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Beak wants bike ban on many A-roads

Judge Simon Tonking of Stafford Crown Court has today written to The Times urging for cyclists to be banned from riding on many A-roads.


Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? What kind of crazy bicycle riders want to ride on quasi-motorways? (Er, apart from time trialists)? But the great majority of A-roads are traditional through routes, often with few alternatives for non-motorised users. Banning cyclists from A-roads – the great majority of which are historic highways not originally built for cars – in some areas would be tantamount to banning all non-urban cycling.

Clearly, most cyclists would prefer to ride on roads not at all clogged with fast-moving motorists but this is not always possible. In densely populated parts of the country there’s a dense network of roads and – usually – many alternative routes for cyclists to use. But in many areas the A-road network has to be used by cyclists, even if just partially. And many towns and villages have A-roads running through them, often with mentally fast speed limits.

Judge Tonking says his ban idea is for the “safety of cyclists” but his track record isn’t a stellar one where cyclists are concerned. In April a motorist who killed a cyclist on an A-road was spared jail by Judge Tonking.

The judge’s letter in today’s Times offers a “remedy” to such deaths: “take [cyclists] away from some of our more dangerous trunk roads where traffic is both heavy and fast moving.”

His behind-the-paywall letter says:

“As one who has the painful duty of sitting on cases involving the death of or serious injury to cyclists caused in road traffic accidents, several (but not all) of which have been accepted or found to have been caused by dangerous or careless driving of motor vehicles, I have seen the devastating consequences of such accidents.

“One immediate remedy, suggested in the light of hearing much evidence about such cases, is to remove all cyclists from any dual-carriageway which is not subject to a speed limit of 30, or possibly 40, mph. This would not prevent cyclists from using dual-carriageways in urban areas but would take them away from some of our more dangerous trunk roads where traffic is both heavy and fast moving. Any cyclist, particularly a lone cyclist who is not wearing high-visibility clothing, is at huge risk on such roads from vehicles approaching from behind at a (legal) closing speed of up to 60 mph. At such a closing speed a relatively small and very vulnerable “object” is coming into view at the rate of 60ft per second and in a moment’s inattention irreparable damage is done.

“Lest it be said that cyclists have a right to use such roads and it is up to other road users to be vigilant, the fact is that no cyclist, or even motorcyclist with a machine of small capacity, is permitted to use any motorway. As a matter of logic and realism the same should apply to dual carriageways where the speed limit is not significantly restricted.”

This last paragraph is quite the shocker, especially given Judge Tonking’s ‘form’ on such matters. In April, he deliberated on the case involving the death of Patrick Kenny, a 72-year old record breaking cyclist.

Mr Kenny was killed by Andrew Mylrea, a Rolls-Royce aero-engine Associate Fellow, who was driving “about 60mph” as Kenny cycled along the A38 slip road near Burton upon Trent. [Note: slip road].

Mylrea, driving a BMW, was convicted of causing death by careless driving at Stafford Crown Court and banned for driving for a year. Mylrea could have been locked up for five years but Judge Tonking decided not to jail him, saying: “This is not a case for a custodial sentence. This was a complete aberration. Your carelessness was failing to see Mr Kenny and his bicycle.”

Judge Tonking’s request for cyclists to be banned from A-roads is odd because cyclists can already be so banned. Many stretches of quasi-motorway have such bans in place, via bog-standard traffic regulation orders. And, of course, the very fact many A-roads are choked with cars is reason enough for most cyclists to avoid them, a de facto ‘ban’.

While many A-roads have been widened and signed to suit the needs of fast moving motorised traffic, they were not originally built for this purpose. Most of Britain’s A-roads were built as turnpikes for stagecoach traffic. With the coming of the railways, these ‘national’ roads fell into disuse and were first revived by cyclists in the 1870s, as has been pointed out numerous times on this blog-of-the-book.

Many trunk road dual carriageways were also originally turnpikes – many are also Roman in origin – although look and feel like motorways, the highways built specifically for motorised use. Given that many A-roads – and even many trunk roads – are sometimes the only A to B access between places, calling for blanket bans is a very serious matter, especially when it comes from a figure such as a judge. [Perhaps if Judge Tonking had experience of such roads from the cyclist's perspective he might come to a different conclusion? We need more beaks on bikes...]

Naturally, such bans are sometimes raised in parliament. Last year Uttoxeter MP Andrew Griffiths wanted to discuss such a ban with local cycling clubs following the death of a cyclist. The lorry driver who killed the cyclist had been sending and receiving text messages on his mobile phone in the minutes leading up the collision.

Perhaps MPs and judges who ask for cyclists to be banned from A-roads ought to demonstrate how cyclists can still transit the area in question, without huge diversions? If there is no latticework of alternative, quieter routes shouldn’t such calls for bans go hand in hand with infrastructure provision? By all means seek a safe solution for all but this ought to include good, usable routes for non-motorised road users. If there’s no room, cash or inclination for such provision, banning such road users would be unfair in the extreme.

Open Road motorway at night

16 thoughts on “Beak wants bike ban on many A-roads

  1. MarkDangerousElf / Reply October 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I think there may have been a typo in the title — shouldn’t it have said “CLOWN court”? Because this ‘judge’ IS a clown.

