According to Sustrans, 8200 miles of National Routes were open by the end of 2003, with a projection of 10 000 miles open by 2005, representing an 18 percent increase of total open National Routes in 2003.
Trailside counters show that total use increases by 30 percent, from 97 million trips in 2002 to 126 million in 2003.
Traffic-free routes (which account for one third of the Network) were instrumental to this growth, with 13 percent year-on-year growth between 2002 and 2003, compared with 6 percent on-road sections of the National Cycle Network.
A comparison between Sustrans' route user figures and government cycling statistics reveals inconsistencies, says Sustrans. Both show an increase in on-road cycling trip levels but Sustrans' figures also demonstrate significant increases on traffic-free sections. While the National Travel Survey is now based on a significantly expanded sample, it continues to exclude trips on traffic-free routes.
Andy Cope, Sustrans Research and Monitoring Unit, said: "We believe it is in the government's interest to include all cycling trips, both on and off roads, as this will show a more positive trend towards reaching its own targets. We feel that if the true growth in cycling usage is not recognised then there is a danger of undervaluing the potential benefits of cycling."
Sustrans said its figures demonstrate that the greatest growth is being realised on these routes, and reinforce the importance of the National Cycle Network to achieving targets for growth in cycling. Sustrans Route Monitoring Unit is working with the DfT to improve statistics.
The main Route User Monitoring Report for the National Cycle Network to the end of 2003 will be published mid June.