Background | Responsibilities | Cycle ownership and use | Safety | Security
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Redway Milton Keynes Redways and Leisure Routes

An Information Sheet


The Redways are a network of paths in Milton Keynes, of around 200km in extent, for the use of pedestrians and cyclists. They are generally 3m wide with a red tarmac (but sometimes blockwork) surface.

Redways were intended (Note 1) "to show for the first time on a city-wide scale how travel for pedestrians and cyclists can be made convenient, safe and pleasant. ... Above all, accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists - particularly children - should be greatly reduced". The success of the paths in all these regards is, however, highly controversial.

An original plan for Redways advocated a secondary grid throughout the new town, passing through the centres of estates and bisecting the primary grid of main roads. The corners of estates would also be linked to those adjacent. In practice this strategy has hardly ever been implemented. Instead, most Redways have been constructed as a maze of largely indirect local paths, which need to be linked for the purpose of making through journeys. Feedback from former planners of Milton Keynes Development Corporation confirms the perception that Redways were primarily envisaged as a leisure facility rather than as a serious transport system.

Complaints about the indirectness of paths, and recognition of the increasing number of cyclists who preferred to use the grid roads (Note 2), led to the introduction of cross-city Redways in the late 1980s, which generally run alongside the main roads. Another trend since the mid-80s is the routing of most other Redways alongside estate roads. This is largely in response to public fears about using more isolated paths, but has led to significant problems of its own, particularly as cyclists here encounter many more crossings of side roads and driveways than a cyclist using the estate road itself.

In the majority of cases Redways cross grid roads by underpass or bridge, although at-grade crossings have become more common in the later phases of development. Almost all estate road crossings are at-grade, including those on cross-city routes which are often situated immediately adjacent to grid roads and within the national speed limit.

Leisure routes, which pass through the linear parks, are narrower than Redways and have a loose gravel surface. Their function is more clearly aimed at the casual user yet, paradoxically, routes are frequently more direct and continuous than Redways, with fewer at-grade road crossings. Leisure routes are not lit at night.

Redways and leisure routes are supplemented by footpaths, which are mostly short links within estates. There are no continuous footpath routes between estates; pedestrians have to use the Redways. In some places, however, new footpaths have been built adjacent to grid roads to improve access and in response to many pedestrians walking alongside or within these roads.

Almost nowhere within the new town area are cyclists barred from using footpaths, although they are rarely suitable for such use.


Until its demise in 1992, all development in Milton Keynes was controlled by Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC). MKDC was responsible for designing and building all types of highway in the new town area, as well as for all aspects of planning generally. Since 1992 a similar rôle has been undertaken by the Commission for New Towns (CNT).

When complete, most highways (but not leisure routes) are formally adopted by the Highway Authority, which was Buckinghamshire County Council until April 1997, and is now Milton Keynes Council.

Adoption takes place "When the Engineer is satisfied that the whole of the works have been properly completed"(Note 3), and the Highway Authority is then responsible for changes, traffic management and maintenance.

Leisure routes are not adopted as public highways, but are for the greater part transferred to the Milton Keynes Parks Trust as private paths which the public are permitted to use.

Impact on cycle ownership and use

Cycle ownership in Milton Keynes is higher than the national average, at around 1.79 cycles per household (Note 4). It is likely that this has been encouraged by the existence of Redways and leisure routes.

Cycle use, on the other hand, is a different matter. It is evident from casual observation that cycling is not a commonplace activity in Milton Keynes. In most places Redways and leisure routes are little used and it is possible to travel many miles without seeing a cyclist.

Cycling accounts for only 4.3% of journeys to work (Note 5) in Milton Keynes. For these journeys, the grid roads and estate roads are each preferred by nearly a quarter of cyclists, leaving the Redways with a little over a half of cycling trips (Note 6). Clearly the Redways have not had a special influence on people choosing to cycle for this purpose.

Furthermore cycle use for journeys to work is not much higher in Milton Keynes than in Aylesbury Vale (4.0%), whilst it is significantly less than in neighbouring Mid-Bedfordshire (16.6%). Neither of the latter districts have networks of cycle paths.

The ease of making journeys by car in Milton Keynes is very likely a disincentive to cycle, but around a quarter of households do not have access to a car and in a large proportion of other households weekday car use is restricted to one person. Bus services in Milton Keynes are also poorer than in Aylesbury or Bedford, which would be expected to result in cycle use being more significant.

