Never mind the length, feel the width

Jesmond Road Google Street View

You may call a spade a spade, but when it comes to roads, there are a confusing array of descriptive terms, many of them prescriptive. A public highway isn’t just a road, it can also be a footway. A whatway? A footway is ‘a way comprised in a highway which also comprises a carriageway, being a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only.’

A footpath is a ‘highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only, not being a footway.’ Confused yet?

The word pavement isn’t very helpful either. Technically, it’s the word for the road surface, which is how Americans use the term. ‘Cyclists shouldn’t ride on pavements’ confuses the hell out of Americans. The word pavement comes from pavimentum, the top stone slabs of a Roman road.

And read that footway definition again: it includes the word carriageway. This isn’t a road restricted to carriages of the motoring kind. Got cows? Keep geese? You can herd your cattle along a carriageway. You can lead a flock of geese down your High Street. [Critical Mass leaders take note, include a few animals in your next rolling demo].

Motorists – the Johnny-come-latelies of public highway users – do not have more rights than other road users, except on motorways. Nor are motorists traffic. According to the Highways Act 1980, traffic also includes pedestrians and animals.
 
On Wednesday, the BBC carried a news story about a road user who repeatedly pressed a pedestrian crossing button to protest against the amount of cars and lorries rattling through his village.

The BBC reported that criminal law solicitor Robert Brown, a partner at Corker Binning, said such an action might possibly be considered an obstruction of the highway:

“A court might decide if he is doing it to prevent the passage of vehicles. It is a novel point but he is impeding the passage of vehicles and that is the purpose of the highway.”

It’s one of the purposes, but not the only one. Highways are for people, too, whether or not they are in, on or being dragged by vehicles. Most folks will think the solicitor meant cars and buses and HGVs, but he was careful to say vehicles. In law, vehicles aren’t just cars and trucks. Vehicles also include sledges, prams, wheelbarrows, sedan chairs, carts and litters. And bicycles.

Nick Hancox of Nicholas Hancox Solicitors in Norfolk, a specialist in highway law, told iPayRoadTax.com:

Most highways are open for all traffic: cars, lorries, motorbikes, push-bikes, people on horseback, people leading horses, people with prams, pedestrians and for people with flocks of geese or sheep or whatever.

Some highways which would otherwise be in that first category are restricted by Traffic Orders: ‘No HGVs’ or ‘No Pedestrians’, or whatever.
 
Some highways are only for a limited class of traffic:  Bridleways are only for horses, bicycles and pedestrians.  Footpaths are only for pedestrians.
 
Drove roads, or driftways, were primarily for driving livestock to market, but they were, can be, and are, also used by horseriders, wheeled carriages and pedestrians.
 
So, if your question were “Can I legally drive a flock of geese down my local High Street?”, the answer would usually be “Yes”.  A traffic order prohibiting the driving of livestock is legally possible but in practice unlikely.

Rights of Way are mostly determined not by statute, but by common law. In other words by court judgments down the ages or, mostly, by what use has been made of the highway in question.

Highway is defined at common law as a way over which all members of the public have the right to pass and repass. Their use of the way must be as of right and not on sufferance or by licence.

The public highway is a shared resource; we must all operate give and take. This was made clear in the case of Harper v GM Haden & Sons Ltd of 1933. The judge said:

No member of the public has an exclusive right to use the highway. He has merely a right to use it subject to the reasonable use of others…The law…recognises that there are…competing public interests. The law relating to the user of highways is in truth the law of give and take. Those who use them must in doing so have reasonable regard to the convenience and comfort of others and must not themselves expect a degree of convenience only obtainable by disregarding that of other people.

Not every road is open to all. Some roads have Limitations Of Use Restrictions. For example, cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed to plan routes along motorways.

According to the Department for Transport, there are 33,435 miles of major roads in the UK, including 2211 miles of motorway. However, there are 211,675 miles of B, C and unclassified roads. So, that makes 242,899 miles of roads that all vehicles can use, including bicycles.

The 33,435 miles of major roads are what’s known as the Strategic Road Network. The SRN is the responsibility of the Highways Agency. This branch of the Department for Transport says: “The Highways Agency is responsible for all the users of this network – the cyclist, the pedestrian, the horses and their riders, not just the cars and lorries!”

As I said on this earlier story, the overwhelming majority of roads were not built with motorists in mind. Only two short stretches of road were ever built with the Road Fund (1910-1937), paid for by motorists with a ‘road tax’. (I’ll reveal the identities of these roads in a later posting).

Many of today’s dual carriageways may be blacktopped, plastered with white thermoplastic road markings and zoned with barriers but such accoutrements are largely cosmetic. When TV and movies want to portray a period scene, production crews hide road signs and spread dirt over the blacktop. Most period dramas tend to show 18th Century roads as twisty and narrow but the main ones were far, far wider than most people imagine. Stretches of the Great North Road were once much wider than even the widest parts of the current M1 motorway.

