Two-way cycling – One-way streets

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 66.

Two-way cycling in one-way streets makes sense. Cyclists need direct and convenient routes. A great deal of evidence has accumulated, both in this country and elsewhere in Europe, that two-way cycling in one-way streets can be safely accommodated without giving rise to increased casualties. Draft government guidance now recognizes this:

“Cyclists should be exempted from … one-way orders … unless there are overriding safety considerations that cannot be resolved”

“In assessing the safety issues, it is important to recognize that if a one-way street is not made available to cyclists in contraflow, they may have to use a more hazardous alternative…” (Sections 4.2.8 and 4.11.6, Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/04).

‘One way exceptions for cyclists are widespread but ask for more and it becomes a political hot potato rather than standard practice. It is with some despair that we find ourselves wasting time campaigning, partly unsuccessfully, from something which should be automatic and universal.’

The Campaign has for many years actively promoted such provision. For a city with many one-way streets, with exceptionally high cycling levels and with local government policies claiming to support and encourage an increase in cycling, such provision is not just desirable – it is essential.

The problem is that many people, including some who we think ought to know better, are not aware of the evidence or find it difficult to accept. Every past opening up of Cambridge one-way streets to two-way cycling has been preceded by warnings of problems and dangers but, to the best of our knowledge, every single case has worked out well in practice, as recent instances such as Bene’t Street and Hope Street and the famous older example of Downing Street and Pembroke Street well demonstrate.


At a meeting on 24 April, the Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee, which consists of equal numbers of City and County Councillors, considered a proposal to open up seven more one-way streets to two-way cycling. The issue turned out to be highly contentious with some Councillors vehemently against all seven cases on principle in spite of both the government guidance and the well-known evidence of the success of past Cambridge cases.

Opposition was not confined to the committee meeting: it spilled out into the literature for the recent council elections. We deplore the rejection of sensible, evidence-based government advice in a city in which all the major parties claim that they favour increased cycling.

The seven streets fall into two groups:

Mawson Road: agreed.
Mawson Road: agreed.

1. The Mill Road area: Mackenzie Road, Willis Road, Covent Garden, Mawson Road and Kingston Street.

Mill Road has a high rate of cycle accidents. All five of these streets are turnings off Mill Road and opening them up to two-way cycling would reduce the need to cycle on a road known to be hazardous and would greatly improve the permeability of the area for cyclists. Of these five streets, Kingston Street is the most important of all because it forms part of an obvious, natural cycle route through Petersfield. The present prohibition is the subject of frequent complaints to us. The street is no narrower than many of the other streets in the area in which two-way cycling is permitted and we can see no justification for continuing the prohibition. The officer’s report to the Traffic Management Committee expressed concern about permitting cyclists coming over Mill Road bridge to turn right into Kingston Street. But cyclists have always been permitted to make a similar right turn into Argyle Street on the other side of the bridge.

If turning right into Kingston Street is a hazard, the proper way of dealing with it is by a 20 mph motor vehicle speed limit along Mill Road.

For Kingston Street the Traffic Management Committee decided to support further consultation (including consideration of banning the right turn into the street from Mill Road). Covent Garden and Mawson Road were more straightforward and were approved. Mackenzie Road and Willis Road (with an additional street, Collier Road, now added) were also to be subject to further consultation because some plant beds would need to be removed. The prospect that all of these streets will eventually be approved seems to be quite good in spite of the objections of some Councillors.

Panton Street: refused, because people driving their kiddies away from school couldn’t possibly manage without two traffic lanes.
Photo: Panton Street: refused.

2.Newtown: Panton Street and Brookside.

The officer’s report to the Traffic Management Committee recommended that Panton Street be approved for two-way cycling. In a submission to the Committee we said:

We welcome the officer’s recommendation to approve two-way cycling in Panton Street. For us this is a crucial case. Direct cycling access from the city centre into Newtown via Tennis Court Road is needed to avoid the difficult and dangerous junctions at the Royal Cambridge Hotel and the Catholic Church where a large number of cycle accidents occur. Now that Councillors have over-ruled the advice of their officers and decided not to improve safety at the Royal Cambridge Hotel junction by installing traffic lights, it is all the more important to make it easier for cyclists to take routes which avoid this junction.