Comprehensive data about cycling for leisure in Milton Keynes is not available, although cycling is perceived only as a leisure activity by most people. Isolated counts suggest that even in favourable circumstances more than about a dozen cyclists an hour on most leisure routes is unusual. The principal exceptions to this are at Willen Lake, where on fine summer Sunday afternoons a moderate number of families cycle, and in the linear park from Furzton to Tattenhoe, which is popular with local children. There is reason to believe that many of the people cycling at Willen arrive by car, and that a significant proportion do not live in Milton Keynes.

Although cycle sales are buoyant in Milton Keynes, so is the second-hand market. Cycle dealers report that many cycles they sell are returned after a few months with less than 100 miles of use. The experience of using Redways has not convinced these people that cycling should be an on-going activity for them.

Despite the lack of evidence that the Redways and leisure routes have led to much more cycling overall, 69% of cyclists say that the Redways have encouraged them to cycle more (Note 7). The explanation of this paradox would appear to be that the growth in cycle use induced by the Redways is mainly in the form of occasional short-distance recreational journeys (the sum of which is small at any one time). Many survey respondents noted how much less suitable Redways are for commuting and other enabling trips.


Cycling safety has long been a controversial subject in Milton Keynes. Many people perceive motor traffic to be the main danger to cyclists; cycle paths such as the Redways which keep cyclists away from motor vehicles are therefore thought de-facto to be the safest routes for cyclists to use. There is, however, considerable evidence to challenge this view.

Stats 19 statistics

The most frequently cited data on traffic accidents is that gathered by the Police, using Stats 19 forms, and collated by the Highway Authority. These are generally regarded as the 'official' accident statistics.

It is known that many accidents involving cyclists are not reported to the Police, but this is especially the case for accidents that occur on cycle paths where fewer than 3% of accidents are believed to be reported. (Note 8). In particular, accidents that do not involve a motor vehicle are rarely recorded even when serious.

In Milton Keynes this situation has been aggravated by a frequent unwillingness on the part of the Police to accept accident reports from cyclists.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the Stats 19 statistics have recorded a considerable number of Redway injuries, particularly in recent years. Table 1 lists the comparative accident performance of Redways, estate roads and grid roads in the new town area.

Table 1 Cyclist accidents 1988 - 1997 Stats 19
Year Grid road Estate road Redway
1988 13 22 13
1989 19 18 13
1990 26 13 18
1991 15 12 9
1992 12 19 17
1993 13 24 13
1994 25 16 24
1995 13 20 26
1996 16 21 10
1997 20 23 28

Table 2 lists only those accidents that involved serious injury.

Table 2 Serious & fatal cyclist accidents 1988 - 1997 Stats 19
Year Grid road Estate road Redway
1988 2 5 3
1989 2 3 3
1990 7 1 1
1991 2 0 1
1992 1 0 1
1993 1 1 1
1994 1 1 4
1995 1 0 6
1996 2 1 0
1997 3 1 4

There have been as many, or more, serious accidents on Redways as on grid roads in five of the past 10 years, and more than on estate roads in four years.

Since 1987 there have been five fatalities to cyclists using Redways, and one fatality to a cyclist riding along a footway, having used this in preference to a low-trafficked road after leaving a Redway. By comparison, there has been only one grid road fatality in the same period, and none on estate roads.

Although the raw Stats 19 statistics take no account of the relative mileage cycled on the three types of highway, it is probable that this is more than outweighed by the considerable under-reporting of Redway accidents.

Hospital data

An insight into unreported as well as reported accidents can be obtained from data collected by the Accident & Emergency department at Milton Keynes Hospital, as summarised in Table 3.

Table 3 Cyclists attending A&E Milton Keynes Hospital
Year Road Redway Other
1993 86 402
1994 96 477
1995 88 195 242
1996 87 170 305
1997 105 178 292

It should be noted that accidents to Redway cyclists at road crossings are, for administrative reasons, recorded as road accidents. Also the road and 'other' statistics cover a geographical area much larger than the new town, to which Redways are restricted.

The ordinary hospital data is itself subject to under-reporting and includes no information about injury severity. Two more detailed hospital-based surveys have looked into cyclist injuries in greater detail.

A one-month survey in 1991 produced the comparisons shown in Table 4 for the Milton Keynes new town area. There were also a further 15 Redway accidents recorded which have not been satisfactorily explained but which may have involved pedestrians or cyclists (Two pedestrian Redway injuries are known to have taken place during this month, one as a result of a collision with a cyclist).

