rights of way

Cherry Allan's picture

Bridleways, byways and cycle tracks (England & Wales)

Closing the gaps for cycling in public rights of way and improving maintenance and signing, would encourage more people to cycle off-road...
Cyclist riding off-road
Headline Messages: 
  • Cycling is legal on 22% of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales. However, the right to cycle on some paths and not others does not necessarily relate to how suitable or unsuitable they are for cycling. 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 offroad 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.

KEY FACT:

17% of the Rights of Way network in England is bridleway (32,000 km), 2% is byway (3,700 km) and 3% restricted byway (6,000 km). The rest is footpath (78%, or 146,000 km) on which 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.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
April 2014
Cherry Allan's picture

Public Footpaths (England & Wales)

Cycling on footpaths is illegal, but many are entirely suitable and form good links. Opening them up to cyclists would enhance the network of motor-traffic free routes...
Footpath and Bridleway
Headline Messages: 
  • There should be a presumption that cyclists should be able to use all rights of way in England and Wales, with exceptions only when there are overriding reasons not to allow this.
  • Cycling is legal on 22% of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales . However, the legality of cycling on a RoW is not related to its suitability. There is no right to cycle on footpaths, even though many of them are perfectly suitable; whereas bridleways, which cyclists are allowed to use, may be unusable (see photo below). Creating a coherent, logical, off-road network for cyclists therefore requires a fundamental reform of RoW law and political will.
  • England has 146,000 km of public footpaths, and Wales over 26,000 km, most of them rural.  If opened up to cyclists following Scotland’s example, cyclists would benefit from more choice for both leisure and utility travel.
  • Even within the current laws, there are many ways in which local authorities could open up more paths for both recreational and day-to-day cycling.

 

CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • The public footpath network offers the only realistic option for providing significantly more off-road routes to meet current and future demands. The Scottish Land Reform Act (2003) gave cyclists lawful access to most countryside in Scotland. Its success suggests that public footpaths in England and Wales could be similarly opened to cyclists as a simple remedy to overcome the lack of off-road routes for cyclists and the fragmented nature of the available route network.
  • Rights of Way laws should be amended to permit cycling on footpaths with few limited exceptions only where there are clear location-specific reasons not to do so (e.g. where the increased use of the path would create significant environmental or safety hazards).
  • Conflict on rights of way between cyclists and pedestrians is often more perceived than real. It can be mitigated by good design.
  • CTC believes that it is acceptable for cyclists to use footpaths, provided they do so in a manner which respects the safety of other road users and their peaceful enjoyment of the outdoors, and with regard for the environment and its ecology. These are the circumstances in which CTC believes it is acceptable for cyclists to ride on footpaths:
    • Where the surface and width of the path make it eminently suitable for safe cycling without causing disturbance or risk to pedestrians; or
    • Where the path is lightly used, such that the likelihood of disturbance or risk to pedestrians is minimal; or
    • Where a path is unlikely to attract such high levels of cycling that it will cause environmental damage (notably erosion); or
    • Where there is a reasonable belief that the footpath in question might already carry higher rights – for example:
  • where there is historic evidence (e.g. through enclosure award maps) demonstrating past use either by horses or by vehicles
  • where the path is shown on OS maps as an ‘Other Road with Public Access’ (ORPA), indicating an assumption that higher rights may exist;
  • where there is regular use by equestrians, motor vehicles and/or by other cyclists. 
  • Where the relevant landowner is a public body or a charity and/or accepts or appears to accept use of the path by cyclists.
  • Except where the landowner has expressly permitted cycle use, CTC does not generally support the use of footpaths by larger groups of cyclists – particularly as part of an organised event – as this is more likely to generate complaints.
  • In suitable urban situations and where footpaths would form convenient links for cyclists, councils should seek to revoke cycling restrictions and prohibitions.
  • Councils should stringently assess the impact of ‘gating orders’ on cycling and prioritise alternatives where a public footpath forms a convenient through route.
  • There is good evidence, although no direct case law, to support the view that pushing a cycle on a footpath is not illegal. The presence of obstacles such as stiles should not be considered a deterrent to a footpath’s use by cyclists.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
February 2014
colinpalmer's picture

Book review: Rights of Way: Restoring the Record (by Sarah Bucks & Phil Wadey)

Rights of way (ROW) in England & Wales could offer so much more for cyclists and others - but official records don't do it justice. 'Rights of Way: Restoring the Record' reveals how to use evidence to prove or disprove the existence of ROW. Reviewed by Colin Palmer, CTC's Off-road Adviser.
A cyclist on a right of way

Although we already have some 32,000 km of bridleways and byways in England & Wales available for recreational or utility cycling, the network is, in reality, much, much larger.

