Shared use routes

The issue

Government statistics demonstrate that walking for both utility and recreational purposes is, compared to cycling, a far more popular activity. Furthermore, walking accounts for the majority of all visits to the natural environment. However, cycling is increasing, a trend likely to continue particularly given the Government’s ambition to increase the number of journeys made by bicycle and on foot.

While cyclists have the right to use a carriageway, it is an offence to cycle on a footway (a pavement running alongside a carriageway). Cyclists have the right to use bridleways (subject to giving way to other users), cycle tracks, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOATs). They have no right to cycle on a public footpath. To do so may constitute an act of trespass against the landowner but it is not a criminal offence, unless there are local byelaws or traffic regulation orders in force which prohibit such use. Taken together, this means that cyclists currently have a right to access to approximately a quarter of all rights of way in England and Wales.

Existing legislation does however enable highway authorities to create shared use routes, defined by the Department for Transport as those which accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists. This can be achieved through the conversion of footways and public footpaths into cycle tracks, or through the establishment of ‘higher’ rights on routes previously designated as public footpaths. This legislation, coupled with political support to increase levels of cycling and a growing demand from user groups, could have significant consequences for Britain’s path network and those seeking to enjoy the outdoors on foot.

Our position

The Ramblers’ opposes proposals for cycling to be allowed as a matter of course on footpaths in England. While we will work with other user groups to improve the path network for the benefit of all, we will resist changes which are detrimental to the interests of walkers. Changing the status of a footpath or footway to bridleway or cycle track must be considered on a case-by-case basis, with decisions based on an objective consideration of a range of factors.

Contact us

For further information contact Stephen Russell, policy and advocacy officer;

Links to additional information