How can we make it easier for everyone to walk, wheel and cycle in Northern Ireland?

We’ve just released our five steps to improve our neighbourhoods, health and the economy after the general election.

Transport is devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, but MPs elected in Northern Ireland have an important role to play if we’re going to unlock the potential for more walking, wheeling and cycling.

This includes making representations to the Executive and local councils and supporting progress across the UK.


Why this matters in Northern Ireland 

People support making it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle more journeys. For example, our Walking and Cycling Index 2023 surveyed people in Belfast. It found that 57% of people support shifting investment from road building to supporting walking and wheeling, cycling and public transport, so they have more choice about how they travel. 

Meanwhile, the dominance of cars on our streets often prevents children in Northern Ireland from having a healthy, active childhood. There’s a lack of safe space for children to play in and too few traffic-free cycle routes for them to ride their bikes. In Belfast, only 29% of people say their streets are safe for children cycling. 

Our five steps

People want to walk, wheel and cycle more of their everyday journeys. 

But inaccessible pavements, unsafe streets, poor links with public transport, and the costs of bike ownership are holding them back.  

That’s bad news for people’s health, the places they live and for our economy. 

We can change that if we: 

  1. Make our streets safe for children 
  2. Give everyone access to a bike 
  3. Build developments where all the essentials are close by 
  4. Make the National Cycle Network work for everyone 
  5. Create a transport strategy that works for everyone 
Children in school uniform walking and pushing bikes across a toucan crossing on a sunny day

Children from Bocombra Primary School in Portadown, Co Armagh walking and cycling to school.

How we can do this in Northern Ireland 

Our five steps are important wherever people are. In Northern Ireland, MPs can help us achieve them by: 

Supporting safe routes to every school  

Every child should have the choice to walk, wheel or cycle to school. We can do this through a package of measures including maintaining and expanding the Active School Travel Programme, on-road cycle training, side road zebra crossings, and ‘School Streets’ schemes where roads are closed to traffic during drop off and pick up times.   

The Department for Infrastructure and the Public Health Agency have funded the Active School Travel Programme for 10 years. In 2022-3, the number of children walking, wheeling or cycling to school at participating schools increased from 30% to 42%. 

MPs should support this programme so that we can give this opportunity to as many children as possible in the future. 

Pushing for a response to the pavement parking consultation 

In 2022, the Department for Infrastructure consulted on options for tackling pavement parking. The consultation results found that 94% of respondents thought pavement parking was a problem and that action is necessary to manage it differently.  

Over two thirds felt that, by default, parking on the pavement shouldn’t be allowed. MPs should push for the Department to implement this as soon as possible. 

Parents walking children home from school on Falls Road, west Belfast.

Parents walking children home from school along Falls Road, in west Belfast.

Helping open more Active Travel Hubs 

An Active Travel Hub embedded in the heart of a community can help get people walking, wheeling and cycling more. We have two Hubs in Belfast and one in Derry~Londonderry. 

They allow people to try out bikes, go on led group rides, or learn to fix cycles. 

We want to work with partners (including MPs) to open more of these, so that everyone in Northern Ireland can benefit from them. 

Championing Greenways 

In Northern Ireland, there are just over 100 miles of the National Cycle Network. The Department for Infrastructure’s Strategic Plan for Greenways set out a transformative vision to create new traffic-free routes connecting communities across Northern Ireland. However, little progress has been made on this since it was unveiled in 2016. 

Sustrans has the experience and is ready to play a role in co-ordinating new Greenways. Together, we can create a National Cycle Network which provides joined-up routes that are truly for everyone – people walking, wheeling, cycling, horse-riding and more. 

A man on a bike passes another cyclist along a cycle lane while a double-decker bus passes close by.

A man cycling past another cyclist on protected cycle lane on busy road.

Shifting more resources into active travel and public transport 

Across the UK, we need to put more resources into giving people the choice to walk, wheel, cycle and use public transport. 

The Northern Ireland Climate Change Act makes it a legal requirement for 10% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. 

However, this has yet to be delivered. We must ensure that this statutory obligation is delivered as soon as possible. 

MPs in Northern Ireland should provide scrutiny of the Executive and UK Government on their promises to give people the choice to walk, wheel, cycle and use public transport.