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Road traffic regs only allow highway speed limits for motor vehicles

The London borough of Southwark’s plan to extend its 20 mph speed limits to all the roads under its control and extend the limit to cyclists is illegal, according to cycling charity CTC.

The council’s plan would potentially give the Metropolitan Police another excuse to harass cyclists in the borough after riders have recently been served fixed penalty notices for straying off the cycling area of a shared path.

Roger Geffen of the CTC told road.cc: “Southwark Council is clearly intent on exceeding its legal powers. It cannot impose speed limits on pedal cycles on public roads any more than it can on pedestrians.”

The council announced earlier this month that it would disregard objections from the Metropolitan Police and Freight Transport Association and impose a 20mph speed limit on all roads under its control from July 31. Southwark’s move follows on the heels of the City of London, which implemented a 20mph limit across the Square Mile on July 20.

But in a surprise addition, Southwark’s head of public realm Des Waters said the council intended to word its traffic management order so that it would apply to cyclists as well.

Water said: “It would be inappropriate to treat cyclists differently to any other form of traffic and effectively tie the hands of police when it comes to speed enforcement."

However, Geffen says Waters need to brush up on his understanding of the law.

Geffen said: “Highway authorities can only use traffic regulation orders to apply speed limits to motor vehicles on public roads. 

“There are enough other offences that can be used for cyclists who are riding at speeds which are inappropriate for the conditions, whether on or off-road. 

“Southwark Council officers need to improve their understanding of what they themselves are and are not permitted to do under the law, before they try inventing rules for cyclists.”

Southwark seems to have a divided attitude toward people on bicycles on roads in the borough. On the one hand, councillor Mark Williams, Southwark's cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transport, is supporting Kristian Gregory’s challenge to the fine he was given for straying a few centimetres off a cycle track alongside the New Kent Road.

On the other hand, Des Waters has long opposed cycling provision. Cycle campaigner Donnachadh McCarthy, a founder of the Stop Killing Cyclists campaign and Southwark resident, told road.cc: “I really do not know what Des Waters' problem is with cyclists. He is in charge of the public realm and had opposed every proposal for protected right hand turns over the last decade and Southwark were the first council to take on powers for their security guards to give on the spot fines to cyclists but not to motorists.”

As noted in our previous story, Southwark for many years opposed protected cycle lanes on the grounds that mixing cyclists with motor traffic would force drivers to slow down, a policy that has been likened to using bike riders as mobile speed bumps.

The letter of the law

For road law nerds, the legislation that applies to the creation of 20mph speed limits is section 84 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which says:

Speed limits on roads other than restricted roads.

(1)An order made under this subsection as respects any road may prohibit—
(a)the driving of motor vehicles on that road at a speed exceeding that specified in the order,
(b)the driving of motor vehicles on that road at a speed exceeding that specified in the order during periods specified in the order, or
(c)the driving of motor vehicles on that road at a speed exceeding the speed for the time being indicated by traffic signs in accordance with the order.

It’s pretty clear, then, that such speed limits can’t apply to bikes.

You might be wondering what the regulations mean by a “restricted road”.

We were, so we asked Roger Geffen, who told us: “A restricted road is a road built-up road with street lights no more than 200 yards apart in England and Wales, or 185 yards apart in Scotland (see Section 82).  By default, such roads have 30mph speed limits, and the only speed limit signing needed is at the boundaries of the 30mph area.

“Highway authorities can use the powers in s84 to vary the speed limit on any road for which they are the highway authority.  However, if that road is initially a restricted road (and therefore starts off with a 30mph limit), it then ceases to be a restricted road once they have imposed a different speed limit.”

Road.cc contacted Southwark council for comment, but we have had no response.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

33 comments

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Jacob [40 posts] 2 years ago
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They seem to have gone completely bonkers. How I am suppose to know how quickly I'm going with no speedometer on my bike (and I don't have to have one by law). This place is going crazy when it comes to cyclists.

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thereverent [406 posts] 2 years ago
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Whe I read the original story yesterday, I didn't think they could impose this without centrla government changing the Road Traffic Act.
Still shows on how little knowledge a council will try and change the law.

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John Stevenson [251 posts] 2 years ago
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thereverent

Exactly my reaction, which is why I asked Roger Geffen's opinion, as he is a man who truly Knows His Stuff.

