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Mind your speed south of the river

The recent widespread introduction of 20mph speed limits in built up areas has been welcomed by road danger reduction campaigners, but it might turn out to be inconvenient for cyclists. That’s the prospect in the London borough of Southwark, where the council plans to include cyclists and horse-drawn buggies in the scope of the 20mph limit to be introduced at the end of July.

The Borough has long had an unusual relationship with cyclists, until recently refusing to even consider segregated cycling infrastructure because it believed mixing cyclists with motor traffic would help get drivers to slow down. Although new Southwark cabinet member for transport Mark Williams  has said he will reverse this policy, Southwark did for a long time appear to consider cyclists to be mobile speed bumps.

Now, it seems, cyclists are to be included in an initiative intended to reduce the danger to pedestrians from being hit by heavy motor vehicles and not soft, fleshy bike riders.

According to the London SE1 website, the council plans to circumvent the usual exclusion of cyclists from speed limits (which in the Road Traffic Act apply only to motor vehicles) by referring simply to 'vehicles' in its proposed traffic management order.

Although it appears never to have been used foer the purpose of applying speed limits to cyclists, the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 allows for speed limits to be imposed by local acts.

That ‘vehicles’ includes cycles is the same logic used by the Metropolitan Police to prosecute cyclists for exceeding the speed limit in Richmond Park. Carelessly framed traffic regulations refer in part to vehicles, although read as a whole they are clearly intended to apply only to motor vehicles.

As far as we are aware, nobody has ever mounted a serious legal challenge to a cycling speeding fine in Richmond Park. In a response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by road.cc last year, the Metropolitan Police said it was unable to find any record of legal advice indicating the limit applied to cyclists.

In Southwark, the council seems to think that cyclists are just as much of a hazard as motor vehicles (when they’re not using cyclists as unwitting moving-target traffic-calming, of course).

In a response to a member of the public who pointed out that  it was unrealistic to expect unpowered vehicles to be able to accurately monitor their speed, the council's head of public realm Des Waters wrote: "The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 does indeed refer to 'motor vehicles' however since 1984 cycling as a modal share has grown substantially and the council receives a number of complaints from residents – particularly pedestrians – about the excessive speed of cyclists.

"Therefore 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."

The Metropolitan Police seem quite happy to have their hands tied, though. In the Met’s formal objection to the plan, Catherine Linney of the force's traffic management unit said that enforcing the limit would be “unrealistic” and it should not be introduced unless the “look and feel” of the road made it obvious to drivers that the limit was 20mph. The Met apparently believes drivers are too dense to notice dirty great round signs with the number twenty on them.

Linney wrote: "Introducing speed limits where traffic speeds are too high places an unrealistic expectation to enforce on the Metropolitan Police.

"Whilst any reduction in speed is of benefit, the number of offenders will increase significantly in the roads which presently have average speeds of over 24 mph, placing an expectation on the Police for enforcement which we do not have the extra resources to fulfil.

"The Metropolitan Police objects to a 20 mph speed limit on any road in the London Borough of Southwark where the mean speed is above 24 mph.

"We also object to the implementation of the 20 mph limit where it is not obvious to the motorist through the look and feel of the road that the speed limit is 20 mph."

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.