Sunday, 15 January 2017


I covered the permanent traffic regulation order process a couple of years back, but I always meant to return to talk a bit about the experimental process.

You might want to go and have a quick read of the post about the permanent process to get up to speed, but as a quick recap, we have the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which allows us to regulate who can use particular highways and how they may use them (as well as lots of other things). It is used to set speed limits, make streets one way, regulate parking, regulate vehicle use on specific streets and to close streets to certain traffic classes (as well as other things).

In order to regulate traffic, we need a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) or in London, a Traffic Management Order (TMO); both are created through a statutory consultation and decision-making process and are essentially little local laws for traffic regulation. The experimental process allows us to do the same kind of things TROs allow, but with a key difference. TROs can only come into force once the statutory process has concluded and therefore the permanent changes can only be made or enforced when the TRO is in place. 

Experimental Traffic Orders (ETOs) are part of the decision-making process and therefore allow us to trial things in a "live" situation and is the key part of the consultation process. In short, rather than the consult then decide approach of the permanent process, the experimental process is the implement and see what people think and gather data approach. The powers are contained in S9 of the RTRA1984 and generally mirror those for the permanent TRO/TMO provisions. So, what is the ETO process?

As the traffic authority has the power to simply impose an ETO (without consultation), then a formal decision to impose is required. This will depend on how authority is delegated. For example, in an authority with a cabinet-style administration, then a cabinet member (a councillor) will be responsible for deciding to kick off an ETO process. Equally, the decision might be delegated to a senior member of staff. It just depends how the governance is arranged.

Once an ETO has come into force, there is a statutory 6-month period within which anyone may object and such objections must be written. In common with the permanent process, it is only the objections which must be considered - technically, any expression of support is superfluous to the legally required process. I would also add, an objection only has to be considered, it doesn't mean the scheme has to change (although there will be a test of reasonableness in any context).

As well as the 6-month "objection period", a decision on making the scheme permanent needs to be taken within 18-months of the ETO coming into force, otherwise it lapse and any physical works should be removed. An ETO can be amended within the first 6-months and then the clock starts again in terms of a further 6-month objection period, but the maximum of 18-months us unchanged.

So why use the process if it circumvents public involvement before a scheme goes in? This will depend on the approach of each authority as there is nothing to stop "informal" consultation taking place before an ETO is imposed. Let's remember that we're into "traffic regulation" here, which in many cases will be about reducing the ability of people to drive how they wish. In many ways, the ETO process can sidestep public debate and discussion, but it can also cut through the misinformation and controversy which can surround a scheme. A local authority might publish a vision for an area which is subject to general debate, but then use the ETO process to get things on the ground rather than debate a permanent proposal into the long grass.

There is a fairly large ETO scheme running in the London Borough Camden - the "Torrington Place to Tavistock Place" scheme. The 6-month objection period has concluded and data is being collection. A decision was due to take place in early 2017 and so must be soon I'd guess. The ETO enabled a two-way traffic street with an island-protected 2-way cycle track to be reworked as a one-way traffic street with one-way cycle tracks on each side. The ETO covers making the street one-way for general traffic and the pair of tracks one way (along with various banned turns) as can be seen in this short film. 

The original two-way track is now one way and so effectively twice as wide. The second track is made from a white line and "light segregation" with bollards and orcas. For me this is key. An ETO allows cheap, temporary and reusable materials to used to try things out. In the event the scheme is made permanent, then it can be upgraded with permanent materials (over a number of years if required). If the scheme is changed, it can be done so easily and if removed, this is simple and cheap to do as well.

I've recently been involved with a couple of experimental schemes. One is still running and so I can't comment on it and with the other one, you'll understand if I don't identify it. However, both have involved the use of temporary materials and the photos below show the installation of a modal filter;

The main "closure" was formed with "Legato
concrete blocks weighing around a tonne each

A lockable/ removable post was installed in the centre of
the carriageway to allow cycles to pass and fire engines in
the case of an emergency.

In order to make the edges of the concrete blocks
conspicuous, fluorescent and retroreflective signs
were drilled and riveted onto the blocks.

The experimental layout complete.
(there were also traffic signs warning of the restriction
placed in the area).

I accept that this is far from pretty, but it is cheap - roughly £6k including signage in the wider area, the cost of the ETO process etc. This cost doesn't include design work or dealing with the public; how that is dealt with will vary by authority. This particular scheme will be made permanent and so there will be a final stage where the ETO is "made" permanent
(which is an advertising and governance process). 

In making the decision to make an ETO permanent, the traffic authority (through however decisions are made) will consider the information received from the public together with monitoring data (if appropriate) and the process concluded. If the ETO is abandoned, then as you can see from the Tavistock Place trial and my example, returning the street to it's former layout is relatively simple.

Our ability to use ETOs is not widely known about and I think this needs to change. They represent a really good way to get on with trying different things out and if they don't work, it's not difficult to reverse the changes. The politics of course is the complicated part!


  1. Intriguing. The Torrington Place to Tavistock Place scheme is on my route to work and I've very much appreciated the widening of the bike lanes. I've contacted the council and Camden Cycling Campaign, added my voice to the consultations - and even battled trolls BTL under Evening Standard stories! - so I hope the lanes will become a permanent feature and will soon be joined by further infrastructure in central London, particularly in Westminster.

    1. It's certainly transformed the route in terms of capacity. The permanent layout looks really smart and I hope it goes forward!

  2. Replace the concrete blocks with Plantlocks (which are metal planters with bike hoops) and some flower bulbs and it could be even more attractive at a similarly minimal cost.

    1. Plantlocks are not heavy enough on their own, but as part of a scheme why not.