Cycling charity launches ambitious plan to boost UK-wide trail network | Cycling

A master plan for a UK-wide, barrier-free National Cycling and Walking Network (NCN) suitable for “a sensible 12-year-old traveling alone” is due to be launched on Wednesday.

The ambitious plan would connect most settlements of 10,000 or more people and make it easier to get around for wheelchair users, who may face multiple obstacles, while expanding and improving the existing 12,786-mile network to reach all corners of the UK.

However, there are fears that at the current rate of progress – Sustrans, the charity that runs the network, will deliver 416 miles of improvements by 2023 and has only removed 315 of 16,000 barriers – the target of a barrier-free network could take another 150 years.


The charity owns just 2% of the network, much of which is on public roads, and its latest report on the state of the current NCN shows how far it still has to go. Only a third of the NCN is currently without traffic. A third (33%) is rated by Sustrans as very bad, 61% good and only 2% very good.

Xavier Brice, CEO of Sustrans, told the Guardian: “The idea of ​​the national cycle network is not, for example, to replace the need for fully separated high-volume cycle lanes in cities and towns, or to replace the need quarters. pleasant and easy to get around without a car. It is a strategic arterial network core.

“It’s not just about riding a bike. These include mobility scooters, wheelchairs, strollers, and in some places, horseback riding as well.

Brice said the recent creation of Active Travel England, a non-executive body tasked with delivering the government’s walking and cycling targets, will mean more consistent funding, as well as the application of standards that do not discriminate. disabled cyclists or wheelchair users. On average, 800 fences and baffles need to be removed per year to reach a barrier-free goal of 2040.

Brice said that “in an ideal world, we would just take angle grinders and remove them all…people will often believe they are there for a good reason”, such as to prevent off-road bikers from illegally using paths.

“The fundamental point that must not be lost sight of is: these barriers are discriminatory; they discriminate against wheelchairs, mobility scooters and adapted trikes, people who go out with strollers, and so they have to go,” he said.

The charity argues that by providing safe and accessible cycling, walking and horse-riding connections, the NCN can help the UK achieve its physical activity, climate change and active travel goals. Use increased by 19%, or 121 million trips, in 2020 as people used green spaces for daily exercise during the pandemic, with 6% of users in 2020 new to or returning to cycling. This is despite Sustrans removing 3,733 miles, or a quarter of the network, in 2020 which no longer met the charity’s goals of ‘paths for all’.

The master plan map draws straight lines between settlements of 10,000 or more, including reconnecting and upgrading missing sections. The next step, by June 2023, will be to define a strategy for each kilometer of the network – including the identification of new traffic-free sections and the creation of “silent lanes” on existing roads, with speed limits of 20 mph in urban areas, 40 mph in rural areas. This uses a process similar to that produced when identifying new cycle routes in London.

Kay Inckle, of disabled cyclist charity Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “We welcome commitments to make the network fully inclusive, accessible and safe for all. Of course, we would like to see all barriers removed yesterday (and from everywhere, not just NCN), but the necessary resources and engagement with landowners and local communities make this process slower than ideal. In the meantime, we are pleased to note the other accessibility features that are being rolled out including improved surface quality, signage and information and an increase in low traffic routes and we will continue to support Sustrans in achieving its goals.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: ‘There is already excellent progress underway to modernize the National Cycle Network, which receives significant annual funding from the Department. We will continue to support this wonderful national asset while reinforcing our commitments to make walking and cycling easier, safer and more accessible for everyone.

Sustrans calls NCN a “national asset…at the doorstep of millions,” and wants it to be accessible to everyone.

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