By-laws are laws of limited or local application made by local councils using powers granted by an Act of Parliament. They are therefore a form of delegated legislation.

Cycle by-laws often deal with the issue of where cyclists can and cannot ride. Breaches of such by-laws are effectively criminal offences that can lead to prosecution,with a fine being the likely penalty.

By-laws can apply in quite common situations. For example, a cyclist who rides on a footway at the side of the road for just a moment or two because they are concerned at the build up of traffic is in breach of statute law. The Highways Act 1835 prohibits this and the offence is punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £30 under section 51 and schedule 3 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. However, if a cyclist rides on a footpath away from the road then they could be in breach of local by-laws. It is important therefore that cyclists are vigilant and look out for any relevant signs.

Some argue that many of our by-lawsare old and no longer relevant to today’s society.They suggest that by- laws act as a discouragement to cyclists and that they should have no place in modern Britain where safe cycling should be promoted rather than cyclists being penalised by antiquated rules and regulations.

As more and more people take to the roads and cycle paths it is important for everyone to be safe including  both cyclists and pedestrians.It is vital that people know which routes are available for cyclists so they can adjust their behaviour accordingly. In this respect by-laws can cause problems and confusion. For example, many cyclists feel that their preferred safe routesare being taken away from them by pointless “can’t ride here” by-laws. Take a pedestrianized town centre, if it is wide enough, and quiet enough due to lack of “shoppers” a cyclist may not dismount if he can see a clear way ahead to his place of work. This may bring them into conflict with pedestrians.

There are many large paths that appeal to cyclists, which are available only to pedestrians due to there being by-laws in place. It is understandable that an elderly couple walking along a scenic route by the sea should not expect to be hit from behind by a 25 mph bike. Local parks are often an attraction to cyclists yet by-laws still exist in some areas to ban cycling in parks. In 2011, Middlesbrough Council took a bold step to overturn an ancient rule which banned cyclists in the popular Stewart Park . It’s a matter of common sense, if the path is wide enough then surely there is enough room for sensible walkers, joggers and cyclists.

It would appear that after increasing public concern at the lack of safe cycle routes more local authorities are prepared to make changes to by-laws to promote safer cycling. This has been made easier by central government changing the law on  by-law alteration a couple of years ago. As the law stood each individual local authority had to obtain permission from parliament to remove or change existing by-laws, no matter how pre-historic. A sensible step was to empower those in local authorities, who of course are in the best position to find out exactly what is in the interests of the local community, to remove or amend by-laws that unnecessarily restrict cycling.

There is no doubt that there is an increased demand, not just from cyclists but from motorists too, for more cycle routes that help to separate cyclists from other traffic.  The ability to override troublesome by-laws will help local authorities to embrace the need for clearer cycle routes by providing good clear cycle maps of the local town showing “safe” routes for cyclists. Most local authority web sites will allow you to download a helpful map of local cycle routes and  also local cycling clubs are often a source of useful information.

The reality for cyclists in most areas isthe lack of a cycle route network which links all parts of town as the roads do. Creating such a cycle networks probably unrealistic , especially given the continuing cuts in  local authority spending. As a first step perhaps more by-laws need to be reviewed, and possibly removed,to free up more routes for cyclists.