Still waiting for Southwark to tell me just what legislation they're planning to use for this. Suspect I'll have a long wait.

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dp24 [201 posts] 2 years ago
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Council in 'talking bollocks' shocker. Who'd have thought it, eh?

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horizontal dropout [270 posts] 2 years ago
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Come on guys this is a non-issue. Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits. The cyclists speed limit (if enforceable at all) would only apply to a very small proportion of the actual and potential cyclists in the borough. It's much more important to get as many people out of cars and onto bikes (or on buses or walking) than it is to provide for the few fast cyclists.

There are plenty of times and places where travelling at 20mph on a bike is not safe, and it's certainly initimidating for new or slower cyclists to be hassled by someone wanting to go faster than them.

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esayers [37 posts] 2 years ago
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Does this mean if you have an e-bike you could be done for speeding as this does have a motor? Just curious...

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Leodis [403 posts] 2 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

Come on guys this is a non-issue. Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits. The cyclists speed limit (if enforceable at all) would only apply to a very small proportion of the actual and potential cyclists in the borough. It's much more important to get as many people out of cars and onto bikes (or on buses or walking) than it is to provide for the few fast cyclists.

There are plenty of times and places where travelling at 20mph on a bike is not safe, and it's certainly initimidating for new or slower cyclists to be hassled by someone wanting to go faster than them.

oo the usual Sultrans nonsense. So we are now targeting and segregating some cyclists? I tell you what, I was on the outer ring road in Leeds yesterday going up a slight incline, I had to risk my life over taking a cyclist travelling at... 5mph on a duel road!! Maybe we should have a min speed limit and the pootlers can use the Sustran cycle routes?

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andycoventry [110 posts] 2 years ago
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esayers wrote:

Does this mean if you have an e-bike you could be done for speeding as this does have a motor? Just curious...

Not unless it ceases to comply with the following requirements:

the bike must have pedals that can be used to propel it
the electric motor shouldn’t be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15mph
the bike (including its battery but not the rider) must not be heavier than 40 kilograms (kg) if it’s a bicycle, or 60kg if it’s a tandem or tricycle
the motor shouldn’t have a maximum power output of more than 200 watts if it’s a bicycle and 250 watts if it’s a tandem or tricycle
the bike must have a plate showing the manufacturer, the nominal voltage of the battery, and the motor’s power output

Courtesy of:

https://www.gov.uk/electric-bike-rules

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kie7077 [877 posts] 2 years ago
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andycoventry wrote:

the electric motor shouldn’t be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15mph

I don't get this, does this mean that if you are traveling at 17mph and the bike is providing assistance that it is illegal? I've only used a couple of electric bikes in the UK, but one of them I'm pretty sure was still providing full assistance whilst I was cycling at about 20mph - it weighed a lot and I doubt I would have been going that fast without assistance.

15mph is a stupid cutoff point though, It really should be 20mph..

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bikebot [1916 posts] 2 years ago
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andycoventry wrote:
esayers wrote:

Does this mean if you have an e-bike you could be done for speeding as this does have a motor? Just curious...

Not unless it ceases to comply with the following requirements:

the bike must have pedals that can be used to propel it
the electric motor shouldn’t be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15mph
the bike (including its battery but not the rider) must not be heavier than 40 kilograms (kg) if it’s a bicycle, or 60kg if it’s a tandem or tricycle
the motor shouldn’t have a maximum power output of more than 200 watts if it’s a bicycle and 250 watts if it’s a tandem or tricycle
the bike must have a plate showing the manufacturer, the nominal voltage of the battery, and the motor’s power output

Courtesy of:

https://www.gov.uk/electric-bike-rules

And for anyone curious, if you exceed those power or speed ratings, you're riding a "motorcycle".

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esayers [37 posts] 2 years ago
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cheers @andycoventry
Didn't realise you needed to be over 14 to ride one either

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andycoventry [110 posts] 2 years ago
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kie7077 wrote:
andycoventry wrote:

the electric motor shouldn’t be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15mph

I don't get this, does this mean that if you are traveling at 17mph and the bike is providing assistance that it is illegal? I've only used a couple of electric bikes in the UK, but one of them I'm pretty sure was still providing full assistance whilst I was cycling at about 20mph - it weighed a lot and I doubt I would have been going that fast without assistance.

