By Andy Chivers

IT IS difficult to travel far along Oxford’s cycle tracks without meeting one of these blue rectangular signs telling you to get off your bike. But what do they mean? Why are they there?

I am not talking about the temporary red Cyclist Dismount signs at roadworks which do have legal force. These are less frequent now, since the county council acknowledged that they were inappropriate in most settings. Instead the sensible and welcome ‘Do not overtake cyclists’ sign is often used.

I was prompted to look into the rules concerning Cyclists Dismount signs when I counted a total of 16 (eight in each direction) along the shared cycle/pedestrian path on the west side of Castle Mill Stream from Rewley Road to Upper Fisher Row – a distance of less than 300 metres. These signs are on sale for about £40 each, so even with a big discount there is probably £500 worth of signage on this very quiet path, plus the cost of installing them.

But what should cyclists do when they meet one? In general the signs are in places where other users of the path need to be considered – usually pedestrians. There is no ‘Cyclists remount’ a few metres further on so having dismounted it is impossible to know when you are free to ride again. Although it sounds like an instruction, the good news is that in common with all blue traffic signs, they are advisory. There are so many better ways the advice could be given – ‘Cyclists beware of pedestrians’ or ‘Caution – cycle carefully’ or my favourite ‘Share with care’.

I do wonder if the sign is just a way for a local authority to wash its hands of any blame if an accident should happen, but I haven’t found anything to support that view. Its only merit seems to be its brevity, but since that means giving an inaccurate and misleading instruction, it is a poor choice.

It seems that legally we can continue to cycle past the blue Cyclists Dismount signs, taking due care that we are not a risk to other users (though cycling with regard to others is a legal requirement at all times anyway).

The problem arises when pedestrians see the sign and, not surprisingly, complain to the cyclist that they should be walking. This avoidable conflict undeservedly gives cyclists a bad name and unfortunately it is difficult to think of a nice quick way to politely correct this misapprehension since the instruction is so explicit. Perhaps one day the signs will disappear but meanwhile you can cycle past them with extra care, smiling benignly at pedestrians who hopefully will recognise the absurdity of the signs.