‘Ban Cyclists from Rural Roads!’

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 103.

The government has just announced a consultation on revision of the advice for setting local speed limits. This includes the suggestion of reducing the limit on some rural roads to 40mph. The suggestion of banning those on bikes, as in our headline, has not come from Mike Penning, our Road Safety Minister, or even the former Transport Minister, Philip ‘end the war on the motorist’ Hammond, but a comment left in response to an article about the consultation on, guess where, a Daily Mail website!

To be less flippant, although serious recorded crashes have fallen significantly over recent years the percentage of deaths on rural roads has risen from a half to two thirds of total road deaths.

For vulnerable users such as those on foot or on bikes, it is in fact even more of an issue. The increasing volumes and inappropriate speeds makes many such roads ‘no-go’ areas for all but the most dedicated or disadvantaged. Last year we had no cycle fatalities within the city of Cambridge but three occurred elsewhere in Cambridgeshire on roads where speed limits were higher.

How is it proposed to change the ‘Guidance’?

The very first paragraph says:

The Department for Transport has a vision for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but one that is also more sustainable, safer, and improves quality of life in our communities.

So sustainability and quality of life in communities are now good reasons to reduce limits, and elsewhere issues of air pollution are also mentioned.

Particularly relevant at this time in Cambridge, there are changes concerning 20mph limits where no traffic calming is required.

Para. 83 suggests that as long as mean speeds are below 24mph general compliance will be achieved, and para. 84 also admits that in the wider Portsmouth scheme speeds were reduced more than expected on those roads within the area where mean speeds exceeded 25mph. In para. 85 it is now proposed to rescind the advice that limits should not be used for large groups of streets.

Perhaps more important is the issue of rural speeds.

This is the first time I’ve seen in an official DfT publication the suggestion of 40mph limits on a range of minor rural roads.

Para. 116 says:

A speed limit of 40mph may be considered for roads with a predominantly local, access or recreational function, for example in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), or if it forms part of a recommended route for vulnerable road users

So all those NCN routes and many local cycle routes between villages or to Cambridge could, if designated as cycle routes, have limits of 40mph.

One deterrent for local authorities is the signposting of such limits, with current law requiring a repeater sign every 500 metres, at an estimated cost of £500 each.

Jim’s idea

40mph sign

Obviously limits do need to be clear rather than ambiguous, but I think there is an easy way, even if rural roads could have limits of 40, 50 or 60mph.

For 40 limits the removal of the centre line marking would be clear and unambiguous. The absence of a centre line tends to reduce motor traffic speed even where the road is not narrow, and it is likely that motor vehicles will give greater clearances when passing cycles or those on foot, as there won’t be a tendency to keep to one half of the road. Of course, carriageway edge marking would be required at many locations when there is no centre line, but previous research has shown the advantages of such lines.

For 50 limits no change would be required. No changes of lines and no changes of signs, except the removal of 50 signs where they have been posted.

60mph limits on rural roads would only be appropriate on modern standard roads with few junctions and good visibility. Those roads could have repeater signs at appropriate intervals, say every kilometre or mile.

In many places ‘A’ roads now have 50mph limits principally because of the ‘number’ of crashes. Adjacent minor roads remain at 60 because lower traffic flows mean few crashes, yet it should be obvious that crash rates would reduce even more with lower speeds and that such roads would then be far more pleasant for those on foot, on cycles or on horses.

Life isn’t always simple, and there are good quality 1960s ‘A’ roads in the far north of Scotland which are single track with passing places. Visibility may be for miles and pedestrians, cyclists, and even cars rare. You clearly can’t have a centre line on a single-track road. Perhaps independence for Scotland may be the answer, or more simply, add a 60 or 50 mph roundel to each post with a white diamond that marks passing places on single track roads, where a 40mph limit is deemed too low.


Note that much of this is ‘Guidance’ not ‘Regulation’. This means that a Local Authority or Police Authority may be stubborn and obstruct the introduction of new limits, but it also means that enterprise and local action can push for wider changes, and close reading of the ‘Guidance’ should enable councillors and local communities to overcome such obstruction.

The documents can be seen in full at: www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/nl103speed

The Campaign will endeavour to respond to this consultation in a full and careful manner.

Jim Chisholm