Cycle routes

Cycle routes

METRICATION: 5% complete
Metric Non-metric
Sign specifications in millimetres Distances shown in miles and fractions
Road markings specified in millimetres Distances shown in mins.

In the UK, cycle routes are indicated by signs and road markings. They may be either cycle lanes on the main highway, on footways shared with or segregated from pedestrians, or specially designated cycle paths.

cycle route signs in mins and miles

The signing of cycle routes lacks coherence. The units used vary from place to place. Some areas use miles and fractions, and others use ‘mins’. In London, the units used vary from one location to the next.

cycle route signs with no distance information

It is not uncommon for cycle route direction signs to show no distance information at all.

Distances in miles and fractions

Prior to 2011, distances shown on public cycle route direction signs were required to be in miles, or fractions of miles, with yards being used for short distances.

cycle route sign in miles

The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions prescribes the rules for converting a distance to a value signed in miles. There are different rules for short, medium and long distances. For short distances, different rounding rules apply depending on whether yards or miles are used.

  • For distances less than ½ mile, the distance is shown in miles to the nearest ¼ mile, or in yards to the nearest 10 yards, followed by ‘yards’ or ‘yds’.
  • For distances of ½ mile or more, but less than 3 miles, the distance is shown in miles to the nearest ¼ mile.
  • For distances of 3 miles or more, the distance is shown in whole numbers to the nearest mile.

Distances in yards

For distances shorter than ½ mile, showing distances in miles to the nearest ¼ mile is not always adequate. With imperial units, this requires switching to the use of yards.

cycle route sign in yards

Why cycle route signs in miles, fractions and yards are unfit for purpose

Incomprehension – Miles and yards have not been taught in schools for almost 50 years. Most cyclists do not know how many yards are in a mile, and therefore cannot be expected to have a good understanding of distances shown in miles and yards.

Basic calculations are difficult – For those who do know the number of yards in a mile, even the most simple arithmetic using imperial distances is cumbersome. For example, how much further than 600 yards is 1¼ mile?; how many miles would a distance 10 times greater than 600 yards be?

Visualising distances is not easy – For most people, a mile is just “a long distance”, and half a mile is just “a shorter long distance”. Visualising distances in tenths of miles might be easier, but a tenth of a mile is not a convenient value when expressed in yards, and is not used on road signs anywhere. Introducing decimal miles now would be a mistake, when kilometres are much better suited for use in decimal format.

Inconsistent unit names – There is no standard symbol for ‘yard’ that is currently acceptable for use in every local authority throughout the UK. For example, in Wales, due to the lack of a standard language-independent symbol for ‘yard’, any distances shown in yards must also be shown in ‘llath’. This is done by halving the text size of the two unit name variants so that they can both fit into the same space as a single unit name.

cycle route sign in yards cycle route sign in llath

Non-standard obsolete units – For nearly 40 years, the standard weights and measures system for practically all official purposes in the UK has been the metric system. Roads, cycle paths and cycle route signs are all designed and constructed using metric units, not imperial. No other major country uses yards for cycle routes or any other road signs. In the 21st century, using miles and yards on cycle route and other road signs is an anachronism.

Sign specifications

The Department for Transport’s own regulations specify the dimensions of road signs exclusively in metric units. In common with other road signs, the dimensions of cycle route signs are specified in millimetres.

TSRGD diagram 967
Route recommended for pedal cycles on the main carriageway of a road.

TSRGD diagram 965
End of a cycle lane, track or route.
Road markings

In common with road construction generally, the design and construction of cycle tracks is carried out in metric units. All road markings are specified in millimetres.

TSRGD diagram 1055.3
Route for vehicular traffic consisting solely of pedal cyclists across a signal controlled junction or parallel crossing.

TSRGD diagram 1057
Cycle lane, track or route.

