Published: 30th OCTOBER 2019

Our position on cycling and walking networks and routes

The key to successfully encouraging walking and cycling is to ensure that our roads, streets and public spaces are prioritised as places where people of all ages and all abilities can get around conveniently, confidently and safely without a car.


  • Walking and cycling should be prioritised as the natural choices for making short journeys or stages in longer journeys, through safe allocation of space for people who walk, wheel or cycle, and the implementation of well sign-posted routes and networks that prioritise people over cars.
  • Transport planning in the UK has primarily focused on providing for car travel resulting in car-dominated streets and neighbourhoods. This has contributed to climate change, air pollution, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, loneliness and congestion. This often disproportionately affects the poorest of society.
  • This has also led to uninviting road conditions for people walking and cycling with the dominance of motor traffic detrimental to creating more liveable and attractive streets. Consequently, the number of walking and cycling journeys has declined, despite active trips having the greatest potential to improve public health, reduce congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance air quality.


Over the last 50 years, the volume of motor traffic on our roads has dramatically increased, with vehicle miles travelled in 2015 more than ten times higher than in 1949 [1]. Studies consistently show that fear of traffic is the primary reason why people choose not to walk and cycle, and why parents don’t let their children travel to school independently.

Streets make up 80% of the accessible open space in towns and cities [2] and offer huge potential as a community resource. 90% of the UK population live on streets in urban settlements [3]. This space is typically dominated by vehicles, both moving and parked. In other urban settlements in other countries around the world people feel comfortable using their streets in the same way we use the local park or playground; as places to meet neighbours, places to socialise and play, and places to walk and cycle.

In rural areas, many roads that connect communities lack basic pedestrian provision such as pavements, speed limits are so high they deter walking and cycling, and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure can be poorly maintained. This deprives people of the opportunity to safely and directly access jobs, education and services on foot or by bike, and ties communities into car dependency [4]. If public transport services are unavailable in these areas, communities can become isolated.

Accordingly, encouraging more people to walk and cycle more often is vital at a time when the UK faces crises in obesity, traffic congestion and air quality. Both walking and cycling deliver significant physical and mental health benefits, reduce congestion, create no air pollution or noise, and are low-cost forms of travel. To achieve an uptake in active journeys, however, investment and significant improvements are required for cycling and walking routes and networks.

What we think

The needs of people must be prioritised when designing public space

The key to successfully encouraging walking and cycling is to ensure that our roads, streets and public spaces are prioritised as places where people of all ages and all abilities can get around conveniently, confidently and safely without a car.

Neighbourhoods where people are prioritised with measures to reduce the volume and speed of motor vehicles should go hand in hand with walking and cycling routes that form an overall network connecting people with their destinations, from door to door.

Achieving this will require providing suitable infrastructure for walking and cycling, by implementing a network of high-quality routes which adhere to the following five principles:

  • Safety
  • Directness
  • Coherence
  • Comfort
  • Attractiveness


Poorly designed, piecemeal or unsafe walking and cycling routes are unlikely to attract new users and potentially remain unused by people who already choose to walk and cycle locally, so it is important that they are designed consistently and to a high quality, using standards such as the London Cycle Design Standards and Healthy Streets Approach or the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance [5].

Guidance from The Netherlands, where cycling accounts for 27% of all trips made [6], stresses that cyclists and motor vehicles should only mix where the speed and volume of traffic is low. Where traffic conditions exceed these guidelines, it is essential that protected space is provided for cyclists or traffic volumes are reduced. The London Cycle Design Standards, for example, suggest where vehicle volume exceeds 1,000 vehicles during the peak hour full separation should exist.

Where protected infrastructure is not necessary, street design should prioritise cyclists and pedestrians through traffic filtering and, particularly in rural areas, through lower speed limits.


Walking and cycling routes, whether they form part of a network or stand-alone, as in many rural areas, must reach their destination as directly as possible. Longer, circuitous routes are unlikely to offer the journey time savings and convenience required to rival the attractiveness of car travel. Road space must therefore be reallocated to provide dedicated, segregated walking and cycling paths.


Cycling and walking routes must be part of wider, strategic networks which provide access to key destinations. Recent developments in technology have made it possible to strategically plan for cycling based on current trip patterns and forecast future travel demand, providing indications of required capacity and likely destinations. Appropriate levels of cycle parking should also be provided in order to accommodate demand.

Networks should be properly signed, with routes clearly recognisable to and navigable by anybody using it for the first time.

It is also important to ensure that high-quality infrastructure is implemented in partnership with complementary behaviour change measures, such as cycle training, route advice or walking groups. Such initiatives ensure that people are aware of and feel confident to use new travel resources that are available to them, especially demographic groups less likely to cycle.


Routes should be accessible and attractive for riders of all cycles, and walkers of all abilities especially children, disabled people and older people; smooth, well maintained and of sufficient width. Routes should avoid steep gradients where possible and minimise impacts of noise, spray and headlight dazzle from other traffic. Steps should be taken to improve air quality along routes adjacent to motor vehicles wherever air pollution exists, by reducing traffic volume and encouraging cleaner vehicles.


Routes should contribute to good urban design by integrating with and complementing their surroundings.

Additionally, measures should be taken to ensure that personal safety on routes is enhanced, such as providing street lighting on routes which pass through quiet areas. For some users, fear about personal safety constitutes one of the biggest barriers for making walking and cycling trips, especially during winter.


[1] Department for Transport (2016) Road Traffic Estimates: Great Britain 2015





[6] Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis, (2018), Cycling Facts

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