A View from the Drawing Board - Exempting Cyclists From Traffic Regulation Orders


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 ...

 

Hello everyone!

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 -

Exempting Cyclists from Traffic Regulation Orders

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—

(a)...

(b)...

(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[1]. 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:

  • Advertisement – Letting the public know that local authority wishes to make a TRO, and inviting objections;
  • Consideration of objections (if any are receieved); and
  • Implementation – Making the TRO, informing objectors of the decision, and physically building the scheme on site (which might just be adding removing or changing traffic signs).

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:

  • They can make one TRO providing exemption for cyclists for many restrictions in their area, saving costs and making faster progress;
  • They are not obliged to issue questionnaires or similar seeking the consent of local residents to make the changes; and,
  • They can implement the exemptions on an experimental basis for up to eighteen months before considering objections, and thus demonstrate the real world impact of the scheme, making it easier to dismiss unfounded objections.

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!

[1] 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.

Comments

An excellent first Blog, and I'm really looking forward to the series.

As a local authority worker, I'm finding that increasingly highway engineers are exempting cyclists from TROs when they are made anew. It is a very cost-effective quick-win for both the local authority and campaigners to make cyclists exemptions, particularly where they will add to the overall development of a network.

I also agree that the best time to push for these is as part of new TROs, rather than asking for an entirely new one. Just to give an example of the cost (purely from our authority), the cost of the legal order alone is around £5k. That's before contracter fees, design, painting the lines, and any other physical works. Doesn't sound much, but in these austere times every penny does matter.

One issue that is not covered in this blog post is the spectre of the safety and risk audit. This will particularly be the case for making exemptions for one-way streets, adding to the cost of the scheme. Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this one!

I don't know whether amendments to parking provision (permanent restriction ie double yellows, timed resttrictions, or residents-only parking) operate under comparable procedures, but if they do then I guess this formal notice prior to formal public consultation, just a few miles down the road from your TRO example, would illustrate just how multifunctional and order might be?  http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/405774/Statutory-Notice-As-Published-in-Haslemere-Herald.pdf It covers about a dozen streets with widely differing provisions.

On costs of safety assessments, I seem to recall that the City of London's Streets  & Walkways subcommittee were asked to approve a budge of about £25k for the traffic surveys on about a dozen streets in their first round of pilot cycle contraflows - which proved so successful that a further dozen were implemented the following year and about another 30 are on the way.

On public consultation you shouldn't underestimate the amount of obstruction which a bloody-minded individual or lobby group, however unrepresentative, can cause to the most carefully planned schemes, as reaction to the linked item above will attest.

PaulM

 

This is a great blog, very useful on many practical levels. I do have a couple of questions.

1. Who and how can change be initiated? Essentially, who can raise a request for a TRO change? Is it done through local council amenities, or is there a more generic method? I've been looking through the myriad of TROs in Cambridge (which are a complete mess) and wondering how to assess for potential changes.

2. Great to hear about the yellow lines/bike parking thing, interesting! Any other unconsidired effects of TROs. I'm also looking out for laws on crossing shared-use crossing lights on red, laws around joining a road from a shared-use path, and a load of things not reguarly considered (but it's not really to do with this!).

Rad Wagon
www.RadWagon.co.uk

A great first blog of the series, I'm looking forward to the rest.

Sometimes things that seem simple are sometimes difficult. For instance in Sheffield for the past month I've been trying to get hold of a local law from the council under which all TROs are made under.

The Sheffield City Council (Various Roads, Central Area) (Prohibition of Driving, Prescribed Turns and Prohibited Turns) Order 1992

I've not been able to get hold of it. Residents asking to see the laws seems to be a strange request and I've still not been able to get to see a copy. Next stop is an FOI request but it's crazy that I have to go to these lengths to see a local transport law.

A very helpful article and in fact, should be basic reading for engineers dealing with the issues - it is clearer than the DfT guidance as well!

I do feel the need to take issue with a comment;

"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."

I have encountered these types of people in the past, but I think they are becoming less prevalent these days. I know it is a generalisation, but many engineers and consultants who were in charge of departments which promoted the status-quo were of an age and training which was promoting some of the pro-car approaches. I have been in the game for 15 years now and even in the last 5 years, there has been quite some change in staffing with many of the senior people retiring and younger engineers taking over. It is human nature I think to stick with what one knows and so I cannot be too harsh on my forebears and for those around today, life (certainly in London) is starting to get interesting.

With consultants, I find they are only as good as their brief and so the client needs to take a big chunk of the "blame"; but in parallel with the changes to staffing mentioned above, there has been and continues to be a pretty severe cull of local authority engineering staff. We have also lost (in many authorities) chief officers who are engineers and so there is nobody with the technical ability to bang the table with the politicians who ultimately make the decisions. My views on politicians could be a post in itself, but I still need a job - so one for when I either set up on my own or retire (when I am about 80!)

 

 

Thanks for the informative post. In my borough we have been told that our very low levels of cycling are because our roads were built by the Romans in the days of horse and cart, or by 1930s builders who did not leave sufficient space for cycling. Many of the larger roads only have space for cars, car parking, footway and a grass verge but no space for a cycle path. Our proposal for zebra crossings and cycle paths at a new roundabout was rejected because there were too few pedestrians to justify building zebra crossings, but so many pedestrians that they would cause severe delays to motorists. http://www.harrowcyclists.org.uk/node/153

- even by the high standards of local government!

AKA TownMouse

A dry topic granted - but can really make a difference. Last year Brighton council took out a TRO to exempt cyclists fron 12 existing one way streets in the North Laine area. The restrictions had been first imposed to to protect the neighbourhood from rat running - no real relevence for cycling, and the TRO at a stroke massively improved my daily commute and that of many others, opening up a quiet, low traficked and direct cycle routes into the city with nothing more complex than a few signs and lines.

The reason that it was done last year and not before was really the will of the political administration - a Green council, with a knowledgeable & pro cycling Chair of Transport, and I think this political will - possibly more than challenging hidebound and reactionary council officers - is a really vital part of getting change.

Also worth mentioning that a lot of local authorities still think that they are not allowed to use except cycles without DfT consent. This changed last year but but many failed to spot it (or didn't have anyone reading the notice who rides a bike). As someone says above safety audit a possible issue, as is lack of guidance on when contraflow does or doesn't need a splitter island.