Published: 5th JULY 2019

Our position on cycling and walking routes and networks

High-quality public space that supports cycling and walking routes and networks is an essential part of creating cohesive, happy and successful communities.


  • Early involvement of local people in designing unique, memorable places that are responsive to their needs, and draws on local knowledge and creativity, ensures a long-lasting legacy.
  • Effective segregation of space for cyclists, pedestrians and motor traffic will benefit all users but requires significant additional width and consideration to provide a high level of service. Each situation must be taken on a case by case basis, and careful consideration must be given to relevant factors.
  • Well sign-posted routes and networks such as Quietways and Greenways can overcome barriers to cycling and walking by providing an alternative to riding on busy roads.


For at least two generations, planning for transport in the UK has primarily focused on the car. The consequence of this has been to suppress walking and cycling, and often public transport use, across all sectors of society.

Streets make 80% of the accessible open space in our towns and cities and offer huge potential as a community resource; as a  place to meet our neighbours; a place to socialise and play as well as places to walk and cycle. In other countries around the world, people feel comfortable using their streets in the same way we use the local park or playground.

Coupled with this, over the last half-century, the volume of motor traffic on our roads has dramatically increased, with vehicle miles travelled in 2015 over ten times higher than in 1949. [1] Studies show that fear of traffic is a primary reason why parents won’t let their children travel to school on their own, and the volume of traffic your street is a key determining factor on whether you know your neighbours.

All too often UK infrastructure is a poor compromise that fails to meet even the minimum standards in current guidance.

What we think

The needs of people must be at the forefront when designing public space:

Walking and cycling as modes of transport have many similarities. They deliver significant physical and mental health benefits, reduce congestion, create no air pollution or noise, and are low-cost forms of travel. The barriers to people taking up both modes share similarities such as fast traffic speeds and poor, or lack of, infrastructure.

Infrastructure that supports cycling and walking must be integrated with complementary initiatives that provide information, training and support:

The key to success is to ensure that our streets and public spaces are suitable for people of all ages and all abilities to get around without a car. We need to focus on those not yet walking and cycling as well as those that already are. Achieving this requires the integration of high-quality infrastructure with complementary behaviour change measures. Unfortunately, much of the transport infrastructure in the UK was designed and built on the assumption that almost everyone had access to a car, so people do not consider walking or getting on their bike or a bus.

Cycling routes must be part of networks:

A network of high-quality routes suitable for the less confident cyclist is integral and their design must deliver for the different needs of people wishing to cycle, rather than walk. This is particularly important to minimise conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, especially in urban areas where the majority of short trips occur and where the greatest modal shift can be delivered.

Networks of cycling and walking routes need to be of high quality:

Extensive networks of high-quality routes that enable people to cycle and walk safely and conveniently should reflect five core design principles of:

  • coherence
  • directness
  • safety
  • comfort
  • attractiveness

These appear in various forms in guidance from Governments across the UK; in the most widely used local authority design guidance documents, such as ‘Manual for Streets' that applies to England and Wales; and in the most highly regarded guidance such as ‘Design Guidance, Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. 

Segregation of space for cyclists, pedestrians and motor traffic will benefit all users but requires significant additional width and consideration:

Where substantial increases in cycling are expected, consideration should also be given to the adaptability of infrastructure to accommodate large increases in use.

Guidance from The Netherlands and Denmark highlights that cyclists and motor vehicles should only mix at low traffic speeds and volumes, but where appropriate it is essential that the necessary space for cyclists and quality of design is provided. Various components of essential design are detailed in Sustrans’ Technical Guidelines. 



Share this page