BCP Active Travel — sometimes you’ve got to go big!

Crimson Rocks
9 min readJan 25, 2021

This is a big idea. Sadly we’re not artists so we can’t provide artistic renditions of what it would look like, you’ll have to use your imagination. For another example of what we’re suggesting please have a look at the Yongsan Line in Seoul, South Korea.

The national Active Travel Scheme is becoming more and more important these days. Our efforts for sustainable living are popping up here there and everywhere and lots of little wins often equate to a big win. However, sometimes we just need a big win on its own to jump-start a sometimes flagging initiative. For the BCP community, this idea is a big win all across the board.

The Target

  • A dedicated route with organised lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, no motor vehicles.
  • It needs to serve as both a reasonable and reliable commuter route, as well as a Sunday-stroll route.
  • It needs to be continuous and not broken up into sections by other transportation links.
  • It needs to enhance the current transportation links, not hinder them.

Cycle lanes on already narrow roads cause more harm than help

If you take a moment to think about all of those Hollywood movies you’ve been watching recently on Netflix and Prime, there is one clear difference between American and British roads; the width. British roads are naturally narrow, so attempting to add cycles lanes to them is theoretically fantastic, but practically terrible.

Combining cyclists and motor vehicles in a narrow space is always a recipe for disaster. Cyclists are fearful of being hit by cars — as any sane person would be — so a lot of would-be cyclists don’t cycle. Worse still, some sadly even become “the cars of the pavement”, and end up treating pedestrians — intentionally or otherwise— as they themselves are treated on the roads.

There is no solution that the current width of our roads realistically provides. So perhaps it’s time to think of a different solution. What is the solution? Dedicated cycle routes!

Example: The Camel Trail

If you’ve ever been to Cornwall — you know, that place literally just down the road that takes forever and a day to get to — you may have come across the Camel Trail. It’s a dedicated cycling, horse riding and walking route that links the towns of Padstow, Wadebridge and Bodmin together. No cars allowed (except maintenance and access), which makes it a paradise of active travel.

The Camel Trail — Cornwall

How to translate a rural cycle route onto an urban layout?

The Camel Trail is a rural cycle route. As such, its construction and maintenance is far simpler and dare I say cheaper than an urban equivalent. The BCP is predominantly urban (approx. 60:40 brownfield:greenbelt) so how can we transform the concept to work within our boundary and fit our needs?

  1. Construct it in the northern sector
    The majority of our greenbelt land is in the northern sector. That’s from Jumpers Common in the north-east all the way west through Hurn, East & West Parley ending up just north of Kinson and Bear Cross. A lovely area, but we’re talking about pedestrians and cyclists as commuters, not Sunday-strollers. This location doesn’t help.
  2. Buy up/lease land through the urban sector and build it
    The BCP’s urban sprawl doesn’t offer up a lot free space for a dedicated cycle route. We would have to buy or lease land and potentially remove buildings just to get to square one! If you think this is a good idea, why not give Sir Peter Hendy (Chairman of Network Rail) a quick phone call and ask him how much fun he’s having negotiating the HS2 project. This is not financially feasible.
  3. Find a forgotten space that can be adapted
    There are many forgotten spaces in an urban area. We’re not talking about that shed at the bottom of your garden that you keep promising to clear out, we’re talking about forgotten in an abstract way. Think outside the box for a bit (not too long, you’ll go crazy) and you start to see them. Here is where we find the solution!

Introducing…*drum-roll*…the railway line!

That’s right folks! Not content with the risks and dangers for cyclists next to motorists, we’re suggesting we put them next to high-speed trains instead! If you’re looking for that adrenaline rush or forgot your morning coffee we’ve got the solution! In all seriousness, we are actually suggesting the railway line, but not how you might think.

Proposed dedicated route for cyclists/pedestrians, from Bournemouth Train Station to Pokesdown for Boscombe Train Station

If — like any normal person — you’ve spent a lot of time looking at railways you’ll notice there are 3 ways you can build them in comparison to the adjacent land. They can be flat, they can be on an embankment or they can have cuttings. Cuttings are where the railway line has cut through the land and is lower than the adjacent properties. Cuttings are your friend, because cuttings can easily become tunnels!

The Proposal

The stretch of railway track from Bournemouth Station to Pokesdown for Boscombe Station is about 95% — 99% cuttings. The height of the cuttings does vary along this route, but let’s not worry about that right now.

We could convert this stretch of track into a single continuous 2.6km long tunnel with a flat roof. On the top of this shiny new roof we put our dedicated cycle/walking route. Just let that sink in for a moment. You could walk or cycle directly from Bournemouth station to Pokesdown station or vice versa, and then from there go on to reach any location you like, without coming into contact with a single car, lorry or bus.

First Glance Benefits

There are many first glance benefits to this idea.We’re going to list some of them here for you, but this is by no means all of them.

