Ban the bike ban

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 70.

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On 22 January 2007, after this Newsletter goes to print, Councillors will have considered whether to make permanent the experimental suspension of the city centre bike ban, which prohibited cycling in St Mary’s Street, Market Hill, Market Street and Sidney Street between 10am and 4pm. Assuming a final decision is made then, we intend to report this on our website and via a press release.

The body responsible for the decision is Cambridge Traffic Management Area Joint Committee (AJC), consisting of councillors from both the city and county councils. There is a possibility that they could refer the issue up to the County Council’s Cabinet, which for this issue we, and Cambridge’s MP, think is inappropriate. We hope that the AJC will ensure that this Cambridge matter is decided by Cambridge people, not rural Councillors from relatively distant parts of Cambridgeshire.

We feel that allowing cycling back into the area has worked with few problems, and should be made permanent. We dearly hope that this can command cross-party support. We remain in favour of action to combat the small minority of cyclists who behave in an anti-social manner in the area.

History of the ban

The city centre bike ban was enacted, back in 1992, against widespread popular opposition, against all evidence and in contradiction of the findings of an expensive Public Inquiry. At that Inquiry, the City Council supported the lifting of the ban in Sidney Street. The Inspector’s recommendations agreed with this, but the County Council overrode both the City Council and the Public Inquiry recommendations and confirmed the ban in all of these streets.

Cyclists have been seriously inconvenienced by the ban, especially the many thousands of people resident in the city centre. The prohibition on Sidney Street has been particularly onerous because the alternative northbound route via Hobson Street, Malcolm Street and Jesus Lane is lengthy and is perceived as dangerous and intimidating, especially for child cyclists, the elderly and other less confident cyclists.

The Campaign has worked hard since its formation in 1995 to see the ban lifted, and we are pleased that there is now the possibility that this might finally be achieved

Council officials have never disputed the lack of any serious safety issue. Their own reports have repeatedly made clear that there is no record of poor safety in the area due to cyclists. If anything, most danger exists from speeding drivers passing through the area for non-access purposes after 4pm, particularly at night.

Since the formation of the Campaign in 1995 (which was partly in response to the similar cycling ban in Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street), we have campaigned to have the ban lifted.

In 2004, we put forward a proposal to make Trinity Street two-way for cycling. This street has always been cycleable during the daytime, but only in one direction. Despite this, a fair proportion of cyclists either ignored, or were unaware of, this restriction, and cycled north, which is a natural desire line through the area. The absence of any reasonable northbound route arguably led to increases in illegal cycling. Such a proposal for two-way cycling is far from adequate. Whilst we still maintain this would be safe enough, the streetscape is designed in a way which is not ideal.

On 17 January 2005, the Cambridge Environment and Transport Area Joint Committee (AJC), as it was then called, abandoned this proposal, following a survey, and instead supported an experiment to suspend the main city centre cycling ban. We very much supported this. The motion to do so was put forward by the Liberal Democrat and Conservative representatives on the AJC and was opposed by Labour members, one of whom commented that there would be ‘blood on the streets’.

The experiment took effect just before the arrival of new students at the end of summer 2005, and has been in place since then.

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Our views

In 2005 we put forward our views that:

  • The area concerned should be designated as a ‘Pedestrian Priority Zone’, making clear that cyclists and drivers should take full account of the needs of pedestrians;
  • The Campaign strongly supports both enforcement action on illegal cycle movements and action to promote sensible and responsible cycling throughout the historic centre pedestrian zone;
  • The continued allowance of cycling in the city centre on Sundays without significant problems demonstrated already that pedestrians and cyclists can co-exist; many cyclists adjust to this by regulating their speed and/or voluntarily dismounting in the busiest areas;
  • That a Code Of Conduct for cyclists be agreed, backed up by publicity and enforcement;
  • An observation that the experiment should result in a simplification of the current regulations in the city centre, which should aid compliance with those which remain;
  • That a Working Group, to include pedestrian representation, could be established to look at these and related issues.

Sadly, the first point was not taken up due to Department for Transport unwillingness for such signage. The other points were, in the main, taken up.

Support from Cambridge’s MP

Cambridge’s MP, David Howarth, supports our view that the ban should be lifted permanently. In a letter to us dated 21 December 2006, he writes:

‘I am no longer a councillor and therefore not directly involved in the decision of the Cambridge Joint Traffic Committee [sic] about the experimental suspension of the Cambridge city centre daytime cycling ban, but as you know, as a city councillor was opposed to the original cycle ban in 1991 and continue to be committed to the ban being lifted on a permanent basis.

