Cycling in Vehicle Restricted Areas (VRAs)

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 52.

The Transport Research Laboratory produces a number of reports each year on nationally important issues. In recent years, most are only available at significant cost, but in a reversal of policy, several relating to cycling have been published as free downloads from

TRL583, published last year, is a study of cycling in a number of areas where vehicle access is severely restricted. These might normally be known as ‘Pedestrian Areas’, but often cycling is permitted, if only for part of the day.

This study questioned both pedestrians and cyclists, and measured volumes of pedestrians and the flows and speeds of cyclists. The studies were carried out during August and September 1999 in Hull, Salisbury, and interestingly for us, in Fitzroy and Burleigh Streets here in Cambridge.

The report runs to some 36 pages, including some 16 pages of tables and analysis, so I can only pick out a few key points which, apart from the first, are specific to Cambridge:

  • Average cycle speeds fell by half to 10 kph as pedestrian flows increased.


  • When unprompted pedestrians were more concerned about dog mess and litter than cyclists.
  • When prompted only 12% were very much concerned about cyclists and 33% were not at all concerned.
  • 65% preferred that signs and markings should be used to show where cyclists can ride.
  • 10% said cyclists should only be allowed in for part of the day.
  • 83% had never seen or been involved with an incident with a cyclist.


  • The biggest concern was the unpredictability of pedestrians’ movements.
  • 66% preferred that signs and markings should be used to show where cyclists can ride.
  • 35% were very much concerned about having to share space with pedestrians.
Burleigh Street: street furniture in the way says TRL report.
Image as described adjacent

It is interesting that when the County Council did a City Centre survey recently they did not question cyclists as it was claimed it was not legal to stop them!

One interesting comment is that neither pedestrians nor cyclists were happy with an arrangement as in Burleigh Street. Street furniture is placed in the centre of the street, meaning that cyclists are more likely to travel close to shop doorways. When pedestrians exit from shops, there is little time or opportunity for cyclists to avoid them.

I haven’t even touched on difference of behaviour at times when cycling is illegal or on the effects of age or sex but I will finish with some words from the conclusion:

This report presents objective data on the use of VRAs by cyclists in order to improve our understanding of a topic that can be controversial, and where there are sometimes conflicting needs. It does not take up a position on the general question of whether cyclists should be permitted to use VRAs. Rather it seeks to provide information for practitioners involved with the design and maintenance of VRAs, and others who need answers to these questions. The observations showed that the majority of cyclists in VRAs modify their behaviour by slowing down as pedestrian numbers increase.

Jim Chisholm

For those with an interest in digging deeper, the full report is at .