Table 4 Cyclist casualties August 1991 MK General Hospital
Injury Grid road Estate road Redway
Serious 0 0 3
Slight 0 1 11
Total 0 1 14

A longer survey took place from April to July 1992, during which period at least 281 people attended Accident & Emergency after a cycle accident. The distribution of accident location is shown in Table 5. Once more, accidents to Redway cyclists at road junctions are recorded under road and the road and 'other' accidents embrace a much large geographical area. It is noteworthy that only 7 of the 13 grid road accidents involved a motor vehicle (and in one of these instances the cyclist was using a Redway).

Table 5 Location of cycle accidents April - July 1992 MK General Hospital
Location Casualties
Redway 69
Leisure route 10
Cycle path/lane 10
Grid road 13
Main road 8
Residential road 41
Other road 12
Footpath/pavement 48
Other 35

Cyclist surveys

The 1993 survey of cyclists (Note 7) recorded the accidents shown in Table 6. Overall 27% of respondents had suffered an accident on a Redway in the previous year, against 6% on estate roads and just 3% on grid roads.

Table 6 Accidents to cyclists: 1993 survey
Highway Injury accidents Damage-only
Grid road 2 1
Estate road 7 0
Redway 27 25

It might be thought that the relatively low accident rate for grid roads is because few cyclists use them and those who do so are relatively experienced. The survey suggests otherwise. As shown in Table 7, 43% of respondents cycle on grid roads at least once a week. It must be assumed, therefore, that these roads are widely used by cyclists of average skill.

Table 7 Cyclists' use of highways (at least once per week)
Highway % of cyclists
Grid road 43%
Estate road 88%
Redway 92%

This survey also attempted to relate accident risk to exposure. Table 8 shows the total average distance cycled in a week by all respondents on the three kinds of highway. Although these will inevitably be only approximate totals, there is no reason to believe that they favour any one type of highway more than another. Some cyclists were able to give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage.

Table 8 Total weekly distance cycled (miles) by all survey respondents
Highway Distance cycled
Grid road 766
Estate road 566
Redway 1960

Table 9 combines the results of tables 6 and 8 to show the relative accident performance of each type of highway, normalised in terms of accidents per million kilometres cycled (a normalisation commonly employed for this type of analysis).

Table 9 Accidents per 106 km cycled
Highway Injury accidents All accidents
Grid road 31 47
Estate road 149 149
Redway 166 319

This suggests that a cyclist is more than twice as likely to suffer an accident on a Redway than on an estate road, with the grid roads being the least hazardous type of highway relative to distance cycled by a wide margin.

Causes of Redway accidents

Detailed examination of 188 Redway and leisure route traffic accidents (the term traffic accident being intended to relate to accidents to cyclists whilst in the course of purposeful journeys as opposed to play activities) indicates contributory factors as shown in Table 10.

Table 10 Contributory factors in Redway accidents
Factor All accidents Serious or fatal accidents
Visibility 37% 44%
Surfaces 35% 31%
Sharp bends 30% 8%
Obstructions 16% 13%
User behaviour 13% 15%
Gradient 11% 6%
Lighting 10% 13%
Bollards 7% 8%
Dogs 6% 11%
Vandalism 2% 2%
Cycle failure 1% 0%

At a considerable proportion of accident locations Redways are below national standards. Poor visibility - frequently due to vegetation - is the biggest single cause of accidents, but other common causes include sharp bends, steep gradients, bollards, slippery bridges, loose gravel (particularly on leisure routes) and mud (often a result of inadequate drainage). In short, features which are not compatible with the inherent limitations of a bicycle.

Another common accident cause is as a result of the very poor user discipline on Redways. Observation suggests that cycling on the left is more the exception than the rule and frequently cyclists and other users take insufficient care for the hazards that are present.

Arguably this is not helped by a complete absence of centre lines and other reminders to keep left, and the unsuitability of many paths for typical cycling speeds. 50% of respondents to the 1993 survey said that the Redways are not well suited for cycling at their preferred speed whilst others travel faster regardless.

Some of the most serious Redway injuries have been as a result of head-on collisions between cyclists; a type of accident that is a common cause of cycle path fatalities. On Redways, bad forward visibility, sharp bends and wrong-side riding have invariably been the cause of cyclists colliding head-on. Serious injury has also resulted after collisions with dogs, which may leap unforeseen from dense path-side vegetation.

