Signs of change?



Over two thousand cyclists use this section of road each day. Should not roadworks be better organised, or perhaps a sign saying ‘Drivers give way to cyclists’ would be more appropriate?
Image as described adjacent

The Government has recently announced proposed changes to regulations regarding traffic signs and signals. The executive summary says that these will ‘provide more flexibility for local authorities’.

Cambridge has benefited from one early announcement that permitted the use of ‘except cyclists’ exemptions in one-way streets, but there are many other changes that should reduce the cost to councils of changing street layouts, whilst encouraging travel on cycles and on foot and and making these journeys safer. I note that there is also to be an ‘advisory’ sign to warn drivers of possible oncoming cycles on such ‘two-way for cycles’ roads.

This document is nearly 100 pages long, so if I’ve missed something of importance from this summary you’ll understand why.

When Cambridge and the surrounding area became a ‘Cycle Demonstration Town’ we’d hoped that some experiments regarding signs, lines and signals would form part of the programme. We were soon to find that we were only a ‘Cycle Town’ and that the bureaucracy required to ‘demonstrate’ innovation was too great.

This new document states that it will ‘promote innovation’, ‘remove regulatory barriers’, and ‘reduce administrative burdens’ (para.4.5). We sincerely hope this is all more than ‘aspirations’.

Two items shout out at a first reading:

Signals for cycles

Mention is made of ‘low-level repeaters’, ‘pre-signals for cyclists’ and ‘cycle bypasses within the carriageway’ (para. 5.39). These arrangements are common in many other European cities, and I could easily make a long list of potential locations in Cambridge, but the Catholic Church junction, Queen’s Road/Silver Street, and Hills Road/Station Road respectively all seem ideal sites for early implementation.

Tigers about to appear?

In some non-public highway locations cyclists have been encouraged to use unsignalled pedestrian crossings (Zebra crossings). These have often been given yellow rather than white stripes, and so have received the name ‘Tiger crossings’. Trials of such crossings are to be permitted on the public highway (although there is no mention of yellow stripes) where they form part of a continuous route (para. 5.40). Where cycle routes cross minor roads, and there is good visibility for all concerned, ‘Tigers’ would have great benefits for both cycles and those on the road, not to say local budgets. The cost would be very low compared with a Toucan, those on bikes would not have to wait indeterminable times, nor would drivers be forced to remain stopped once cycles had cleared.

Of course you need to get as far as Annex C on page 75 before you discover that we may need to wait until 2014 before changes in regulations will permit such changes.

What isn’t clear, even at a second reading, is whether such changes will be ‘permitted’ experimentally before such a date. Cambridge will always be a good place to trial such innovations. They need proper evaluation, and with the large numbers of cycles in Cambridge meaningful and statistically reliable results can be obtained in double quick time, as was shown with the ‘No Entry Except Cyclists’ trials last year.

Some changes may even appear ‘nerdish’ and only of interest to people like me. Did you know that where there are Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) for cycles there MUST be an approach lane or ‘gate’ as it is illegal for cycles to cross the usual line? So if there is no gap you cannot legally enter the forward box! This creates extra dangers for those turning right, when the approach lane is on the left. The problem with these things is that should you currently do the sensible thing but have a crash with an aggressive driver who has a ‘Mr Getem-Off’ type lawyer, you might find yourself prosecuted or at least liable for damage!

Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs)

‘The TRO process is time-consuming, labour-intensive and costly to publicise. Even simple and non-controversial proposals can take several months to process. Controversial schemes have been known to take two to three years.’

Several years ago a fictitious couple with a non-existent address objected to every speed limit reduction in the UK. This meant that many such uncontroversial changes were delayed, and committees convened for objectors who never appeared. Someone apparently trawled the papers for adverts for TROs.

It will no longer be a requirement to place announcements in local papers, as long as other appropriate methods are used. Just the cost of advertising TROs in papers added up to £20 million last year! Some things may be enabled with less or no consultation, but there will be a consultation on such changes. We shall need to be alert.

There are pages about parking restrictions, but these are important for us vulnerable road users. Many drivers abuse such restrictions, and we are aware of some large firms who employ ‘specialists’ to contest PCNs (penalty charge notices), often on pure technicalities. Simplifying the regulations should ease enforcement and hence improve compliance. Fewer illegally stopped vehicles would make cycling easier, as well as reducing delays for other road users.

What about the Annexes?

Annex A is an Action Plan. I followed the DfT Cycle Action Plan for a number of years. Numbers of items retreated even further into the distance as each year progressed. the DfT has clearly learnt. No dates are attached to any actions.

Annex C is an implementation programme for specific measures, so I now know I’ll be able to use legally some of the ASLs that already exist in Cambridge some time in 2014! Unfortunately I can find no dates for the implementation of the proposals for improved signals for cycles.

The full document is referenced from:

www.dft.gov.uk/publications/signing-the-way

Jim Chisholm