Sustainable transport charity also issues call for more volunteers to help maintain 13,000-mile network

Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, has revealed that more women are using the National Cycle Network (NCN), with a 13% increase in female users during 2010 meaning they now account for four in ten users. There has also been a rise in commuting traffic, which now makes up a quarter of journeys made by adults. The news coincides with the sustainable transport charity launching its new iPhone app today.

Releasing its annual usage statistics – the full Annual Review will be published next month – Sustrans said that the NCN, which it manages and maintains, saw 420 million journeys last year, almost equally split between foot and cycling, at respectively 48.6% and 51.4%. In all 3 million people used the NCN during the year, with two thirds of those saying that it had helped them become more physically active.

Commuting trips by adults rose by 10% year on year, which Sustrans said highlighted the NCN’s role as an everyday transport option, and it estimated that more than £46 million had been saved in fuel costs had those same trips been made by car. Taking all trips into account, the potential carbon dioxide reduction was 657,000 tonnes during 2010. The estimated health benefit is £400,000,000.

In a survey of users, 84% said that they felt safe while using the NCN, with 66% stating that it saved them money. Leisure trips accounted for 45% of all journeys and school run travel for 6%. Some 7% of journeys were by people new or returning to cycling, while there was a significant difference in the profile of users by age – 9% of trips were made by those aged 16 to 24, but 27% by people aged 55 plus.

Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans’ Chief Executive, commented: “It is very encouraging to see more women using the Network and clearly with petrol prices at new highs, it is being chosen as a valid alternative way to make those everyday journeys like commuting to work or doing the school run. “

He continued: “Investing in walking and cycling may not be as exciting or headline-grabbing as building electric cars or stretching cable cars across the Thames, but unlocking their potential, as an obvious choice for more people every day, is the future of local transport and a more active population.

“It is vital that government, through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, invests in high quality walking and cycling routes, cycle training and projects that encourage and help people to leave their car at home, especially for those local journeys that make up 67% of all trips.”

Meanwhile, Sustrans today launched its new iPhone app, available as a free download from Apple’s iTunes store, which it says features 25,000 miles of cycling and walking network throughout the UK, ideal for “picking your way through an urban metropolis, winding through the countryside, finding a traffic-free route to school, a challenging bike ride or a leisurely family day out.”

The app also has details of local schools, supermarkets, car clubs, bus stops and car clubs, among others. We’ve asked whether there is an Android version in the pipeline, and we’ll let you know Sustrans’ response as soon as we are able to.

Started in 1995, the NCN now covers 13,000 miles throughout the UK and is continuing to expand and be enhanced through initiatives such as the Connect2 project, and Sustrans claims that 58% of the population live within a mile of it.

The network relies on volunteers to keep it maintained, and Sustrans has issued a call for more people to get involved, citing that more than one in three people currently giving up their time for it have noticed an improvement in their health and wellbeing.

The call to action coincides with National Volunteer Week, and Sustrans adds that two in five of those volunteering say that they cycle more, while one fifth have begun walking more for their everyday journeys than they did before volunteering.

One volunteer, 67-year-old William Justice from Washington, Tyne and Wear, says that working with Sustrans has helped him shed three stone over the past two years. His duties include looking after part of the C2C route, which he cycles along to check signage, prune back overgrowing vegetation, and pick up litter.

“I got involved as a volunteer when I retired two years ago and it’s had an enormous impact on me’ he explains. “I’ve lost weight and am much fitter now, but being part of a team and sharing each other’s enthusiasm for walking and cycling has also improved my mental wellbeing and outlook on life. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly to anyone thinking about giving volunteering a go.”

According to Sustrans, reasons for wishing to volunteer include not just an interest in cycling and the environment, but also wanting to help make a difference to the quality of live for the local community.

Tony Ambrose, Sustrans' Volunteer Manager, said: “Many of our volunteers give their time to help maintain and promote the National Cycle Network, so it gets them outdoors and active in a sociable way.

“The Network is now 13,000 miles across the UK and growing. There is no way we could develop and look after such a vast amount of routes without the people who donate their time. National Volunteers’ Week is a great time to thank our existing volunteers, who do a wonderful job, whilst urging more people to come forward and help.”

Further details of how you can help, including details of any opportunities close to where you live, can be found on the Support Sustrans section of the charity’s website, by telephoning 0117 915 0110, or by email.


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


Vin Cox [50 posts] 6 years ago

All previous maps of the NCN have been almost unusable at any scale. This progress is big news, and it addresses the biggest failing in Sustrans great work; letting us find and use it. I might even have to by an iphone thanks to this news.

vorsprung [282 posts] 6 years ago

Can we take Sustrans to the advertising standards authority for their description of their "routes" as a "National Cycle Network"? Because it isn't

I've cycled in a lot of the UK and mostly the NCN suffers from a number of issues. Some places it is poorly signed, with routes disappearing- this happens on urban fringes. In other places the paths are not actually suitable for a bike, for instance one canal near where I live has "stop and dismount" signs for several bridges. Another specialty is following horrible roads, in my area steep gravel covered lanes.

The only place I've been where Sustrans routes seem to fulfill the dream is in Northern Bristol

We are never going to see any research showing that Sustrans routes prevent cycling because the only people interested in the routes are Sustrans themselves

bikeylikey [227 posts] 6 years ago

To Audaxing Blog - Long Distance Cycling
Sustrans is a fantastic organisation, the NCN is a brilliant idea, we are so lucky to have all this. That needs saying before criticisms are levelled, I think. I agree that the signing is terrible. Signs are often missing from crucial junctions, or sometimes just too inconspicuous. I've done all the routes around Bristol, where I live, and some have taken two or three goes before eventually finding the way. You always need an OS map and preferably a local cycle map like the very useful Bristol 'Cycle City Guides.

Routes I've done in other parts of the country have often involved mostly map reading rather than following the signs the ground. If your OS map doesn't include the green dots for cycle routes, you often have to give up on the designated route and go back to old fashioned finding your own.

You can't go out on a ride expecting to do an NCN route on signage alone. As long as you keep that in mind, you might not get so annoyed with Sustrans. Having said that, however, it would be good if they could give signage a lot more attention. I've wasted a lot of time and been v. frustrated because of it, but, still, this is surely a relatively small complaint in the light of the fantastic gift of all these wonderful paths and routes that Sustrans has provided.

arrieredupeleton [584 posts] 6 years ago

I agree, it's definitely a big step forward for an organisation that's historically not been great at this sort of thing. The iPhone app is welcomed but I understand the first version has a glitch in it which is being fixed. It would be good if the routes could somehow integrate provided in GPS format too but I guess it wont take long for people to put routes up as they already do for C2C etc.

Re: Signage, I understand the problem but unfortunately they don't have the resources of a Council or the Highways Agency to erect them at every junction or to replace signs as soon as they disappear. Perhaps if more people became members they'd be able to keep on top of these things.

Next time I'm out I'll be grateful for the work the volunteers do it cutting back hedgerows and picking litter.