The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 15: What are TROs and why should you care?

Featuring: Mark Philpotts

Traffic Regulation Orders and democracy

How do changes to our road networks get made? Is the traffic order (TRO) process fit for purpose, and how do we achieve democratic buy-in?

Mark Philpotts, a.k.a. the Ranty Highwayman, lifts the veil on how we improve UK roads and the complexities of getting the public on side - particularly those who may be resistant to change.

The issue of TROs and how they interact with democracy is a complicated one. We hosted a themed Practical Democracy Project event on the theme last year, with speakers Lucy Colbeck from Playing Out, Baz Lokat from GeoPlace, and our guest for this podcast, Mark Philpotts. If you enjoyed listening to this episode, you can watch a recording of the event or read our roundup of the day.

You can read a full transcript for this episode, along with links to organisations and resources that our guest mentions during the podcast, down below.

Episode 15 transcript

Mark Philpotts: From the driver’s point of view, because we come at this through decades, in fact, of a status quo position, that you can drive and park where you like subject to rules, as soon as an authority modifies that kind of perceived right - I mean, it’s not an actual right, your license, you’re there by license - but you’re trying to modify what people have been used to, and I think the problem some people have with it is they always see that as a loss. They never see it as a gain.

Sabine Groven: Hello, and welcome to the Practical Democracy podcast by Delib. My name is Sabine Groven, and I’ll be speaking with some great movers and shakers working to make practical change today. On this episode, we’ll be talking about TROs. If you don’t know what TROs are or how they affect you, don’t worry. I’ve got the perfect person to explain.

MP: My name is Mark Philpotts. I’m a technical manager with Sweco UK, and I work within the local government team of the advisory and planning division.

SG: Mark Philpotts specialises in walking and cycling design, although he has years of experience in general highway design. He has a strong emphasis on inclusivity, accessibility, and sustainable safety principles. First and foremost, I wanted Mark to explain what the term TRO means.

MP: So TROs is a term bandied around - it actually means Traffic Regulation Order. In London, a little bit confusingly they’re also known as Traffic Management Orders, just because of a quirk of history. And essentially traffic orders, as a collective term, is a legal mechanism that we use to sort of manage and regulate traffic, and that’s traffic in the widest possible sense. That’s motor traffic, cycles, pedestrians, etcetera. And what they do is they sit there in the background essentially creating local laws on how people are allowed to move or not move through streets and roads. There’s lots of signs that go with them. The signs are out there on the street, they’re the things you have to obey, but behind those are these orders that are enforceable.

So some things are enforced by local authorities, some things are enforced by the police, but without them you’d have some chaos on the streets I think. A permanent traffic order is kind of you know what you want to achieve, so you put that into place. For example, if you wanted to reduce a speed limit on a street down to 20 miles an hour, you know that’s what you want to do, you go ahead and go through the traffic order process, that completes, you put the signs up, you can enforce the 20 mile an hour speed limit. With an experimental traffic order, you may have an idea of what you’d like to achieve but you’d like to try it for size, so it literally is an experiment. You go out there, you can change how things operate on the street, one ways, no entries, all different types of thing. You can run that for awhile, get feedback from the public, gather data on how it’s performing, you can make adjustments at the start of the process, and if things go well you make a decision formally and the thing becomes permanent at the end of it.

SG: Something I wanted to know more about is how does the process of TROs work and how long can it take to put something into place?

MP: With permanent traffic orders I guess you could split things between a large and small scheme. So if you’ve got a really big town centre, there’ll be lots of things you want to achieve and behind that sits lots and lots of different traffic orders doing different things. So the conventional way that people tend to deal with that is go through the whole consultation and engagement process through the design stages to a point where you have a scheme that sort of ticks all the boxes if you like. The traffic order process is almost kind of a formality at the end with some democratic checks and balances. You go through, follow that process, and the schemes built and everything’s running as you expect it to be. With a smaller scheme often you do the formal public consultation in parallel to the traffic order process, just because often with traffic orders you have to contact people who might be affected, explain what the changes are and how it might affect them, and to be honest with a small scheme you’ll probably be doing that for your consultation anyway.

With the experimental process lots of people approach it in different ways. Some authorities will have kind of a programme of work, they’ll go out, they’ll literally give people a week or two’s notice that this scheme’s coming in, stuff will appear on the streets, and a project will run. It’s often the case that people are not expecting it, they’re not sort of warned or prepared for it, and so that creates a bit of a backlash. So the best for authorities will have had engagement with the community well in advance, so people may not understand exactly what’s coming or the details, but they’ll understand something’s going to happen to deal with a particular issue or meet a particular objective, and so when the actual traffic order formally comes out they’re kind of expecting something and then they can actually look at the detail of it and make their views heard then.

