Over the past 5 years, a project in the UK funded by the National Lottery, has built 84 cycling and walking routes designed to encourage people to leave the car at home and ride or walk for short journeys. The new paths expanded the UK’s existing National Cycle Network, which includes over 14,000 miles of paths. According to studies by Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk), the areas where new routes were added have seen a 73 percent increase in the number of people walking and cycling on a regular basis.
The newest additions brought the paths within 1 mile of 4 million additional residents. The network connects 2,800 schools, 800 supermarkets, 1,000 doctors’ offices and 3,000 places of worship. “The National Cycle Network now passes within a mile of 55 per cent of UK homes, so it’s easier than ever before to ditch the car and switch to cycling and walking for short journeys,” says Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans chief executive. To me, a cycle path within a mile of 55 percent of homes is an astonishing statistic.
While accomplishing that in the US would be a lot more difficult due to the sheer size and spread out nature of the country, the progress being made across the pond is very encouraging. Having direct evidence that building these new paths has increased the number of people in the area who choose to walk and cycle can do a lot to encourage other cities to invest in similar infrastructure.
Shepherd also said, “These new routes will make a huge difference to millions of people, but more investment and changes to our daily habits are needed if we are to reach our goal of making four out of five local journeys by bike, foot or public transport by 2020.” That’s a lofty goal, but if any city hopes to reduce car trips, he’s absolutely correct that it has to start with a change to our daily habits. Securing funding to build a bike lane is hard enough, but changing people’s mentality toward transportation is undoubtedly the largest obstacle.
Things only seem to be improving though. In recent years here in Montague’s home city of Boston, I’ve seen the addition of several miles of bike lanes, as well as new pedestrian bridges, and the introduction of the Hubway bike share system. The safer and easier we make it to travel by bike, the more people will consider biking a viable transportation option.
In the meantime, check out this map of cycle routes in the UK. Not bad!