Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

ELGT Edinburgh Cycleway

A tale of two urban cycle tracks

Mark Twain once said “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live”.

Whilst we have come a long way in transport systems since then, the risks involved for the many cyclists who choose to use our bikes for various local journeys in sharing road space with motor vehicles remain high. This points to the need to reconfigure transport choices and the urban infrastructure necessary to support these choices. In this short article I consider how organisations in two cities have re-purposed derelict railway tracks as car-free paths to provide an urban alternative to local road journeys.

Manchester’s Fallowfield Loop (see The Platform’s recent profile here), opened in 2003, is based on an 8 mile (13 kilometre) stretch of disused railway line in south Manchester, providing a green corridor for pedestrians, horse and bike riders which is wholly off-road, apart from a 200m connecting section, and is thought to be Britain’s longest single urban cycleway.

In contrast, the Edinburgh network covers 46 miles (75 kilometres) of paths and tracks, many of them disused railway lines, in a complex web around the city which explicitly excludes routes that use stretches of road. Publicity, maintenance and stewardship for both initiatives are coordinated by charitable groups, and the aims and priorities of these are critical within their local contexts.

The Fallowfield Loop, now largely owned by Sustrans, is managed at a local level by Sustrans in partnership with the Friends of Fallowfield Loop, a voluntary charitable group of local people, many of them cyclists, supported by civic and community groups, who campaigned for the renewal of the derelict rail track.

The Friends group meets every month and charges a nominal annual fee for membership. It aims to promote the use and development of the route and to represent its members’ and other users’ interests with statutory and voluntary organisations. It organises and co-ordinates publicity and promotional events, and runs a calendar of litter-clearing and planting, including wildlife habitat improvement with shrubs, plants and bat boxes. Glass and debris is removed regularly by members who have adopted short sections of track.

The conversion of the route itself was partly financed by Sustrans, together with Manchester City Council, Sainsbury’s and others. In December 2010 the Friends won the “Contribution to the Environment – Group” category in the Manchester City Council “Be Proud” awards.

In contrast, Edinburgh’s cycle track and surroundings are owned and managed by the council, and were characterised by low awareness and use, reflected in a low maintenance priority with the exception of some key and well known areas,  and where Sustrans routes existed.

The Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspace Trust (ELGT) in partnership with The Bike Station (existing charities with a history of successful co-working), secured a year of funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund to improve accessibility, visibility and safety with a programme of capital work carried out by path repair and tree management contractors.

This ran alongside the co-ordination of extensive regular and ongoing conservation work including litter-picking, maintenance and tree, bulb and seed planting with local volunteer and residents’ groups. Additional grants from Central Scotland Green Network have enabled ELGT to survey, improve and monitor wildlife habitats along the tracks.

The network of tracks has been mapped by the The Bike Station as the Innertube, as part of their ‘Better Way To Work’ project which promoted cycling as a way of commuting to and from work. The aim of the map was to promote the extensive, yet underused and not widely known, network which suffered from a lack of identity which made it difficult to talk about and promote. The Innertube concept is an iconic brand name and visual creation that generates excitement about the tracks, clearly demonstrates their reach and extent, and provides a hook on which to run events and activities.

Although the outcome of safe and well-maintained off-road tracks is similar in both initiatives, the frameworks for achieving this are different within these two urban contexts. The Loop is managed by a single-interest local voluntary group explicitly formed to bring the derelict track into use, whereas the Innertube’s track maintenance continues to be managed by the council, with significant activity by the partnership of two existing charitable organisations to co-ordinate track-side conservation.

The continued and increasing use of both tracks acts as a lever to generate council interest and support in working towards local and national strategies for increasing exercise, improving health and reducing reliance on cars.

The Alternative?


In spite of many recent policy initiatives to improve urban cycling infrastructure, the daily reality is that cycling in cities continues to be on roads designed and maintained by formal transport governance structures for the convenience of cars, buses and other vehicles. Cycling on these involves a considerable element of personal risk in an environment that feels, generally, hostile, and in which bikes can be perceived as a nuisance and a hazard.

In identifying and bringing the Fallowfield Loop and Edinburgh Innertube into use, the groups involved have successfully realised practical alternatives to urban road networks, conceived by local cyclists on tracks where travel is designed, signposted and managed for the convenience and pleasure of those on foot, horseback or bike.

A brief comparison of the initiatives shows the ongoing complex and multiple relationships sustained by stewardship groups with funding bodies and local authorities to ensure that the network of urban transport infrastructures extends travel choices for local people and includes safe passage for cyclists. There is clearly more than one route for ensuring cycling safety in our cities.


Sources:  Publicly available information online. This profile has been written drawing on work carried out through the EPSRC funded Retrofit 2050 project.


What’s ‘The Alternative?’

Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles on Platform.

Disclaimer: The article has been put together using publicly available information and online sources as part of a larger ongoing research project. The author has no responsibility for the content or accuracy of those sites.