SG: I asked Mark if he feels that the process works well. Is it slow or old-fashioned? Is there any way it can be improved?

MP: I think from the traffic order process, whether it’s permanent or experimental, there is built into the process certain lengths of time for people to make recent objections. With a general consultation people can write in or phone in or meet the councillor or whatever medium’s being used to support a scheme or object to a scheme, suggest changes. The traffic order process is a lot more dry. Essentially you’re doing something to change the status quo, and the only thing in traffic order terms that the authority has to consider is recent objections, and then it’s up to whoever makes the decision how much weight or balance those objections are given.

For example, with a permanent order you need to give people 21 days to object to it in writing. With the experimental order process, the first six months is the objections period. So it sounds a bit bureaucratic and old-fashioned, but that’s the democratic balance that if people miss consultation or they’re not engaged in the process, at the very end of the process they’ve at least got this formal statutory right to object if the scheme’s going to affect them, or even if they disagree, but that’s up to the authority to weight it.

I think the problem in terms of it being old-fashioned as a process is probably reaching people more generally. I think that’s just a general consultation and engagement problem that we sometimes have. So in terms of the law behind it, you have to kind of consider who might be affected. There’s a list of statutory consultees, so for example the fire brigade, the police. You also consider who might be affected, so that could be residents, businesses. People who may be travelling through the area are probably harder to target unless you put big signs up on the site that they travel through, and obvious things get advertised in the local press, lots of local authorities use their websites, but it’s quite a passive approach.

So you kind of have to know what you’re looking for as a citizen. One thing which might improve things is the government is currently consulting on making the traffic order process digital. Now, that won’t negate the basic legal needs for people having time to respond and make their objections, but it just allows another medium. So when you look at a traffic order, again often the old-fashioned ones are written out long hand, they explain what’s happening, they give dimensions and reference points to buildings, and it’s very difficult to follow.

Quite a few local authorities now used map-based traffic orders, which are graphical, they’re interactive, they're a bit more easy to understand. I think with the government pushing to try and get everybody onto the same kind of platform to make it much more accessible from that point of view. But it must be remembered that the traffic order process kind of sits behind good governance and good engagement anyway. I think you’ll find, certainly from my experience in local government, you could probably start to write a list of people who will read the newspaper back pages for traffic orders and they’ll be the people we hear from, which may or may not be legitimate. You never know with some people. But the difficulty often for an authority, you can go through various assessment processes and engagement processes, but you may not actually capture somebody who’s genuinely impacted by what you want to do. So at least with the order process that gives people a bit more time, officially, if you like, to come back and make their views known.

SG: So how does this affect us? What impact does this have on you and I? I asked Mark to explain.

MP: The way that UK highway and traffic rules are set up is, generally speaking, you can do what you like on the roads and the streets unless there’s something preventing or amending it. So what I mean by that is, at a national level you have speed limits set on motorways, for example. Your speed limits in built up areas is 30 miles an hour. So at the national level you can kind of drive how you like but there are rules brought in at the high level. At the local level we might decide that actually in this residential area that’s not somewhere we’re going to allow driving through, so we use essentially local legislation to amend the status quo locally. We can designate areas, say pedestrian zones, cycle zones, that kind of thing.

There’s all sorts of modifications in terms of the weight of motor vehicles, the direction people have to travel, and so if you’re in an area that’s affected by traffic order, so for example, you may have a really long route through to your house if a one-way system gets put in, to drive, and you might feel aggrieved that that’s going to add lots and lots of time every time you make a journey, and so from the local authority’s point of view they have to look at the wider reasons for making that change and balance that against the individual. There may be that actually putting this one-way system in pushes through traffic back onto main roads where it should be, and so as a resident in the local area, having that slightly longer journey when you go out in your car is kind of a price worth paying.

But some people may genuinely have an issue with that. So for people who can’t travel very far because of their own sort of physical needs or their comfort that might actually be a genuine issue for them. So that’s the kind of thing that people would be interested in. You would hope that the engagement process kind of captures that early and up front, but it doesn’t always.

