Almost half of the network has been rated ‘poor’ in a review to be published on Monday
Helen PiddSun 11 Nov 2018 14.21 GMT
It spans 16,505 miles, is seven times longer than our motorway system and carries half as many people each year as the UK’s creaking railways – all for free and with no carbon emissions. But the National Cycle Network is so starved of funding that many of its bike paths are “crap” and desperately need improvements, according to the charity responsible for its development and upkeep.
The network, marked by blue and red signs, includes 5,273 miles of traffic-free cycle paths, bridleways and canal towpaths used by millions of cyclists and walkers each year. It also incorporates 11,302 miles of “on-road” sections, covering the length and breadth of the UK from the Shetland Islands to Land’s End and from East Anglia to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
A review to be published on Monday by Sustrans, which has built the network over the last 23 years, reveals that 42% of it has been rated as “poor” and a further 4% “very poor”. Large sections fail to fulfil one of its key aims: that it can be used “by a sensible 12-year-old travelling alone”.
Xavier Brice, Sustrans chief executive, told the Sunday Times: “We’ve had enough of the crap bits and want to make it fit for everyone.”
There are 15,680 incorrect, missing, obstructed or confusing signs on the network and 16,435 barriers, including steps, bollards and gates, according to the review.
Other complaints include sections that turn into a “mud bath” each winter, slippery cattle grids and even the odd ford.
About 24% (2,596 miles) of the on-road sections are too fast for safe cycling and could be candidates for speed limit reduction schemes, Sustrans argues. It wants the speed limit on rural roads used by the Network reduced to 40mph and urban roads to 20mph as it plans a further 5,000 traffic-free miles in the next 22 years.
Despite its name, the network is popular with walkers, joggers, wheelchair users and horse riders as well as people on bikes. More than half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route and 4.4 million people used the Network last year, making 786m trips.