‘I cannot see why the decision should go to the County Council’s cabinet. The idea that this is a strategic decision is absurd. I welcome the news that the Area Joint Committee will look at the issue again in January and the matter will be determined by councillors representing the Cambridge area.’

We also wrote to Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge Labour Party’s new prospective parliamentary candidate, to seek his views. He is apparently a ‘keen cyclist’ and thus we hope that he might lend his support. At the time of writing, we had not heard back from him yet whether he opposes or supports the cycling ban.

Cambridge’s MP is ‘committed to the ban being lifted on a permanent basis’

Of the political parties that currently do not have elected representatives within the city, Cambridge Green Party states on its website that it wishes to see the ban rescinded; Cambridge Conservatives do not mention the issue on their website, but we hope that the fact that the initial experimental suspension was partly put forward by a Conservative councillor on the AJC might result in support 18 months on – we’ll wait and see.

National policy and guidance

The Department for Transport recently reiterated in its Local Transport Notes on walking and cycling, which were issued for consultation only a year before, in 2004, that (our emphasis):

Pedestrianised areas are typically located in the core area of a town or city, and as such, can form a barrier to direct through-routes for cyclists. Cyclists often need access to pedestrianised areas to reach their workplace, shops or other destinations. Studies (by Transport Research Laboratory) have shown that there are no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas – accidents between pedestrians and cyclists in these circumstances are very rare. At low flows they mingle readily. When pedestrian density increases cyclists behave accordingly by slowing down, dismounting, or taking avoiding action as required.

The minority of cyclists who speed through the area disrespectfully is a matter of anti-social behaviour, which can and should be dealt with using the means available to the police. But the vast majority of cyclists take care towards pedestrians, and so the ban should be lifted permanently

This is based on longer-standing guidance from the Government’s Traffic Advisory Leaflet TAL 9/93, which makes the same points. Cycling England, the Government’s cycling body, this month issued guidance that:

Allowing cycling through restricted areas should be the rule rather than the exception.

It further states:

Advice on this issue is set out in TAL 9/93 Cycling in Pedestrian Areas. This emphasises that, on the basis of research, there are no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas and that cycling could be much more widely permitted than is current without detriment to pedestrians. The TRL research on which that advice is also based established that cyclists alter their behaviour according to the density of pedestrian traffic by modifying their speed or dismounting. Furthermore, the evidence of the case studies contained within the report shows that very few collisions actually occur between cyclists and pedestrians. It also showed that as pedestrian flows rise, the incidence of cyclists choosing to push their cycle also rises and those cyclists who continue to ride tend to do so at a lower speed.

This certainly backs up our own observations.


On-street behavioural surveys, and a questionnaire to stakeholders such as ourselves and local businesses have since taken place. We responded to the questionnaire pointing out that:

  • In general the experiment does seem to have worked. Cycling in the area is reasonable given the city’s cycling culture.
  • There has been a near-complete absence throughout the past year of adverse media/newspaper comment – whether editorial or letters from local readers – about the change. This surely suggests that there is little popular opposition to the change.
  • Pedestrians have seen some benefit by being more likely to be aware that cyclists are able to use the area, and that cyclists should take more care as a result of being allowed to do so.
  • Many cyclists want to visit the shops in the area by bicycle, and that cycling customers are important to the health of the local economy.
  • We still wished to see improved signage (e.g. a ‘Pedestrian Priority Zone’) as per previous correspondence.
  • Directional arrows painted/block-paved on the ground (in a manner respecting the character of the area) at the turning points would increase awareness that a one-way system exists, and improve compliance.
  • We remain of the view that increased enforcement is needed by the police to reduce the small numbers of cyclists who use the area in an anti-social manner.
Studies backed by the Department for Transport have shown that “there are no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas”

Observation on the ground does show that in general cyclists are taking care. The small minority that speed through the area regardless were the sort of cyclist who did so irrespective of the ban. We feel such behaviour is a matter of anti-social behaviour which is enforceable by the police. But it should not result in reinstatement of the ban, given the majority who do take care.

We very much hope that, by the time you read this, the ban will have been permanently scrapped. We dearly hope that if so, it will have been done so with a degree of political consensus, because, on the ground, the suspension does seem to have worked.

Martin Lucas-Smith, Co-ordinator