Cycling equals anti-social - in Newport!

Wheeled Pedestrian. Flickr CC, Graeme Paterson

Cycling equals anti-social - in Newport!

As Newport joins Mansfield in enforcing a ban on cycling in its town centre, what happened to Wales's active travel aspirations, and will all drivers and pedestrians face bans elsewhere due to the irresponsible actions of a few? [N.B. Following this report's initial publication, Newport Council accepted on 25/08 that its cycling ban can't last till midnight - see update below]

Mansfield madness moves to Newport

Last week Cycling UK reported on Mansfield District Council's crusade to protect the public from anti-social behaviour and make Mansfield "a more welcoming place", by imposing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) banning cycling from the town centre. 

Regrettably Mansfield's madness appears to be contagious.

Last month published an article highlighting the outrage in Newport following the announcement that Gwent Police intended to enforce an existing ban on cycling across 11 streets within the city centre. As in Mansfield, it would seem that cycling and anti-social behaviour are synonymous activities, which in Newport necessitates the intervention of a Crime and Disorder Reduction Officer.

Really dangerous wheelies

The Gwent Police website refers to concerns regarding "groups of people cycling through the city anti-socially", with some "pulling what's known as a wheelie".

Unless scores of middle aged cycle shoppers and commuters in Newport have suddenly acquired a penchant for wheelies, perhaps a more perceptive analysis of any problem might be that provided by the city centre coffee shop owner the South Wales Argus spoke to, who mentioned "groups of young teenagers, maybe about 10 to 13", who congregate and hang around the bus station particularly in the school holidays.

The answer in Newport to summer holiday silliness from pre-teens and teenagers, some of whom will have bikes, is apparently to prevent anyone from cycling because of the danger to pedestrians. Some might ask whether a policing strategy which involves speaking to a young person causing a nuisance in the town centre, with or without a bike, might be a better way of addressing this issue.

On the danger to pedestrians point, does this mean that when a minority of drivers cause a danger to pedestrians or cyclists on a particular road that all motorists will be banned, and when a drunken pedestrian stumbles in front of a cyclist or car outside a night club, that all pedestrians will be prohibited because of the danger that class of road user presents? I suspect not.

On the danger to pedestrians point, does this mean that when a minority of drivers cause a danger to pedestrians or cyclists on a particular road that all motorists will be banned?... I suspect not.

Duncan Dollimore
Cycling UK's Senior Road Safety & Legal Officer

Vehicle or cycle restricted area?

As in Mansfield, a Google street view of the restricted area provides an insight into the muddled thinking of those who support the criminalisation of cycling whilst promoting motorised traffic in an area described as "pedestrianised".

The term pedestrianised is unhelpful. What it really means is a Vehicle Restricted Area (VRA), where various classes of vehicles have access for deliveries, as residents, emergencies services etc, either permanently or at specific times, sometimes including buses and taxis. It does not mean an outdoor shopping mall.

When considering whether cyclists should be excluded from a VRA either permanently, at specific times or at all, it is usually helpful to look at the other restrictions that apply and the level of motorised traffic. A Google street journey takes you down High Street, past the constant line of delivery vans, along a central area which is separated (ie. clear areas on each side for pedestrians and a separated area in the middle for vehicles rather than a ubiquitous paved area).

There is also a 20mph speed limit, hence a clear expectation that at least some vehicles will be travelling faster than a walking pace. Further down High Street, as you pass the numerous parked cars, the paved area to the side is separated further by bollards, yet Newport Council still wants to restrict cyclists from the central area which the vans merrily traverse.

This type of separation is typical throughout this so called pedestrianised area, which covers a substantial section of the city centre, appears to permit substantial motorised vehicle access largely along a separated central area, and which, as you travel up Stow Hill from the bottom of High Street, is not pedestrianised by any definition. It is just a normal road save that, abnormally, cyclists have to be excluded due to the danger they apparently present to the pedestrians on the adjoining Stow Hill pavements.

Oops - I didn't read the order!

The legal route Newport City Council (NCC) has tried to navigate to purportedly prohibit cycling, whilst different to Mansfield District Council's (MDC) use of a PSPO, is equally bizarre. Newport Council has not made a PSPO, rather they want the police to enforce a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) made in 1997, and amended two years later, which they appear to believe prohibits cycling between 11.00am and midnight. 

Unfortunately, nobody appears to have looked too closely at the actual orders. Had they done so perhaps someone may have spotted that the orders distinguish between "vehicles" and "cycles".

Between 11.00am and 5.00pm one clause of the orders prohibits "any vehicle or pedal cycle". Another clause sets out the prohibition between 5.00pm and midnight, which applies merely to vehicles, but not cycles. Normally the term "vehicle" would include cycles, but not when the Council's own order creates a distinction between the two.

Misleading signs and blanket bans

Their mistake regarding the duration of any prohibition is possibly not Newport Council's biggest problem. Misleading traffic signs rather offend the regulations, which require a Council making a TRO to ensure that adequate signage and information is made available and displayed to explain the effect of the Order, before the Order comes into force and thereafter.

Rather carelessly the Council has managed to erect some small signs on lamp posts suggesting that cycling is prohibited in the area at all times, a blanket ban. Those signs make no reference to either the cycle prohibition times in the orders (11.00 am to 5.00pm), or Newport Council's mistaken understanding of those times (11.00am to midnight).

NCC also has a problem retrospectively rectifying the misleading signs.

For the TRO to be valid and enforceable, adequate signage is required at the time the Order is made, not 19 years later. It appears the Council and police have misunderstood the legal position for many years, and now this summer have suddenly decided to adopt a forthright approach to enforcing an Order that was badly drafted, and which can only possibly apply between 11.00am and 5.00pm - but which may in fact be wholly invalid, for signage reasons.

Remember active travel - in Wales?

The message to NCC might just be that it is time to re-think their approach to pedestrianised zones, banning cyclists, and their obligations to promote active travel under the Active Travel (Wales) Act.

At the same time, Cycling UK's Cyclists' Defence Fund (CDF) is continuing to investigate a possible legal challenge to the PSPO made by MDC, which made it a criminal offence to cycle through Mansfield town centre at any time.

CDF has also been in correspondence with Gwent Police and NCC regarding the Newport TRO, and the announced crack-down on cyclists in the city centre. Gwent Police have now agreed to suspend enforcement whilst NCC reviews the legal position, but now is the time to pressure NCC to go back to the drawing board and think again about what they want to achieve by banning cyclists.

If you are a Newport cyclist who commutes in and out of, or lives in the city centre, please contact CDF to help us champion cycling and challenge arbitrary bans.   

Update 25 August -   Newport now accept part of CDF's cycling ban challenge

Newport City Council today accepted CDF's argument that even if there was a valid order banning cycling it could only last from 11.00am to 5.00pm, and not until midnight as the Council originally believed and which Gwent Police intended to enforce.

NCC are still considering CDF's claim that the TRO is invalid completely due to the failure to comply with signage requirements.

CDF awaits NCC's final response and will be continuing to press them to re-consider the whole issue of cycling restrictions in the city centre.

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