You could then also look, an example, let’s say we are looking at putting parking controls on your street and you have to pay for a permit. You might object to that because you just don’t agree with having to pay for permits. That on balance may well be, not disregarded as such, but acknowledged, but, “No, sorry, we’ve got a wider issue here of getting rid of people driving in from long distance to park in these areas.” You could look at cycling, for example. We're trying to make cycling easier through the urban area. So you prioritise cycle traffic through an area and send motor traffic the long way around. So there’s pros and cons. It depends on how people are affected and impacted. I think the issue with it is if you support a scheme you don't really have a statutory right within the traffic order process to actually support that scheme, so really the authorities should be looking at objections and weighting them properly. We hear from the people that don't like things, generally. That’s life. That’s a challenge sometimes.

SG: Mark states on his blog that well-designed, consistent, safe and convenient walking and cycling networks are the best way to solve so many issues in our towns and cities. So why does it take so long to put something like that in place?

MP: I would say, and this purely a personal view, from the driver’s point of view, because we come at this through decades, in fact, of a status quo position that you can drive and park where you like, subject to rules, as soon as an authority modifies that kind of perceived right, I mean it’s not an actual right, your license, you’re there by license, but you’re trying to modify what people have been used to, and I think the problem some people have with it they always see that as a loss. They never see it as a gain. So if you parked outside your house for 20 years without the charge and now you’re being charged for a permit, that is a loss to you, as you see it. You don't see the wider income stream supporting other projects in the area. So that’s often difficult to explain to people.

Cycle facilities is a classic one where people see, oh, drivers’ space is being taken away. Well it’s not really, it’s just the status quo’s been challenged and vulnerable people are being given protection, for example, to try and get, and the policy outcome there is more people cycling, fewer people driving perhaps. So yes, I think that’s, the nub of it is you’re fighting a status quo position and people feel a loss. I think really the authorities who are doing well at this stuff, they’re not sort of turning up in a street telling the residents, “Oh, we’re going to do something,” and they’re getting a backlash. The best authorities are kind of looking at their area-wide situations and kind of trying to build a broad consensus.

So for example, do people generally in their area agree there’s an air quality problem? Before you even start looking at a scheme to address it. So yes, you get lots of people who would agree, yes, there is an air quality problem, we probably need to do something about it. And once you can build some level of consensus then you can start talking about solutions. And sometimes there are solutions that really have to be imposed because they are the things that work and we know they work, but in many cases there’s lots of different ways to meet that outcome. I think if you try and go ahead with a big scheme and the public haven’t heard about it, you’re going to get objections and grief all the way through, but that takes resources, it takes intelligence, it takes often schemes of a year’s funding or two-year funding horizon, so you need to try and build in some front-end work so people are expecting it.

A revelation I had I would say probably in the last couple of years really is it’s a realisation that when you go out on the street you see traffic signals, you see parking signs, no entries, one way, all that kind of stuff, and it was an interesting leap of the imagination to realise that most of the stuff you see out on the street is actually motor traffic infrastructure. So if you just have people walking and cycling within a neighbourhood generally you're not going to need traffic signals. They are a response to motor traffic and managing motor traffic. So if you try to apply that kind of thinking across an entire area, you very quickly see how set up things are for driving. Some places have changed that very, very quickly, some are not moving at all.

That’s quite an interesting starting point, because had we done things in a different way- So parking is a good example. A long, long time ago, back in the fifties and sixties, you could only really park where you were told to park, and for some reason we changed it now so you can park everywhere you like unless there was a restriction. So if you turn those things on the head a little bit that you kind of don’t need to seek permission to drive everywhere or park anywhere as a general status quo, and so you’re almost having to change things on a street by street or neighbourhood by neighbourhood to push this playing field back the other way. It’s a tricky concept thinking about it that all this stuff is motor traffic infrastructure but it really is when you sit there and think about it.

Because traffic, as in motor traffic, generally you’re moving along fairly defined paths, you're on the left side of the road, you often have white lines, you can turn into that junction, you can go that way, whereas people walking and cycling behave more like people. They make decisions then and there. “Actually I'm going to pop into that shop,” or, “I'm going to cycle a different way today and just pop down the side road,” so it's a lot harder to manage people movement compared to traffic movement. I know people are actually driving, but kind of within the regiment of how things are set up. So that goes quite a long way beyond engineering I think. We're probably getting to psychology and lots of other really clever stuff. That's a bit beyond me. But yes, just thinking about who the street's for, how things are managed, who we prioritise. That could probably start to get people to challenge their thinking.