Redway accidents seem to afflict all kinds of cyclist, including those who might be regarded as highly skilled. The unique environment of Redways is probably a reason. It may also be significant that some of the most serious road injuries have been suffered by people who normally cycle on Redways, but who have been forced to divert exceptionally through path closure, flooding, etc. Cycle paths are thought by some to lead to a decline in cycling skill.


Amongst the public at large, 'danger' using Redways is more usually synonymous with a lack of personal security than the likelihood of vehicular accident. The risk of personal attack is probably lower in Milton Keynes than in many towns of a similar size, but attacks have taken place and more often than not on Redways.

It is easy to say that the risk has been exaggerated out of all proportion by press reporting, but there are special circumstances in Milton Keynes that increase the fear of attack. Easily the greatest problem is the abundant and close vegetation next to Redways. As well as suggesting a possible refuge for wrong-doers, dense leaves create black holes, absorbing light and making many Redways gloomy and hostile places, particularly at night. Very few people use the paths after dark.

It is also important that a person can deal with 'suspicious' circumstances - incidents which on 99% of occasions hold no actual threat, but where someone is acting in a way that makes an oncomer unsure. Along a road it is usually a simple matter for a cyclist or a pedestrian to pass by at a distance. On a 3m wide Redway, there is no option that will put a sufficient space between the threatening and threatened.

Attitudes of cyclists

The 1993 survey (Note 7) provided a broad insight into the opinions of cyclists regarding the various types of highway in Milton Keynes. A previous survey in 1984 had shown similar results.

Table 11 summarises the views of respondents with regard to how satisfied they are with various criteria. With the exception of perceived safety, the Redways fare less well than roads in all respects.

Table 11 Cyclists' satisfaction with criteria 1993 survey
Criteria Grid roads Estate roads Redways
Safety 37% 69% 79%
Security 84% 85% 60%
Comfortable surface 92% 88% 70%
Effort for cycling 51% 51% 22%
Maintenance 91% 87% 61%
Lighting 88% 83% 50%
Finding your way 71% 22% 19%
Speed 99% 84% 50%

Table 12 lists the proportion of respondents who found certain, specified, criteria a problem when using Redways.

Table 12 Problems for cyclists using Redways 1993 survey
Pedestrians 30%
Dogs 55%
Horses 5%
Children playing 48%
Motorcycles 15%
Blockwork surfaces 33%
Works in progress 52%

Only 1 in 7 cyclists finds sharing Redways with pedestrians satisfactory.

In response to a free-form question asking about the main problems with Redways, the main criticisms concerned poor sightlines, sharp bends and steep gradients. User discipline, maintenance and security issues were also prominent in replies.

Suitability for cycling

Different types of cyclist have different needs - there is no such thing as a 'typical' cyclist. This section assesses how well the Redways meet the needs of different cyclists and the potential for changes to meet their needs better.


The typical commuter cyclist values speed and directness, on a route where momentum may be maintained. Redways are least suited to this kind of cyclist as the paths have a low design speed, routes are often indirect and momentum is frequently lost on sharp bends, where visibility is poor and when climbing hills (which are more severe and more frequently encountered than on the roads). Surface quality is also unsuited to travelling quickly.

It is predicted that big increases in cycling could come about through the encouragement of commuting by bike, and this is likely to be one of the most effective ways of bringing about modal shift from cars. It is difficult, however, to envisage changes to Redways that would make them suitable for widespread commuting as the shortcomings are too extensive. This type of cyclist is best accommodated on the roads.


Routes for people shopping regularly by bike need to be direct, easy to follow, with minimal gradients (particularly for the 'loaded' journey home) and good surfaces (not the least to protect fragile purchases). The conservation of momentum is important to minimise fatigue.

In many places Redways are too hilly for heavily laden cycles and surfaces too rough. Non-flush junctions with roads are a particular problem. Poor visibility and sharp bends destroy momentum, whilst paths are often indirect. Redways are generally unsuited to towing goods trailers.

In some locations where hills are less common it may be possible to improve sightlines, curvature and surfaces to improve the suitability of Redways for shopping journeys. The paths are likely, however, to remain more tiring for cycling over any distance than road routes.


Casual cyclists may cycle to work, the shops or for other purposes but will usually cover only short distances over which they are unhurried.

