National Cycle Network design principles

These design principles set out the key elements that make the Network distinctive.

New and improved routes forming part of the National Cycle Network shall:

  • Be designed in accordance with current best practice design guidance
  • Be designed in collaboration with the local community
  • Provide convenient links to key destinations - connecting cities, towns and countryside
  • Meet the following nine design principles.
Person cycling along an empty, quiet country lane

Be traffic-free or a quiet-way

Where the National Cycle Network is not traffic-free it should either be on a quiet-way section of road or be fully separated from the adjacent carriageway.

For Network route on a quiet-way section of road, the traffic speed and flows should be sufficiently low. It should have good visibility to comply with design guidance for comfortable sharing of the carriageway.

Signs and markings should highlight the National Cycle Network clearly.

Person cycling passing by two horse riders on a traffic-free route

Be wide enough to comfortably accommodate all users

Width of a route should be based on the level of anticipated usage, allowing for growth.

Physical separation between users should be considered where there are sufficient width and a higher potential for conflict between different users.

A group of Sustrans volunteers cleaning up a National Cycle Network route

Be designed to minimise maintenance

A maintenance plan should be put in place as part of the development process. And construction quality should be maximised to reduce maintenance needs.

New planting should be kept well clear of the path. And sufficient tree work should be undertaken as part of construction to minimise future issues.

Network routes should be managed in a way that enhances biodiversity.

National Cycle Network permanent sign and way finding boards.

Be signed clearly and consistently

Signage should be a mix of signs, surface markings and wayfinding measures. Every junction or decision point should be signed.

It should be part of a network-wide signing strategy directing users to and from the National Cycle Network. And to trip generators such as places of interest, hospitals, universities, colleges.

Signage should be used to increase route legibility and branding of routes. And it should help to reinforce responsible behaviour by all users.

People walking and cycling along a traffic-free route

Have a smooth surface that is well drained

Path surfaces should be suitable for all users.

They should be maintained to a condition that is free of undulations, rutting and potholes. All surfaces should be free-draining, and verges must be finished to avoid water ponding at the edges of the path.

In, or close to, built-up areas a National Cycle Network route should have a sealed surface to maximise accessibility.

Two women riding their recumbent bicycles on a traffic-free route

Be fully accessible to all legitimate users

All routes should accommodate a cycle design vehicle of 2.8 metres long and 1.2 metres wide.

Any barriers should have a clear width of 1.5 metres.

Gradients should be minimised and as gentle as possible. The surface should be maintained in a condition that makes it passable by all users.

Woman standing with her bike on a traffic-free path

Feel like a safe place to be

Route alignments should avoid creating places that are enclosed or not overlooked.

Consideration should be given as to whether lighting should be provided.

Woman cycling across a bridge over a busy road

Enable all users to cross roads safely and step-free

Road crossings should be in accordance with current best practice guidance.

Approaches to road crossings should be designed to facilitate slow approach speeds to a crossing.

All grade-separated crossings should provide step-free access.

Family cycling past the Kelpies statues on the traffic-free route in Scotland

Be attractive and interesting

National Cycle Network routes should be attractive places to be and pass along.

Landscaping, artwork and interpretation boards should be used to create interest.

Seating should be provided at regular intervals along the route.

Opportunities should be taken to enhance ecological features.