No Entry except cyclists

This article was published in 2005, in Newsletter 61.

Capital Park bus gate, Fulbourn
Image as described adjacent

It is absurd. Local authorities are not allowed to say ‘except cyclists’ under a No Entry sign. They are supposed to go to expensive and sometimes less effective lengths to work around this diktat. Yet all over the country there are examples of the sign where the councils have decided that the Government’s ruling is just as nonsensical as we think it is.

The thinking goes like this: No Entry signs (along with traffic lights) are one of the few signs that motorists actually respect. If exceptions are made, then the authority of the sign is reduced and motorists will cease to respect even the No Entry sign.

However, it is OK to put ‘except buses’ under a No Entry sign. So that argument is one of splitting hairs. Indeed in Cambridge, the No Entry Except Buses sign is used extensively at bus gates specifically because it carries more authority than any other possibility.

Norfolk Street, Cambridge
Image as described adjacent

But why is it a problem? Streets like St Barnabas Road and Norfolk Street in Cambridge allow cyclists to go both ways but cars only one. But to achieve this they must put in an island so that the No Entry sign applies only to the carriageway to the right of the island, and a ‘cycles only’ sign which applies to the gap to the left of the island to make it clear car drivers can’t use it. The road beyond the island is then notionally two-way.

This arrangement has some merits. It means that cyclists entering don’t get confronted by cars in their path wanting to turn right. But it has lots of disadvantages:

Station Road, Histon
Image as described adjacent
  • Cars often park up against the island making it physically impossible to use it (yes, they’re not supposed to if markings are put in properly, but since when did that stop an inconsiderate motorist?).
  • It’s expensive, compared to just signs and white paint.
  • It sometimes means an exception can’t be made at all because while there is room for the cyclist to pass a car, there’s not enough room for the island as well.

The alternative is to use the ‘low flying motorbike’ sign, which theoretically excludes motor vehicles but allows cyclists. But the distinction between ‘motor vehicle’ and ‘vehicle’ is lost on most road users, and many of those who don’t deliberately flout the rules forgot what these more obscure signs in the Highway Code meant as soon as they passed their test. This signing was used at Hope Street and Bene’t Street. It has been widely abused by motorists, and while allowing a through route for cyclists to be created, it still suffers from the confrontation problem.

No Motor Vehicles a.k.a. low flying motorcycles (cyclists are allowed): Bene’t Street
Image as described adjacent

The Dutch, who take a much more pragmatic and civilised approach to cycling, simply allow ‘Except Cyclists’. However, though simple, this isn’t actually a complete solution either, because of the confrontation problem mentioned above. But this is easily solved by marking a short contraflow cycle lane through the signs. Indeed this is exactly what was done informally at Malcolm Street years ago.

The intransigence of the Department for Transport is not showing signs of weakening. In a recent review of signing, they stuck to their guns on ‘Except Cyclists’. Nevertheless we see the signs. There are quite a few around Cambridge on private property. But now there is one on a public road: the recent traffic calming at Station Road, Histon. No doubt a jobsworth lawyer will panic and remove it as soon as they read this for fear of getting sued by the driver who goes through the No Entry sign. But in fact this gap has been constructed with an island, so it doesn’t actually matter here, unless parking turns out to be a problem.

Queen Street, Norwich
Image as described adjacent

In Norwich, too, the pragmatists have prevailed. At Queen Street, a short street which is paved from wall to wall, pedestrian zone style, councillors originally refused two way access for cyclists as part of NCN route 1. Cyclists were supposed to use a longer, absurdly cobbled street in one direction. Recently though, Except Cyclists signs have quietly appeared under the No Entry (though route 1 is still signed along the cobbled alternative).

It really is so simple. Why does the DfT insist on making life so complicated?

David Earl