On this sunny Sunday morning, I decided to cycle along my current favourite route, heading south out of Birmingham towards Worcester. The first few miles are along the Birmingham & Worcester Canal towpath, recently refurbished through the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. I then switch to the NCN5, which initially follows quiet paths along the Rea River Valley, before moving onto residential streets in a suburban area. Moving further away from the city, the route takes less-used and narrow back roads out towards the countryside and continues in this manner into Worcestershire.
For a leisurely weekend ride, such routes are undoubtedly the best: quiet, scenic and above all traffic-free. They have their downsides though: cycling through a park requires a certain degree of skill to avoid dogs and children running across your path for a start and you will likely not be taking the shortest route to your destination. Sunday: fine; Monday, heading to work: not so fine. For the purposes of commuting, cyclists prefer a shorter, more direct, even if busier and more dangerous route.
This presents the problem of safety (or at least perceived safety). The answer? To me, it seems really obvious: segregated cycleways, a.k.a. “cycle superhighways”, as implemented in London, or simply “cycle paths” in many other European cities. The Guardian actually discusses these today – to me, they are a resounding success, to be continued and built upon. However, a number of bike users will not necessarily feel comfortable using cycle routes which, despite being largely separated, will nevertheless require them to mix with busy road traffic. This is why I feel it is particularly important to continue developing a network of quiet routes alongside the obvious, direct, headline-grabbing superhighways in order to encourage more leisure and family cycling.
Which kinds of routes do you prefer and why? Short, direct and fast, or quiet, scenic and relaxing?