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Sustrans NCN review

13th November 2018

NCN Route 67
NCN Route 67

Sustrans yesterday released a report on its National Cycle Network ('NCN'), called 'Paths for Everyone'.

Sustrans began in 1977 when volunteers turned a disused railway trackbed into the Bristol and Bath path, and the NCN started with a National Lottery Grant to Sustrans in 1995. It is 16,575 miles long, and in 2017, there were an estimated 4.4 million users and 786 million journeys. 98.5% of it isn't owned by Sustrans, but the active travel charity is its custodian.

But Sustrans Chief Executive Xavier Brice admits in the report, [the Network's] quality varies, resulting in an inconsistent experience for those who use it. We need to make it better.

Sustrans NCN review: current quality & recommended improvements

The Sustrans report analyses the quality of the NCN as follows:

  • 1% very good
  • 53% good
  • 4% poor
  • 42% very poor

Among the review's recommendations are:

  • set the tone for harmonious use of the NCN by everyone
  • remove or redesign 16,000 barriers to make it more accessible
  • replace on-road sections with traffic-free paths
  • on 'quiet-way' sections, the speed limit for traffic should be 20mph in town and 40mph in the countryside
  • improve safety at crossings, and signage
  • adopt a new quality standard for path widths and surfaces, so everyone can use the paths

The standard Sustrans wants its paths to meet is that a sensible 12-year-old on their own could use them.

In a section entitled 'What we have learnt', the report says that some of the Network is not wide enough, many surfaces and access points are 'challenging', and the signage is 'patchy'. They want a more consistent and predictable user experience.

Sustrans NCN review: what path users say

Muddy section of Cinder Track
Muddy section of the Cinder Track, route 1, NCN

A Sustrans survey asked what one thing the respondent would change about the NCN. One answer was:

'Better surface. Ours is a mud bath, so you can't go anywhere useful on it - like work or meetings where you have to turn up looking clean. It's leisure only on the mountain bike.'

Another response was:

'I wish there weren't steps on my local route and that it was usable all year round rather than when it was dry. It means the only alternative is the road most of the time.'

The 'just one thing' aspect of the survey question was neatly side-stepped by that last respondent!'

Sustrans NCN review: action plan

The action plan includes:

  • widen paths where appropriate
  • improve surfaces so they are suitable for all types of user
  • remove barriers that block adapted bikes, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, tandems, cargo bikes and buggies

Disappointingly, this is to happen by 2040.

The report does note that the review needs to be backed up by 'immediate and visible action'. This is to be done with 50 'activation projects' (including an improvement to the Calder Valley Greenway in Mirfield). The activation projects are to be delivered by 2023.

Sustrans NCN review: funding

The estimated bill for the work Sustrans want to do over the next 22 years is £2.8 billion. Sustrans says the Network will be worth £7.6 billion per year to the UK economy by 2040.

Funding will come from 'a range of sources, including governments, individuals, donors, businesses, trusts and foundations.'

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