We're very excited to introduce a new series of guest blogs from a traffic engineer which we think will be invaluable to anyone who's ever been told 'well that's all very well, but it wouldn't work here because...' First up: the wonderful world of Traffic Orders ...
I'm a traffic engineer of around seven years experience. I've worked on all manner of traffic management projects, some of which (allegedly) are intended to improve conditions for cyclists, and practically all of which have an impact for cyclists. I have become increasingly frustrated with apparent inability of highway authorities, and the industry supporting them, to do their most basic job – to ensure our streets are safe and accessible at all that need to use them.
I don't need to say here that this failing has been catastrophic for cycling in Britain, and that this needs to change. So I'd like to explore how that change can be effected.
Over the coming months I'd like to explore how we can 'go Dutch', by the Dutch book, within the existing UK legislative framework, in real UK streets. We'll take the myths and excuses often given to not even consider Dutch-quality cycling infrastructure, and demonstrate that these are not the obstacles they are made out to be. There is space, cycling infrastructure can be fast, safe and convenient, the law does not prevent it.
We also need to challenge the existing situation more. People often start their campaigning on the basis that the existing situation is somehow 'necessary' or 'correct', and this is often reinforced by deference to local engineers, or by those engineers attempting to close down discussion by 'blinding with science'. In my experience, the existing situation is often simply 'the way we've always done it' - and many of the arguments made against high-quality cycling infrastructure can be made equally or more-so against existing arrangements. Perhaps counter-intuitively given our existing car-dominated towns and cities, existing layouts are not necessarily even particularly efficient for motor vehicles!
This professional culture of maintaining 'how we've always done it' seems to me to be the greatest challenge to providing decent infrastructure for cycling. Its why we get things like advance stop lines, and its why even exempting cyclists from one-way streets is proving difficult
What I hope to achieve in this blog is to provide a plain-english guide to the issues around providing Dutch-quality cycling infrastructure in a UK context, and to provide the references and resources to back this up. Hopefully this will debunk the myths, provide people with the means to question highway authorities when they propose inadequate schemes, and to help people put forward the arguments in support of high quality cycling infrastructure in their area.
So for a first post -
This is perhaps a bit of a tedious first post, detailling with procedural matters which don't in themselves directly improve conditions for cyclists – and it doesn't address any of the important on-the-ground issues which are what most needs to be addressed (for example, ensure traffic is adequately tamed and that cyclists are afforded sufficient clear space).
However, in my experience the biggest single obstacle to high-quality cycling provision is the behaviour of local authority officers and their consultants, who so often cite all manner of arcane regulation as excuses not to make progress. If we can make the reality of this regulation accessible, we can demonstrate that these barriers aren't the problem they are claimed to be, and we can move the debate from “Why can't we have this?” to “We know we can have this, here's how you do it, why aren't you delivering?”.
Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs – or in London, Traffic Management Orders) are the legal device that empower highway authorities to restrict the use of vehicles on public highways, and are required for pretty much any intervention that restricts or prohibits the use of public roads – this includes waiting restrictions, one-way streets and prohibited turns. The Order dicates the exact regulation that traffic is to be subjected to, and highway authorities can usually only provide traffic signs or physical features restricting traffic that are consistant with what is dictates in the TRO. An example Order for a one way street can be found here.
Typically (as with the example above), local authorities have drafted these orders to treat pedal cycles the same as any other vehicle and consequently cyclists are burdened with traffic regulations that cause considerable inconvienence, and in some cases danger, despite the regulation of cyclists not being necessary to achieve the original scheme objectives. Common examples are where one-way streets and point road closures are used to deter use by through motor traffic but a particularily absurd example is where waiting restrictions (i.e. yellow lines) are in force on a side of a road, the restriction applies even to cycles left safely (say chained to railings) unless this is specifically exempted in the TRO.
Clearly, addressing these unnecessary restrictions on cycling is a small but important part of achieving streets than can accommodate cycling. However, providing such exemptions in existing restrictions requires highway authorities to amend their TRO – in the case of the example above this would simply involve inserting text as follows:
The provision of article 3 above shall not apply to—
(c) the rider of a cycle as defined by the Road Traffic Act 1988
Making this amendment requires the council to undertake a legal process, and this process can be seen as an obstacle to providing exemptions for cyclists – in terms of cost, and in terms of risk of objection from the public.
