Saturday 20 June 2015

Great(ish) Yarmouth

As you may know, I was on my hols the other week and during our time away we went to Great Yarmouth a couple of times. 

The first time was to take the kids to the Pleasure Beach and we enjoyed a glorious day of rides, sun and junk food. On the way back to pick up the car (yes I know, but I have a patient family), I couldn't resist taking a photo of the street outside.

South Beach Parade has been designed as a pay-and-display car park, pure and simple, but even at the end of the day during the school half term it was pretty much deserted. I did scoff and I did tweet my contempt for the layout. The thing is, the Pleasure Beach has a car park which is free to those getting a day ticket to the theme park and just behind where I took the photo, there is plenty of roads without parking controls.

A couple of days later, we decided to go further north to the main beach and town as the Pleasure Beach is some way from the heart of the action. We parked on the outskirts, perhaps 10 minutes walk from the beach. At this stage its stating that Great Yarmouth suffers from awful traffic congestion, a proportion of which must be caused by people like me driving in as a tourist - perhaps park-and-ride is part of the answer for getting people in?

The building and covered area beyond is to rest the horses pulling
carts along the sea front and to pick up fares - very much like a taxi
For those living within a reasonable distance of a town, there is of course another way to get around. I don't know what the network is otherwise like, but there was a surprise to be had. There is a road set back from the main carriageway of Marine Parade and it is marked with a curious sign - shared use by bicycle, horse & cart and trains? I didn't have my bicycle with me, but I did pop off for twenty minutes for a wander while the kids went on some more rides! 

Essentially, this road is about 4.5 metres in width (I didn't have a tape measure with me!), it is two-way, machine laid and contains many of the feature I think makes a good cycle track. I would state that I am looking at this in isolation and being on the beach, it means that there are no side roads to worry about which is an issue for two-way tracks. A series of photos follow which I think give the feel of the layout and I will offer some thoughts at the end.

 First, the general layout. On the left, the main carriageway for traffic (with the odd parking bay and bus stop), a planted buffer zone, the shared-use road, a contrasting footway strip which contains things such as street lighting and benches and then a very wide promenade. Kerbs are low on the buffer side (chamfered would be perfection) and flush on the promenade side - this might be an issue for some visually impaired people, although the strip has colour and texture contrast which helps.

 Most of the pedestrian crossings over the shared-use road and the main carriageway are uncontrolled, but there are some Puffin crossings in key places which will suit some pedestrians. I am not sure that the stagger helps too much and it means pedestrians have to wait twice - perhaps Zebra crossings would be better and humped on the main road.

 Not only do we have a buffer between the main road and the shared-use road, parking is on the outside of the buffer and the planting gives way to a surfaced area so those leaving cars don't affect the shared-use road. You can just see the bicycle-friendly gully.

 An entrance/ exit to the shared-use road which heads over the the closed road beyond. The turn into and out of this access is really tight and with not much waiting space. The crossing of the main road is awful too - no protection and difficult when the traffic is busy.

 An uncontrolled (courtesy, informal) crossing of the shared-use road and the main road (which has a pedestrian refuge). People seems to cope fine with this. The strip between the shared-use road and promenade put to good use to place street furniture and to give pedestrians a buffer from the shared-use road (a bit of experienced safety perhaps?) The crossing point has tactile paving for visually impaired people.

 There are a couple of car parks on the seaward side of the shared-use track and some access to businesses. The accesses are laid out to require drivers to give way to the shared-use road in both directions, although I would like to have seen the first give way set back behind the footway. In the buffer area, the depth is about 4 metres which is too small to store a car - 6 metres would have been a minimum, but there is compromise to be had. Note the grey strip of cobbles between the shared-use road and promenade helps reinforce the visual priority of the shared-use road over drivers leaving the car park. There are also bollards which carry the shared-use signs and also mark the shared-use road for drivers - a good use of bollards in my view.

The "train" running on the shared-use road is a small road train. It doesn't go fast, although might still be intimidating to some cycling - plus at the "stations", one would have to overtake. The "stations" are also floating bus stops for the main road bus stops, although it means people have to cross the shared-use road to get to them if they are using the seating in the shelter. The main road bus stops were in laybys which could so easily be filled in with duplicate shelters and seating. Cycle parking is also provided, although I can't see it being linked to parking up to ride the bus, unless one is going a long way.

As with anything half-decent in the UK, it comes to an end all too soon, although getting back into traffic is with traffic signals and at least one is protected for a few seconds. I don't know how this scheme was developed, but it could have continued, there is loads of space. I didn't really see how things went on from here, but I suspect there wasn't much of a dense cycle network in the town.

Looking back from the other end just shows the space. This could have had the cycle lane to the left with a buffer created by the taxi rank. The cycle lane is provided with flush kerbs which could so easily have been stepped as a track. Oh, and the road train parked in the lane doesn't help.

I don't know why this scheme was built, although I suspect it was perhaps more to do with the tourist draws of the horse & cart rides and land train than cycling, but the layout actually ticks quite a number of boxes for cycling. I could easily imagine this layout picked up and stuck by the Embankment in London for example and indeed, the principles would hold for single-direction tracks on both sides of a road. Someone seems to know what they were doing, but I have yet to track down when this scheme was opened and who designed it.

People often say that we need to learn best practice from overseas and perhaps import Dutch and Danish engineers. I say that schemes like this show that we can do things well in the UK, it is just we are so bad and building networks. Imagine a grid made of cycle routes designed to the principles of Great Yarmouth on main roads, with filtered permeability elsewhere - it would be a pretty fine start!


  1. "People often say that we need to learn best practice from overseas and perhaps import Dutch and Danish engineers."

    Or (to give the game away a little), use companies in the UK which have direct access to Dutch and Danish engineers and expertise - maybe even with engineers who've worked on the CROW manual?

    I'd go along with that. ;-)

    1. If we had a political environment to enable good design and a political determination for change, the rest would follow. This scheme shows that at least from a design point of view, someone knew what to do - do you have insider information? ;)

    2. Sorry, not about this scheme. But there are, for example, Dutch engineering companies functioning in the UK which have access to just the sort of expertise everyone claims is desperately wanted over here. Of course, they're also expensive compared to Brit engineers, which then results in a dearth of the same old same old, and crap infra.

    3. BTW can we look forward to a write up of the CEoGB infrastructure discussion?

    4. Well, we are sold cheaply and overloaded with work in the UK! CEoGB AGM? Oh yes, there will be blogs! I have my tape measure, camera and spirit level ready :)

  2. Do you happen to know how long Great Yarmouth has had this facility ? It seems pretty decent (though as you note, the rest of the network is unknown).

    1. I have done a bit of Googling, but I can't find anything. Streetview is dated October 2008, so it has been there a while - I think I will ask the Twittersphere!

  3. What are the names of the best engineers? Maybe it is a matter of getting in at the tender and selection stage of consultants? Make sure the tender documents specify certain types of track record?

    1. Definitely need quality as part of the assessment and I want to know who will be leading a project - yes, it can go in a contract.

  4. I have the following info from a local friend in the know:

    "Re your question I am afraid I don't have the answer but from brief research there appears to be a very proactive and enlightened consortia of interests making up the Great Yarmouth Cycle Forum. Access via
    I also picked up on who appear to be doing good work getting the people of Great Yarmouth motivated to cycle. "

  5. Thanks for the links - its interested that there is stuff going on outside my London bubble - I do need to get out more!