Loicher Bridge update

You might have read the recent post that Loicher Bridge in Ecclesfield, part of the nearly-completed Chapeltown Greenway/Blackburn Valley cycle route, is under threat of demolition. The plan is to replace the bridge with two ramps down to the road and a road crossing (an “at-grade” crossing”). CycleSheffield believes that demolition is totally unnecessary, the replacement will be more costly, and most importantly, the new crossing will be more dangerous.

This report by Brian Dalton, council officer, was presented at the Sheffield City Council Cycle Forum on Tuesday 18 November:

Blackburn Valley at Loicher Lane

The bridge over Loicher Lane which is part of the Blackburn Valley Green Route was built around 1860 and, at that time, Loicher Lane was twisted so the railway bridge could be as small as possible. This was all very well in the age of horse drawn vehicles, but, over the years this kink in the carriageway and the speed of traffic have developed into a danger to all users.

In the 1950’s a footway was created along Loicher Lane which crosses from the south side to the north under the bridge. This is to avoid making the kink worse and is positioned in such a way as to give pedestrians the best sightlines when crossing.

The planning consent for the cycle route through from Butterthwaite Lane to the Smithy Wood development, calls for an access point to the west of the southern bridge abutment. Using current highway standards, it is not possible to make this access safe with the existing southern bridge abutment in place. There is a choice, therefore, to use the bridge, while closing the temporary access, replace the bridge along with its southern abutment or remove the bridge and create an at grade crossing with appropriate sightlines.

I have costed a replacement bridge and I am in the process of costing an at grade crossing point. I have not come to any firm decision about what I will recommend but I am leaning towards the no bridge option. However, the costs involved in providing the safest possible at grade crossing may change that.

Despite what is said in the Cycle Sheffield note, I have the written support of the Railway Paths bridge engineer for the removal of this bridge. He added a caveat at the time that Sustrans should be consulted about the scheme for implementation. That would have been a given point in any case.

You may have noticed that things are starting to happen, the ski jump hump at Butterthwaite is gone, the redundant inline gates have been removed and the Chapeltown Park section is nearing completion. The path to the south of Loicher Lane is in design, but the crossing is a complex issue and will not be easy to solve, but I am determined to ensure that, whatever is implemented, it will give the widest population the greatest usefulness.

In addition to Sheffield City Council (SCC), a number of agencies are involved in the fate of the bridge: Sustrans (who will be responsible for the route); Railway Paths Ltd (a division of Sustrans, who will own the bridge – it is currently leased to SCC); and the Trans Pennine Trail – this route will form part of their network. Yesterday, CycleSheffield sent this response to these partner agencies:

A report about Loicher Bridge by Brian Dalton was presented to the Sheffield City Council (SCC) Cycle Forum on Tuesday 18 November. We believe that you have all now seen this report. We would like to challenge some of that report, have made another site visit and would like to make comments to interested parties.

We fundamentally believe that the retention of Loicher Bridge is essential to the coherence, continuity and safety of the Chapeltown Greenway/Blackburn Valley cycle route.

Loicher Bridge is structurally sound (“I am not aware of any defects that would make this bridge unable to carry the loading associated with carrying a cycle path” – Paul Thomas, Bridge Engineer, Sustrans / Railway Paths Limited (RPL); 18 Nov 2014). Inspecting the bridge today, there is no evidence of structural problems. There is no evidence of bridge strikes either on the abutments, or on the underside of the bridge itself.

We also refute the implication that Paul Thomas has “given written support … for the removal of this bridge”. In his email to CycleSheffield, Paul acknowledges there are two options: “I am keen to see this bridge either refurbished to create an appropriately robust structure for the cycle path or demolished as long as Sustrans agree that an acceptable solution has been found to allow public users to cross the road”, that both options should reduce RPL’s liabilities and future maintenance costs, and it is not his remit to make a recommendation in favour of either option.

Some minor works are needed to bring the bridge back to a state where it will not be a liability when handed back to RPL. This is now mainly removal of the wooden maintenance paths either side of the concrete bridge deck, and making safe the bridge railings. Plans for the refurbishment of the bridge to create an appropriately robust structure for the cycle path have been drawn up by SCC, some work (eg new deck) was completed, but then curiously abandoned before full completion. We would urge SCC to complete this refurbishment as soon as possible.

You will note from the report by Brian Dalton that the problem with Loicher Bridge does not lie with the bridge itself, but actually with the sightlines at the bottom of the temporary access ramp to the west of the southern abutment.

At the bottom of the ramp, sightlines for cyclists and pedestrians to the east (ie uphill) are quite poor – around 20 metres, though because of road position, traffic travelling downhill towards the bridge will have approximately double this – between 40 and 50 metres. Sightlines for all other directions are adequate.

The “kink” in the carriageway mentioned by Brian Dalton has the positive effect of slowing traffic travelling downhill. Part of the current SCC proposal is a 30mph limit from Jumble Lane (M1 bridge) – down from 60mph – together with point reduction to 20mph around to bridge, and we feel these will have a further positive effect, and should be introduced regardless. CycleSheffield would suggest further measures: Loicher Lane and Jumble Lane are narrow country lanes used as a ‘rat-run’ between Ecclesfield and Thorpe Hesley, and we would suggest weight limits on this route of preferably 3 tonnes, or certainly 7.5 tonnes.

If these measures are insufficient for sightlines at the bottom of the ramp, we would suggest:

  • a build-out in the road to the east (uphill) of the southern abutment with give way in favour of traffic travelling uphill. A solution frequently used by SCC elsewhere in Sheffield.
  • widening the footpath to the west of the southern abutment and creating a shared use path. This would require a fillet of land (approx 50m x 3m) acquired from Abbey Power Generation, currently a grassed slope with a stone wall that is collapsing into the footway in places.
  • Investigating acquiring land to the west of the northern abutment to create a new access ramp. This land is currently advertised as for sale.
  • Finally, and least preferred, closing the access ramp. Access at this point is obviously desirable, but alternatives are available and it is a relatively isolated spot. Retention of the bridge is far more important than access to the ramp.

We find it ironic that access to a ramp to a cyclepath has become the main driver for the demolition of a bridge carrying that cyclepath and hence severely compromising the cyclepath’s coherence and safely.

Sustrans, Railway Paths Ltd and Brian Dalton from Sheffield City Council are meeting on-site tomorrow to discuss the proposals. We will keep you updated with developments at Loicher Bridge.

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