Exempting cyclists from traffic orders – leadership is needed

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.

This cyclist will not be able to turn left at the approaching junction

This cyclist will not be able to turn left at the approaching junction

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.

You can't cycle down here. Why?

You can’t cycle down here. Why?

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.

A cyclist can't turn left here.

A cyclist can’t turn left here.

Or here.

Or here.

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.

No cycling this way. Why?

No cycling this way. Why?

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’.

Initially, a contraflow cycle lane on an ordinary 'road'

Initially, a contraflow cycle lane on an ordinary ‘road’

Subsequently, by simply banning motor vehicle movements only, in this direction

Subsequently, by simply banning motor vehicle movements only, in this direction

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


This entry was posted in Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, Cycling policy, Horsham, Infrastructure, London, One-way streets, Street closures, West Sussex County Council. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Exempting cyclists from traffic orders – leadership is needed

  1. Our local authority imposed (or maybe formalised – it’s so hard to tell) a whole bunch of TROs a couple of years ago using a Consolidation Order. Basically this seems to be a neat way to wrap up a whole bunch of similar local orders into a single document. So now I’m wondering if one of your three permitted might be an area-wide consolidation order to permit “Except Cycles” on one-way streets?

  2. Paul M says:

    I am sure you are right that you can cover multiple changes in a single TRO, and it is probably also correct that multiplying the projects increases the risk of objections.

    That doesn’t mean that the entire suite of proposals has to fail. In Haslemere, Surrey CC advertised a TRO and statutory notice etc for about 14 individual schemes to introduce parking restrictions and residents-only permit schemes. There was quite a variety of proposals, from double-yellows to protect certain junctions and access points, through to “curfew” schemes where parking was permitted at any time by anyone except for a specified period in the middle of the day when only permit-holding residents could park, as a means of curtailing all-day parking by commuters and shopworkers.

    The several schemes were considered individually in council. Some were combined to create mini-CPZs, some were adopted precisely as advertised, and a couple were dropped due to the number of objections. One of those could in principle have proceeded, as the principal grounds for objection were that the curfew period was too long and interfered with patients attending clinics at the nearby hospital. Officers confirmed that a shorter curfew within the advertised start and finish times woudl be a “relaxation” and so could be approved without a further TRO and associated notices etc. Unfortunately, there was confusion over when to start and finish the shorter curfew – ideally to co-incide with the lunchtime closure of the hospital’s clinics, when patients would not need the parking – so the scheme was remitted for further review.

  3. The problem surely lies with cycle being categorised as vehicles, when they clearly aren’t. Bicycles are a mode of transport far closer to the pedestrian side of the coin and really have absolutely nothing in common with a motorised vehicle.

    On a skate board or skates, also modes of transport, none of the highway code restrictions apply to them and yet they too, like cycles, simple have humans using their own muscle power to create movement. Cycles simply need to be reclassified or rather declassified. Then a simple rule book for any human powered mode of transport written to cover etiquette on roads and pathways.

    It’s insanity that people on bikes have to behave like a car or follow rules written for the car. Or am I being too naive?

  4. Agree entirely. Bicycles, trikes and handcycles etc should be permitted as default, and then only excluded if necessary. Currently it’s only if cycles are foremost in the engineer’s mind, and in 99% of cases they seem not to be.

    This would open up a lot of access for disabled people using handcranked machines as well as able-bodied people, so it’s important.

    Classic example near me is a 20 yard bus lane between 20mph zones which bicycles are excluded from and the alternative is a few hundred yards up a dual carriageway to the next roundabout!

  5. An excellent idea, though I would suggest the whole system of TROs needs revisiting. For example, if we are all about localism why not allow the residents of a street to vote on whether the speed limit should be lowered; or if it should be one way to motor vehicles; or if it should become a cul de sac with filtered permeability?

    20mph can be done virtually overnight; one way and filtered permeability within a sensible coordinated way amongst a group of streets. Do it as a vote rather than an expensive TRO and the money saved would pay for any capital expenditure.

  6. rdrf says:

    I do work in a local authority and my suggestion is to go along with the “bundling up” approach. So, when it was thought neccessary to have Sheffield stands requiring TMOs ( see my comments on last post), we resolved to put all of them in under one order – luckily we didn’t need to. It can be a good idea because it concentrates the minds of the engineers on getting all the one-way exemptions etc. they can think of together. They don’t like having to do orders, so getting in as much as poissible appelas to them (also they can be expensive).

    This goes for not just for exemptions in one-ways and at junctions but also mandatory cycle lanes which I believe the bureaucrats require to have an order.

    They are also needed for car-free days.

  7. Pingback: Should Cyclists Have To Obey The Same Traffic Rules As Cars? | bicycletasmaniablog

  8. Bernd Wechner says:

    Reminds me of similar one way madness here in Tasmania. It can happen that to cover say 50m on the ground, because of the one way streets, to do it legally, you need to cover as much as 300m say following the one way streets and incur serious gradients (up and down) in the process. Needless to say, many cyclists are content to stretch the law and take the short route carefully, and others choose not to cycle because of such inconveniences.

    An excellent and well illustrated piece, thanks. Cautiously and with all due respect I will add though that the appeal to “fairness” in the first third grates with me. It’s not a word to my mind that has an objective meaning or carries any weight when arguing a position with traffic management authorities. I would recommend sticking to the facts, looking at just how much hassle these scenarios add to cycling if the law is obeyed and what incredible incentives it provides for cylcists to stretch the law for convenience.

    This latter fact is deeply relevant but sensitive as few cyclists will want to admit publicly that they are not 100% pure law abiding citizens. Understandably as there is an enormous accusation by the motoring community at times of reckless illegal cycling, and we want peace and harmony on the shared roads.It remains a fact that no-one, motorists, nor cyclists, minds bending the rules when they can and aren’t hurting or inconveniencing or risking anyone else. At 3 am in the morning I suggest a motorist is almost as likely as cyclist, after stopping at a red light, and observing the streets to be dead, crossing the junction anyway for example. And motorists are overly fond as a body or speeding and parking illegally. But it makes an awesome lot of sense for a cyclist to bend the rules at times and is simply irresistible and many will. In particular where the rules are seemingly nonsensical, designed for cars, and bending them won’t risk anything or hurt anyone. That’s all subjective and will invariable cause some debate, at times on the street and it’s it’s not unusual for a cyclist to receive hurled abuse from a motorist for example if they turn left at a red light by mounting the empty crub, and re-enterig the road around the corner, or if they ride between the queued cars at the lights to the head of the line. It happens and will keep happening, until as a society we accept and understand that as long as it’s not dangerous, it’s fine, and the rules need to accommodate the different space, risk and effort profiles of these disparate vehicles.

  9. meika says:

    It should be pointed out that the serious gradients in Hobart (and Launceston where a couple of streets end in steps) Tasmania are the result of a grid street plans drawn up in Whitehall by civil servants ignorant of the lie of the land in hilly Tasmania. (Unless they did it deliberately to annoy the transported felons.)

  10. Firmly agree with Luv 2 Cycle: bicycles are not ‘vehicles’ any more than wheelchairs, skateboards or shoes are vehicles. Look at what is missing from the road signs in the final photo: there is no image permitting or prohibiting hopping, walking, wheelchairs, zimmerframes, unicycles, prams, pogo sticks or prosthetic cheetah legs.

    The reasons for lumping bicycles with motor vehicles may have made sense in the early 20th century when footpaths were crowded and streets weren’t teeming with multi-ton metal boxes. When the reason for a law has passed, surely the law is no longer valid.

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