Active travel charity aims to make National Cycle Network suitable for a 'sensible 12-year-old' alone

Sustrans release report showing huge increase in active travel on Network during pandemic

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

Active travel charity Sustrans says it aims to make the National Cycle Network suitable for a "sensible 12-year-old travelling alone" in an updated report.

The charity manages 12,786 miles of the UK-wide cycling and walking network, and says that more than 100 million more trips were taken on it during the pandemic than the year before.

In an update to Paths for Everyone (opens in new tab), Sustrans have released their "three-stage master plan", which seeks to create a "comprehensive and consistent Network, which connects to every settlement of 10,000 or more people".

Just 271 miles, or 2%, of the network is owned by the charity. The authors state: "We can only deliver our strategic vision for the Network by working with governments, local authorities, key local stakeholders, our volunteers and communities to make sure these deliver nationally, regionally and locally."

Only a third is currently traffic-free, which is something the charity is aiming to improve on; the report makes the point that these are ideal for wheelchairs, pushchairs and mobility scooters as well as those on bikes or walking.

The authors write: "The unique nature of these mostly quiet spaces connecting countryside with towns and cities makes them useful for those traveling in ways where separation from traffic is welcome, or even life-changing."

About 121 million more trips were taken on the Network in 2020/21 than 2019/20, and at the height of pandemic in 2020, the Network carried approximately 4.9 million users over 764.8 million trips.

3,733 miles of the Network was removed or reclassified in 2020 for being inaccessible or on safety grounds. It means that from 16,519 miles in 2018, the Network has been reduced to 12,786 miles in 2020.

Xavier Brice, the charity's CEO, said: “In 2018, Sustrans set a new vision for the National Cycle Network and 15 concrete steps to realise it when we published ‘Paths for Everyone’. Our ‘Three Years On’ report highlights the progress we’ve made working with our many partners, volunteers, and supporters, and celebrates the Network as a vital part of the UK’s green infrastructure.

“The huge increase we’ve seen in the number of people relying on the Network for exercise and travel has proved just how crucial these routes are in connecting people to places and to each other, providing family-friendly spaces and boosting local economies.

“In times of public health crisis, the climate emergency and substantial rises in the cost of living, active travel has never been more important. The Network was there for the public when it was needed throughout the pandemic, and it must be protected and developed to ensure it will be there for the future.”

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Hello, I'm Cycling Weekly's senior news and features writer. I love road racing first and foremost, but my interests spread beyond that. I like sticking to the tarmac on my own bike, however.


Before joining the team here I wrote for Procycling for almost two years, interviewing riders and writing about racing.


Prior to covering the sport of cycling, I wrote about ecclesiastical matters for the Church Times and politics for Business Insider. I have degrees in history and journalism.