Traffic Signs Review, 2008 – 2011

In 2011, the Department for Transport published their latest traffic signs policy report, Signing the Way. This was the culmination of a three-year Traffic Signs Review. Although the review was hailed at its launch as being “the biggest review of British road signs for 40 years”, it resulted in only minor changes to road sign regulations. Obvious major issues were not addressed, including:

  • International E-road network – This is a numbering system for roads in Europe developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). For example in Ireland, the M8 is designated E201, and in the UK, the M6 is part of the E05. In most countries, route signs carry the E-road designation alongside national designations. As of 2023, the UK and Albania are the only countries not to show E-road numbers on road signs. Adding E-road numbers to route confirmatory signs would not have been expensive.
  • Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals – The UK is a signatory country to the Convention. Some international standard road signs, such as the use of ‘up arrows’ for hazard extents, have not yet been implemented in the UK. The Convention also specifies metres-only for restriction signs – an issue that is overdue for fixing in the UK.
  • Junction numbers – It would be more logical and useful to number motorway junctions with the same numbers used for driver location signs, e.g. J31A on the M6 is at km 353, so K353 would be the new junction number.
  • Metrication – The Government originally scheduled speed limits to switch to metric units in 1973, but the date was postponed. Metrication was the “elephant in the room” in the Traffic Signs Review. Setting a revised date, and planning for the switch to standard metric units for all road signs should have been at the heart of the review process.
Metrication and the Department for Transport
The metrication of road signs has benefits that reach far beyond the road transport sector. It would make sense therefore for it to be funded directly from the Treasury, as a one-off infrastructure project of national importance.

However, for more than 50 years now, the DfT has resisted all calls for metric road signs. This is apparently because of an assumption that the switch to metric units will have to be funded from the Department’s own budget. Because of this, early in the review process, metrication was deemed to be out of the scope of the review.

“Our position is that we do not consider diverting funding from priority areas to the metrication of road traffic signs is justified. This is therefore not an issue for the Traffic Signs Policy Review to consider.”

Letter from Traffic Signs Policy Branch, Department for Transport – 7 August 2009

Even though measurement units ostensibly were not up for discussion, the Traffic Signs Review did result in new measurement units for cycle route signs. However, instead of rationalising the use of measurement units by switching to the exclusive use of metric units, the outcome was a proliferation of authorised units and sign variants.

Distances in minutes

In 2011, changes were made to the TSRGD that gave local authorities an alternative method of showing distances on public cycle route signs other than the old miles and fractions, which were becoming increasingly irrelevant to cyclists who had not been educated in imperial units for nearly 40 years.

cycle route sign with no distance information cycle route sign in kilometres
cycle route sign in miles

The new units described standardised journey times in terms of the number of minutes or hours taken to travel to locations when cycling at a constant standard speed.

cycle route sign in minutes

The Traffic Signs Review also introduced the facility to add extraneous information to cycle route signs in the form of “branding”.

cycle quietway sign
cycleway sign

Extraneous information requires larger signs and can be classed as signage clutter – something that the review had initially set out to reduce, and something that could not have been addressed properly without switching to metric units for all road signs.

Signing distances in minutes has little practical value to cyclists because cycling speeds vary from one person to the next and, as every cyclist knows, speeds are affected greatly by the gradient of the road and the strength of prevailing winds.

So, it was not immediately obvious why the Department for Transport would choose to complicate sign regulations by introducing a second non-metric method of showing distances on cycle route signs – apart from acknowledging that signs in miles and fractions were no longer fit for purpose.

Why “mins” were introduced on cycle route signs
The Traffic Signs Review raised a number of proposals designed to “promote more sustainable travel”. These are listed in Signing the Way, and include:

“1.7 Promoting cycling by indicating cycle journey times on destination signing”

Apart from metric signs being ruled out as an option, it seems therefore that the real reason for introducing distances in terms of minutes cycled, rather than switching to the more obvious unit of kilometres, was for the purpose of social engineering. The intended outcome was for non-cyclists to see journey times being advertised on the new signs, and thereby be persuaded to switch to using a bicycle.

This is confirmed in Chapter 7 of the Department for Transport’s Traffic Signs Manual (2018 edition):

“14.8.1. In order to encourage ‘modal shift’ over short distances, journey times may be shown on cycle route signs. Cycle signs can show distance or times – but not both as the sign becomes confusing.”