  2. Guy Swarbrick / Reply October 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    The dilemma with this one is that – on the one hand, he seems to have arrived at this conclusion from the usual starting point of blaming the victim and trying to ‘protect’ cyclists by forbidding them from putting themselves in harm’s way, rather than addressing texting triuck drivers… On the other hand, there probably are some roads where there will always be a problem and a genuine alternative may be preferable.

    I don’t think many people would suggest that it would be a good thing for motorways to be opened up to cyclists and if Tonking had suggested a review that started at the top with the most dangerous, most motorway-like NSL two and three lane roads – some of which already don’t allow cyclists, he’d have look much less of an arse.

    In reality, though, what he’s suggesting is much closer to that than the original headline and a couple of comment in the article which imply a suggestion that cyclists are banned from all A roads…

    It would have been even better if the hypothetical review of said dangerous NSL multi-carriageway roads only allowed cyclists to be banned if there was a) a suitable alternative (which, with many bypasses, there is – the now deserted, original route of the A road) and/or provision is made for a segregated but equally direct cycle route – a parallel, dual carriage cycleway, if you like… In fact, I don’t think any new bypasses should be allowed without one.

    I’m not a big fan of cycle lanes, as you know, but that’s the sort of situation where I do think they make sense.

    • carltonreid / Reply October 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      I don’t disagree.

      • Anonymous / Reply October 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

        Isn’t there a Dutch rule – you can only prevent use of a road by cyclists if you provide an alternative that is, within a small percentage, equivalent in terms of both distance and (as importantly) time. The time requirement being the critical one if you want to provide cycle paths that are practical and sensible

        • Ian Brett Cooper / Reply October 20, 2012 at 1:01 am

          We should not ‘prevent’ use of the road at all – ever, even if there is
          an ‘equivalent cycle path in terms of distance and time. These are,
          after all, not the only criteria for safe and useful cycling. The road
          has to be wide enough and clear of debris – something that is rarely (if
          ever) the case. Bicycles are designed to operate on wide roads –
          optimal lane width for a bicycle is much more than the four feet that
          many bike lanes afford. Bikes are not built to operate in such a narrow
          lane. Our road system was designed for bicycle traffic, and the road
          width that developed was a function of that.

          The use of narrow bike paths should always be a choice, not a requirement. Is it anyone else’s business where we choose to ride? Hopefully not.

          The Dutch have a
          rather patronizing and restrictive view of cyclists’ rights. In the UK,
          hopefully we still believe in the importance of free and unlimited
          access to public roads. It’s part of what sets the UK apart from nations
          that regard individual rights with less respect.

          I realize it’s
          en vogue these days to support more and more restrictions on freedom,
          but hopefully most cyclists still believe that an individual, and not
          the government, should decide how and where he should travel. The UK is,
          after all, not a Stalinist country where travel is strictly controlled.

          The
          right to use roads applies especially when so many studies show that
          cycle paths and bike lanes have a higher accident rate than the road. It
          would be a sad day indeed if Britain’s roads were off-limits to
          cyclists and they were required to use more hazardous facilities
          instead.

    • Janet Mozelewski / Reply October 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      There seems to be a clique of worthies in Staffordshire who are voicing this opinion…Uttoxeter, Burton etc.
      I live in the area and by far the most dangerous roads to cycle (and for that matter drive) are the smaller A roads in more rural stretches. Lots of twists and turns and deeply hedged and banked at the side offering little visibility and no-where to go.
      Of course this is merely an extension of what we see in society in general. A move from legislature which is applied to the perpetrator….and towards legislature placing the onus on the victim. After all when you report a crime these days the policeman attending is liable to be much more annoyed with you for adding another statistic to the unsolved pile and causing him paperwork. One way or another you will be deemed partially to blame.
      Same here. Its easier and more ‘final’ to ban cyclists than it is to educate and police poor driving. Just as its easier to get old ladies to lock themselves in their homes under self-imposed curfew than it is to lock up and curfew the yobs who terrorise them.

  3. Anonymous / Reply October 4, 2012 at 8:25 am

    This is the situation or viewpoint of too many people in the UK. They say we have roads which are too narrow to allow cycling and we have roads which are too wide and fast to allow cycling.

    • Guy Swarbrick / Reply October 4, 2012 at 10:27 am

      And, in some cases, both statements are true. The answer, however, isn’t to ban bikes from badly designed roads…

      • Anonymous / Reply October 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

        Part of the statements are true.. too narrow or too fast. May be we should also ban people from walking on paths or crossing the road.

  4. bazdunk / Reply October 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Never mind speeds of 60 mph, if a car hits you at 30 mph from the rear it still going to do you damage, we will just ride on the pavements shall we?

    • banbicyclists / Reply December 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      yes, please do.

  5. Ian Brett Cooper / Reply October 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    When people are mugged, does the judge think the answer is to make it illegal for people to carry wallets?

    • banbicyclists / Reply December 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      ^^^^^^^^^
      And this is the mentality us car drivers have to put up with. What an idiot.

  6. 3rdWorldCyclinginGB / Reply October 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Has the judge no experence of the terrible consequences of RTCs between motor vehicles and motor vehicles? There are loads and loads of them every year and they are devastating. As a matter of logic and realism, the government should ban everything from all roads.

  7. ihatebicyclists / Reply December 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    I agree. Ban bicyclists from all roads. One of these people hit my car last week, dented the wing, cracked my windscreen etc. I will pursue this case and sue him.

    • carltonreid / Reply December 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      One cyclist hit your car and you want to ban ALL cyclists? How about if another motorist hit your car, ban all motorists?

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