Better signing for two-way cycling in one-way streets

Better signing for two-way cycling
in one-way streets

This is a proposal to sign more flexibly exceptions to one-way streets for cyclists.

The background

Numerous streets in Cambridge are notionally two-way for bikes but one-way for cars. This is a Good Thing for cyclists.

Technically, though, most aren’t actually one-way for cars. The only streets where this is truly the case are those which have contraflow cycle lanes with a solid white line along their full length: Downing and Pembroke Streets and Bateman Street in Cambridge.

The remainder are only formally one-way for cars for a couple of metres at one end. In practice, this makes little difference. However, one feature of it does cause problems, that is how it is signed.

This sign not permitted!
No entry except for cycles

For years, the Department for Transport has refused to allow “Except Cycles” to be put under a No Entry sign. They allow “Except Buses” and various other exceptions, but not “Except Cycles”.

They argue that “No Entry Except Cycles” would devalue the meaning of a No Entry sign, motorists would respect it less and start ignoring No Entry signs.

Instead, they require a complicated arrangement which has come to be known as a “cycle plug”. Cyclists may not pass between a pair of No Entry signs under any circumstances, but instead have their own lane physically separated from the No Entry part with a large island and signed for cycles only. There are a few examples in Cambridge, including:

Garlic Row, Cambridge: typical of a “by the book” solution (though a blue cycle sign is missing).
Garlic Row, Cambridge: typical of a 'by the book' solution (though a blue cycle sign is missing).
  • St Barnabas Road (Mill Road end)
  • Garlic Row (Newmarket Road end)
  • St Philip’s Road (Romsey, various)
  • New Street (a short way off Coldham’s Lane)
  • Selwyn Road (Newnham, Grantchester Road end)
King Street, Cambridge: a somewhat unconventional interpretation of the rules. Cyclists (and motorbikes) are supposed go to the left of the No Entry sign on the darker bit of paving.
King Street, Cambridge

There are also some examples of non-standard variations on the theme:

  • King Street (near the Cambridge Arms, technically non-standard)
  • St John’s Street (Bridge Street end; a bollard only is dubious)
  • Sidney Street (on the “wrong” side of the road at the Market Street junction)

What’s the problem?

St Philip’s Road, Romsey: a “by the book” solution which has problems with space and parking.
St Philip's Road, Romsey: a

The need for a physical island means there has to be plenty of space. But often the reason why a street is one way for cars is because there isn’t much space – there’s room for a cycle and a car to pass safely, but not for an island as well.

Alterntatively a one-way street may have two vehicle lanes emerging from it and there is political unwillingness to reduce capacity by switching the space to cyclists, and specifically to the island required by the Government.

The island arrangement is also relatively expensive.

In some cases (St Philip’s Road is a notable example), vehicles park right up to the island using the short bit of cycle lane as a parking lane, making it awkward and sometimes really quite hard to get through).

Lambs Conduit, London. No cyclist would use the bypass lane. It’s been designed in line with the regulations either knowing cyclists will ignore their lane or possibly with extreme naivety.
Lambs Conduit, London. No cyclist would use the bypass lane.

Sometimes we see stupidities like this one in London, which strictly adheres to the rules. The designers clearly expect (or are naive not to expect) cyclists not to navigate the absurd ironmongery but instead go through the No Entry. This puts cyclists at risk of prosecution or, worse, to blame for a crash.

In the end, problems mean that sometimes streets are not converted which could be or are done so badly.

Is the solution “Low Flying Motorcycles”?

In an attempt to get around the inflexibility and intransigence of the DfT rules, local authorities have come up with “creative” ways to circumvent them.

No motor vehicles sign.

In Cambridge, recent conversions of one-way streets to allow cyclists to enter have used the “No Motor Vehicles” sign, widely nicknamed “low flying motorcycles”. A bicycle isn’t a motor vehicle so can legally pass these signs. Examples include:

Bene’t Street, Cambridge: No Motor Vehicles replace No Entry
Bene't Street
  • Bene’t Street off King’s Parade, and more recently the continuation into Wheeler Street and Corn Exchange Street
  • Mackenzie Road, Mawson Road, Kingston Street and Covent Garden (all off Mill Road, where cycles were permitted recently as a result of our lobbying)
  • Hope Street (at the Argyle Street end)

However, drivers are not noted for understanding the subtlety of signage. Probably because these signs are so often used in other contexts with “Except for access” plates, drivers don’t associate them with the rule “you must never go past these signs”, which, used alone, is actually what they mean.

In some ways, this gives weight to the DfT’s case regarding what weakening the No Entry sign might do. On the other hand, it means our council has had to use a yet weaker sign to achieve what is wanted.

They don’t work very well, so give ammunition to those who don’t want to see cyclists given more favourable treatment.

Is the solution “No Entry Except Cycles”?

Amsterdam and Denmark: typical exceptions to No Entry and One Way signs
Amsterdam Denmark

“No Entry Except Cycles” may be a good solution in some circumstances. It certainly works in large parts of Europe. In the Netherlands and Denmark, cyclists are nearly always exempted from one-way restrictions, and with no more than a sign.

However, this does lead to a particular problem, especially in the agressive motoring climate with intolerance towards cyclists we see in this country:

A right turning motorist will inevitably position themselves on the extreme right side of the exit from the (pseudo-) one way street. This is exactly where the cyclist needs to be to take advantage of the exception and turn in to the street. At best this leads to tension, inconvenience and confusion. At worst it can lead to a crash.

The lane which is created by the island in the DfT’s regulation style solves this problem, but with the disadvantages inherent in a half-metre wide bollard.

A solution which could satisfy everyone


So, we think that in most cases, a short lane (ideally red surfaced) leading into the false one-way street is preferable. This can be really quite narrow in extreme cases, though obviously should be as wide as is practicable normally. The lane would be separated from the oncoming traffic only by a white line, however, not an island.

In the absence of an island, the arrangement can be signed “diagramatically” instead of physically, as shown above.

This has the the advantages that:

  • it doesn’t require “Except Cyclists” under the No Entry sign, so No Entry continues to maintain its status.
  • it is quite similar to the present arrangement, so is more likely to be acceptable to the Department for Transport who have proved so intransigent in this matter.
  • it maintains a space for cylists to enter the street in the face of oncoming traffic and indicates to vehicles coming the other way that they should not be in it.
  • it does away with the island which is the space-consuming, expensive and problematic aspect of the current arrangement.