Sustained action

10,000 miles and ten years of the National Cycle Network – what’s next?

Route 11 approaching Cambridge (Picture by Sustrans)
Image as described adjacent

It is now more than ten years since I first spoke at a meeting of Cambridge Cycling Campaign and met many of the tremendously hard-working members. For me the meeting was memorable not for my talk or even, I am afraid, the people that I met. No, it was the sheets of paper being circulated at the meeting that I remember best.

They were to form a petition calling for a new foot/cycle bridge over the A14 at Milton. I wonder how many people at that meeting seriously expected it to happen, after all those years of campaigning, and how many people at that time would have expected the National Cycle Network 10,000 mile celebrations to happen in Cambridgeshire in 2005?

The leader of every ride flew a large flag Picture by Sustrans
Image as described adjacent

Ten years and 10,000 miles later, Cambridgeshire was indeed the focus of national attention and a very successful few days of events, with a small fraction of that 10,000 miles being the Jane Coston Bridge, carrying National Cycle Network Route 11 over the A14 at Milton.

September 2005 represented a major milestone in the history of Sustrans, while for Cambridge and Cambridgeshire this was probably the first time that cycling had achieved such high profile.

In the years up to 2000 it was obvious that there were a number of glaring gaps in the Network in the East of England and particularly around Cambridge. This, combined with the enthusiasm of the County Council, was why Cambridgeshire was chosen as the focus of events in 2005. A glance at the Network now shows that most of the gaps have been filled. For instance:

  • Route 11 is now signed from King’s Lynn to Stansted Mountfitchet (Essex), via Cambridge.
  • Route 51 is now signed from Huntingdon to Newmarket via Cambridge.
  • Route 63 is now signed from Peterborough to Wisbech.
  • Route 12 is now signed from Alconbury to Peterborough.

These are great achievements and are the result of some major progress over recent years, but this does not mean that the routes are finished.

Over the next few years there is still a lot of work to do re-aligning routes, where appropriate, completing Route 12 through Huntingdonshire and bridging the missing section of Route 11 between Waterbeach and Wicken Fen.

This will complete the Wicken Ring – a circular route around Cambridge – to add to the already open Cambridge-Ely route.

Many of these route changes are dependent on complicated land negotiations or major developments and show that there are still plenty of challenges as regards the National Cycle Network.

The greatest challenge is to increase its use, and this is where the continued success of the Network is vital, because outside London it has been the main area of cycling growth. The statistics that Sustrans has been able to produce on this led the Department for Transport to describe the National Cycle Network as ‘the strongest success story in walking and cycling’. During the course of the five years up to 2004 the National Cycle Network grew in length by 98% and usage grew by 135%. The greatest increases were on urban car-free routes.

The Sustrans vision is ‘a world in which people choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment…’ and a key part of this is through increasing cycling and walking.

In recent years this has not been a universal success story as the nation’s love affair with the private car has continued; trying to get people to use their cars even a little less is not easy. This is why there are so many strands to Sustrans’ current work and why in 2005 Sustrans believes that there is still much to be done. A draft strategy for the next five years for Sustrans East of England is currently being prepared and it is likely to include reference to:

  • Completing the National Cycle Network and improving links.
  • Promoting Active Travel and the health benefits of walking and cycling.
  • Addressing global warming issues and how we can change travel behaviour.
  • Extending the individualised marketing programme known as TravelSmart.
  • Liveable neighbourhoods and the growth agenda.
  • Work on tourism and regional landmarks.
  • Improved monitoring.

All of these have a relevance to the Cycling Campaign, but it may be that Sustrans puts a different emphasis on some areas than others. Sustrans is clear that the main market to be addressed if cycling is to be increased has to be non-cyclists, and their expectations may be very different to existing cyclists. (Of course existing cyclists have to be encouraged as well.)

For instance, non-cyclists may find the prospect of starting cycling on a busy road too daunting, even if it has the most wonderful cycle lanes or road markings, while an attractive path away from motorised traffic might be very appealing; both of course have their part to play.

In a similar way, early surveys in Peterborough (as part of the Sustainable Travel Towns work) show differences in attitude between those familiar with the cycle facilities in the city and those not familiar, with perhaps some important messages for campaigners.

When residents were asked about the local cycle network or the bus services their responses showed that those who did not use the facilities rated them much worse than those who did use them. (Even if existing users rated facilities as not good, non-users tended to rate them even lower!)

Everyone, of course, bases their travel choice on what they believe the options to be rather than the reality, which is why it is important to stress the benefits and attractions of cycling and walking rather than dwelling too much on the difficulties. There are a lot of good messages and facilities for cyclists that can now be promoted.

Challenges for the Cambridge area

Sustrans is keen to continue working closely with the City and County Councils and attaches high priority to the Cambridge area. As the city with the highest level of cycling in the UK there is a chance and perhaps a need for Cambridge to be a leader in the national transport debate, because cycling can play such a major role in changing the way that we travel.

For this to happen there is a need to publicise the already significant achievements, but there is also a need for Cambridge to be moving forward, perhaps by trying to match some of the great European cycling cities such as Groningen, Utrecht, Odense and Copenhagen.

For instance in Copenhagen, 36% of people cycled to work in 2003 compared to 32% in 2001, so the city is well on the way to achieving its objective of 40% cycling to work by 2012. Sustrans considers that this sort of level is achievable, and is indeed essential in Cambridge, but when can Cambridge expect to achieve this?

Growth does represent a major challenge for the area and cycling has to have a much increased role, if we are to get anywhere near achieving greenhouse gas targets and health targets.

With much of the new housing expected in Cambridge on the fringes of the city it is vital that these have high quality cycle links with the city centre and elsewhere, before the first residents have arrived. Cyclists will have to have real advantages over car drivers and of course new residents will need to know what is there!

Sustrans has already made similar comments on the Northstowe plans, through concern that this will be a car-dominated community. If Northstowe does not have very high levels of cycling and walking, it will have failed as a sustainable community and there is a real danger that others will follow.

More immediately Sustrans is looking to set up a local group of Volunteer Rangers, in the next month or so to keep an eye on the National Cycle Network in the Cambridge area and to assist the County Council where possible. Sustrans is continuing to work on new routes and is expecting to submit a planning application for a bridge over the Cam at Upware shortly and to see work starting on the Addenbrooke’s to Shelford path before too long.

Sustrans looks forward to continuing to work with one of the most effective cycling campaigns in the country.

Nigel Brigham, Regional Manager for Sustrans

Sustrans East of England,
2nd Floor, 4-6 Cowgate,
PETERBOROUGH, PE1 1NA
www.sustrans.org.uk