Minimum widths for combined cycle and pedestrian routes

Published: Monday, 26 August 2019

THE Department of Transport (DoT) have issued a guideline for the design of paths for cyclists and pedestrians as part of road construction projects, writes Paul Robinson.

They represent good practice to provide adequate safety for both pedestrians and cyclists, and so are equally applicable to such paths on towpaths.

The guideline is called 'The Geometric Design of Pedestrian, Cycle and Equestrian Routes—TA 90/05'. It can be found on the internet by searching TA 90/05, and is quite easy to understand. We are most interested in the width required.

Minimum cycle/pedestrian width 3 metres

The minimum required width for a shared cycle/pedestrian path is 3 metres. However if flows are high (so that cyclists travelling in opposite directions frequently have to pass each other) then the minimum width should be 5 metres.

For towpaths I would assume 3 metres might be acceptable for rural paths used mainly for recreational use (not including time trials!), but on paths where there is commuter cycling 5 metres should be provided. In both cases there should be some form of segregation, such as a white line, between cyclists and pedestrians.

Greater space to edge of canal

In addition there should be at least 0.5 metres 'verge' between the edge of the path and the fence. The guideline also says 'Where a path is adjacent to hazards such as a ditch (or other water feature) a greater separation should be considered to minimise the risks'.  So there should be a greater space between the path and the edge of the canal.

The widths above do not take into account any other users of the towpath so there should also be additional space, separate from the path, where there are likely to be moored boats, at locks, so boaters operating the lock do not have to go onto the cycleway, and (dare I say it) for fishermen where fishing is permitted.

To summarise

Low use (rural): 3.0 metres pathway plus at least 0.5 metre 'verge' each side plus width for other users

High use (commuter cycling) : 5.0 metres pathway plu 'verge' plus width for other users.

I have also had a quick look at the requirements in other countries, which are pretty much in line with the above.

The recommendations above are intended to provide a reasonable level of risk to all users. For narrower paths the risk of collision, and injury, will increase.

Could be culpable after an accident

Although there is not a specific legal requirement to use the above guideline for towpaths, legislation reqires all organisations which build combined cycle/pedestrian routes to do so safely. I am an engineer, not a lawyer, but would think that whoever is responsible for such a route could be culpable after an accident if the guidelines have not been met.

The guideline could also be a useful in consultation and planning situationsif the guideline can't be met, then the path should not be built.

CaRT should be taking measures

Similarly, CaRT should taking adequate measures to keep cycle speeds low enough to provide an acceptable level of risk. This does not appear to be the case. Obviously CaRT cannot monitor every section of cycle path continuously, but there should be frequent signs advising a safe maximum speed.

[Paul was a road designer and ended as a safety engineer doing risk assessments for all kinds of potentially dangerous systems.]