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Leisure Cycling Blog

Problems with Cycle Route Signage

National Cycle Network Route Signage...

If you get in a car, drive and follow the road signs, you can pretty much guarantee that you will find your way to your chosen destination without a map or even a Sat Nav just by following the signs. The entire road network has been built around good route signage.

However, when I am out and about cycling in the U.K, one of my biggest frustrations is relying on the blue Sustrans National Cycle Network signs to guide me. The number of times I have tried to do a route, follow them and ended up lost, in a circle or unsure of which direction I am pointing in is quite astounding.

What do the numbers actually mean? The main flaw in the system is that the numbered sign does not give any geographical place name to work with. For example, you can start following NCN 55 and see the '55' frequently along a route. However, unless you have prior researched what the '55' means, the sign is largely irrelevant as a geographical marker.

You wouldn't approach a junction on a motorway without some sort of geographical connection e.g. M62 West (Liverpool) or M62 East (Leeds) to guide you. Yet for some reason, the cycle network does not give this information at frequent intervals.

This is not so much of a problem if you know the area, yet if you are cycling in an unfamiliar place, you could be unsure of the direction you are travelling in or which cycle route you are following especially in rural areas.

I remember 'following the signs' when I was in the Carlisle area once and nearly ended up in Lockerbie rather than Brampton on the Hadrian's Wall Cycle Path because I did not know where the numbered signs would take me!

In other European countries, this is not a problem. Germany has over 200 long-distance routes and you can largely follow cycle trails without a map due to two things - the signs often have a destination and distance to go on them. The network also has named routes combined with a numbered system too.

For example, named cycle paths such as the Rhine Cycle Path, Danube Cycle Path, Berlin Wall Cycle Trail and the Weser Cycle Path generate revenue through cycle-tourism, but are also easy to use and navigate along across long distances even if you dip in and out of the specific route.

In Switzerland, you can possibly have too much route information!

Part of the problem is that Sustrans is a charity and relies on donations and grants to fund cycle signage. They also use volunteers and Rangers to mark out the routes and put up signs.

Whilst segregated cycle paths, cycle superhighways and Mini-Holland style roundabouts require large capital investment to build, a relatively low-cost way to improve cycling infrastructure in the UK would be to have a clear, comprehensive and well-signed network across inter-city and inter-urban routes such as the SchweizMobil example in Lake Constance above.

Walkden to Manchester by bike...

Let's take my journey home from work as an example

I work in Walkden about 8 miles outside of Manchester City Centre. Next to the office is a former railway line that has been converted into a cycle path and forms part of National Route 55. This route actually runs from Ironbridge in Shropshire to Preston via Stafford, Macclesfield and Wigan.

In Germany, this would be called the 'Industr