Find out why it's important to open up more of the rights of way network for cycling, what the legal process is and how it needs improving...
The Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales is extremely fragmented, and there is an urgent need to fill in the gaps to make it more attractive for healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities such as cycling. This can be done through a legal process involving ‘Orders’.
Only around 22% of the public rights of way in England and Wales is available to cyclists.
Statutory Orders can be used to expand the network of paths legally available for cycling in the countryside. Different types of Orders can: modify an authority’s definitive map and statement of pubic rights of way in the case of errors or omissions; create, extinguish or divert rights of way; or regulate or prohibit cycling or motor traffic on the highway.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy):
Map Modification Orders (MMOs)
Highway authorities should make resources available to ensure that the definitive map accurately represents the full bridleway and byway network before the ‘cut off date’ of 1 January 2026.
CTC will normally oppose moves to downgrade or delete bridleways and byways, and support upgrading or creating them.
As the current system is overly resource-intensive, the Government and its agencies should take steps to develop and implement more effective ways of making and confirming Orders.
Public Path Orders (PPOs)
The needs of residents, landowners and businesses should be sympathetically considered whenever they want to make reasonable diversions around residential properties or farm buildings, or alter the line of a path so that it goes round the edge of field (headland), rather than across it (cross field).
If, however, the diversion means that cyclists would suffer a loss of amenity, or usability (e.g. longer and/or steeper routes, poorer surfaces etc), CTC is unlikely to support the proposal.
CTC will, however, normally oppose any proposed downgrades (e.g. downgrading a bridleway to a footpath that cyclists can no longer use).
Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs)
Wherever possible, CTC will liaise with highway authorities to seek alternative solutions to TROs on byways, bridleways or unsurfaced roads.
CTC will normally oppose any regular renewal of a temporary TRO, because remedies to deal with the problem in question should be the priority.
Closing the gaps for cycling in public rights of way and improving maintenance and signing, would encourage more people to cycle off-road...
The right to cycle on some public rights of way (RoW) but not others does not necessarily relate to their suitability. While cyclists have the right to (bi)cycle on bridleways and byways, many of them are unsuitable; on the other hand, cyclists are not automatically allowed to ride along footpaths, many of which are perfectly fine for cycling.
The suppressed demand for good traffic-free cycling routes for both recreational and utility use is considerable, but much of the RoW network is best suited to mountainbiking. More people could enjoy off-road cycling if the network were expanded, more coherent, and better maintained and signed. This needs concerted action from local and national government, plus reform to RoW law.
Cyclists have a right to ride on bridleways, byways and restricted byways, which make up around 22% of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales.
The rest consists of footpaths, where cyclists have no right to ride.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy):
Improvements and additions to the bridleways and byways network would enhance the opportunities for motor traffic-free cycling, particularly for families and casual cyclists.
National government should review RoW law to enhance cycling opportunities by, for example:
following the lead of Scotland’s Land Reform Act 2003, which gave cyclists lawful access to most countryside in Scotland;
simplifying the legal process for converting footpaths to cycle tracks.
Highway authorities should fulfil their duties under existing legislation to make sure that the potential of the RoW network is fully realised for both recreational and utility cyclists.
Cycle racing on bridleways should be permitted by law, subject to appropriate consultation and regulation.
While signing from roads onto the RoW network is now reasonably acceptable, waymarking of the network itself needs improving.
Highway authorities should not only fulfil their legal duties to maintain byways and bridleways, but should also carry out maintenance programmes to ensure that they are rideable.