Chaos comes to National Cycle Network signs

In an apparent admission that cycle route signs showing distances in miles are not meaningful to cyclists, the Department for Transport is proposing to allow authorities the option of using signs that show journey times in hrs and mins instead of distances in miles and fractions of miles.

The proposal follows a precedent set by the Legible London project in 2008, which is pioneering the use of minutes walk to show distances on pedestrian wayfinding signs.

The new cycle route sign will be optional, which means that across the entire National Cycle Network, directional signage will become an incoherent mix of miles and minutes.


To further confuse matters, on cycle routes that are used by pedestrians, signs showing cycle journey times will be required to show pedestrian journey times too.


Traffic Signs Policy Review

The Traffic Signs Policy Review, which was announced in September 2008, was intended to address issues of sign clutter and the understanding of road signs, so it is quite unbelievable that one of the first signs to be produced by the review has apparently been so poorly thought out.

Many factors contribute to produce large variations in cycle journey times, including the fitness of the cyclist, the inclination of the terrain, the weather, and the quality of the bicycle, all of which make the use of any estimated journey time quite useless as a real indication of how far away a destination is.

Metric solution

The use of imprecise journey times is not what people expect to see on directional signage. In response, the UK Metric Association is proposing the following sign for the purpose of upgrading all cycle route direction signs. It is based on the current sign, but shows distances in kilometres, to one decimal place for shorter distances. Ideally, it should be introduced as part of a planned programme of conversion of all traffic signs to standard metric units.



Signs in kilometres will complement the use of existing Ordnance Survey maps, which have used a kilometre grid since the 1940s. They will also be useful to cycling enthusiasts and road racers who generally use kilometres. Signs  using the standard km symbol will not require bilingual translation in Wales, unlike the proposed new hrs and mins signs.


The DfT continues to rule out any consideration of using standard metric units on traffic signs, even though Government policy since 1965 has been to gradually move towards the metric system of measurement for all official purposes.

You can comment on the new signs and other proposed amendments to traffic signs regulations in the DfT consultation, details of which can be found at the following link.

Details of the Traffic Signs Policy Review can be found at the following link.

You can apply to join the Traffic Signs Policy Review sounding board, or comment directly using the following e-mail address

UKMA’s submission to the Traffic Signs Policy Review included the production of a leaflet Traffic Signs 2.0 which can be downloaded by clicking on this link.  Alternatively, free printed copies can be obtained by e-mailing

7 thoughts on “Chaos comes to National Cycle Network signs”

  1. The use of time to denote a distance on static road signs is fundamentally wrong – the authority erecting the signs concerend is making a value judgement – they should be concerend with displaying verifyable information only.

    I agree that there is a case on overhead variable roads signs on motorways – after all the speed of the traffic AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME is measureable.


  2. A further criticism of the DfT’s proposed new sign is that they use improvised abbreviations instead of internationally recognised symbols to denote “hours” and “minutes”. The former are language-dependent and in Wales they would have to be translated (making the signs bigger and even more cluttered). The correct international symbol for “hour” is lower-case “h” (which is understood in e.g. Germany even though the equivalent German word is “Stunde”). The correct symbol for “minute” is lower-case “min”, which should NOT be pluralised. The DfT probably would not condone spelling or grammatical or punctuation mistakes – so why can’t they get the symbols for measurement units right?


  3. It is utterly bizarre, not to mention highly unsightly, to put times on such signposts. With OS maps in kilometres, that should be the default. How on earth does the person designing the sign know how fast I’ll be cycling? How do vastly different types of cyclists know how long it will take them? At least if I know it’s 5 km I can judge how long it takes me to cover that distance, but I can have no idea when it comes to someone else’s view that it’s a 30 min ride.


  4. Anything to avoid having to use the metric system. No wonder the UK is in decline.


  5. One of the reasons why DfT won’t allow metres for distance is because they already use ‘m’ for mile.
    This is quite inexcusable given that the adoption of the Vienna convention many years ago afforded a perfect opportunity to establish the correct international symbol for metre on UK road signs.
    There would be no harm using ‘m’ on cycle and pedstrian signs. Common-sense would make it obvious that a distance signed as say 800 m would not mean 800 miles.


  6. Noticed on my way to work two new signs, ostensibly for pedestrians but overhang onto the road enough for cars to see it. One points to ‘Subway 800m’, and on the way back ‘Safe Crossing Point 400m’. This is on the sign welcoming you to [place name deleted]. Have to point out that almost all the cycle paths in the region are signposted in km as well. Is this just a forward thinking council or a sign of greater change across the country?


  7. Political correctness is really out of control in the UK surely the way forward is metric or how about a radical move leave things as they are. We must be the only country in the world where you purchase wood with a mixture of metric and imperial measurements.


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