We believe that two-way cycling in Panton Street can be readily accomplished with no reduction of residents’ on-street parking. The car parking should be moved to the other side of the street. It would extend further along the street because the junction with Pemberton Street must be kept clear. Moving the car parking would enable a red contraflow cycle lane to be constructed along the street.

Concern has been expressed about the right turn into Panton Street from Lensfield Road. We would draw attention to the nearby crossing which is available for cyclists hesitant about the turn.

Brookside: refused.
Photo: Brookside: refused.

We were very disappointed by the response of the Ward Councillors, two of whom spoke in opposition. One went as far as to say that the effect of shrinking the two with-flow traffic lanes in Panton Street to one would be staggering. (We believe the effect would be small, and invite research to establish the truth.)

In our submission about Brookside we said:

We have read the Stage 2a Safety Audit on these proposals and note that the audit team recommend that two-way cycling should not be permitted in just one of these streets, namely Brookside. Their grounds are that this street ‘is extremely narrow with parking on the eastern side’ and ‘The audit team do not feel that it is safe to have cyclists going against the flow along this length.’ We do not accept this argument and urge that the proposal to legalise two-way cycling in Brookside should be accepted.

In our opinion the audit team should have taken account of Cambridge streets which are equally narrow and in which two-way cycling operates successfully. Brookside is 4.9 metres wide. Hobson Street, which carries far more traffic than Brookside, is for part of its length exactly the same width.

There are also plenty of examples of Cambridge culs-de-sac which are as narrow or narrower than Brookside which have parking along one side and which permit not just two-way cycling but two-way motor vehicle traffic as well. For example Derby Road (a turning off Cherry Hinton Road) is much narrower (only 3.9m-4m wide) with parking along one side and quite a lot of vehicle movements, including many cycle movements. Vehicles travel slowly and give way to each other. Regular cycle users report that they have never seen any instance of conflict. Regent Terrace is a better example because it lies on a primary cycle route and carries very heavy two-way cycle traffic in combination with light two-way motor vehicle traffic and evening car parking along one side. At 4.9 metres its width is identical to Brookside (and like Brookside lies alongside an attractive green vista). Again vehicles travel slowly and give way to each other.

One way exceptions for cyclists are widespread.
Photo: One way exceptions for cyclists are widespread.

Observation indicates that the problem in Brookside is that it is used as a cut-through (rat run). By far the majority of motor vehicles using this narrow street are not stopping there. Nor is it a necessary vehicle access for neighbouring streets. Its use as a cut-through could be largely eliminated by appropriate traffic calming which would slow down the traffic and make conditions much more like those in Regent Terrace.

We consider that Brookside could and should be a useful route to enable local school students and also cyclists going to and from Trumpington and the new southern fringe developments to avoid the Royal Cambridge Hotel junction with its high figures for cycle accidents. It is not, and could not be, a substitute for Panton Street, but is a significant candidate for two-way cycling in its own right. We consider that residents, cyclists and walkers would all benefit from motor vehicle reduction and encouragement of walking and cycling along this particularly attractive street.

It should be noted that all (or almost all) of the residents of Brookside have access to their own private parking off Brookside Lane, a private road to the rear of their houses. They should have no need of residents’ parking in front of their houses. It would be desirable (though not essential) to redistribute the existing parking along the street to create more gaps to allow contraflow cyclists space to give way when faced with an on-coming vehicle.


The Committee rejected the proposals for Panton Street and Brookside, a deeply depressing result. Motorists have, we believe, been given priority over cyclists in contravention of the policy laid down by both the City and the County Councils. The only chink of light is the statement by one of the Ward Councillors that she would be prepared to look at the matter again if traffic calming were to be introduced. We consider that both traffic calming and a 20 mph speed limit would, in any case, be in the interests of all who use these streets and call for new proposals to introduce such measures.

James Woodburn