However, unless we do something about it, off-road cyclists could lose out on the chance to convert all these fragments into a coherent network of useable circular rides.

The problem is that the wider network of legal cycle routes is either unrecorded, or under-recorded as a footpath, denying their use on the saddle.

Cherry Allan's picture

Local Access Forums (England & Wales)

Local Access Forums (set up by local authorities to bring together people and groups interested in public rights of way) should work towards developing the network for cycling...
Off-road cycling
Headline Messages: 
  • Local Access Forums (LAFs) should aim to maximise the benefits of the Rights of Way (RoW) network for both recreational and day-to-day travel.
  • LAFs should include representation of cyclists’ interests to ensure that the network is developed, maintained and promoted accordingly.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Cycling interests should be represented on all LAFs. 
  • Local authorities should be receptive and responsive to LAF recommendations on:
    •  amendments to the definitive map and on processing them in a timely fashion, to the benefit of off-road cyclists 
    •  the promotion and signing of the RoW network and other opportunities for off-road cycling 
    •  the proper maintenance of byways, bridleways and un-surfaced unclassified roads o the removal of obstructions. 
  • LAFs should promote off-road cycling as a healthy and enjoyable activity, particularly to families and young people. 
  •  LAFs should adopt, implement and promote CTC’s key Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP) priorities
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
January 2013
Cherry Allan's picture

Respond to the Government's consultation English rights-of-way legislation

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' consultation on the processes for recording, diverting and extinguishing public rights of way (England) is a chance to suggest ways to make it easier for cyclists to engage with the system and help open more of the countryside for cycling.
This footpath is a metalled road, but the bridleway is a muddy trail!

Why do cyclists need to respond to this consultation?

At the moment, the system for recording, diverting and extinguishing public rights of way in England is extremely bureaucratic, but the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) consultation on the processes involved is a good opportunity to press for the changes that will help enhance the experience of cycling in the countryside.

Cherry Allan's picture

Developing new paths for cycling in the countryside

Do you ride - or want to ride - on a particular path, but can't tell whether you're allowed to do so? Does your favourite bridleway suddenly turn into a footpath and you wish it didn't? Do you want to do something about it? Read on...
Riding off-road

Background

How to tell where cycling's legal

  • Footpaths are open to walkers only (yellow waymarkings)
  • Bridleways are open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists (blue waymarkings)
  • Restricted byways are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles (plum waymarkings)
  • Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders, horse-drawn vehicles and motor vehicles (red waymarkings).

A list of all recorded public rights of way i

Cherry Allan's picture

Reporting obstructions (England and Wales)

What's the best thing to do if you find your favourite bridleway or byway impassable because of a fallen tree, or a gate that wasn't there before? This guide explains the process.
Obstruction on bridleway

What is an obstruction?

  • Not all obstructions are obstructions in law. Legally, an obstruction is anything that “prevents the convenient use of the way by passengers”, and “substantially prevents the public from having free access over the whole of the highway which is not purely temporary in nature”.
  • An obstruction need not block the whole way, but just partially restrict access to it, e.g.
Cherry Allan's picture