And, in my hometown of Newcastle, there’s a road not far from where I’m writing that is an excellent example of a four-lane road that most motorists probably assume was widened for their convenience. In fact, Jesmond Road – pictured at the top of this article – has been as wide as it is since 1836.

Road Not Designed for Motor Carriages

The current road is bounded on two sides by old cemeteries. Despite aborted plans to dig up graves in 1971 to make way for a motorway, the walls of the two cemeteries have not shifted. Jesmond Road was made wide for all users, and was made wide at least seventy years before the repeal of the ‘Red Flag Act’ in 1896 after which motorcars started to encroach on Britain’s ancient road network.

Jesmond Road clogged

Within ten years, motorists believed roads of all lengths and widths were theirs. A satirical verse in Punch magazine of 1907 summed up this attitude from some drivers:

The roads were made for me; years ago they were made. Wise rulers saw me coming and made roads. Now that I am come they go on making roads – making them up. For I break things. Roads I break and Rules of the Road. Statutory limits were made for me. I break them. I break the dull silence of the country. Sometimes I break down, and thousands flock round me, so that I dislocate the traffic. But I am the Traffic.

This was wrong in 1907, and wrong today, too.

  • Anonymous

    Almost the other way round… Bicycles weren’t very well covered by rnthe law for quite some time.rnrnThere used to be lots of friction between horse traffic and bicycle rnriders, with calls for bans of bicycles.rnrnThe police forces which were hot of nabbing the early motorists for rnspeeding were previously hot on nabbing cyclists for the same offence!rnrnThere have since been lots of laws allowing both bicycles and motor rncars on roads.rnrnSounds like a bit of an urban myth, if you ask me. No such thing as rnVelocipede Acts, for instance.rnrnMaybe the reference is to the fact motor cars have to be licensed, but rnbicycles don’t?

  • Anonymous

    I can’t find the reference now but I once read (on a motoring forum, no less!) that the 19th century Velocipede Acts expressly permitted the use of the then-new-fangled bicycle on the roads, but no such Act has ever been enshrined in British law to allow motor vehicles to use the roads.nnNow there’s a challenge for your research trip!

  • Anonymous

    No, far from it, I welcome pedantry! That is, I want to be corrected rnif I’m wrong.rnrnA rights of way expert has looked at the article and said the rnsolicitor’s stuff is wrong.rnrnI’m learning as I go along. Next stop: the library for some highway rnlaw Bibles.rnrnThanks.

  • Anonymous

    Just a pedantic point about your otherwise entertaining article. Rights of Way, that is to say public footpaths, bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways are enshrined in statute. Since the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the status of public rights of way have been defined and protected by this and subsequent legislation (Highways Act 1980, Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 etc). Common Law is still applicable to some aspects of rights of way legislation, but isn’t the primary means by which they are defined or protected. Also the term drove road has no legal definition.rnSincere apologies for pedanrtry of this comment. Keep up the good work

  • Tim Fish

    Just a pedantic point about your otherwise entertaining article. Rights of Way, that is to say public footpaths, bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways are enshrined in statute. Since the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the status of public rights of way have been defined and protected by this and subsequent legislation (Highways Act 1980, Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 etc). Common Law is still applicable to some aspects of rights of way legislation, but isn't the primary means by which they are defined or protected. Also the term drove road has no legal definition.
    Sincere apologies for pedanrtry of this comment. Keep up the good work

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    No, far from it, I welcome pedantry! That is, I want to be corrected
    if I'm wrong.

    A rights of way expert has looked at the article and said the
    solicitor's stuff is wrong.

    I'm learning as I go along. Next stop: the library for some highway
    law Bibles.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.twitter.com/MrsBYork Melanie

    I can't find the reference now but I once read (on a motoring forum, no less!) that the 19th century Velocipede Acts expressly permitted the use of the then-new-fangled bicycle on the roads, but no such Act has ever been enshrined in British law to allow motor vehicles to use the roads.

    Now there's a challenge for your research trip!

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Almost the other way round… Bicycles weren't very well covered by
    the law for quite some time.

    There used to be lots of friction between horse traffic and bicycle
    riders, with calls for bans of bicycles.

    The police forces which were hot of nabbing the early motorists for
    speeding were previously hot on nabbing cyclists for the same offence!

    There have since been lots of laws allowing both bicycles and motor
    cars on roads.

    Sounds like a bit of an urban myth, if you ask me. No such thing as
    Velocipede Acts, for instance.

    Maybe the reference is to the fact motor cars have to be licensed, but
    bicycles don't?

  • http://www.twitter.com/MrsBYork Melanie

    I can’t find the reference now but I once read (on a motoring forum, no less!) that the 19th century Velocipede Acts expressly permitted the use of the then-new-fangled bicycle on the roads, but no such Act has ever been enshrined in British law to allow motor vehicles to use the roads.nnNow there’s a challenge for your research trip!

