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A new vision for the National Cycle Network

Emily-Jo Moore and Rachel Botterill, who work in the personal injury team specialising in cycling claims, discuss National Road Safety Week and the Sustrans review of the National Cycle Network

Sustrans Route 15
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Rachel is an associate in the personal injury team.  She is a dedicated cyclist and is constantly finding new cycling challenges to tackle, including the Fred Whitton. Emily-Jo works with Rachel in the personal injury team in Manchester. 
This week is National Road Safety Week: an annual awareness campaign about the importance of road safety. This year the event has fallen at a particularly pertinent time for cyclists as Sustrans, the leading cycle infrastructure charity, has published their Paths for Everyone report following a thorough two-year review of the National Cycle Network. 

The report uncovered many problems with the Network, which at 16,505 miles is longer than the UK’s entire motorway system, and has set out ambitious plans to improve it in the future. 

Sustrans found that at present 46% of the UK’s National Cycling Network is classed as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ and the main reasons for this are set out below. 

One of Sustrans’ key findings relates to the number of cycle paths that are situated on roads with high volumes of motor traffic. Sustrans found that this is a particular deterrent to adolescent and female road users who are less likely to use the paths due to feeling unsafe cycling when surrounded by fast-flowing traffic. 

The report also found that there are over 16,000 barriers on the Network which hinder cyclists’ journeys as they are required to get off their bike and walk through narrow gateways or lift their bike over fences to continue on their ride. 

The surface of many cycle paths are also a cause for concern with users being put off by the risk of encountering potholes, drains or surfaces that are simply not suitable for cycling on. 

So... how can it be improved?

Sustrans’ survey and subsequent report has recognised the need for change and has set out 15 recommendations to make the Network more accessible. A key recommendation is to double the number of traffic-free cycle routes by 2040; leaving only one-third of the network on-road. The one third that will remain on-road must meet safety requirements set out by the government, which state that routes ‘must be sufficiently safe and quiet for a 12-year old to cycle on them alone’.

Other recommendations in the report include improving safety at junctions, removing barriers, improving path surfaces, widening paths and increasing signage.

It is hoped that by improving the safety standard of the network, an increased number of younger users and women will make use of the paths in their local community. 

The National Travel Survey recently found that fewer than 3% of pupils aged five to 16 in the UK cycle to school. This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands where decades of investment in bike infrastructure has resulted in almost 40% of Dutch children cycling to school.

Sustrans has found that twice as many men as women cycle at least once a week in cities.  The research found that many women do not feel safe cycling, with only 27% believing cycling safety can be categorised as ‘good’ in their city. This is a far cry from our European neighbours where the statistics suggest that cycling doesn’t exclude women at such a level: 45% of women cycle in Denmark, 49% in Germany and 55% in the Netherlands. 

We hope that Sustrans’ proposed improvements to the National Cycle Network will result in an increase in the number of cyclists across all demographics.

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