Unsurfaced highways shared with motor vehicles

Not all unsurfaced highways are robust enough for use by motor vehicles. Ruts and mud, for example, can make them difficult or impossible for cycling...
Unsurfacd highway
Headline Messages: 
  • Use of recreational motor vehicles and tractors on unsurfaced highways can cause considerable damage, particularly on badly drained earth surfaces. This can lead to deep ruts and mud, making the route unusable by cyclists and other non-motorised users. 
  • Noisy vehicles are a public nuisance, so strategies should be developed to prevent their use in the countryside.  
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • CTC accepts that licenced recreational motor vehicles (2 & 4 wheel) have a legal right to use BOATs and UUCRs. 
  • Not all of these highways, however, are robust enough for use by motor vehicles, so they should be managed to avoid stirring up mud and creating ruts.
  • Cyclists and other non-motorised users go to the countryside for quiet recreation. Unmanaged motorised use of unsurfaced highways is incompatible with this, particularly where these vehicles, especially motorcycles, are inadequately silenced. 
  • If, after a reasonable time, voluntary management fails to remedy a damaged highway, or is not implemented, then a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) should be sought to prevent motorised vehicular use.
  • The police should implement robust policies to discourage illegal use by unlicenced and/or unsilenced vehicles.
  • Use by tractors as part of agricultural or forestry practice can also be extremely damaging, and where this occurs the Highway Authority (HA) and landowner/tenant should agree on measures to allow unimpeded use by cycles.
  • Where, following extensive discussions, an HA fails to maintain a highway that is ‘out of repair’, then, if the route is an important link, consideration should be given to serving the authority with a Highways Act section 561 notice requiring them to repair it suitably.   

What is a Boat? A byway open to all traffic is a highway open to all classes of traffic including motor vehicles. It may not be maintained to the same standard as an ordinary road. 

What is an UUCR? An unsurfaced, unclassified road is repairable by the local authority, but access rights may not be clear and subject to dispute. It is ‘unclassified’ because it has not been categorised as an A, B or C road.

Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
May 2011
Cherry Allan's picture

Rights of Way Improvement Plans (England & Wales)

By law, local authorities must develop Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs). The plans are a good way of improving opportunities for cycling off-road...
RoWIPs
Headline Messages: 
  • Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs) should seek to boost the quantity and quality of routes and open spaces for recreational and off-road cycling, and ensure that these opportunities are well signed, maintained and promoted.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • There is currently a considerable, suppressed demand for traffic-free off-road cycling routes, especially close to where people live. Provision for family cycling is particularly poor. RoWIPs offer opportunities to improve off-road cycling provision. To maximise the benefits of cycling, the delivery of RoWIPs should:
    • Be informed by a survey of the off-road cycling network to identify gaps and implement improvements 
    • Promote, sign and maintain routes for cyclists 
  • As resources are likely to be limited, RoWIPs benefit from the input of volunteers working through the Local Access Forum (LAF) and in conjunction with local authority staff.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
May 2010
Cherry Allan's picture

Obstructions and 'out of repair' rights of way (England & Wales)

Bridleways and byways need to be kept clear of obstructions and in a good state of repair, so that cyclists can enjoy their off-road rides...
Obstructions-out-of-repair-RoW
Headline Messages: 

Obstructions, poor surfaces, bad drainage and rank vegetation often make the bridleway and byway network in lowland England and Wales difficult for cyclists to use. It also puts people off the healthy and enjoyable activity of riding in the countryside. 

  • ‘Out of repair’ paths
    • Paths become ‘out of repair’ if they are badly drained or rutted, have a slippery surface, where bridges are unusable or hazardous or where surface vegetation impedes progress. 
    • Highway authorities have a duty to ensure that their public highways, including rights of way, are maintained in a state appropriate for the sort of traffic reasonably expected to use it. If an authority fails to maintain a path properly, there is a legal process (Section 56 of the Highways Act 1980) that any member of the public can use to force them into action.
  • Obstructions
    • Obstructions on rights of way may be illegal, hazardous and disrupt journeys made by cycle. 
    • It is the landowner’s responsibility to remove unlawful obstructions; highway authorities have to ensure that rights of way are not obstructed; and any member of the public has the power to compel an authority to act if they fail to do so (Sections 130A to D of the Highways Act 1980).
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Highway authorities should prioritise bridleways, byways, restricted byways and unsurfaced unclassified roads in their rights of way management and maintenance regimes. This is because these are multi-user routes, available to cyclists, horse riders and walkers. 
  • Hedgerow legislation should be strengthened to prevent the removal of field boundaries alongside bridleways, as the bridleway then becomes ‘cross field’ and may be ploughed. 
  • Where cross field paths are regularly ploughed, an uncultivated headland alternative should be made available.
  • Highway authorities should make sure that rights of way that go through fields are clearly signed to stop users encountering any obstructions that are not on the path.
Publication Date: 
June 2011
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