  • A major boost to the Active Travel Scheme locally.
  • Provides a completely safe transportation link for non-vehicular commuters reducing congestion on roads, and serves as a safe space to exercise.
  • The continuous railway tunnel blocks all unauthorised access to the tracks, and stops potential vehicle falls from overline bridges landing on the tracks.
  • Drastic reduction in noise and air pollution for adjacent and pseudo-adjacent properties.
  • Increases values of adjacent properties.
  • Provides possibility of direct entry to adjacent private properties via gardens.
  • Creates opportunities to regenerate under-utilised adjacent commercial properties.
  • Helps to revitalise the surrounding neighbourhoods, increasing happiness and pride.
  • Encourages South West Trains to renovate Boscombe for Pokesdown station (including fixing the bleedin’ lifts!)
  • Provides intense renewable energy harvesting opportunities from wind, and some rainwater harvesting for dog walkers.
  • Reduces running costs of two connected train stations resulting from renewable energy harvesting.

How To Do It

If you’ve got an engineering degree you will have already worked this out, but for those of us who don’t let’s fathom it out. To build a tunnel we need 3 things; 2 walls and a roof.

We want the roof of the tunnel to be as close in level to the adjacent properties as possible. We don’t want to be sunbathing in our gardens with a constant stream of cyclists staring at us, because we’re private people, so height is important. This is why stretches of railway track with cuttings are our friend.

Access Points

We need entry/exit points at both ends of the line. We must also have them along the line because not every person using the route will want to travel the entire distance. We achieve this by integrating access points into the already present overline bridges along the route. It also makes sense to add more

Map showing entry/exist points along proposed route. Red = vehicular, yellow = pedestrian, blue proposed additions

Surface Design And Layout

The surface of this new route should be fit for purpose. As it serves as the roof of the tunnel and is used by cyclists (among others) it realistically needs to have a dedicated asphalt section.

It is also important to clearly demarcate sections for different types of activities. Look at how motorways have lanes for varying speeds and you get the idea. There are 4 speeds to consider:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Sunday afternoon cycling
  • I‘m late for work cycling

Demarcation of lanes can be achieved in a variety of different ways. Height variations in lanes or separation of interests utilising structured flora (raised beds opportunity) are both viable options.

The route should preferably be split in half just like a road. Each half would be mono-directional, which would be highly beneficial for those cyclists and runners in a hurry.

Seating Opportunities

A “5th Lane” should also be included along the outer sides of the route where applicable and serve as seating opportunities. These are best located at points along the route that are not directly adjacent to a private property. We need seating, but we don’t want to create a new type of noise pollution for local residents.

Map showing sections of the route without directly adjacent residential properties.

Renewable Energy Generation

There is plenty of scope on the surface of the route to hook into some awesome renewable energy harvesting. As the route is open to the elements we can take advantage of opportunities all along it to harvest solar energy through photovoltaic panels. These could potentially power any lighting we need along the route.

If we were feeling really ambitious we could put some piezoelectric mats under our asphalt lanes and harness the energy from people actually walking and cycling on it! (spoiler: piezoelectric energy harvesting almost isn’t worth the cost, but let’s think outside the box!)

With a project like this there’s one major renewable we need to be talking about and that is wind! We’ve talked a lot about the surface of this structure and how it can be utilised for Active Travel, but let’s not forget the brand new tunnel we’ve created underneath.

High-speed trains + 2.6km tunnel = Insane wind tunnel

Stand on a platform and feel the rush as a high-speed train (not stopping here) whips past you. There is a heck of a lot of wind energy there waiting to be harvested. When you push a high-speed train through a tunnel, the velocity of the wind it generates inside the tunnel is just insane. If you then place banks of wind turbines all the way along the inside of the tunnel, you can generate plenty of energy. This energy can be fed directly into the two stations (Bournemouth & Pokesdown) at either end of the route and dramatically reduce their energy costs.

If you’re lucky we’ll even tell you about our 2nd wind idea (pun intended) on how to re-harvest wind from the tunnels underneath.

Some Statistics

We all love statistics so here’s some to keep you excited. All of these statistics are approximate, and come from staring at Google Maps for far too long.

  • Distance: 2.6km
  • No. of adjacent properties: 250
  • Adjacent properties with structures within 6m of boundary: 50
  • Adjacent residential properties: 230
  • Adjacent commercial properties: 20
  • Overline bridges: 4 (3 vehicular, 1 non-vehicular)


This concept ticks so many boxes for so many different people and organisations it’s a no-brainer.

There are a few potential caveats to the concept at the proposed site, but it was specifically selected due to the number of benefits it already provides for a concept of this type.

The main caveat is about height. There needs to be enough height for trains and then cyclists/pedestrians to utilise the space vertically and still get comfortably underneath the current overline bridges. There are two solutions to this potential problem; Raise the height of the bridges or lower the height of the railway track. Both are difficult and expensive, but we need to ask ourselves if the overall benefits outweigh the costs.

When it comes to Active Travel in British urban zones, we have so many hurdles to jump over. We’re sitting on 200+ years of industrialised growth that has left us with an incredibly hard task.

Our Active Travel schemes are great, but there is a suggestion that they barely scratch the surface of the problem, because that’s all they’re really able to do. Sometimes we need to take a step back and say “If we’re really going to do this, we’re going to have to do it big.”

This article has provided a tiny insight into the concept, there is so much more to be shared and talked about. Let’s talk about it!