Do you occasionally cycle up one way streets?

London's one way systems

I was on my way to the Little Greek Pie Company the other day feeling the need for a delicious pie. (I frequently get this need). Time was on my hands so I thought, you know what, I don’t fancy battling it out on the busy roads, I’m going to hit the quiet back streets and I uttered those famous last words: “How hard can it be?”.

Sidenote: How horribly humid was it yesterday?!

A quick glance on Google and my plans look doable I thought. Sure, bit of exploring of back streets of London, could discover something new. I’m feeling a little crazy! I’m going to do it!

Of course, I was soon caught up in a maze of one way streets. There’s something strangely painful about going the wrong way and having to double back on yourself. Other cyclists may be able to confirm this feeling? I believe it’s because you are doing it on your own steam so you don’t want to waste the effort you just put in.

I spotted a turn that would put me much closer to where I wanted to be. But it was a one way. Should I take it?

It was a bit cheeky but I went for it.

At the next junction I needed to turn again. Of course, yet another one way sign stood in my way.

I was on the slippery path so I went for it again.

The pie was in sight and I had accomplished my mission. Albeit, by bending some rules.

I’m wondering who here would have done the same thing or should I be deeply ashamed of my little bit of rule breaking?

London’s one way systems

The map at the start of this post is from the Cyclists in the City blog. It shows the streets that are being considered to be made two ways for cyclists as well as the ones that have already been made two way.

The initial trial of two way systems was greeted with anger from organisation such as the AA. They called it dangerous and illegal.

Of course, as is often the case, there wasn’t a single collision reported during the trial period.

The City, with the clear support of City Police, concluded: "The cycle permeability improvements implemented in December 2009 have been well received with cyclists. They provide alternatives to some of the busy City Streets and make it easier and safer to navigate the City by cycle without prejudicing safety and convenience for other road users."

More two way systems are on the way and I believe this is one of easiest steps we can take to make London more cycle friendly.

See also:

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

42 Responses to Do you occasionally cycle up one way streets?

  1. Yvann 03/06/2011 at 8:37 am #

    I almost only cycle on main roads (Mile End Road, Oxford St) so encounter very few one-way streets. I have to say, i’d be too scared to go down one the wrong way, terrified of getting hit by a car that is not expecting me to be there.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:34 am #

      I tend to approach with extreme caution. I’ll hang left and let cars overtake as I know I’m not supposed to be there.

  2. Dave Escandell 03/06/2011 at 9:01 am #

    For me the question of cycling the wrong way up a one way street is not one of safety, but one of perception. I’m not even a big fan of allowing contra flow cycling.

    As cyclists, we are already regarded as being law breakers and a nuisance. The media and government have raised the profile of cycling, sometimes in a negative way with plans to change laws and stories of cycling on pavements.

    Cycling illegally, while convenient, does very little to change a general perception that all cyclists are the same.

    Cycling in London is not easy and putting yourself somewhere where other road users will certainly not expect you to be creates conflict. When it does go wrong, it goes wrong in a bit way – head on.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:41 am #

      Well put Dave. I feel this especially when it comes to red light jumping – totally anecdotal evidence here but I do think RLJ’s are at the highest level since I started cycling.

      • Henk 03/06/2011 at 11:13 pm #

        There are different forms of red-light-jumping.

        I recall cycle couriers racing through red lights while blowing a whistle to scare aside the pedestrians. I see less of that behaviour nowadays.

        On the other hand, I see more cyclists carefully judging the phasing of lights and pulling away slightly before their light turning red&amber. This is illegal and I was fined handsomely for doing so twelve years ago. But if all traffic lights at a junction are red and all pedestrian lights are green, AND there are no pedestrians, I frankly don’t see the harm. Getting away before the cars aids my safety (as recognised by advance stoplines).

        • James R Grinter 04/06/2011 at 11:29 am #

          Biggest problem in London is that car drivers regularly chance the lights too, because they know they aren’t going to get stopped.

          I saw a vehicle do it the other evening, right in plain sight of a police van.

      • Jules lost in london 06/06/2011 at 7:13 am #

        i totally agree on this point – had two weeks holiday while the weather here got nice, when i came back and was going via holburn about 30 cyclists must have jumped the lights, i’d missed the gradual build up and it totally un-did my usual argument that most cyclists don’t jump, just the most visable ones.
        i rarely go down one-ways the wrong way – more to do with my route being main roads.

