Before it was consumed in the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, Cycling England produced some pretty good guidance. One of their design principles was that cyclists should be exempt from Traffic Regulation Orders (or Traffic Management Orders, in London).
Cyclists should be exempt from restrictions within Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), including banned turns and road closures, unless there are proven safety reasons for not doing so.
There were, and are, sound reasons for this principle. The restrictions imposed by these orders aim at controlling the flow of motor vehicles. There is – for instance – no logical reason why any street should need to be made one-way, save for easing the passage of motor vehicles, or for stopping motor vehicles from using a particular route. Bicycles and people on foot can flow quite happily in both directions on any given street; it was only the advent of mass motoring that gave rise to the restrictions we see on the roads today. Streets with two-way traffic became utterly clogged; others became congested with motor vehicles waiting to make certain turns.
So the bans on particular movements arose out of an attempt to deal with the problems created by excess motor vehicle use. But given that bicycles were never the source of the problem, it seems perverse that they should subject to the same blanket vehicular restrictions that control motor vehicles.
Junction movements have had to be simplified to accommodate vast flows of motor traffic, which cannot interact smoothly in the ways that pedestrians and cyclists can. Cyclists were swept up in these regulations, without apparently even being considered. It is deeply unfair that they have been forced into the same ‘vehicular’ box, penalised for problems they did not create.
Westminster in particular is awash with one-way streets from which cyclists are not exempt; a vast impenetrable maze of restrictions, designed to allow motor vehicles to continue to travel around the borough in tremendous numbers, while at the same time suppressing the use of bicycles.
Even new schemes continue to make these same mistakes. If you are travelling along Cromwell Road on a bicycle, you are not allowed to make what should be extraordinarily simple left turns off the road onto Exhibition Road, in either direction.
There is no good reason for these restrictions. The junctions have been designed to make crossings easier for pedestrians, but in order to maintain ‘traffic’ flow around the network, turning restrictions, without any exemptions, have been put in place.
Indeed, the movement of bicycles doesn’t really seem to have been considered, at all, on Exhibition Road – it’s even illegal to cycle northbound on the southern section.
Apparently nobody saw fit to provide an entirely reasonable exemption for cyclists on this street.
We have similar (older) absurdities in Horsham, particularly this street.
It’s part of a one-way system in the town that had the reasonable intention of cutting out through traffic. Very few motor vehicles used this street, because the one-way system was not a useful route to anywhere, except for access.
What is most strange is that it is only this particular stretch that does not have an exemption for cycling; barely 50 yards distant, as it turns to the left where the white frontage stops, this one-way road suddenly becomes two-way for cycling; both before, and after, it was turned into ‘shared space’.
Making the whole of this area two-way for cycling – while maintaining the one-way restrictions for motor vehicles – is now an absolute no-brainer, because this street is now completely closed to motor vehicles during the day, as I wrote about here. Despite no motor vehicles being on the street at all, cyclists still cannot legally enter it.
All that is really needed in this instance is the simple attachment of an ‘except cycles’ sign below the no-entry signs. A few hundred pounds for the signs, and for the labour.
But things aren’t that simple. Even to attach a simple square sign requires a new Traffic Regulation Order, as I was informed by West Sussex County Council.
….although there have been relaxations in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions to allow such schemes to be more easily signed, a contraflow cycle lane regardless of how it is signed or marked on the ground MUST have a Traffic Regulation Order to support it. Simply erecting “except for cycles signs” is not enough and without a TRO they would be unlawful, as would cycling the wrong way.
Therefore, in order to progress this request it would be necessary to make a new Traffic Regulation Order which will have to be considered as part of the North Horsham CLC’s “top 3″ at next year’s assessment. Should you wish to pursue this it will require the usual documents to be prepared including the Local Member’s written approval that they would support such a TRO being put on the list.
All very clear, and correct. The use of “Top 3″ here refers to the fact that ‘North Horsham’ county local committee (CLC) – which actually covers a population of around 50,000 people – can only put forward THREE Traffic Regulation Orders per year. Just three.
Given the extraordinary amount of work that needs to be done across Sussex to make it more cycling-friendly, this represents a glacial rate of progress, even if we ignore the fact the Traffic Regulation Orders are frequently used for other purposes, particularly the addition or amendment of double yellow lines, and new speed limits. A quick glance at the North Horsham TRO priority list shows the pressure that exists just to get on this shortlist of three; in particular, there are plenty of rural roads in the district with 60 mph limits that plainly need to be lowered, as well as countless excessively high limits that residents want lowered.
To be fair to West Sussex County Council, they are fully aware that ‘TRO backlog’ is a significant problem, and are looking at ways to speed up the process – in particular, they are ‘considering’ raising the number of TROs each CLC can submit each year from three to five. Even if this does happen, however, it is still nowhere near good enough.
Cycling exemptions to one-way restrictions on multiple streets can be bundled up into just one TRO – this happened recently in the North Laine area of Brighton. Indeed, the process of ‘bundling’ (and indeed the entire TRO process) was described very well in a recent Cycling Embassy blog post. But the bigger the area covered, the greater the likelihood objections.
Beyond that, I simply don’t think it should be this difficult to make easy and coherent changes to our streets, to improve them for cycling. Even if – by some miracle – every CLC in West Sussex decided to bundle up a coherent set of exemptions and improvements for cycling in their area (a big ‘if’), it would still take a decade to get anywhere, at the very best.
Central government is happy to pass the buck down to local and county councils, and to point out that it is ‘up to them’ to implement these exemptions to TROs. But I don’t think that’s entirely fair on councils, who have a vast amount to do, in particular controlling parking, and responding to concerns about speed limits. Cycling is very often not on the radar at all, with more pressing problems of congestion and speed control.
If central government is serious about promoting cycling, we need new legislation that makes these kinds of changes much simpler; perhaps even that exemptions on one-way streets should be the default situation, and that they can be signed as such, unless there are serious grounds for objection. That would speed up the process considerably.
David Arditti has written recently about precisely this same problem – his piece is worth reading, as always