These cyclists often find the environment of Redways and leisure routes more pleasant than roads and this outweighs for them a longer distance or the need to take more care. Nevertheless casual cyclists are vulnerable to the actions of others where sightlines are restricted, improvements to which would yield useful benefits.


Redways and leisure routes can provide interesting routes for recreational cycling, the main problems being associated with bad sightlines, sharp bends and surface hazards, such as loose gravel and slippery wooden bridges.

Improvement to sightlines and surfaces could bring about real gains for low-speed leisure cycling. Changes to signing to simplify navigation would also be an advantage.

Novice cyclists

People new to cycling need safe areas to develop basic cycling skills and Redways might seem to offer such a facility. But a safe environment for such people requires more than an absence of heavy traffic, for until skills are developed they are particularly vulnerable to poor surfaces, bad visibility, blind corners and steep descents.

Generally Redways have too many hazards which require a degree of competence that is neither trivial nor readily appreciated. To better suit novice cyclists, improvements are needed with regard to sightlines, gradients and surfaces.


Children have many of the same requirements as novice adults but they have even less well developed skills of judgement and caution. Children will often cycle fast even when it would be obvious to an adult that conditions are not suitable. Cycle path design therefore needs to have an extra margin for error, particularly with regard to design speed and sightlines. Children are very vulnerable at road crossings, where changes are needed to improve both visibility and safety.


Elderly people will usually cycle more slowly than younger adults but they still require direct routes, good surfaces and, above all, minimal gradients. They are also vulnerable when sightlines are poor to other cyclists appearing suddenly with whom they may not be able to interact quickly, and also to traffic which moves fast at road crossings.

Many Redways are too hilly for elderly people to cycle but elsewhere improvements to sightlines and surfaces could bring benefits.

'Challenge' cyclists

People who cycle specifically for fitness or as a challenge are probably the best suited to the hilly terrain of many Redways. On the other hand such cyclists want to move and manoeuvre quickly and their use of Redways can bring dangers for both themselves and others. The more open environment of leisure routes is better suited to their needs.


It is difficult to envisage any use of Redways or leisure routes for sports cyclists as design speeds are well below the needs of this type of rider.

A future for Redways

It is clear that the vision of Redways as the primary network for cycling in Milton Keynes cannot be met for there are too many shortcomings of design which make the paths unsuited to many cycling needs. At the same time the safety record of Redways and leisure routes has been much less satisfactory than intended, in part, perhaps, because they are being used in ways not envisaged.

A primary necessity must be to decide what role the Redways are to play. They should be seen and treated as part of a serious transport system - or else recognised that they are not. A realistic view needs to be taken as to the kinds of cycling for which the paths are intended.

This will clearly have consequences in terms of the resources needed to bring the Redways up to the required standard to fulfil their agreed role, and to maintain them subsequently. It is unrealistic to expect Redways to accommodate a broader range of cyclists than their design justifies, and this will be reflected in the accident record. At the same time there needs to be a strategy for cycling not accommodated by the Redways.

It would be useful to categorise individual Redways according to their suitability. Thus higher standard paths (upgraded if necessary) could be promoted as full-function cycle paths, whilst more problematic Redways (such as those parallel to estate roads) are depicted on maps as suitable only for low-speed cycle use, and perhaps downgraded to footpaths or footways as major maintenance becomes necessary.

It may be that certain Redways or inter-estate links could be brought up to a higher standard than others in order to create cycle routes that are based primarily on local roads. This may be one way of addressing the demand for faster, direct routes by cyclists who do not have the confidence to use grid roads.


1* Redway, Milton Keynes Development Corporation, June 1980.

2* Grid roads are the network of main roads which criss-cross Milton Keynes. For the greater part they are subject only to the national speed limit (70 mph) and have large roundabouts at principal junctions.

3* Redway Adoption Agreement, section 3.

4* Changed Travel - Better World, a comparison of Milton Keynes and Almere, Netherlands. TEST 1991.

5* 1991 census data.

6* Peartree Lane cycle and pedestrian screenline count by MKCUG, April 1998. These figures have not been subject to significant variation since 1987.

7* Survey of a broad cross-section of cyclists by MKCUG, 1993. 120 respondents, of whom 75% were men and 25% women.

8* Future of Cycling Conference, Institution of Civil Engineers, by John Morgan TRL. 1995.

Revised July 1998

Cycling Digest Infrastructure Index