hs2 bike
Can rail beget trail for UK

The UK has been uhmming and arhring for years over whether to incorporate bike infrastructure into the development of the multi-billion dollar HS2 high speed train project aimed to spear north-south across the land.

Back in 2016 a feasibility study gave the concept a big tick, concluding that building bike routes along with—if not always beside—the train tracks would connect local communities and boost leisure activities and local tourism.

One thing big rail and road projects will do—if you are not careful—is disconnect communities: they look like, can be built like, and act like a border wall.

But as the cost of HS2 spiralled, politicians took a scythe to the budget and, of course, trimmed the easy options for appearances’ sake rather than concentrate on real engineering value.

Bike routes lost favour.

High speed train routes are hideously expensive to build: you need wide corridors, gentle slopes and curve radii, and hundreds of bridges, tunnels and underpasses, and endless kilometres of impenetrable fencing.

It turns out that that leaving a legacy of bike facilities in the wake of construction is a handful of pennies and farthings in comparison.

You might as well put bike routes on all the access roads you have already built to get the machinery in and out.

Now, it looks like some sense is returning to the debate.

According the London Times Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson is asking about the feasibility of turning up to 320 kilometers of project access roads into bike and walking routes that could be connected up to become a national, end to end active transport corridor.

The concept involves a network of three metre wide bike paths segregated from a 2.5 metre wide footpath, generally parallel to but a safe distance from rail activities.

One prototype section, the 80 kilometre Buckinghamshire Greenway from the Colne Valley south of the Chilterns north to Stowe, beyond Buckingham is already being worked on, but no further commitments have been made.

One problem is that it seems funding will be separately sourced from the nation’s walking and cycling budget, a sure way to ensure some shady cost-shifting by contractors.

From an Australian perspective the concept of acknowledging that providing justifiable bike infrastructure as part of larger projects is very beneficial and cost-effective, and is being seen more often on state government projects in most states.

In Victoria, the Transport Integration Act requires that all transport projects must consider how bike transport can be integrated with the other modes—the proposed airport rail line project for example is working on this.

When this model works properly the transport system as a whole benefits, not just people riding bikes.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.