      • Hannah 07/06/2011 at 1:14 pm #

        Andreas and Dave – I was just thinking this morning that red light jumping has reached a new peak. I was one of two people I saw this morning who stopped at about 10 sets of red lights on CS7 which are either pedestrian or T junctions (where we could turn right, or go straight on – so perception is that bike lane continues uninterrupted).

        [I know this doesn’t apply to everyone – so this most definitely is not aimed at those who behave! My anecdotal experience says that many many cyclists do not behave. This is for them.]

        It makes me furious. When I say I’m a cyclist, people look at me as though I have said I am a teenage binge drinker; one of society’s problems. I stop at every light, don’t cycle on the pavement/the wrong way down streets. I let people go when it’s safe, I signal. I know the cyclists jumping red lights wouldn’t do so in a car – even in the dead of night, at an empty pedestrian crossing with not a pedestrian in sight. Yet on a bike, they whiz past children, the elderly etc, who are crossing on a green man. How on earth can we be given the respect of other road users when we don’t follow the laws applicable to said road users?

        Rant over 🙂

        • Mark 07/06/2011 at 2:37 pm #

          here here!!!!

  3. Jess 03/06/2011 at 9:20 am #

    I came across this problem in Birmingham the other day, going through the city centre and trying to avoid the many buses (and their subsequent blind spots) I decided to take one of the back streets that I’d walked down many times… and had never realised was one way. Eventually, I gave up trying to the good road abiding cyclist I usually am… and I was fine. No accident, no one inconvenienced (there weren’t even any cars using it) and I cut a massive one way system out of my journey.

    I wouldn’t take that route again, I’d go a different way entirely so that I wouldn’t have to cycle where I shouldn’t, but I would support a change to make one way streets two way for cyclists.

    You can feel a bit guilty, but only about as much as you might feel having a second helping of bananas and custard.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:39 am #

      Like the way you put it Jess! I’m not planning of making a habit of one way cheating 😉

  4. ibikelondon 03/06/2011 at 9:49 am #

    I think that if cyclists ride considerately (which you should be doing on heavily pedestrian back streets anyway) there’s no statistical reason for banning riding against the one way system. The system is there to stop masses of motorised traffic avoiding the main roads – if you are riding gently and carefully we are more like slightly faster pedestrians, and they’re allowed to walk whichever way they like.

    A word of warning though; I was pulled over by a PCSO (on a bike) on Old Compton St in Soho this week (very early in the morning, too) for riding the wrong way up a one way street. So they don’t always turn a blind eye.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks for heads up Mark. I’ll plan my route a little more carefully next time so I don’t end up in the wrong place and doing circles around one way streets!

  5. el-gordo 03/06/2011 at 9:53 am #

    I don’t cycle the wrong way up one way streets – if I need to go up one I will get off and walk. Equally, I don’t ride through red lights.

    However, I do think there is a debate to be had on both these things (i.e. being allowed to turn left on a red and/or go through a pelican crossing if no one is on it – exactly like a zebra crossing).

    While I note the concerns about ‘perception’ and that other road users won’t like it, as set out in the linked article, I take a counter view. Some cyclists, whether we like it or not, will do these things anyway and that will almost always annoy other road users – generally because it is illegal rather than it being dangerous.

    If the law was changed so cyclists were allowed to do these things then I think you would reduce the sense of annoyance because drivers would become used to the fact that the cyclists were acting within the law. I genuinely think that is the main cause of irritation for drivers.

    As for the argument that it creates “one rule for them and one rule for us”, I am afraid that seems nonsensical to me. In all walks of life you often have to have different rules/laws to account for different circumstances/issues. On the roads, for example, cars can’t go in bus lanes, HGVs have to travel slower, some vehicles can’t use motorways etc and so on. Effectively saying that ‘everything that uses the road should be treated in exactly the same way’ over simplifies the argument to a dangerous point.

    Finally, as for the point that it creates ‘uncertainty’ on the road, I think a degree of balance needs to be taken on what we are talking about. In America, possibly the most litigious society in the worlds, vehicles (including HGVs) can turn right on a red light and, as far as I can tell, this causes very few issues. Are we really saying that allowing cyclists to do so in this county is going to lead to untold confusion on the road and making them a dangerous place?

    These measures offer potential ways of significantly improving and enhancing cycling conditions, and thus encourage more people to do it, without any major capital outlay. In my opinion they should at least be debated. 