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Almost the other way round… Bicycles weren’t very well covered by rnthe law for quite some time.rnrnThere used to be lots of friction between horse traffic and bicycle rnriders, with calls for bans of bicycles.rnrnThe police forces which were hot of nabbing the early motorists for rnspeeding were previously hot on nabbing cyclists for the same offence!rnrnThere have since been lots of laws allowing both bicycles and motor rncars on roads.rnrnSounds like a bit of an urban myth, if you ask me. No such thing as rnVelocipede Acts, for instance.rnrnMaybe the reference is to the fact motor cars have to be licensed, but rnbicycles don’t?

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  • Mr B J Mann

    “No, far from it, I welcome pedantry! That is, I want to be corrected if I’m wrong.”nnYou’reu00a0a larf, surely?!?!?!nnnBy the way (your article):nnThe public highway is a shared resource; we must all operate give and take. This was made clear in the case of Harper v GM Haden & Sons Ltd of 1933. The judge said:nnNo member of the public has an exclusive right to use the highway. He has merely a right to use it subject to the reasonable use of othersu2026The lawu2026recognises that there areu2026competing public interests. The law relating to the user of highways is in truth the law of give and take. Those who use them must in doing so have reasonable regard to the convenience and comfort of others and must not themselves expect a degree of convenience only obtainable by disregarding that of other people.And yet you earlier wrote:On Wednesday, the BBC carried a news story about a road user who repeatedly pressed a pedestrian crossing button to protest against the amount of cars and lorries rattling through his village.u00a0The BBC reported that criminal law solicitor Robert Brown, a partner at Corker Binning, said such an action might possibly be considered an obstruction of the highway:nu201cA court might decide if he is doing it to prevent the passage of vehicles. It is a novel point but he is impeding the passage of vehicles and that is the purpose of the highway.u201dItu2019s one of the purposes, but not the only one. Highways are for people, too………..Yes, for people tou00a0TRAVEL THE COUNTRYu00a0on, or to cross (with lawful and reasonable cause or excuse) to the other side.NOT for people to stand, pushing pelican crossing buttons for a larf.Or cycling three abreast stopping hundreds of people going about their lawful business in a timely manner.And certainly not riding round and round in circles for a larf gridlocking a city (try digging out the case about the protesters walking backwards and forwards across a zebrau00a0crossing).

  • Mr B J Mann

    I think it was an old Highways Act.nnIt made bicycles honorary CARriages.nnNow, why do you think that cars didn’t need a special act to make them CARriages..nnnBy the way, just to be pedantic again, this “urban myth” about:nn”Maybe the reference is to the fact motor cars have to be licensed, but bicycles don’t?”nnAnd so cyclists have a right to be on the roads, but it’s a privilege for motorists:nnnYou’ll be telling us next that, as canal boats (spot the hint in the name, again) need a license to use a canal, and swimmmers don’t, the canals were built for swimmers, not canal boats, swimmers have a right to swim in canals, but its only a privilege granted tou00a0canal boats by license, and swimmers have every right to do widths all day, bringing canals to a standstill.nnOr have I misunderstood all your main arguments?

  • Mr B J Mann

    B y the way, do you know WHY those old roads were so wide?nnGo on, guess!nnEver read in Dickens or Pepys about roads gridlocked with CARriages?nnBeing able to walk from X to Y over the roofs of Hansom Cabs?nnPeople giving up on congestion, getting out of CARriages, and walking back home?nnIt was to handle the enormous amount of horse and CARriage traffic!nnTry researching the tonnage of manure collected DAILY off the streets of London (and the thousands of deaths the pollution caused).nnDo you know that the M25 is the only surviving ring of what was a FIVE ring network?nnThat there were plans for ring roads, massively wide arterial roads.nnGreat big wide roads on grid systems….nnTo relieve congestion in London:nnHorse drawn congestion before the war:nnThe FIRST World War!nnThey were scrapped because of the war, then the depression, then the second world war, then funding shortages.nnAnd eventually two of the five rings were amalgamated into the M25 oval.nnAnd guess why, despite a vastly greater population, and vastly greater commuter and goods traffic mileagges we, just, scrape by with the M25 and the other existing roads?nnBecause of the MOTOR CARriage.nnHave you ANY idea what the world would be like without it?nnTry researching transport pollution deaths, transport accident deaths, and the like, before the motor car.nnYou’ll be in for some big surprises.nn(Oh, and before you start, the spread of suburbia, and city centre congestion, was created by the railways and buses!).

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    I’ll be in for no surprise as I am researching a book on roads and their history. The tonnage of horse manure in London is already a stat I’ve captured. I could easily quip about this topic and how it’s related to forum posting methods but I will resist. Sort of.