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National Cycle Network design principles

person on bicycle

Principle 1. Be traffic-free or quiet-way

man walking alongside horse riders

Principle 2. Be wide enough to comfortably accommodate all users

volunteers cutting down vegetation around path

Principle 3. Be designed to minimise maintenance

sign pointing to different cycle routes

Principle 4. Be signed clearly and consistently

people walking and cycling on traffic-free smooth path

Principle 5. Have a smooth surface that is well drained

people using adapted bikes on cycle path

Principle 6. Be fully accessible to all legitimate users

woman on bike path near residences

Principle 7. Feel like a safe place to be

woman on bike crossing bridge

Principle 8. Enable all users to cross roads safely and step-free

family cycling on traffic-free path near local point of interest

Principle 9. Be attractive and interesting

The National Cycle Network design principles set out the key elements that make the Network distinctive and that need to be considered during the design of new and improved routes forming part of the Network. 

Routes 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.

Principle 1: Be traffic-free or quiet-way

Where the 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 a National Cycle Network route on a quiet-way section of road the traffic speed and flows should be sufficiently low with good visibility to comply with design guidance for comfortable sharing of the carriageway. Signs and markings should highlight the Network.

Principle 2: 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 is sufficient width and a higher potential for conflict between different users.

Principle 3: Be designed to minimise maintenance

A maintenance plan should be put in place in the development process.

Construction quality should be maximised to minimise maintenance.

New planting should be kept well clear of the path.

Sufficient tree work should be undertaken as part of construction to minimise future issues.

Routes should be managed in a way that enhances biodiversity.

Principle 4: 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.

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

Signage should be used to increase route legibility and branding of routes.

Signage should help to reinforce responsible behaviour by all users.

Principle 5: Have a smooth surface that is well drained

Path surfaces should be suitable for all users.

Path surfaces should be maintained in a condition that is free of undulations, rutting and potholes.

Path surfaces should be free draining and verges finished to avoid water ponding at the edges of the path.

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

Principle 6: Be fully accessible to all legitimate users

All routes should accommodate a cycle design vehicle 2.8 metres long x 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.

Principle 7: 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.

Principle 8: 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.

Principle 9: Be attractive and interesting

Network routes should be attractive places to be in and pass along.

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

Seating should be provided at regular intervals along a route.

Opportunities should be taken to enhance ecological features.