    • Mark 03/06/2011 at 11:27 am #

      good pint el-gordo, i actually forgot if i do encounter a one way road then i do get off and walk – unless it it a very minor road that is empty of traffic and i know i will only go the wrong way for a few meters…

      i also dont ride through red lights and i hate cyclists who do,, when they do it i wish i had the power to punish them

  6. Alex 03/06/2011 at 10:01 am #

    “Cycling illegally, while convenient, does very little to change a general perception that all cyclists are the same”

    Exactly. It is a question of reputation and being taken seriously, not seen as flouting the rules. Also, there is a question of safety for pedestrians who look for oncoming traffic only one way (as they may rightly expect) when crossing the road.

    • Matt 03/06/2011 at 10:29 am #

      Was going to comment, but Dave and Alex have covered it well

      • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:38 am #

        Slap on the wrist taken! Will rain in my one way antics.

  7. Chris 03/06/2011 at 10:13 am #

    I don’t know if this has been metioned in one of the comments above (haven’t time at work to read all, sorry!) but King Street in Hammersmith has a great contraflow system working. It’s a busy shopping street, frequented by many busses and cars going faster that they probably should on a street with so many pedestrians, but the great thing is that rather than have to go “the long way” through the one way system, there’s a contraflow lane bounded by a raised curb so cyclists are protected from the oncoming traffic, but still get to use the road in both directions.

    In addition, the system is cleverly designed so that you avoid the awful Hammersmith Broadway roundabout – a 3-6 lane (depending on the mood of the drivers on the day) behemoth of a junction, quite dangerous and the scene of a hanful of cyclist fatalities and no doubt more injuries. So, if you need to effectively turn right at that “roundabout”, you can cut the corner safely thanks to the contraflow and a few strategically light-controlled corssings.

    Not often you say “well done” to the transport planning authorities – but they’ve done well here.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 10:37 am #

      I don’t think I can recall pedalling around there – but does sound like a clever system. There’s definitely a couple of good examples of cycle infrastructure in London so it’s not all doom and gloom!

  8. Mark 03/06/2011 at 10:39 am #

    in london if you are on unknown roads you wil almost certainly encounter a one way system. if, for example, you are relying on a map or phone with a scale that doesnt show the one way systems you risk getting lost if you obey the one way arrows.
    the next thing you know you are lost, even though you followed the one way signs you dont actually know where u r, so sometimes you “have” to just skip a few roads and be cheeky.
    there are a LOT of one way systems around me (tottenham court road / warren st) at work, and i know them (ish) now. but that doesnt mean some one way roads could become two way for cyclists. i think some already exist, it would cause no risk to anyone and i think it would be a great idea

  9. Alice 03/06/2011 at 10:51 am #

    I regularly cycle up Bermondsey Street near London Bridge in the direction of traffic but it is also a cycle contraflow. I wouldn’t want to cycle against the traffic, even though it is illegal as it seems very dangerous as there’s no cycle lane and lots of parked cars so you would be weaving in and out of traffic. It’s also not signposted very well so cars are not expecting it.

    Saying that I usually cycle the wrong way down a one way short (100m) cut through to avoid a junction to actually get onto Bermondsey Street but its only for cars that are parking so it’s not very busy and I keep out of the way. I did it in front of a police van this morning and if I was pulled over I’m sure I had a good defence as I was avoiding heavier traffic on the main road etc.

    Swings and roundabouts….

    • Alice 03/06/2011 at 10:52 am #

      *even though it is legal

    • freddie 03/06/2011 at 8:48 pm #

      I cycle down that street, and like you there is no way i’d go against the traffic coming home even though it’s legal and shorter

  10. PaulM 03/06/2011 at 10:52 am #

    I will sometimes ride the wrong way, if the road is clearly lightly trafficked and has good sight lines to see oncoming vehicles. I am always careful though (and that goes for legal cycle contraflows as well) because motorists seem to have defective vision and are apparently unaware that cyclists are permitted to contraflow even where the signs (the blue one-way sign with a down arrow and bicycle alongside) say so.

    There are very few streets in London which could not be made fully cycle contraflow, although perhaps they might require the traffic sign frequently seen in France (not sure about the UK) which gives priority to oncoming vehicles – you would have a blue plaque with a white down-arrow for oncoming vehicles, a red up-arrow and a cycle sign. I don’t suppose this is an authorised sign, but I am sure iot could become one.