The clear implication is that if the intention to show distances in minutes on cycle route signs is for any reason, other than for promoting a switch from other modes of transport to cycling, then “journey times” should NOT be shown.

However, since the publication of the 2016 revision of the TSRGD, some local authorities have now mandated that ‘mins’ should be used for distances on cycle route signs. For example, Transport for London’s Cycleways Signing Guidance (2019 edition) states:

“4.6 Times to destinations should be provided rather than distance”

london cycle route sign in miles
Cycle route sign with distances in miles – London, 2010
london cycle route sign in mins
Cycle journey times being promoted at a busy road junction – London, 2018

Whilst acknowledging that having miles and minutes on the same sign “becomes confusing”, the authors of the Traffic Signs Manual seem to have given no thought to the fact that it is equally confusing for some locations to have signs in miles and others to have signs in minutes.

Calculating a value shown in ‘mins’

To convert a distance in metres to a value shown on a cycle route sign in ‘mins’, the following mathematical relationship is used:

time = \dfrac{distance}{speed}

For any destination on a sign, its distance remains constant, but the time taken to reach it will vary depending on one’s speed of travel. In order to show destinations in minutes, it is necessary to artificially assume a standard constant speed of travel.

Transport for London’s Cycleways Signing Guidance and Chapter 6 of the London Cycling Design Standards, give the rules for converting a distance to a value signed in ‘mins’:

  • Journey times are calculated using an average cycling speed of 16 km/h, e.g. 3 mins = 800 metres.
  • One minute is added for each signalised junction that the route passes through.
  • Journey times greater than 20 minutes are rounded up to the nearest 5 minutes.

Why cycle route signs in minutes are unfit for purpose

Cost – The rules for calculating the minute values shown on signs are complicated. A cyclist whose natural cycling speed on one route may coincide with the defined standard speed of 16 km/h, may have a different natural speed on another route that has a different gradient, or a poorer road surface. For this reason contractors are advised to carry out a costly manual process of checking every ‘mins’ value on any cycle route sign that they install:

“Timings should be … confirmed by riding the route at different times and conditions so that a realistic and accurate average time is provided.”

London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS), Chapter 6 – September 2016

Imprecise – Because of the variable nature of journey times, any value shown in ‘mins’ can only ever be an approximation of the time taken by an individual cyclist when travelling to a destination on a given occasion. The advice in the LCDS for values to be both realistic and accurate is not possible in reality.

Inconsistent unit names – There is no standard symbol for the word ‘minute’ or ‘hour’ that is currently acceptable for use in every local authority throughout the UK. For example, in Wales, when values in minutes or hours are shown, the unit name has to be shown in both Welsh and English.

welsh cycle route sign in mins

Inconsistent values – There is no single national standard for converting distances to the values shown in minutes. For example, in Wales different rules apply for rounding values:

  • Journey times greater than 10 minutes are rounded to the nearest 5 minutes.
  • Journey times greater than 1 hour are rounded to the nearest 10 minutes.
  • Journey times greater than 2 hours are rounded to the nearest 15 minutes.

This means that for a given distance, the value shown on a cycle route sign will not always be the same in all parts of the country, even when all other conditions are equal.

Distance Miles Minutes Minutes (Wales) km
2200 m 1¼ miles 9 mins 9 mun 2.2 km
2400 m 1½ miles 10 mins 10 mun 2.4 km
2700 m 1¾ miles 11 mins 15 mun 2.7 km
3000 m 1¾ miles 12 mins 15 mun 3.0 km
3200 m 2 miles 13 mins 15 mun 3.2 km
3500 m 2¼ miles 14 mins 15 mun 3.5 km
3800 m 2¼ miles 15 mins 15 mun 3.8 km

Inconsistent usage rules – The TSRGD prescribes signs with diagrams showing values in terms of hours and minutes. Regulations specific to Wales also include rules for rounding values of an hour or more. However, equally authoritative guidelines restrict the use of ‘journey times’ to short journeys only:

“5.8 … The maximum journey time displayed to any destination should not exceed 30 minutes.”

