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Unlocking the National Cycle Network’s potential


New design principles will increase usage – and the economic benefits – of the National Cycle Network, says Will Haynes

A growing body of evidence shows the benefits of walking and cycling to local economies, air quality, and our well-being.

Sustrans estimates that the 786 million walking and cycling trips on the National Cycle Network in 2017 generated £1.3 billion for the economy through reduced road congestion and health and environmental benefits. Additionally, local businesses benefited by £2.5 billion from leisure and tourism spending. 

What role do design standards play in helping to realise this potential?

As I’m  a civil engineer it is in my nature to say that infrastructure plays a key role in facilitating use of the network and realisation of its economic potential. But to maximise its potential the user experience is key. People walking and cycling along it need confidence that they can expect a consistently high-quality experience.

"Infrastructure plays a key role in facilitating use of the network and realisation of its economic potential"

This requires a subtly different approach to design standards. Our starting point for new standards was to create a design guide for the National Cycle Network. This would have stated absolute requirements for width, surface type, alignment, and so on. But it soon became apparent that the diversity of users and the breadth of types of route meant that this would end up defining a lowest common denominator.

Instead we have created a set of design principles. These principles define the characteristics of the network and facilitate a positive user experience. This is not to say that the design standards for the network are not important. Indeed, the first principle is that new and improved sections of the network should be designed in accordance with current best practice design guidance.

The other principles include ensuring that the path is wide enough to accommodate all users, that the surface is smooth enough for people using mobility aids, that the route is attractive and interesting, that the signing enables people to use the path without getting lost, that routes are accessible to all legitimate users, and that all users are able to cross roads safely. 

The intention is to encourage the designer to think about the user experience they are seeking to facilitate, and design accordingly.

It is my hope that we have created a set of principles that enable a designer to ensure that new or improved sections of network embody the characteristics that define it and as such provide a positive user experience. This will then enable the network to realise its full economic potential, be this through slices of cake bought in a café next to a route or through savings to the NHS through a more active population. 

Will Haynes is infrastructure director for Sustrans

Photos | Paul Tanner (Will Haynes portrait), iStock (main)


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