    Frankly I don’t give a toss if cyclists going legally the wrong way irritate motorists – I am one of those too, and these things don’t irritate me, or most reasonable people. Cyclists do however irritate some motorists, and apologist organisations like the Daily Fail or Association of British Drivers, merely by their very existence, and this would not change if every cyclist suddenly became entirely law-abiding (which would certainly distinguish them from many motorists). I am agnostic on the “share the road” argument espoused by Dave Escandell (and the CTC) and tend to the segregationist view, but cycle contraflows in a sense meet both objectives – they can be permitted in the great majority of cases without any danger (as demonstrated by the City study) and with no measurable inconvenience to the motorist.

    We need, urgently, to start making cycling for utility more appealing so that some of those 2/3rd of all car journeys which are <5 mile, half of which are <3 mile or 25% of which are <2 mile could be made some other way. Part of the solution (alongside quiet routes, segregated paths, or decent, wide enough and mandatory on-road cycle lanes) is to make a journey, say from home to shops, much shorter on foot or bike than it is by car. Refer to David Hembrow's site for examples in the Netherlands where a cycle can make a straight line while la car must go three sides of a rectangle. I don't think these are done deliberately to make car journeys longer (that would just increase car emissions and pollution) but to tame residential streets and stop them becoming rat-runs – in substance the same reason why so many central London streets are one-way. It is called filtered permeability, and it works.

    The City is relatively progressive in this respect. Shame Westminster is so antediluvian in its own atitudes – cycling through the West End is generally a fairly unpleasant experience apart from the parks.

  11. Graham 03/06/2011 at 11:29 am #

    I wouldn’t do it as I would be breaking the law 🙂 !! Road signs aren’t just for motorists they are for our benefit as well. To me it’s like ignoring a red light and will only cause more animosity that car drivers feel towards cyclists and can be just as dangerous.

    It’s unlikely a cyclist would be prosecuted for it BUT it is an offence and you could be done for it. (I can speak with some authority on this, not that I’ve been prosecuted I might add :))

  12. Adrian from Oz 03/06/2011 at 11:32 am #

    I am a law breaker. I live on a one way street, and my commute to work starts with my going the wrong way for 200 feet. To go the correct way adds over half a mile, and a very steep hill. It’s a quiet-ish street, and I’m aware that what I’m doing is wrong, so I’m always cautious about what will happen at the end of the street. I guess I should walk my bike rather than ride, suck it in and take the extra time and effort to go araound the one way system, butit always comes down to me wanting to get to work as quickly as possible.

    Is cycling the wrong way down a one way street worse than footpath cycling? To me this is far mor dangerous as pedestrians do not expect you at all. They are stepping out of buildings annd cars directly into your path.

    • Alice 03/06/2011 at 11:41 am #

      Actually, it just occurred to me that I also live on a one way street….doh….

      It’s a very busy street and a cut through between two major road so I NEVER cycle the wrong way down it. I live at one end so if I’m going that way I nip down the pavement onto the main road. If I’m coming from the other direction I cycle on the pavement if there are no pedestrians or I will just walk. It still takes less time than following the one way system all the way round.

      But cycling the wrong way down a one way street is breaking the law so you may get punished. It is also dangerous as nobody will be EXPECTING you to be going that direction so won’t be looking for you there therefore you may have an accident. It’s your decision whether you do it or not, as long as you are aware of the consequences.

      • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 1:37 pm #

        I’ve been fortunate that TfL have built a permeability thing on my street. It means I can legally cross over to the other side to pedal down. Otherwise it’s a big big loop on a very busy road to get to where I want to be.

      • Mark 03/06/2011 at 2:26 pm #

        “But cycling the wrong way down a one way street is breaking the law” so is cycling on the pavement!

    • Alex 03/06/2011 at 1:00 pm #

      they are both wrong

      • Graham 03/06/2011 at 1:53 pm #


        A cycist could be issued with a Notice Of Intended Prosecution for careless cycling which is a specific offence and would end up being heard in a magistrates court.

  13. Mike 03/06/2011 at 12:13 pm #

    What I’ve identified is that there are three kinds of motorists – the ones willing and able to share the road (with pedestrians, cyclists, horses, you name it); those who share but unwillingly, and get very angry (possibly rightly – that’s a different discussion) about cyclists and pedestrians who break the law to jump the queue; and the ‘I pay my road tax, you don’t, you’re a nuisance’ types.

