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February 9, 2011 / clayliesstill

How much would cycle paths cost?

If we were to build high quality cycle facilities on all the main roads in Britain, what would be the cost?

First, we need to establish what the price might be per kilometre. One recent example of a high profile cycling project is the Cycle Superhighways in London. These aren’t even cycle paths, just widish cycle lanes with a few junction improvements.

The capital cost of the first two amounted to an astonishing £200,000 per km of road. The costs of ‘proper’ cycle paths up to adequate standards are likely to be much higher, Sustrans and TfL estimate cycle track costs at anywhere between £100,000 and £900,000 depending on levels of complexity, number of junctions etc.

In the UK there are presently:

  • 3,560 kms of motorway
  • 14,041 kms of urban single and dual carriageway ‘A’ roads
  • 40,676 kms of rural single and dual carriageway ‘A’ roads
  • 30,141 kms of ‘B’ roads
  • 84,813 kms of ‘C’ roads
  • 229,145 kms of unclassified roads
  • Of those categories we can ignore motorways, from which cycles are banned. The unclassified and ‘C’ roads probably don’t need any facilities. Happily they represent 80% of the road network.

    The remaining 20% carries the two thirds of the miles travelled by vehicles in the UK. Cycles are currently permitted on 99% of this network. This is where cycle paths are needed if we are to follow the Dutch model.

    So, leaving aside minor roads and motorways that still leaves 84,858 kms ostensibly needing treatment.

    At Cycle Superhighway prices that would work out to be…. £16.9 billion. Ahem.

    The current funding programme for England provides around £1.4 billion to be spent on all small local transport schemes in the current financial year, falling gradually over the next 4 years.



    Leave a Comment
    1. Joe Dunckley / Feb 18 2011 4:26 pm

      That sounds about right, based on the prices New York, Montreal, and Australia are paying.

      Given that we throw this sort of money away on transport projects regularly…

      Of course, not all A and B roads need to be retrofitted with cycle paths anyway. Some already have them (though of course in most cases they need improvements in surface, width, and priority at junctions). Some have suitable parallel routes already in place. And “A” roads like the A897 in the far north of the Highlands, most sections of which probably see less than 5 (slow) vehicles an hour, don’t need bike paths at all.

    2. clayliesstill / Feb 24 2011 9:35 am

      Thanks Joe,

      I referred (via link) to the huge cost of Crossrail as an example of the sort of money that goes to other projects. Cancelling Crossrail and devoting the £16 bn to a proper high quality network of cycle paths would be great, but I don’t think it would solve another part of the problem: political will to provide space and priority for cycles.

      In other words, even if we had the money, how could we ensure that standards were observed?

      Of course you are right that some roads already have cycle paths (although very rarely uni directional ones on both sides of the road as is common in the Netherlands) and some may even not need them.

      Curiously though the Highlands is one place where they are building cycle paths.

      Unfortunately many of them are seriously substandard.

      On the A830 – the Road to the Isles – which is deathly quiet for 9 months of the year, they are building little bits of horrifically narrow (around 1 metre) bi-directional cycle path with granite sett buffer strips. Such is the standard of cycle path construction that even here, in one of the least occupied regions of Europe, side turnings with closed gates still have priority over cycle paths. See this path in all its glory.


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