoot Cycleway, If you want to voice your own thoughts or to voice support for anything that I’ve commented on here, please visit https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/longshootcycling