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Southwark can’t impose speed limits on cyclists, says CTC

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 “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 “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.” contacted Southwark council for comment, but we have had no response.

John 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 Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for 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 before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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