Cycle Path Signs – How High?

Cycle route sign, Warneford Avenue
Cycle route sign, Warneford Avenue

Last week I had a moan about the new cycle route signposts installed at the Gipsy/Warneford/Roosevelt/Old road junction, complaining that they were set too high for cyclists to see them. This sparked quite a debate on twitter, with some people saying it was ‘the regulations’ and me asking for chapter and verse.

I can’t believe I’ve been spending time on this, but here’s what I’ve found out.

The definitive source of everything statutory about road signs is the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016. Astonishingly for such a vast and comprehensive document, it is silent (as far as I can find) on the matter of height above ground.

We then turn to the Traffic Signs Manual. This Government publication says

The Traffic Signs Manual is intended to give advice to traffic authorities and their agents on the correct use of signs and road markings. Mandatory requirements are set out in the current version of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions; nothing in the Manual can override these.

The Manual comes in several chapters. Chapter 2 (Informatory Signs) would appear to be the relevant one, but it is still in draft. However the Manual web page for this chapter says

The current advice on the design and use of directional informatory signs is published in Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/94.

So (noting it’s 23 years old) I went to LTN 1/94, only to find that it too is silent on the question of mounting height.

But back in the Traffic Signs Manual I found that both Chapter 3 (Regulatory Signs) and Chapter 4 (Warning Signs) do have something to say. In Ch.3 1.21 and Ch 4 1.24 I at last found this:

The normal mounting height measured to the lower edge of a sign or backing board (or any supplementary plate) is between 900 mm and 1500 mm above the carriageway alongside. The greater height should be used where vehicle spray is likely to soil the sign, or above planted areas. Careful consideration should be given to any proposal to mount signs at a low height, such as on railings or bollards, as there is a risk of drivers not noticing them, especially at night or when they could be obscured by parked vehicles or pedestrians. Where signs are erected above footways, or in areas likely or intended to be used by pedestrians (e.g. pedestrian refuges), a headroom of 2300 mm is recommended, with 2100 mm as an absolute minimum. A clearance of at least 2300 mm should be maintained over a cycle track or shared cycleway / footway.

This must be where Sustrans get their recommendations from. In their handbook “Cycle Network Signing” (July 2013) they say

4.2 Carriageway and cycle path signs should normally be set back to give a clearance of at least 500mm from the edge of the carriageway or cycle path. Where signs are located closer to or on a cycle route, they reduce the effective path width available for cyclists.
The best level to fix a sign in the verge for visibility by cyclists is between 900 and 1500 mm off the ground, although care must be taken not to obstruct the visibility of children on footways adjacent to highways with low level signs. Mounting a sign at this level however reduces its visual intrusion. However, where signs might overhang cycle or walking routes, the mounting height should allow a minimum of 2.1m clearance for pedestrians and 2.3m for a cycle track. The minimum clearance for equestrians is 3.4m. Mounting heights should also have regard to possible vandalism and theft – higher posts are recommended where such problems are expected. p.31, with thanks to @SafetyG1rl for the reference.

To see if there is any research to justify the 2.1/2.3 metre policy and its implications of head-banging cyclists and pedestrians I searched the publications of TRL, the now-private company that used to be the Transport and Road Research Laboratory (TRRL). I found nothing. It just seems to have worked its way into the system, probably by a route invoking Health & Safety.

Where does this leave us? The 2.1/2.3 metre standard for signs over a footway or cycleway seems to be advisory rather than statutory, but I imagine it would be a brave highways engineer who did something different. But there is no reason why cycle route signs which don’t overhang walking or cycling paths shouldn’t be lower; Sustrans’ 0.9 – 1.5 metres above ground for example. It means wherever a new sign is needed an effort should be made to find a location which would allow the lower height option. Cycling signs higher than two metres should only be used when there’s no alternative.

So here is my message to the highway engineers working on the next phases of Access to Headington: take the time to look around, be imaginative, and see if you can’t find a way to do this.

Acknowledgements. My thanks to these people on twitter who joined in the conversation with suggestions and comments: @DarrenGrant_UK, @KarlWallendszus, @RichardF, @RuthWilk, @SafetyG1rl.

Cycle Paths and Signs

The first of the roadworks under the Access to Headington project is just about finished – changes to the junction of Old Road, Gipsy Lane, Warneford Lane and Roosevelt Drive. I went down to have a look. On the whole the junction looks good (it will be better when the Skanska work-site has gone). There are new traffic signals with advance cycle boxes on all four sides. We’ll have to see how the junction works in practice, especially when the next stage means all traffic leaving the Churchill will go this way.

But – and you can imagine my heavy sigh – once again it’s lack of attention to detail that spoils the final effect. @TomBedford12 was first on twitter to point out that the off-road cycle path (good) on Old Road approaching the junction can’t actually be reached without getting off and lifting your bike up a six inch kerb (very bad). That just isn’t going to happen.

The other issue is that the smart new cycle route signs are – once again – much too far off the ground. Cyclists’ eye-line tends to be horizontal or lower, and their focus closer than a motorist’s. They need to look at the ground to avoid obstacles and potholes in a way motorists don’t. Signs for cyclists need to be at about their eye-level.

This is a point I and others have made before. The first I remember locally was when the “NE Quiet Route” signs went up on the route from the Headington Roundabout via Old Headington and the JR to Jack Straw’s Lane and on to the City. I know for a fact that I and several others made the same point in the various consultations on the overall Access to Headington project1. Yet here we are with brand new signs well over 2 metres from the ground.

I’ve tried to find if there are any regulations about the height of traffic signs but I’ve not found any2. So why are these signs placed so high? My guess is that it’s a lack of detailed and intelligent supervision on the construction site. The drawing says “put this sign here”, so a standard pole is stuck in the ground and the sign put on top of it. All it needs is someone with sense to be saying “Hang on, it’s a cycle sign. Use a short pole instead.” Similarly, intelligent supervision would have seen that the Old Road cycle lane needed a dropped kerb.

I just hope we can get the message across in time to avoid a huge crop of problems of this kind when the really big works are done.

1. See for example my response (July 2015) to Access to Headington and Oxford Civic Society’s response (Oct 2015) to the Oxford Transport Strategy. I’ve made the same point in face-to-face discussions with the Highways engineers at consultation events.

2. I’ve searched the up-to-date TSRDG2016 (Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016) and the out-of-date Manual for Streets, but despite minute detail on the height of lettering, the size of sign panels, even the colour of poles, I couldn’t find anything fixing the height off the ground. So signs for cyclists can indeed be put at a sensible height.