The Milton Keynes cycle network is more dangerous than the road network

This page is a draft and has not yet been endorsed as official Cycling Embassy policy.

Summary of the claim

The Milton Keynes Redways are often used as an example of separated infrastructure for cyclists which has failed to improve the safety of cyclists or significantly boost their number. The superficial similarities between the Milton Keynes Redways and the ‘best practice’ solutions represented by the Dutch solutions to provision for cyclists are often used as a ‘Straw man’ in discussions about dedicated cycle infrastructure, to make the defence of any type of separate facilities difficult

Example sources

This claim is inevitably raised in cycle forums whenever the subject of segregated infrastructure arises, such as Cyclechat, a discussion of a critique of Cyclecraft, which contains a good example of this claim.

Summary of responses

  1. All cycle paths are not created equal. The Milton Keynes Redways are an infrastructural intervention designed primarily to remove cyclists from the grid roads to accommodate the needs and desires of motorists, whilst the approach taken to separation of motor traffic from cyclists employed in The Netherlands is designed to make cycling the easiest mode of transport to use in twons and cities by prioritising cycle traffic & improving cyclist safety.
  2. Where “best practice” infrastructure is discussed, research suggesting that low-quality approaches to the separation of cyclists and motor traffic, such as the Milton Keynes Redways, are often used to attempt to derail the discussion
    1. John Franklin’s article in Traffic Control & Research1 is commonly cited as proof that the Redways, and hence any approach involving any separation of cyclists and motor traffic, are inherently less safe than cycling on roads with large volumes of fast moving motorised traffic, despite the fact that different types of cycle infrastructure have different effects on the safety of cyclists and the fact that the article offers no meaningful comparisons of the rates of accidents involving cyclists on the Milton Keynes Redways compared to the rest of the road network.
  3. The Milton Keynes Redways are very far removed from the infrastructure for cyclists provided in The Netherlands or Denmark. Whilst John Franklin’s research hardly provides evidence that the Redways are more dangerous than the general road network, the Redways do not represent what The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain regards as ‘best practice’.

In more detail

The town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was built as an experiment in town design, started in the late 1960s. At this time, private motoring was almost universally viewed as the future of transport. The now-obvious problems of induced demand, suppression of walking, cycling & public transport, dependence on ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources and health problems related to both the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by excessive car-dependence, the killing and maiming of people in collisions with cars and the premature deaths related to particulate air pollution, were still not widely considered. Milton Keynes was designed primarily around the needs and desires of the private motorist, constructed around a grid of national speed limit A-roads. In order to facilitate high-speed motoring, cyclists were effectively removed from the roads with a separate grid of separate cycle paths; known as the Redways.

The Redways are often used as an argument against implementing any form of separate cycle infrastructure in other parts of the UK. Whilst at the most superficial level, it can be argued that the Dutch and the Milton Keynes approaches are similar (they both involve some degree of separation of cycle and motor traffic), the similarities do not extend beyond the superficial. Unlike the Dutch approach to separate cycle infrastructure, designed to promote cycling by making it subjectively and objectively safer, direct and convenient, the Milton Keynes Redways are primarily an infrastructural intervention designed to benefit the private motorist by removing cyclists and pedestrians from the grid roads, permitting higher speeds and less-attentive driving, whilst leaving cyclists with a network of poorly signed, surfaced and maintained narrow two-way lanes with poor sight-lines, having no priority over side roads or driveways and bringing cyclists into conflict with pedestrians. The Redways have become a popular straw man to be used in forums against anyone who argues for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK; suggesting that what they actually want is a network similar to the Redways in other UK towns and cities.

John Franklin wrote an article about the safety of the Milton Keynes Redways in Traffic Engineering & Control in 19991. In it, he notes that the now-defunct Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) stated that the Redways were designed primarily as a leisure facility, rather than to be a useful part of the transport network. Generally the Redways have grade-separated crossings either under or above the grid roads, although several at-grade crossings also exist. A secondary grid of Redways was originally planned, passing through the centre of estates and bisecting the main roads, but never materialised, leaving instead a maze of largely indirect and poorly signed local paths. The result was that the faster, more confident cyclists instead chose to try their luck on the grid roads; multi-lane roads with speed limits up-to 70 mph, linked to other primary grid-lines by huge roundabouts. The cross-city Redways were constructed in the early 80s in response to the numbers of cyclists choosing to use the grid-roads instead of the low-quality Redways network. These cross-city Redways ran alongside some of the grid roads, although due to the daunting nature of the high-speed grid roads, since the mid 80s there has been a tendency to route Redways alongside estate roads (with no priority over side-roads).

Franklin’s article suggests that despite the many inherent limitations of the Redways, cycle ownership in Milton Keynes was higher than average at the time of the 1991 census, with cycling having a 4.3% commuter modal share, half of which took place on the Redways. The current Milton Keynes LTP3 states that at the time of the 2001 census, 9% of people in Milton Keynes travelled to work on foot or by cycle. The article shows the injury and fatality statistics for cyclists using the Redways, grid roads or local roads from 1988-1997. Unfortunately, these statistics are not given in the context of relative cycling rates on each of these types of road, although the fact that at the time, half of the commuter cycling trips took place on the Redways may in itself be indicative of approximately how many of all cycle trips took place on the Redways.