Cycleways Signing Guidance – September 2016

Incompatible with pedestrian signs – Many cycle routes are shared with pedestrians. If signs on these routes show distances using ‘mins’, separate values are required in order to cater for both cyclists and pedestrians.

welsh cycle route and pedestrian sign

Potential for confusion – Transport for London’s Cycleways Signing Guidance includes diagrams for adding cycle route information to Legible London wayfaring signs, with destinations shown in ‘mins’. Such signs are highly likely to confuse pedestrians because the unit used almost exclusively on Legible London signs is the ‘minute walk’ – which is shown using the same ‘mins’ abbreviation as cycle route signs. The ‘minute walk’ is defined as 80 metres – about 30% of the distance represented by ‘1 min’ on a cycle route sign.

legible london cycle route sign
Cycleways Signing Guidance, TfL – September 2016

Pedestrians might see a distance of “8 mins” on such a sign and mistakenly believe it to mean only about 600 metres, rather than its actual meaning of about 2 km.

Dual units muddle – There are situations where the use of minutes for distances on cycle route signs are ruled out. This means that minutes can never completely replace the use of conventional distance units. The introduction of ‘mins’ has been responsible for the creation of a national muddled dual-unit system of distance measurement on cycle route signs.

International experience

vienna cycle route
Cycle path and route confirmatory sign – Vienna, Austria

The average lengths of cycle journeys tend to be an order of magnitude shorter than those of car journeys. It makes sense therefore for the precision of distances indicated on cycle route signs to be an order of magnitude greater than those on road signs. Indeed, this is the accepted wisdom in many countries with well established cycle route systems, where distances on cycle route signs are generally expressed in kilometres to one decimal place.

berlin cycle route signs
Cycle route directional signs
berlin cycle route signs
Berlin, Germany
prague cycle route signs
Prague, Czechia
vienna cycle route signs
Vienna, Austria


When cycle route signs in the UK are converted to metric units, distances should be shown in kilometres to one decimal place.

metric cycle route sign

The use of the ‘km’ symbol will be unnecessary, even during the transition to metric signs, because the use of decimals on the new signs will distinguish them from old signs in miles, which use whole numbers and fractions exclusively. It can also be argued that using the ‘km’ symbol would add clutter and thus decrease the readability of signs.

The metrication of cycle route signs will present an opportunity to end the current haphazard practice of showing destinations in either miles, ‘mins’, or no units at all.

Benefits of metric signs

Simple rules – In contrast to the complex rules for current signs, the rules for converting a distance to a value signed in kilometres are straight forward. The rules for rounding values do not change depending on whether the distance is long or short. The measurement unit used also remains the same regardless of the magnitude of the distance:

  • All distances are shown in kilometres to one decimal place.

Easy-to-understand scaleable values – Keeping the same unit of distance, and the same rules for rounding values, makes it easier to compare distances. Simple arithmetic involving journey lengths can be carried out with ease, without any of the cumbersome conversions needed when dealing with multiple imperial units. The contrast with current signs can be seen in the following table:

Distance Miles Minutes Minutes (with 2 junction signals on route) km
100 m 110 yds 1 min 3 mins 0.1 km
200 m 220 yds 1 min 3 mins 0.2 km
300 m ¼ mile 2 mins 4 mins 0.3 km
400 m ¼ mile 2 mins 4 mins 0.4 km
500 m ¼ mile 2 mins 4 mins 0.5 km
600 m ¼ mile 3 mins 5 mins 0.6 km
700 m ½ mile 3 mins 5 mins 0.7 km
800 m ½ mile 4 mins 6 mins 0.8 km
900 m ½ mile 4 mins 6 mins 0.9 km
1000 m ½ mile 4 mins 6 mins 1.0 km
1100 m ¾ mile 5 mins 7 mins 1.1 km
1200 m ¾ mile 5 mins 7 mins 1.2 km
1300 m ¾ mile 5 mins 7 mins 1.3 km
1400 m ¾ mile 6 mins 8 mins 1.4 km
1500 m 1 mile 6 mins 8 mins 1.5 km
1600 m 1 mile 7 mins 9 mins 1.6 km
1700 m 1 mile 7 mins 9 mins 1.7 km
1800 m 1 mile 7 mins 9 mins 1.8 km
1900 m 1¼ miles 8 mins 10 mins 1.9 km
2000 m 1¼ miles 8 mins 10 mins 2.0 km

