Half of National Cycle Network rated as ‘poor’

The National Cycle Network is so starved of funding that many of its bike paths are in poor condition and are in desperate need of improvements.

Sustrans, the charity responsible for its development and upkeep, has launched its ‘Paths for everyone’ report, unveiling  the current state of the 23-year-old Network and a long-term plan to make it traffic-free and tackle physical problems.

The report sets out recommendations for UK-wide overhaul of the National Cycle Network to open up walking and cycling to more people, including children, and anyone with impaired mobility. Whilst more than half of UK population currently lives within a mile of the 16,575-mile Network, the charity says that only 54 per cent of its paths are safe for a 12-year-old to use.

To tackle this problem, Sustrans warns that investment is needed immediately to prevent the UK’s only network of walking and cycling paths from falling short of its potential. It says that £7.6 billion in economic and local benefits can be added every year as a result of reduced road congestion and health benefits from increased walking and cycling.

An online survey of 5,965 UK residents reveals overwhelming support for the Network, with 81 per cent of the respondents saying they want paths built away from cars where everyone feels safe to travel. At present, only 32 per cent of paths are separated from motor traffic providing safe spaces for people to walk and cycle.

Paths for Everyone is the conclusion of a major review and sets out 15 recommendations for local authorities, private and charitable landowners, national governments and agencies, to transform the Network, including: the removal or redesign of 16,000 barriers on the entire Network to make it accessible to everyone; doubling the number of paths away from cars, from 5,000 to 10,000 miles and diverting all routes off busy and fast moving roads onto new quiet-way roads; improving safety at junctions where the Network crosses roads and railways; improving signage so everyone can follow the paths without a map or smartphonel; and adopting a new quality design standard for paths, including width and surface so all routes are classed as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ by 2040.

Xavier Brice, CEO for Sustrans, said: “The National Cycle Network is a well-loved, well-used asset that’s enjoyed by millions of people across the UK every day. We want to build on its success and make the Network safer and more accessible for everyone, not just for people who currently use it. Our “Paths for Everyone” report lays out an ambitious vision to make the Network traffic-free and safe for a 12-year-old to use on their own.

“However, historic problems such as poor surfaces, incomplete signage and barriers mean that for people with mobility issues or those of us who are less physically active, there may as well be a ‘no entry’ sign on their local path.”

Sustrans, working with local authorities, aims to deliver 55 schemes across the UK, ranging from improving signage to re-designing junctions and creating traffic-free paths. These are to be finalised by 2023.

Jesse Norman, the government’s Cycling and Walking Minister, said: “The National Cycle Network is a familiar sight for many, and a great asset for cyclists and walkers across the country. This report shows that more needs to be done to make it fully accessible, and that’s why earlier this year the Government dedicated £1 million to support initial work repairing and upgrading sections of this popular network.

“My Department has worked closely with Sustrans throughout the review, and I look forward to seeing how the Network is further improved to encourage generations to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys.”

Read our feature from Sustrans on the Paths for Everyone report here.

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