Over 4,000 miles of cycle routes in the UK have been re-designated after safety review, one of those routes being the extremely popular Coast 2 Coast (C2C) route.
The move follows the 2018 review, which found that 42% of the network was ‘poor’, with substandard crossings, signage, and/or sections on main roads. 4% of the network was classed as ‘very poor’ as it was forcing cyclists into roads with heavy traffic.
This means that 19% of the network will now be re-designated for the experienced cyclist only, and 753 miles of busy on-road sections will have all their signage removed.
So, at a time when cycling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime, the network is going to be reduced significantly as it is not fit for purpose. Whilst this is a little sad, it does finally recognise what many experienced cyclists have been saying for some time.
The main problem would seem stem from the fact that most of the network isn’t owned or even managed by Sustrans’ and therefore its condition is reliant on the co-operation, desire, and ability to fund the upkeep by that particular landowner. Naturally, there is always a cost issue to any infrastructure, and with maintenance that is something for the publics benefit whilst remaining free to use, it it likely to be fairly low on the commercial priorities of many organisations, working estates, commercial landowners and private individuals.
Perhaps it is time that the Government really looked at funding a proper cross Britain network of cycling infrastructure, in addition to giving small amounts of money to local councils to fund (temporary) post-Covid measures. Sustrans believes it would costs £2.8 billion to bring the network up to standard by 2040. This sounds like a lot of money, but when you consider some road building and rail expansion schemes, it really is a drop in the ocean. It could also be argued that the health of the nation would be improved far more by developing an active travel network than by any number of other publicly funded schemes currently under consideration.
The C2C route is one of the UK’s most popular long distance routes, attracting cyclists from both within the UK and further afield. Unfortunately it currently takes cyclists along the A686 from Renwich to Leadgate, and this is not for the fainthearted or inexperienced. As such the route will now be promoted as a cross country bike route for experienced riders only, and not part of the national network.
Parts of the Hadrian’s Cycle Route are also to be reclassified, which will mean this cross Britain route is no longer completable under the new standard of cycling for all.
Sustrans seeks to make the network accessible for all and this will be progress. There will be increased emphasis on accessability, traffic free routes, and routes suitable for families, people with health conditions, the disabled, and new cyclists with more limited experience. A network that can comfortably host people and make them feel safe whilst being liberated into a world of sustainability and pleasurable transit is desirable on many levels.
Active travel has received a lot of press of late, and the UK Government has emphasised a need for people to get on their bikes and off of a reliance on private car use. Sadly, like all these initiatives there have been a lot detractors, and a lot of debate about wether the money is well spent. The thing is, you can’t test the viability, or usage, of anything until it is built, and the saying ‘build it and they will come’ has never been more true as the temporary measures within many cities throughout Europe is showing. When related to safe cycling, wheeling, and walking infrastructure there is a definite desire within the public mood as shown by simple numbers of bike sales during the pandemic alone.
Sustrans want the network by 2040, by which point I will be 70, which is a rather long time to wait for a decent network of paths. We need to convince local and national governments, devolved and central, that work needs to start now and with haste.