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Lower speed limits needed on rural roads to increase quality of Scottish National Cycle Network routes

man cycling on traffic free path leading to busy roundabout
12 November 2018

We are calling for lower the speed limits on some rural roads in Scotland to 40mph, to increase the quality and safety of National Cycle Network routes across the country. 

This call comes as we release the findings from our first ever UK-wide audit of the National Cycle Network, which provides a snapshot of the condition of the network across the UK and details a list of recommendations on how routes can be improved and managed in the future. 
 
The Paths for Everyone report and accompanying action plan for Scotland finds that 57% of Network route in Scotland has been rated as Very Poor, with a further 2% as Poor. 
 
All of the routes classified as Very Poor are on-road, and more than half (56%) of the issues on the Network in Scotland can be related to concerns around traffic safety. 
 
The review makes 15 recommendations to improve the Network, including one where routes are on-road, that the speed limit is reduced to 20mph in urban areas and 40mph in rural areas.
 
Speaking about the findings, Sustrans Scotland National Director John Lauder said
“Scotland’s unique geography means that a large proportion of National Cycle Network routes here are based on rural roads. 
 
“And whilst it is heartening to see that the majority of our off-road routes are Good or Very Good, which reflects the investment by the Scottish Government, in particular over the past five years, and the commitment by our partners, we still face a big challenge where National Cycle Network routes are on public roads.
 
“Reducing the speed limit to 40mph on on-road sections of the National Cycle Network as part of a range of complementary measures will help make these popular walking and cycling routes safer, better and more reliable for all users. 
 
“Scottish government investment of £6.9million in the National Cycle Network has allowed us to upgrade and develop a number of key sections of route, including some of which have been identified as priorities within this report. However, there is still more which needs to be done. 
 
“Our review of the Network has given us a clear insight into what improvements need to be made and we are optimistic that between our plan and Scottish government’s ambition, we have the direction and support to create a Network in Scotland that works for everyone.” 
 
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson said
“This is a timely review of the National Cycle Network. The success of the Network is critical in encouraging both walking and cycling trips for everyday journeys and especially shorter journeys. 
 
“Having the right accessible infrastructure in the right place, which is well maintained and well promoted, is key to achieving our shared active travel ambitions and building an Active Nation –  where more people can enjoy the benefits of walking and cycling than ever before. 
 
“Doubling the active travel budget has allowed the Scottish Government to also double our investment in the NCN to £6.9m this year. I am confident that this funding, alongside this review, will contribute towards allowing this inclusive network to flourish for future generations, so that people right across Scotland can continue to enjoy walking and cycling at all ages.”
 
Carried out by a team of independent surveyors, Sustrans’ analysis of the Network across the UK rated all sections of route as Very Good, Good, Poor or Very Poor. In order to compare different sections of route, Sustrans developed four main criteria against which everything was scored. These included, flow (including path width, pinch points and barriers), surface quality, signage and traffic-related safety.
 
All routes that were on-road were weighted to have a lower score to reflect Sustrans’ ambition for a traffic-free network by 2040. 
 
Scotland has a total of 2,657 miles of National Cycle Network routes stretching from the Borders to the Shetland Islands. Of this, a total of 1,523 miles of Network route in Scotland (57%) has been rated as Very Poor, with a further 45 miles (2%) as Poor. Only 52 miles (2%) of route is of Very Good standard and a further 1,036 miles (39%) has been classified as Good.  
 
Whilst only 29% of the Network in Scotland is traffic-free, 95% of these sections of route were classified as Good or Very Good. Meanwhile, all of the routes which were classified as Very Poor in Scotland are on-road, and more than half (56%) of the issues on the Network in Scotland can be related to concerns around traffic safety. 
 
In comparison, the condition for all 16,575 miles of network across the UK found that 1% of routes were Very Good, 53% Good, 4% Poor and 42% Very Poor. 92% of traffic-free routes across the UK are Very Good or Good, whilst 62% of on-road routes are classified as Very Poor.
 
As part of the Paths for Everyone report, Sustrans has published an physical review and action plan for Scotland outlining six activation projects, which will be delivered by 2023, to help improve and develop the Network in Scotland. 
 
The projects include the re-routing of three on-road sections of route to alternative traffic-free paths, making accessibility improvements to existing traffic-free routes, the resurfacing and signage of a traffic-free path and the creation of a new section of Network, which will link National Route 765 to National Route 7. 

Read the 'Paths for everyone' report