    No matter what the law says, we are never going to change the minds of the third group, because they are too selfish, too small-minded and in many cases just too plain stupid to change.

    The first group are okay, and as long as most of us behave ourselves, we won’t risk alienating them.

    The group in the middle is, I suspect, the biggest group (assuming the statistics conform to the standard bell-curve model) and it is them we have to convince. Changing the law is fine, that will take a lot of the angst away from them, as if they see us doing something within the law they’re happy.

    But as importantly, we have to tackle the “I’m alright jack” attitude of a minority of cyclists (and they’re not all lycra louts and cycle messengers whizzing around the place).

    If we change cyclists’ behaviour, as well as shouting from the rooftops about wanting cycle lanes, contraflow systems and left turns at red lights, then we will change motorists’ behaviour as well.

    Let’s face it, most of us are both cyclists and motorists – let’s try and lead by example rather than drive by legislation.

  14. Jon F 03/06/2011 at 12:20 pm #

    One-way streets and systems have been created in order to manage motor traffic. In most cases I believe they were done in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the people who deployed them ignored the implications for cyclists.

    Things have changed and need to change more to make this a more accessible, human and pleasant city. Allowing contra-flow cycling will surely come as soon as the Department for Transport assures itself that we’re not all going to come a cropper, and they allow councils to put up ‘No- Entry’ signs with supplementary plates that say ‘Except lovely cycles’, without it having to be part of some ‘closely monitored trial’.

    • Andreas 03/06/2011 at 1:35 pm #

      Here here! Get a move on DfT!

  15. Paul 03/06/2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I think that some of these backstreets should be cycle only. In Soho, for example, there is almost a grid system and motorists wouldn’t lose out too much if one or two were cycle only. Cyclists on the other hand would gain enormously.

  16. roy 03/06/2011 at 1:14 pm #

    As a cyclist commuting daily into the city my route doesnt involve any one ways that I need to use the wrong way, I have done it but only on short adjoining roads and hopefully without annoying anyone.

    But as a driver, it wouldnt even enter my head to do this, why is that?

    Also as a driver I find I am increasingly expecting a cyclist to do the unexpected no matter what age or type of rider. Around where I live for some reason they are riding in the road but on the wrong side of it towards the traffic, its mostly the kid’s but not always, so all the cars are having to swing out to avoid them, this type of riding I find more annoying, although in essence I suppose its just the same.

    Anyone else come accross this?

  17. Jon F 03/06/2011 at 5:04 pm #

    “Around where I live for some reason they are riding in the road but on the wrong side of it towards the traffic”

    Like this!:,+Greater+London,+United+Kingdom&ll=51.595575,-0.07154&spn=0,0.038495&z=15&layer=c&cbll=51.595491,-0.071449&panoid=Xe4fWov48G_lu8hQtzCkPw&cbp=12,318.93,,1,5.61

  18. Hilary Reed 06/06/2011 at 1:18 pm #

    I always cycle the wrong way up one way streets.

    I ride wide so that I have eye contact with all other road users, and cant fail to be seen. When traffic has slowed down, I move in so that we pass safely. By far the safest and best way. Better than cars approaching from behind. I am good traffic calming. When a driver may perchance comment, I fib, stating sweetly that the law has changed for cyclists and contraflow is legal. In every case the driver has apologised for not knowing. Try it. It works.

  19. Phil 06/06/2011 at 1:54 pm #

    I have just remembered accidentally cycling the wrong way down Oxford Road in Manchester early one Saturday morning in 1986, and getting pulled over by a policeman. He said “you’re cycling down a one way road”, to which my reply was ” I’m only going one way.” I escaped unpunished , but did have to wheel the bike down to the next junction by the BBC building to use the road again. Happy days.

    • Woody 30/06/2011 at 11:26 am #

      You’re lucky to get away with that! In my experience, being smart to a policeman exponentially increases your chances of being punished.

      Though i’m not sure what the max punishment for cycling the wrong way down a street is?

  20. Phil Russell 29/08/2011 at 1:57 pm #

    But what do all you “wrong-way-street” riders do when confronted by a cyclist, or 5 cyclists, coming at you the the CORRECT way down this one-way-street? Keep stopping to let them pass? Keep going and play “chicken” with them? Either way, you’ll probably be winding them up…not to mention the car drivers and pedestrians. Is it really worth the candle?

Leave a Reply