15mph is a stupid cutoff point though, It really should be 20mph..

Its a strange choice of wording to use 'shouldn't' if it was law and mandatory, in that case it should be 'mustn't' surely?....

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FluffyKittenofT... [1198 posts] 2 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

Come on guys this is a non-issue. Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits. The cyclists speed limit (if enforceable at all) would only apply to a very small proportion of the actual and potential cyclists in the borough. It's much more important to get as many people out of cars and onto bikes (or on buses or walking) than it is to provide for the few fast cyclists.

There are plenty of times and places where travelling at 20mph on a bike is not safe, and it's certainly initimidating for new or slower cyclists to be hassled by someone wanting to go faster than them.

There are two reasons why I disagree.

One is that, apparently, according to the other thread, no objective measure of speed is required to say a cyclist is going over 20mph. So its not necessarily about 'the few fast cyclists' (a group that doesn't include me!) its about anyone who encounters a police officer who isn't good at judging the speed of a bike (and given how often motorists totally misjudge cyclists' speed, and how few police officers cycle, that is surely not that far-fetched?).

Another is that I'm suspicious what the motive for the move is - is it really evidence-based, i.e. that there is a genuine existing safety problem with super-fast cyclists? Or is it the usual thing of placating motorists annoyed at any restriction on them by also taking a pop at those evil cyclists who everyone hates?

Bit like the way safety campaigns always have to pretend its a two-way-street and that 'bad cyclists' are as much of a problem as bad drivers, so that every bit of pleading to drivers has to be matched with some admonition of cyclists (however illogical).

That sort of faux-even-handedness gets a bit tiresome after a while.

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700c [903 posts] 2 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

Come on guys this is a non-issue. Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits. The cyclists speed limit (if enforceable at all) would only apply to a very small proportion of the actual and potential cyclists in the borough. It's much more important to get as many people out of cars and onto bikes (or on buses or walking) than it is to provide for the few fast cyclists.

There are plenty of times and places where travelling at 20mph on a bike is not safe, and it's certainly initimidating for new or slower cyclists to be hassled by someone wanting to go faster than them.

Completely agree, but the 'cyclists being victimised again' headline seems to make much better reading on here than the fact that 20 mph limits might make it safer for cyclists!

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dp24 [201 posts] 2 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits.

Yes they are, but that doesn't mean this is a non-issue - it's another example of a council making out that 'bad cycling' is as much of an issue as bad driving.

If their only interest was improving safety, they'd have enough to concentrate on with tackling car/van/lorry drivers, without this strange need to bring cyclists into the mix.

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Paul_C [463 posts] 2 years ago
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esayers wrote:

Does this mean if you have an e-bike you could be done for speeding as this does have a motor? Just curious...

e-bikes top out at 15.5 mph by law, to go faster you have to put your own effort in...

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servicemycycle [11 posts] 2 years ago
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Leodis wrote:
horizontal dropout wrote:

Come on guys this is a non-issue. Southwark are to be absolutely applauded for introducing 20mph limits. The cyclists speed limit (if enforceable at all) would only apply to a very small proportion of the actual and potential cyclists in the borough. It's much more important to get as many people out of cars and onto bikes (or on buses or walking) than it is to provide for the few fast cyclists.

There are plenty of times and places where travelling at 20mph on a bike is not safe, and it's certainly initimidating for new or slower cyclists to be hassled by someone wanting to go faster than them.

oo the usual Sultrans nonsense. So we are now targeting and segregating some cyclists? I tell you what, I was on the outer ring road in Leeds yesterday going up a slight incline, I had to risk my life over taking a cyclist travelling at... 5mph on a duel road!! Maybe we should have a min speed limit and the pootlers can use the Sustran cycle routes?

No Maybe you should have done what any responsible road user would do and hang back until it is safe to over take .. You didnt have to risk you life.

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
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Leodis wrote:

oo the usual Sultrans nonsense. So we are now targeting and segregating some cyclists? I tell you what, I was on the outer ring road in Leeds yesterday going up a slight incline, I had to risk my life over taking a cyclist travelling at... 5mph on a duel road!! Maybe we should have a min speed limit and the pootlers can use the Sustran cycle routes?