It is worth noting that where a new TRO is being provided, or where an existing TRO is being revised or revoked, the authority will have to undertake the following procedure whether or not cyclists are exempted. Furthermore, new and revised TROs can provide an opportunity to provide exemptions for cyclists at low cost even if the main purpose of the TRO has nothing to do with cycling or the restriction from which cyclists are to be exempted. For example, if a council is altering the lengths of yellow lines on a street, or imposing a weight or speed limit (say), there is no reason why the council cannot include exemptions for cyclists from existing one way streets in the area at the same time, effectively without additional procedural cost.
Firstly, its worth noting that the costs are borne for each TRO – but a single TRO can cover a great many streets, and a great many matters. For a highway authority to make an individual Order to exempt cyclists from each one-way street would be highly costly and bureaucratic – but to make a single Order providing an exemption from all relevant restrictions (or all streets practical to provide such an exemptions at this time) in a town (for example) would be much less so. Many authorities will have experience of drafting an Order exempting a group of people from existing restrictions on an authority-wide basis, as they will have had to make such an Order to give effect to parking conscessions under the then orange (now blue) badge scheme in 1970.
The legal process is governed in England and Wales by the Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England & Wales) Regulations 1996. A plain-english explanation of the procedure has been produced by the DfT, and is available here.
The process consists broadly of three consecutive stages:
The minimum advertisement of restrictions consists of: (a) publishing a notice of the intention to make the TRO in a local newspaper (and in London, the London Gazette); and (b) writing to the police, the Freight Transport Association and Road Haulage Association to inform them of the intention to make the Order. Other organisations may have to be written to if the proposed TRO affects or relates to another authority, a public transport service, the emergency services and any other organisation the highway authority considers may be affected by the Order.
The highway authority should also take such steps as it considers appropriate to publicise their proposals to anyone likely to be affected by the Order. Delivering notices to premises or placing such notices on street are cited as examples of achieving this - but these approaches aren't mandatory.
It is important to note that this process is not one of seeking consent, but of making the highway authority's intentions clear to those who may be affected, and giving people opportunity to make their objections. It is not necessary, for example, to issue residents with glossy leaflets with tick-box questionnaires seeking their approval or comment, unless this is actually going to be helpful in informing the design of the scheme – for a simple matter such as exempting cyclists from a point road closure or a one way restriction in a lightly trafficked residential street, it is difficult to see what residents' views would add.
The highway authority must allow a minumum of 21 days for people to make their objections.
How objections are considered is not dictated by law, but is for local authorities to determine – this is usually governed by local council's constitutions. The key thing is that the council considers the objections received before arriving at a decision to progress the proposed Order (or part of it), or dropping the proposals.
Implementing the Order consists of publishing a second notice in newspapers announcing the council is to progress, writing to objectors to inform them of their decision and physically implementing the scheme on site. This must be completed within two years of first advertising the intention to make an order (although there is a mechanism to postpone for a further six months). The council may elect to implement only part of the advertised Order.
It is possible to introduce a scheme on an experimental basis for up to eighteen months at the same time objections are invited – this allows a highway authority to consider the evidence of trying the Order in practice, and gather evidence which can be weighed up alongside any objections received. That way, the decision needn't be based upon fear of possible consequences, but on the actual consquences of the Order – any unfounded Objections can thus be shown to be unfounded and dismissed accordingly.
So in summary, if your local highway authority is being intransigent exempting cyclists from existing one-way streets or point closures, remind them of the following:
I'm more than happy to answer any queries, or provide any further detail if that helps. Hopefully this will be the first of a series of blog posts – if anyone has any particular issues or locations they'd like to be the subject of this blog please feel free to suggest them!
 Procedure in Scotland is governed by the Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 1999 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/614/made . In Northern Ireland, Schedule 1 of the Road Traffic Regulation (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 applies http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisi/1997/276/schedule/1. These are broadly similar to procedure in England and Wales.