Friday, 25 November 2011

Rules of the road are there to be ignored if you disagree.

I took the long way into work last week. I ended up on the Oakington Airfield Road, at both ends it has a No Motor Vehicles sign except for access.  It is also part of the National Cycle Network route 51.

No Motor Vehicles except for access, buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages.

I found myself being followed by a car at 8:40am so I couldn't help myself, I tried to enter into a conversation with the driver. It's only by talking to people that you find out their real state of mind.

I tried to tell the driver that it was a closed road and they disagreed, it's an access road.  It was a bad choice of words, but its difficult to give a full explanation over engine noise and whilst cycling next to a moving car.  It's not quite closed, but its clear that this is not a through road for local residents to get between the villages of Longstanton and Oakington.

Locally, it has been shown that drivers do not understand low flying motorbike signs and we have had successful trials for No Entry Except Cycles signs.  But, in the case of Oakington Airfield there is enough chatter from comments in local stories and the local Parish magazines (eg Longstanton Life see letters in large pdf) to make me think that all locals (except hermits) know about the restriction and anyone using it is either taking a calculated risk or is acting dumb to justify their actions.

Airfield Road still no go, drivers off A14 warned. 12/Oct/2011
I particular enjoy the short sighted comments calling for the road to be opened to all. That'll include all of the A14 traffic when it backs up, such as HGV's.
The restricted airfield road runs between
Longstanton (top) and Oakington (middle) 
Its a big shame the drivers can't see beyond their own convenience and abide by the rules.  As I spoke with the lady driver, I noticed that between us was a young boy, about 6 or 7, in his school uniform, he was obviously being driven from Longstanton to one of the schools on the Oakington side. He was peering out of the window having a good look at my road bike. He looked like he would enjoy cycling to school.

If he lives in Longstanton and goes to school in Girton, it is National Cycle Network all the way.  Its not Dutch standard but where it is not along the airfield road, it is a reasonable shared-use path suitable for confident young cyclists or tag-a-longs.

Perhaps if the airfield road was not such a rat run, and it was a bit more inconvenient to drive, more people would consider cycling between villages.

The four primary schools in the local area:
Longstanton - Hatton Park Primary
Oakington C of E Primary School
Girton Glebe Primary School
Girton, Gretton School 
The lesson for the child in that car is that it is fine to bend the rules so long as you can justify it to yourself. A bit of harmless speeding, mobile phone use. A bit of amber gambling (running-a-red for cars), or how about parking on double yellows to nip into a shop ?  When he becomes a teenager, will he be perfectly law abiding or perhaps think its ok to jump to red lights and ride in the dark with no lights ?

Today, we have the lowest number of traffic officers patrolling our streets that I can remember, and I feel that it is contributing to a slow decline in driving and riding standards. It's not all terrible news.  Most drivers are considerate, but without the occasional worry that an police officer is watching, some will keep asking themselves if they can get away with it, why not ?

[edit, more info].  I had a discussion with a colleague about the slow decline in driving standards.  There is always going to be a small percentage of society that will break the law, but the masses are generally kept in check by monitoring by the police and community, and through the communal discussion of issues.  Also of interest is the Broken Windows Theory.  I wonder if this theory applies to traffic anti-social behaviour too ?


If you want definitive proof of the access restrictions, these sources are for you:
Longstanton Parish Council Meeting Minutes. 6th December 2010

Update - Addenbrookes Access Road.

Same problem, same excuses.

1,500 drivers caught using off limits road (in one month)

Have you noticed cars RLJ ?

The other rule that is very much ignored is the amber light.  I think it has become the signal to floor it but it means stop. It is a form of red light jumping that drivers ignore, and is so common I doubt many would think it was breaking the law or think it has any harmful effects. Even so, a lot of drivers will happily point the finger at RLJ'ing cyclists. In my mind they are similar offences.

I have seen the aftermath of two vehicles colliding on my commute.  One of them must have amber gambled.  One of the drivers was being carried away by the ambulance services on a stretcher.  It was the junction of the B1049 Histon Road and Gilbert Road.

See this FAQ for red light rules:  "I went through on amber ... If you crossed on amber, you have still committed the offence, unless you can show that it was unsafe to stop."


  1. Wow - never thought I would find a google search hit talking about the exact same road sign type and road. :) I am a little "new" to this system in reality, I find UK roadsigns lack consistency, and avoid the vague ones like this as far possible. So what is the purpose of this highway "law", it's not a prohibitive, its a mandatory - although in the UK system which is a mix of EU it's not universal. Why are taxis exempt? Mums Taxi? Only kidding - but is this roadway maintained by tax money or not, and out of which budget are these kinds of roads kept? I'm not arguing it down, just trying to work out whether there is a waste of money or if the road would to better if it was properly built and then controlled to prevent rat running. Should it not just have a farm gate on it and be done with? Rats will run down it as long as there are only a few cats - which makes the signage totally unfair. Alternate routes in these cases are a direct cost to the motor-car road user due to their distance, which wastes their tax surely?

  2. [sorry for late reply, only just spotted your comment]

    Mandatory/Prohibitive - that's not making a lot of sense to me. If you are taught to drive in the UK, you learn that for the red edged signs, round means Order, triangle means Warning. Does that make more sense now?

    I'd agree that not all UK signs are clear and many have trouble understanding them. The sign pictured - colloquially known as the low flying motorcycle sign - means No Motor Vehicles but is so widely misunderstood the Department for Transport have approved the use of No Entry signs with an Except Cycles plate. This is now used in Cambridge.

    Re The Airfield Road, I'm not sure of the history but I guess its access rules change happened when the A14 was created as a dual carriageway. The parish council minutes (link above now dead) explained that the road is no longer funded. This means the road surface has deteriorated and is unlikely to be resurfaced. The county council won't spend money on it, and the parish council has a tiny budget so nobody will resurface it or put gates up. Welcome to the UK :-)

    Why taxis are exempt is a good question. Some folk even question their special treatment having access to bus lanes when they are a car journey like any other. I'm undecided. Sometimes they are just a space inefficient car trip across a congested city, sometimes they are a final hop from a train to a door - an enabler for a space efficient train journey.

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