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Cycling and one-way streets

9 August 2011
by blondwig

I’ve been asked a few times what the law says about cycling the wrong way along one-way streets.

I’ve been putting off writing about it, because it’s a simple question with a horribly complicated answer.

There’s no general rule which makes it an offence to cycle the wrong way up a one-way street.

But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to. There are two separate specific offences which you might commit.

In order to explain the rules of one-way streets, first I need to explain the rules on traffic signs. They can be confusing. Bear with me.

The rules on traffic signs

Some traffic signs and road markings have special legal status. If you fail to comply with the indication given by one of the specially designated signs, you will automatically commit an offence, for which you can be given a fixed penalty or (if you’re prosecuted) a fine of up to £1000. (RTA s. 36(1), (2); TSRGD r. 10(1); RTOA Sch 2, 3)

The stop sign is a good example (right) – it means (loosely) that you have to stop before the accompanying line (and can’t proceed if it would cause danger or would cause another vehicle to alter its speed or course). If you don’t comply, you’ll commit an offence. (RTA s. 36(1), (2)(b), TSRGD rr. 10(1)(a), 16(1), Sch 2 diagram 601.1)

Other traffic signs aren’t specially designated in this way, so it won’t automatically be an offence to disobey them. But that doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to disobey them. Signs which aren’t specially designated are there to indicate that another rule is in operation – so if you disobey the sign, there’s a good chance you’ll be disobeying the underlying rule (which might be a separate offence).

Take for example the “motor vehicles prohibited” sign (right; diagram 619). It’s not a specially designated sign, so contravening the sign isn’t (on its own) an offence. But, generally speaking, a traffic authority can only put up the sign where there is another rule prohibiting the driving of motor vehicles – for example a rule in a byelaw or a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). (TSRGD Sch 19 Pt II d. 7(1), (2)(a))

So if you do disobey the sign, you’re likely to be contravening a byelaw or a TRO. That’s also likely to be an offence. (RTA s. 36(2); RTRA ss. 5(1), 8(1))

Why am I bothering to make this distinction? Sometimes it can matter. As I said before, bear with me.

Signs for one-way streets

If you cycle the wrong way down a one-way street, the first thing you might do wrong is commit the offence of failure to comply with a traffic sign.

In the context of one-way streets, there are three specially designated signs to look out for:

  • The no-entry sign (top right, diagram 616)
  • A direction arrow on a circular blue background (middle right, diagram 606)
  • A “compulsory turn” sign (bottom right, diagram 609)

As I’ve said, because these signs are specially designated, if you fail to comply with one of them you’ll commit an offence and can be given a fixed penalty notice. (references above)

There are a few other things to say about this. First, if the direction arrow or the compulsory turn sign are accompanied by an “except cycles” plate, it seems that you’re allowed to disobey the sign if you’re riding a bike – so you won’t commit an offence (right, diagrams 954.3 and 954.4). Traditionally the use of the “except cycles” plates below a “no entry” sign has been prohibited, although it seems that some traffic authorities have used the combination anyway, and it may be that change is on the way. (TSRGD Sch 19 Pt II d. 21(2))

Secondly, it is sometimes possible to end up cycling on a one-way street, going what seems to be the ‘wrong’ way, without having disobeyed a sign. One example is New Inn Yard in Shoreditch.

I last cycled along here in February, and things may have changed since. But assuming it hasn’t changed, at the western end there are these arrows indicating a one-way street; but at the eastern end you are allowed to enter (in the opposite direction) on a bike. And there are no signs at any point telling you that you can’t continue or have to turn off. So you can end up coming out of the junction at the western end against the arrows (where motorists don’t expect you, and sometimes shout at you for cycling illegally) without ever having committed the offence of failing to comply with a sign.

In that situation, is there anything else which you might have done wrong?

Contravening a traffic regulation order

Wherever there’s a one-way street, there’s likely to be a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) which made it one-way. The TRO might ban all vehicle movements (which would include cycling) in the ‘wrong’ direction on the one-way street. (RTRA ss. 2(1), (2), 6(3), Sch 1)

If you contravene the rules in a TRO you’ll commit an offence, for which you can be given a fixed penalty or (if you’re prosecuted) a fine of up to £1000. So if a TRO bans all vehicle movements in the ‘wrong’ direction on a one-way street, and you ride your bike in the ‘wrong’ direction, you’ll probably commit this offence. (RTRA ss. 5(1), 8(1); RTOA Sch 2, 3)

But contravening a TRO will only count as an offence if the traffic authority has put in place traffic signs which give “adequate information as to the effect of the order. In other words, the rule which you broke has to be adequately indicated by signs on the road. (RTRA s. 124(1); Sch 9 Pt III; Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) Regulations 1996 (SI 1996/2489) r. 18(1); James v Cavey [1967] 2 QB 676; R (Herron) v Parking Adjudicator [2011] EWCA Civ 905, 36-37)

A rule will probably be adequately indicated when the signs are sufficient to let you know what the prohibition is. Generally speaking, signs at either end of a one-way street will probably be enough – it probably isn’t necessary for the traffic authority to put up ‘reminder’ signs, for example.

Also, not only does the local traffic authority have to put up signs to indicate the prohibition – they have to put up approved signs (or, exceptionally, different signs allowed by the Secretary of State). This means that any one-way TRO is likely to be indicated by at least one of the specially designated signs mentioned above. So if you cycle the wrong way along a normal one-way street, the likelihood is that you could be given a fixed penalty or a fine either for disobeying a sign or for contravening the TRO. (RTRA s. 64(2))

But what about the situation where the signs aren’t quite what you would expect – like with New Inn Yard in Shoreditch?

As I’ve said, as far as I’m aware there’s no sign anywhere on New Inn Yard telling a cyclist coming from the east that they can’t proceed along the street. But there are markings which indicate that the street is one-way (in the opposite direction) – there are the arrows at the other end, and a direction arrow in the middle for people coming onto New Inn Yard from the north (visible in this photo. The west-to-east no entry sign behind the tractor was a temporary measure for works – it isn’t normally there).

So is there adequate signing in New Inn Yard, so that someone cycling east to west could be prosecuted for breach of the TRO, even though they don’t disobey any signs?

Questions like this are open to interpretation. But there would at least be a strong argument that the signs aren’t adequate to indicate that cycling east-to-west is prohibited. None of the signs faces someone cycling east to west, so if you’re cycling in that direction you can carry on thinking that you’re exempt from the one-way system – there’s nothing which tells you for certain otherwise. It’s only really if you get to the western end and look backwards at the arrows (or are shouted at by a motorist) that you start to wonder.

So it seems to me that there’s a strong argument that cycling the ‘wrong’ way down New Inn Yard wouldn’t amount to an offence of contravening the TRO, because the signs (arguably) don’t give “adequate information as to the effect of the order.

Why does it have to be so complicated?

To summarise, then, if you cycle the wrong way down a one-way street, there are two offences which you might commit: failure to comply with a sign, and contravening a TRO.

It’s easy to know when you have to comply with a sign – you can see them. It’s less easy with TROs – generally you have to guess what the TRO says from looking at the signs. This can be tricky, as we’ve seen with New Inn Yard.

Of course it may be that the TRO for New Inn Yard actually permits cyclists to travel the ‘wrong’ way. Things would be much simpler if we could just check the TRO. But we can’t, because (as far as I can see) there’s no general rule requiring TROs to be published online.

From what I can see, most TROs aren’t made available online (and the same seems to be true of many byelaws). This seems to me to be a serious problem in the rules governing cycling.

It means that you can’t easily check your local rules on cycling to see exactly what is permitted. So if you’re pulled up for disobeying a sign which isn’t one of the specially designated signs (which, as I’ve said above, is only an offence if you also contravene the underlying rule), it’s difficult to check what the underlying rule says to see whether what you did was actually prohibited.  

If you can’t read the rules in a TRO online, it also means that any public debate about what the restrictions should be is made much more difficult. This is, admittedly, geeky stuff. But online access to TROs and byelaws could be very helpful if you live in a town or city where the traffic authority is one-way-happy, and you want to campaign for contraflow cycle routes.


Photo by briansuda from here:

Traffic sign images are from under this licence.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 August 2011 15:09

    Interesting post – thanks. Unfortunate that it’s so opaque.

    I’ve often wondered about places like . There are “no entry” signs, but nothing else to indicate the direction of traffic along the street – no white on blue arrows, for example. I tend to walk my bike up (mostly because it’s narrow, and cabbies will veer over to try to stop you passing – because of course all cabbies double as traffic police when they’re not breaking the law themselves).

    However, I wondered: a no entry sign doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a one way street; just that you can’t pass the sign. So if I chose to walk my bike through the no entry, then cycle on, have I broken any rule?

    I think the law is made more difficult by the fact that the UK doesn’t have “one way street” signs – just a sign indicating the direction traffic must proceed.

    • blondwig permalink*
      9 August 2011 15:36

      hi elliot

      thanks for pointing out bedford street – it’s probably an even better example than new inn yard. the only way you could find the answer to your question would be to check the TRO – and, as far as I can see after a quick search, the TRO for bedford street isn’t available online.

      if the TRO does make that stretch one-way, then the no-entry signs are probably adequate signing to mean that you’d commit an offence if you rode the wrong way along the street.

      if the TRO doesn’t make it a one-way street, then it’s an interesting question: could you get off, walk past the no entry sign, then get back on and keep going?

      From memory, the leading textbook on road traffic law, Wilkinson, asks the same question in respect of red lights, and suggests that getting off then getting back on isn’t a get-out – you’d be deemed to commit the offence of disobeying the sign (or the traffic light). personally I think it might depend on the circumstances – what the rule was that you were trying to get around, and how quickly you got back on your bike.

  2. 9 August 2011 16:44

    Check out . The picture at the bottom shows a route for cyclists across a short pavement. Going eastbound, this puts you the wrong way on a one way street. No signage facing you to indicate this either! :)

    • blondwig permalink*
      9 August 2011 18:06

      wow – that is pretty bad!

  3. 11 August 2011 22:12

    Very useful. We’re doing a fair bit of expetimentation with 1-way “contraflows” and I have an identical example to Elliot’s, wher enot only was I shouted at by a motorist, but also an oncoming cyclist! The street is Westbury Park in Bristol which has a “No Entry” sign at one end but joining roads along it’s length have no indication of a one-way street – so where at all does it start? The biggest problem that we are experiencing where Bristol City Council are attempting to implement “contraflows” (or do I mean 2-way streets for cyclists?) is vehicular drivers not anticipating oncoming cyclists or giving way to the more vulnerable and higher up in the “hierarchy of provision” people on their bicycles – it has also become apparent that the “motor vehicles prohibited” signs are largely misunderstood/ignored (maybe they don’t apply to lorries and vans?!) and (as everywhere) the (“contraflow”) cycle lane with double yellow lines is an open invitation for temporary parking (“Loading and unloading”). Ity seems we need a bit more work and a lot of education to make it safe for people to cycle contrary to the major flow on roads (I also know that in Henbury, the “give way to vehicles in th eopposite direction”sign has been clained as being “misunderstood” on one loacation and therefore a pedestrian safety feature removed even though these signs are prevalengt throughout the area – there is perhaps some subterfuge here!). Keep it up and thanks.

  4. Joel permalink
    13 August 2011 11:10

    Hi, you are right this does verge on geeky (good geeky!) but if you are keen on tro:s then a few freedom of information requests could lead to a national online database, benefitting many road users. joel

    • blondwig permalink*
      13 August 2011 12:04

      hi joel – fair point. i think a legislative requirement that TROs be made available online would be better – it would mean that online records were kept up-to-date, for example – but you may be right in that councils might hand them over in response to FOI requests.

  5. 17 February 2012 19:43

    ‘Traditionally the use of the “except cycles” plates below a “no entry” sign has been prohibited, although it seems that some traffic authorities have used the combination anyway…’

    It wasn’t until recently that I realised cyclists being allowed to cycle against a “no entry” sign is considered a bit controversial. Near to where I live there has been at least one around for quite a while:


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