Norwich Highway Authority has voted 'yes' to a plan that will allow a limited number of HGVs to use a main bus lane into Norwich city centre – a route also used by a large number of cycle commuters.
Despite being opposed by Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council, the scheme to allow low-emission HGVs carrying consolidated freight (i.e. replacing several other HGVs) was carried by a single vote at the all important Highway Authority meeting and cyclists will now have to share the bus lane with up to five HGVs daily over the course of a 12 month trial scheme.
With HGVs involved in a disproportionate number of fatal accidents with bikes, local cyclists are largely hostile to the scheme. Les Hopkins, joint founder of the Norwich Cycling Campaign, commented, "It is the congestion that should be dealt with, not putting cyclists' lives at risk to save a few minutes on an HGV journey."
The scheme will involve a limited number of HGVs travelling down the bus and cycle lane along Newmarket Road which is several miles long and has a speed limit of 40mph in places. The freight on these low-emission vehicles will have been consolidated by Foulger Transport who aim to persuade companies to put deliveries onto low emission vehicles instead of making individual town centre deliveries. Foulger's logic being that there will be less lorries on Norwich roads overall.
But the mechanics of the scheme have been roundly criticised by Green Norwich councillor Robin Read. Speaking exclusively to BikeRadar he said, "We in the Green Party are in favour of the freight consolidation centre – but not at the cost of cyclists. The current proposals are only a carrot, but a stick is also a necessary. Free road space already reserved for cyclists is not the answer. We would prefer to see some sort of freight-based congestion charge to make hauliers think carefully about how often they need to come into Norwich centre."
More criticism for the scheme came from Liberal Councillor Judith Lubbock. "The experiment allowing HGVs from a Freight Consolidation Centre at Snetterton (just off A11 about 15 miles South of Norwich) is part of a European project called CIVITAS focused on cleaner and better cities," she told BikeRadar. "36 other European cities are involved. Money has been used from the CIVITAS budget to establish the Freight Consolidation Centre in partnership with Foulgers and the City and County Councils. I have a concern that once the European funding runs out - Spring 2009 - then the FCC may not be viable.
"The proposal is for a 12 month experimental Traffic Regulation Order allowing vehicles operating from the Norwich Freight Consolidation Centre to use the inbound Newmarket Road bus/cycle lane for about two miles of its length.
"I represent people who live on the road and who have got used to using it to cycle into the city centre. This decision to allow HGVs to use the bus/cycle lane is seen as a retrograde step by Norfolk County Council. It will deter cyclists from using this bus/cycle lane, especially as the speed limit is 40 mph."
Those who cycle in and around Norwich may be happier to hear of their other recent traffic scheme – a blanket 20mph zone to cover all unclassified (ie non A, B and C) roads.
BikeRadar recently reported on other 20mph schemes that had met with success.