Should cyclists take priority on the network of paths created in their name - or do walkers and horse riders have the same rights?
Signs identifying the National Cycling Network (NCN) in Lancashire are encouraging bike riders to dominate paths designed also to be used by pedestrians and horses, according to an equine enthusiast.
Chris Peat, Regional Bridleways Officer for the British Horse Society, told a meeting of the Lancashire Local Access Forum (LLAF) that some cyclists had a “get out of the way” attitude when using the routes.
And she said that local authorities are “not helping” by using signs and road markings which appear to give priority to those on two wheels, rather than four legs.
“What does a sign with a bike on it really say?” Ms. Peat asked. “It says, ‘You’re important - and everybody else can just get out of the way, because I’m coming through.'
“They come whizzing up behind a horse and then wonder why it ends up in a ditch. And in every case, the cyclist gives the other user a mouthful of abuse,” she added.
The NCN is made up of 14,000 miles of paths across the country, running along dedicated routes or existing quiet sections of road. Around a third of the network is vehicle-free and those stretches are designated as “shared use” for anybody else who wants to enjoy them. Lancashire County Council, which is responsible for signage on the paths, says it is actively promoting the network as being suitable for different users.
The charity Sustrans, which developed the NCN, says it encourages respectful use of the network for the benefit of everybody.
In a statement responding to Ms. Peat’s comments, a spokesperson said: “As more and more people recognise the fantastic benefits of cycling and walking for everyday travel or leisure, our shared use paths around the UK are getting busier - so it’s important that people respect the needs of others when using the route.
“The National Cycle Network includes many traffic-free, shared-use paths where people can walk, cycle, horse-ride or use any kind of non-motorised transport - and everyone should share the paths with care.”
Committee member, Rosemary Hogarth, representing long-distance horse riders, said that not all of the county’s NCN routes posed a problem for riders. She told the meeting that the route from Lancaster to Glasson Dock was an example of horse-riders and cyclists living in harmony.
And Paul McKeown, speaking on behalf of mountain bikers in Lancashire, said he had experienced only courteous users on his travels.
“I must be doing something wrong - I usually come home without having had an argument with anybody,”he said.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "We are keen to encourage all people, whether they are cyclists, horse riders or pedestrians, to get out and about to enjoy Lancashire's beautiful countryside.
"We have been promoting the new 'shared' routes of the East Lancashire Cycleway, part of the National Cycling Network, as suitable for everyone, including signage containing images representing horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians.
"We would always ask everyone using these paths to give due regard to other users and remember that no-one group has priority."
***The National Cycling Network (NCN) began in Bristol in 1977.
***55 percent of the UK population lives within a mile of the nearest section of the NCN.
***The network has connected major towns and cities since individual paths began to be linked up in the early 1990s.
***The Lancashire stretch of the NCN is known as "route 6" and will eventually link London with Keswick.
***The paths stretch from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles.
***Half of trips made on the network are by people on foot.
***27 million school runs and 165 million commuting journeys are made on the NCN each year.