Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Cycling on Public Footpaths – a personal view

Gavin Miller

This article is from Signpost 52, Autumn 2016

Your Chairman, David Hurrell, mentioned in his opening remarks that the Society had decided to oppose the current campaign by British Cycling for cyclists (see link below) to be able to ride bikes along all Public Footpaths.

Many of us may well be cyclists, or have been cyclists in the past and we may well sympathise with giving cyclists more protection from increasingly heavy traffic on our busy roads and their frantic traffic. However, the purpose of this Society is to protect footpaths. By their very nature, footpaths are for walkers and the Society takes the view that walkers’ interests must come first.

Those of us using public footpaths regularly will know the potential for being hit from behind by a cyclist when both walkers and cyclists share narrow paths. In my cycling days, admittedly a long time ago, all bikes had a bell, or sometimes a horn, with which to warn others. Use of the brakes rather than the bell would, on reflection, have been more considerate, but nowadays it seems bells are for wimps and no self-respecting mountain-biker would be seen dead with one. It does not seem that the absence of bells has led to greater use of brakes. I expect most of us know well the experience of feeling the draught as cyclists whizz by and realising that if we’d have wobbled slightly, we’d have been whacked in the back and probably knocked over.

This campaign by British Cycling seeks to persuade Government that cyclists must be given the right to access all Public Footpaths in England and Wales. This is based on two main arguments: public support; and examples where shared access to footpaths is claimed to have been a success.

The public support argument is rather flimsily based on a survey of 2,000 people commissioned by British Cycling themselves to a series of loaded questions. The examples of successful shared working include Scotland and two mountains in Wales – Snowdon and Moel Famau. Scotland has always, as you know, had more generous access to the countryside than England and, with a vastly lower population density and much greater availability of ‘wild’ spaces, is not comparable with the predominantly lowland and agricultural nature of large parts of England. In the case of the two Welsh mountains, we are dealing with broad, well-defined tracks with plenty of space for both walkers and cyclists – again not typical of your average English footpath.

Two other examples, possibly familiar to some of you, are cited by British Cycling – an access arrangement in the Eastern Moors area of the Peak District National Park and the Sheepskull Trail in Sheffield. I don’t personally know these areas, but the fact is that these are also in effect bridleways, not typical paths. British Cycling claims that self-policing ensures observance of the agreements, but, even if this is correct, no doubt they put some effort into self-policing these few limited areas. We must be doubtful as to how effective this would be on a nationwide basis.

Lastly, we know the physical damage that cycling, especially mountain-biking, can do to the surface of paths, particularly in wet or muddy conditions. Also, many public footpaths are unsuitable for bikes due to frequent gates and stiles, rough terrain, or a path’s narrowness.

For these reasons, the Society decided to oppose the British Cycling campaign and your chairman has written to the Secretary of State to express our objections and also to Ramblers to seek their support and offer co-operation in fighting the proposals.

Next: Another successful footbridge project

Page title:Cycling on Public Footpaths – a personal view
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