You sound like a motorist, you had to risk your life to overtake? You couldn't have just slowed down and waited until it was safe?

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bikebot [1916 posts] 2 years ago
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Ladies and gentleman, we appear to have finally found this cyclist who thinks he "owns the road" that many of us have heard motorists grumbling about.

I say we check with the Daily Mail to see if there's a reward for his capture.

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Bigfoz [118 posts] 2 years ago
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Never mind Southwark, isn't this the A-hole of all laws "A restricted road is a road built-up road with street lights no more than 200 yards apart" - we're supposed to measure while driving / riding through?

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darrenleroy [212 posts] 2 years ago
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Just glad to see one more London council slowing down motorists.

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GrahamSt [167 posts] 2 years ago
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To be honest I can't see anything wrong with the principle that cyclists should be bound to the same speed limits as any other vehicle using the road. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. I not sure why people would object to that.

Having said that, I can't see any way to enforce it properly and the idea that a council is so openly overstepping the limits of its legal jurisdiction is a bit worrying.

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truffy [653 posts] 2 years ago
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I'd have thought that most cyclists wouldn't know that speed limits only apply to motor vehicles and (providing they have a speedo) would obey them.

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Matt eaton [742 posts] 2 years ago
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GrahamSt wrote:

To be honest I can't see anything wrong with the principle that cyclists should be bound to the same speed limits as any other vehicle using the road. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. I not sure why people would object to that.

I agree with you to a point in that the principle is fine, but it's logical that speedometers would become compulsary if speed limits applied to bikes in the same way as cars. I certainly don't want to be compelled to use a cycle-computer. In terms of increasing the number of people travelling by bike, having to buy a cycle-computer and ensure that it works (bateries etc.) will represent another barrier. It seems like a small thing to most of us but these little points do put people off, or at least give them an excuse to wimp out.

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GrahamSt [167 posts] 2 years ago
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I doubt a cycle computer could be regarded as an accurate calibrated speedometer anyway. But I see your point.

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kie7077 [877 posts] 2 years ago
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If all of the traffic is moving at 24mph and you are also cycling at 24mph, can any seriously expect you to slow to 20mph? It would be easy enough for a driver of a big metal object to slow down, but would add considerable danger for a cyclist as impatient motorists try to squeeze by as they typically do.

20mph law should not apply to cyclists, the current laws are sufficient, and applying this law to cyclists is clearly not the same as applying it to motor drivers.

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700c [903 posts] 2 years ago
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Depressing how most people have totally missed the point, judging by the comments on here.

If we're more outraged by the 'illegal' injustice to cyclists of an enforced 20mph limit and can only see this as another 'excuse to harass cyclists', then it undermines the important arguments we can - and should - make about road safety.

20mph limits are a good thing for vulnerable road users.

What's irritating is that so much of Road cc's content is really good but then you get controversy-seeking articles like this which pander to 'them-and-us' ideals, for those who believe motorists and society are at war with cyclists

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Al__S [1024 posts] 2 years ago
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Whilst I don't support councils attempting to overstep their legal powers, I rather reckon that the majority of cyclists who do sustain speeds of 20mph on the flat know damn well that they do so as they invariably have a speedo...

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truffy [653 posts] 2 years ago
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GrahamSt wrote:

I doubt a cycle computer could be regarded as an accurate calibrated speedometer anyway.

Nor are car speedometers, which is why (for the moment) we have the +10% rule.

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ChairRDRF [308 posts] 2 years ago
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There certainly is an important pint missing here, and it is one lying at the heart of "road safety" ideology.

There is a fundamental difference between a bicyclist going at more than 20 mph and a motorist going at more than 20 mph: the different mass of cyclist plus bicycle on the one hand, and a motor vehicle on the other, mean that there is radically different amounts of potential kinetic energy released on impact. So the plus 20 mph cyclist poses far less of a threat than the plus 20 mph driver.

Of course, there is an argument that the narrower cyclist is more difficult to see by pedestrians - but then pedestrians should surely have some duty of care towards cyclists and should therefore be looking out for them. But anyway, the main point is that the lethality of the cyclist is far lower than that of the driver.

And if the cyclist is plainly proceeding without adequate care to potential victims, then there are other laws (such as careless cycling) which - as Roger Geffen says - can be invoked.

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