Published: 21st DECEMBER 2021

Our position on personal safety

Everyone working to improve walking, wheeling and cycling and create better streets and neighbourhoods, including Sustrans, needs to recognise our role in shaping public space, behaviour and personal safety.

Three walkers on bridge in Killecrankie Gorge, National Route 7


  • Transport professionals and urban planners often overlook the issue of personal safety in relation to walking, wheeling and cycling. This disproportionately affects women, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, people from minority ethnic groups, disabled people, people living in deprived areas, and people at the intersections of these groups.
  • Sustrans, transport professionals, urban planners and decision-makers working to improve walking, wheeling and cycling have an important role to play. We urge transport and urban planning departments in local and national governments across the UK to do more to address personal safety.
  • As custodian of the National Cycle Network, Sustrans is working to make the Network safer and more accessible for all people, including working with local communities and the police to address safety, improving lighting and cutting back overgrown vegetation.



Studies show that women experience disproportionate levels of harassment in public spaces, including sexual harassment compared to men.

For example, 85% of women aged 18–24 and 64% of women of all ages reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places.

For many disabled people, people from minority ethnic groups, and LGBTQIA+ people, sadly, harassment and hate crimes are also commonplace experiences.

There were over 105,000 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales (excluding Greater Manchester Police) in 2019/20. 72.4% of these were motivated by race/racism.

Furthermore from 2018/19 to 2019/20 sexual orientation hate crimes increased by 19%, disability hate crimes by 9% and transgender identity hate crimes by 16% (IBID, 2021).

However, it is estimated that about 1.3% of women were victims of violent crime in the year ending March 2020, compared with 2% of men.

Crime, and fear of crime, is also typically worse in areas of deprivation (ONS, 2017).

Bike Life data from 2019, for example, showed 91% of people in or at risk of deprivation, 90% of older people, 90% of disabled people, 89% of women and 89% of people from ethnic minority groups think reducing anti-social behaviour or crime is important for improving cycling safety.

Crime in public space also impacts the decisions individuals make on a daily basis, how they choose to travel, and route choices to reach the things they need to get to.

It also can create fear and emotional work every time many people simply want to leave the house.


What Sustrans thinks

Everyone working to improve walking, wheeling and cycling and create better streets and neighbourhoods, including Sustrans, needs to recognise our role in shaping public space, behaviour and personal safety.

We need to develop a thorough understanding of what impacts and influences the safety and feeling of safety experienced by many people.

This includes challenging our own assumptions, biases and approaches, and working in partnership to influence wider societal change.

If we are to address personal safety we need a multi-faceted approach including:


We need to diversify decision-making, planning and delivery of walking, wheeling, cycling, street design and place-making to ensure we better represent society.

Better engagement

We need to ensure we are actively engaging communities in policymaking and the design process, especially marginalised groups.

Often engagement will be more open, inclusive and successful when working in partnership with trusted community organisations.

Improving policy

We need to embed personal safety in walking, wheeling and cycling strategies, plans and policy across the UK.

We must ensure incidences of harassment and anti-social behaviour are monitored alongside perceptions of safety to underpin policy.

Updated infrastructure and design guidance

Walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure plans and street design guidance should include best practices on addressing personal safety.

National funding should ensure any proposed local schemes include a safety audit and address personal safety.

More support for those reporting crimes

Provide safe spaces to enable people to report situations that involve anti-social behaviour and harassment, including free advice and legal support where required.

Better route planning

We need more protected cycle routes and walking and wheeling improvements on busier roads that often feel safer during hours of darkness.

We need dedicated digital and non-digital route planning tools and maps, and ensure clear signposting for all routes.

Eyes on the street

Spatial planning, street and building design should seek to increase footfall and street-level activity. Public spaces should foster a sense of ownership and custodianship.

Well designed and aligned walking, wheeling and cycling paths can be busy places, increasing natural surveillance and reducing the opportunity for offending.

Improved lighting and visibility

Ensure all routes are well-lit and reduce dark spots. Reduce blind spots and better maintain streets and paths, including cutting back vegetation. 94% of women stated that better lighting on cycle routes in poorly lit areas was important for improving cycle safety.


Paths for everyone and the National Cycle Network

As custodian of the National Cycle Network (the Network), Sustrans is working to make the Network safer and more accessible for all people.

Sustrans works with partners including local and national governments and statutory bodies to deliver initiatives to improve the Network. 

All Network improvement schemes are designed to meet or exceed the latest government design standards, including improving lighting where possible.

Our barriers removal programme has removed over 300 physical barriers on the Network reducing barriers to escape routes or opportunities to harass people.

We aim to ensure paths are well maintained and are welcoming places to be; managing vegetation, graffiti, signs and the paths themselves to a high standard.

And we are aiming to better identify where action is needed through the development of a new app for women to audit the safety of the Network in Wales.

We are working to improve safety for Sustrans volunteers and fundraisers working on the National Cycle Network who help raise vital funds and give their time and support to improve safety.

Finally, we make sure police have information by reporting incidents and near misses.

We work with police to find solutions to anti-social behaviour and crime prevention, and ensure police conduct regular patrols on the Network in response to crime and Anti-Social Behaviour.


Read our blog by Inclusive Design Manager, Tierney Lovell which looks at how we need to reshape our towns and cities to help more women feel safe.


Read our blog which shares some women's experiences of being outdoors and alone after dark.

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