Sustrans greenways for cycling and walking

Sustrans first project (the Bath-Bristol Path, National Route 4) was a great success. I see it as a primarily a commuter route. If using it for leisure, you would need to be a sport cyclist. It is too boring for people like me who want to see interesting places, landscapes and architecture in their spare time. WG Hoskins wrote about ‘the marvellous unexpectedness of the English Countryside’. The Bristol-Bath area has this quality, in spades, but this is not what you see from the Sustrans route. It is a valuable contribution to Sustainable Transport and when electric bikes become popular the track may have to be widened.

Sustrans logo, shown on the below video, implies its aim was to provide access from town to country. The disused railway lines at the core of its network are in fact better suited to taking commuters into towns. The image behind the logo was taken on the Crab and Winkle Way which runs between Canterbury and Whitstable. From a landscape and architecture viewpoint, it is much more appealing than the Bath-Bristol route. Once the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, it was one of the earliest railways and much less ‘engineered’ than later routes.  Cable haulage by stationary steam engines had to be used on the hilly section through the forest.

Sustrans is a UK charity. Its name is a contraction of ‘sustainable transport’ which is what it aims to promote and facilitate. The Sustrans website further explains that ‘One third of the 10,000 miles of the National Cycle Network is traffic-free, and much of this runs along Greenways. We define these as traffic-free routes which are attractive, generally well separated from traffic and continuous over obstacles and through road junctions.’ This is a fair definition of a ‘greenway’. But Sustrans calls cycleways within towns  ‘Promenades’, if they are traffic-free and  ‘Green Steets’ if they are shared with motor vehicles. I think both these terms are wrong. A ‘Promenade’ is a place for walking and a Green Street should be free of vehicles. If the only facility provided by Sustrans is a sign post then, charitably, it could be called a cycle route. If the cycling quality is OK and environmental quality is low they should call it a cycle path. If the environmental quality is high the term greenway is just as appropriate in towns as in the country.


Tom Turner

Posted in green infrastructure, landscape planning

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