Injuries Injuries () Serious injury/ Fatalities Serious injury/ Fatalities () Grid Roads 172 32.39 22 37.29 Local Roads 188 35.40 13 22.03 Redways 171 32.20 24 40.68 Total 531 59

Table 1. Injuries and serious injuries/fatalities of cyclists in Milton Keynes between 1988-1997, broken down by road type. In the original article, these figures are given independently for each year. These figures show us literally nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types.

The author notes that there is considerable under-reporting of accidents on the Redways, although provides no source for this claim, and so goes on to look at hospital data from Milton Keynes Hospital from 1993-1997. The hospital data includes no information about the severity of injuries, and for the years 1993 & 1994 makes no distinction between accidents occurring on the Redways or on ‘other’ routes; accidents occurring on non-road, non-Redway routes in an area covering a wider area than just the Milton Keynes ‘new town’ area.

Year Road Redway Other
1993 86 402
1994 96 477
1995 88 195 242
1996 87 170 305
1997 105 178 292

Table 2. Cyclists attending A&E at Milton Keynes Hospital between 1993-1997, broken down by road type. Again, these figures tell us absolutely nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types.

The author also mentions two hospital-based surveys which went into more detail; a one month survey in 1991, and a longer survey between April and July of 1992, breaking down the numbers of cyclists admitted to hospital by the type of road they were injured on. Once again, without providing context of the relative frequency with which the different types of route are used, these numbers tell us precisely nothing about the relative safety of cyclists using the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways.

The closest the author gets to addressing the issue of providing relative usage figures for each of the road types is the results of a survey by the Milton Keynes Cycle Users’ Group in 1993, asking cyclists to report their accident experience in the previous year. 27 % reported having an accident on the Redways in the previous year, versus 6% on local roads and 3% on grid roads. The author suggested that some might assume that the relatively low rate of grid road accidents would be due to the grid roads being used by so few cyclists, and those who elected to use them being particularly proficient and experienced (and fast). To counter this assumption, the author states that “43% of respondents said that they cycle on grid roads at least once a week.” However, 43% stating they use the grid roads “at least once a week” could mean the grid roads represent anything from almost of the respondents cycling, to a minuscule fraction, and it does not address the issue that those electing to use the grid roads being more experienced, proficient and faster cyclists. Without being able to see the source survey, who was polled, where and how, it is difficult to rule out sample bias. When it is considered that the survey was carried out by a local cycling group, it is difficult not to wonder if roadies, who are traditionally fast, confident and experienced cyclists, often preferring a vehicular approach to cycling either for their own convenience of on ideological grounds, were not over-represented in those surveyed when compared to the general population, perhaps grossly. It was stated that;

“This survey also attempted to relate accident risk to exposure. Cyclists were asked to estimate the distance they cycle in a week on each of the three kinds of highway. Inevitably there will be a wide margin of error in these estimates, but there is no reason to believe that they favour one type of highway over another. Some cyclists were able to give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage.”

This statement ignores the potential for bias here. Sport-cyclists in particular are both more likely to travel further (because they travel faster), choose grid roads because they prefer to travel faster (and have the confidence and experience to survive in such a cycle-hostile environment), be a member of their local cycle users’ group (compared to less experienced & enthusiastic cyclists) and be much more likely to be able to, “give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage.”

Highway Injury accidents All accidents
Grid road 31 47
Local road 149 149
Redway 166 319

Table 3. Survey estimate of cyclist accidents per million km cycled, broken down by road type. This is the first attempt to frame the accident figures in the context of relative usage of each road type, although the numbers are estimates given by survey respondents, which disproportionally favours the grid roads because they are favoured by experienced and proficient cyclists, such as roadies, who travel further (due to their greater speed), are more likely to keep detailed records of their mileage and are more easily reached by local cycle users; groups, such as the group which conducted the survey from which these figures were collected.

As an infrastructural intervention designed primarily to benefit the private motorist, with a massively compromised design, they are far removed from ‘best practice’ with respect to the provision for cyclists as seen in The Netherlands. The Milton Keynes Redways represent, at best, a superficial similarity to the Dutch solution to providing for cyclists. Despite this, the Redways are still used as an argument against any kind of separate provison for cyclists being adopted here in the UK, including the Dutch model, which has a proven track-record of success. Where Milton Keynes did separation of cyclists from motor traffic wrong, and for all the wrong reasons, the Dutch separated the motorist from cyclists (where appropriate), for the benefit of cyclists, making driving short distances, and within towns more trouble than it was worth, whilst making cycling subjectively and objectively safe, direct and convenient. The Redways were not designed with the same goal in mind.


1 Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes