On cycling along Motorways and A-Roads

Cyclist on M1

Police took this photo of a person cycling on the M1

The Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire Roads Policing unit tweeted on 13 October 2013:

‏”@roadpoliceBCH: Somebody thought it was ok to cycle to London on the M1, escorted safely off at Redbourn. #dontbeadummy “

The BBC picked up the story, along with other news outlets: Hertfordshire Police escort M1 cyclist off motorway

The police are right: it is most definitely not ok to cycle with fast moving cars and lorries. Indeed, more than not ok, it is illegal to cycle (or ride a horse for that matter) on motorways. At motorway speeds, space for cycling in the form of a segregated bicycle path is required; and perhaps that is what the person riding the bicycle interpreted the hard-shoulder as?


Mark Treasure, who writes a blog at As Easy As Riding A Bicycle, tweeted this morning,

“@AsEasyAsRiding: I’d say cycling on a 70mph dual carriageway with no shoulder is more dangerous – but that’s legal”

Mark raises a very good point. Contrast motorways with many trunk A-roads. Both have the same or similar speed limit.

It is the law that only motorised vehicles use motorways; Cars and lorries have been effectively segregated from non-motorised vehicles like bicycles (and pedestrians and horses). There is a hard-shoulder, too, which looks very much like a bicycle route does on other roads: namely a bit of white paint separating the two kinds of vehicular traffic.

Near Whitchurch, Hampshire is the A34 road which runs from the M3 at Junction 9 in Winchester all the way north past Newbury and Oxford; then, after a bit of a break, on up to Manchester.

Unlike motorways, A-roads like the A34, an ‘all-purpose trunk road’, often do not have a car-width hard-shoulder yet it is legal for people to cycle (or ride a horse!) on them. But there’s more…


Google StreetView shows a Highways Agency cycle route on the A34 at B4640.

Google StreetView shows a Highways Agency cycle route on the A34 at B4640 (click to see map of the area)

The Highways Agency, which has responsibility for the A34, has, get this, included bicycle lane markings and associated signage in places along the A34 trunk road, which may be interpreted as encouraging people to cycle on it! Near Whitchurch, there is even a signed pedestrian crossing of the A34!

In May 2012, I asked the Highways Agency about the safety of people who use the A34 but not in a motorised vehicle.

They told me that at the time of its construction, “a number of safety audits would have taken place at number of stages during the preliminary design, detailed design and following construction.”

The Highways Agency added,

“the cycle lanes markings, at the edge of the carriageway, are a safety feature in our highway design. Although it demarcates a separate cycleway, this has limited use and only for short distances. As such, these markings are intended to provide a degree of separation between the cyclist and motorised vehicles at points of potential conflict.”

Table from Highways Agency that lists all the cycle tracks on the A34 between the M3 and M4.

A table from Highways Agency that lists all of the cycle tracks on the A34 between the M3 and M4.

So, there you have it. The Highways Agency has deemed their splash of white paint beside the 70mph traffic as a “safety feature” until of course it peters out and you are left on your own, in conflict with motorised traffic. Similarly, the Highways Agency have erected large ‘pedestrian crossing’ signs for the intersection just south of Whitchurch.

Aside: one of the exits off of the A34, at Tufton/Whitchurch, has come in for criticism as being unsafe. Nothing has been done by either the Highways Agency or Hampshire County Council, who own the road from the slipway into each town, to make it safer.

Another aside: dangerous too are people who drive their car the wrong way down busy roads, this happened just 2 days after the cyclist story appeared: Elderly man drives wrong way on Devon dual carriageway


The Highways Agency, instead of creating safer routes for people who want to cycle or ride their horse, have limited themselves to dishing out advice such as this:

“We try not to encourage cycling along the trunk roads within the [Strategic Roads Network] nor build cycle routes next to the carriageway of trunk roads if alternative routes exist. As such the A34 is not really a suitable road for cyclists but it is an all purpose trunk road and therefore cyclists cannot be prevented from using it.”

In July of this year, 2 people riding bicycles on a different A-road, the A30 in Cornwall were killed by a person driving a lorry. At the time, Inspector Stuart Gibbons, of Devon and Cornwall Police was quoted as saying,

“Clearly it is not illegal to cycle on the A30, but it is a main arterial road through Cornwall and takes all the heavy traffic which is often travelling at speed. It is advisable for cyclists not to use this route and we would recommend people to look for an alternative.”

Just a couple weeks ago, The Times reported that the Government’s £1.3bn transport plans ‘ignore cyclists and threaten countryside’

The real question is this: why hasn’t the Highways Agency allocated its funding to include space for cycling alongside busy roads to remove the conflict?

One idea, in the case of the A34 south of Whitchurch, is to use the path of the disused Didcot railway line to make a segregated route for people who choose to cycle and walk – something that the Mayor of London promoted earlier this summer. Mind, there is a group already looking into re-opening the line for train travel. That shouldn’t get in the way though; Boris had a plan a year earlier for dealing with that kind of thing (I’ll get my coat…)


Now that the Government is pushing the Highways Agency towards eventual privatisation, it is high time that they both take more seriously the duty to make travel safer for all, irregardless of the type of vehicle a person chooses to use. In a nutshell, remove the conflict on the roads by creating space for cycling.

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