More appropriate step values – Showing all distances in kilometres to a resolution of 0.1 km will greatly improve the fidelity of distance information on cycle route direction signs. Replacing signs that currently show distances of 3 miles or more with metric signs will increase the resolution by a factor of 16.

Distance Miles Minutes Minutes (with 2 junction signals on route) km
5000 m 3 miles 5.0 km
5100 m 3 miles 20 mins 5.1 km
5200 m 3 miles 20 mins 5.2 km
5300 m 3 miles 20 mins 5.3 km
5400 m 3 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.4 km
5500 m 3 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.5 km
5600 m 3 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.6 km
5700 m 4 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.7 km
5800 m 4 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.8 km
5900 m 4 miles 25 mins 25 mins 5.9 km
6000 m 4 miles 25 mins 25 mins 6.0 km
6100 m 4 miles 25 mins 25 mins 6.1 km
6200 m 4 miles 25 mins 30 mins 6.2 km
6300 m 4 miles 25 mins 30 mins 6.3 km
6400 m 4 miles 25 mins 30 mins 6.4 km
6500 m 4 miles 25 mins 30 mins 6.5 km
6600 m 4 miles 25 mins 30 mins 6.6 km
6700 m 4 miles 30 mins 30 mins 6.7 km
6800 m 4 miles 30 mins 30 mins 6.8 km
6900 m 4 miles 30 mins 30 mins 6.9 km
7000 m 4 miles 30 mins 30 mins 7.0 km

Compatible with units used by planners – Distances on metric cycle route signs are easy to confirm. For example, using a standard 1:25 000 Ordnance Survey map, 4 mm on the map corresponds to 100 metres, or 0.1 km on the ground. This will reduce costs, especially when compared with the amount of work needed to confirm values signed in ‘mins’.

Easy to visualise distances – Distances are easier to visualise when expressed in multiples of 100 m, than when they are expressed in multiples of miles. Metric signs are therefore more meaningful. The presence of well-placed metric signs could lead to an increase in use of cycle routes.

Clarity and comprehension – Signing all destinations in kilometres, will increase understanding and will remove the confusion caused by the current practice of showing destinations in a mix of miles, ‘mins’, or no units at all.

Compatible with standard maps – Maps used by cyclists generally use metric scales such as 1:25 000 and 1:50 000, and are based on a kilometre grid. It makes sense for direction signs to use the same units.

metric cycle computer Compatible with cycle computers – Cycle computers show speeds and distances as decimal values, in km/h and kilometres.

Compatible with units used in sport – In sport, cycle races are in kilometres. In televised races, such as the Tour of Britain, graphic overlays show distances in kilometres and speeds in km/h, both to one decimal place.


  • Cycle computers – If you are a cyclist and don’t already own a cycle computer, purchase one and set it to metric units. Familiarise yourself with cycle speeds in km/h, as seen on TV for races such as the Tour of Britain. Observe the odometer as it measures distances travelled in kilometres, to 2 decimal places. Each odometer “click” represents 10 metres travelled. Compare this to the less relatable clicks of 17.6 yards, if set to imperial units.


Action required by : Government

  • Cycle route signs – Legislation is required to upgrade all cycle route signs to show distances in kilometres to one decimal place. This could be carried out without any further delay. However, it would make sense for the change to be carried out concurrently with the implementation of a general metrication programme for all official road signs.



At an average speed of 24 km/h, it takes 8 minutes to cycle a distance marked on a cycle route sign as “12 mins”.