Creating an Inclusive Cycling Network – The Main Network

In the previous article we covered the basics of how to create a cycle network. In this article we will look at the main cycle network and how this can be designed using the techniques outlined in CROW.

Planning the network

The main cycling network should create a grid of routes around 400m apart. From CROW: Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (page 64):
Cohesion is the most elementary requirement for a main cycle network. …
A simplified indicator for the extent of cohesion within the built environment is the grid size of the main cycle network. A grid size of 300 – 500 mis usually assumed within built up areas.

To ensure an effective network, the main cycle network should be planned on choosing the best layout for connecting up an area. Routes should not be avoided because they are difficult to implement. However when building the network, it may be pragmatic to build the easier links first to enable more people to start cycling sooner.

In this example we will focussing on the Heaton area, giving an indication of where the routes could exist.

1: Mark known barriers and the existing crossing points past them. These can be natural barriers like rivers, or man made barriers like train lines and busy roads.

Heaton Boundaries and Links
Boundaries for cycling in the Heaton area and links across them.

2: Locate points of interest. These are places than attract people, this includes schools, shops, places of worship, parks, employment sites, etc.

Heaton Points of Interest
Points of Interest across Heaton

3: Mark on the obvious routes that connect multiple points of interest. Here the most obvious are Chillingham Road and Heaton Road. Then draw additional routes to join up the remaining points of interest. Aim for around 400 metres between parallel routes.

Heaton Main Cycle Network
A potential main cycling network across Heaton

In this map a potential main network layout has been drawn that with the right street design would provide good connectivity across Heaton for cycling.

This method of planning the network moves away from the idea of planning individual routes and focuses on planning for a holistic connected network from the start.

Building the main cycle network:

After planning where the main cycle network should lie, the next step is to decide how the streets should be designed to allow anybody to cycle on them safely.

The type of cycling design required largely depends on the expected amount and speed of motor traffic. If existing volumes or speeds are found to be too high for the ideal street design, changes need to be made to the local area to reduce them. Effective ways of doing this include introducing filters or one systems to prevent through traffic. Removing through motor traffic from residential areas also has the benefit of creating quieter streets that are much more attractive for walking, socialising and creating space for children to play.

The following table (based on data within CROW: Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic) shows the cycle infrastructure needed for the main network based on motor traffic conditions.

Speed of motor vehicles (85th Percentile) Volume of motor vehicles Type of cycle infrastructure
20mph Less than 2500 Bicycle street or mixed traffic
20mph 2000 – 5000 Cycle lane or mixed traffic
20mph > 4000 Cycle path or cycle lane
30mph and above Any Cycle path

In addition to speed and volume, the type of vehicle is also important, if a section is used by heavy vehicles (such a busses), then cyclists need physically separated lanes or paths.


Here we have provided an basic outline of how the main cycle network can be provided as part of cohesive cycle network. To ensure that every journey can be made by cycling from end to end, the streets in between the main cycle network must still be made safe and convenient for cycling, in the next article in this series we will look at how these streets should be designed.