SG: Something else in Mark’s claim is that the street isn’t too narrow, your mind is. So how can you use TROs to improve cycling and walking on our already existing streets?

MP: Lots of people would say, “Oh, that road’s not wide enough to put cycle tracks down.” So you can go and look at Dutch cities, is a perfect example, where actually most of the streets within Dutch cities don’t have any cycling provision whatsoever, they’re just streets. But what they’ve done is rather than building cycle tracks on all the narrow streets they’ve taken all the traffic out of the narrow streets and put it onto ring roads or A roads, that kind of thing. So lots of people think about linear infrastructure, but we can also have point infrastructure, and that’s where traffic orders help us.

For example, if you have a fairly narrow city street, you can’t put cycle tracks on it but you can put bus gates on it. So a crossroad is a point, so buses and cyclists can go through. General traffic has to go on a different road, different corridor. So that’s, yes, that’s really an issue, but you have to think at the network level. You can’t quite go in and say, “Right, we're going to do a thing on this street,” because there’s a knock-on effect on everywhere else. The best thing to do is look at your network and think, "Okay, that's the motoring network for people that have to drive into the city. That will be the bus network. That will be the cycle network, and that will be the walking network." Generally the cycling and walking network should be most permeable because we want people to go everywhere, and once we’ve then set that network then we can go in and detail start retrofitting streets, often using traffic orders.

SG: Online, Mark is known as the Ranty Highwayman. He writes a blog and also uses Twitter to engage with people, sparking conversation.

MP: I think that’s been really interesting because I’ve been writing the blog, it’s coming up to 10 years in the autumn, and that was, it was started kind of out of frustration of some of the status quo thinking that we’ve got and it was personally a way of exploring how different things are done in different places, how we could do stuff. So lots of the posts I do are fairly technical, rehearsing how different roads layouts could be used. There’s a fair bit of how we can take Dutch best practice and convert that to UK practice, so that’s quite interesting. And actually still, and it’s been there I think probably 2013 maybe, the most popular post has been about kerbs, which is astonishing really, but it just shows how interested people, how the streets fit together, how they work, what the components that make this up.

And I think in terms of conversations, I’ve been lucky that I’ve gone along to different talks and presented to different talks, met various people. The best kind of talk is out on the street on foot or bike looking at stuff. It gets conversations going there. And I think with the social media aspect is you can kind of get ideas and information out quickly, get the debate going quickly. The bad behaviours interesting because I have to check myself sometimes, because I quite like to put out positive posts about good stuff being done because that’s what we want to do, but occasionally it’s good fun to kick the nest sometimes and call out the bad behaviour.

One I had fairly recently was somebody parked their van on a front garden, they had ladders poking out over the back, and half the footway was blocked. So I called it out, criticised that kind of behaviour, and lots of people agreed, yes, that’s bad, people shouldn’t do that. Quite a few people kind of, well, one person described me as a rules Nazi, which did make me laugh, because I kind of counter that to say, okay, it’s dark, you may not have good vision. How would you encounter and deal with that particular obstacle, because it was kind of at head height this set of ladders. Then there was a guide dog user then responded and said, “Well actually my guide dog could probably cope with that, so they’d see the danger ahead and stop and move me across. If the whole footway was blocked by a ladder then I’m stuck because I can’t physically get round. The guide dog won’t take me in the road unless it's actually doing a crossing." So kind of a flippant moment about someone’s behaviour sparked an interesting conversation and got some feedback from actual users who’ve got different experiences. So that’s what I find really interesting about it.

SG: As a citizen, if I am being consulted with on a traffic regulation order, how important is it for me to get involved if I think this is a good idea? Should we be more active in showing our support?

MP: I think it’s vital. I mean from the traffic order point of view, there is no statutory right to support something. It’s objections in writing. So in supporting a scheme, it’s always worth writing support and probably keeping that support fairly brief. People who are objecting will send you pages and pages and pages of objections that take a lot of time to go through. I would say if you’re supporting a scheme go to councillors as well. Write to your local councillors as well as if you have a cabinet or a committee style set of governance, go to the decision makers as well, copy them into it. Because councillors, they will spend their lives being moaned at about potholes, from a streets’ point, there’s lots of things councils do, but potholes and parking are the two big things.

So if a councillor is supporting a scheme, reinforce that support they’ve given because they don’t often hear that. If they’ve not expressed a view, go back to them and say, “This is really, really good. This can change the neighbourhood by this, this or this,” because that will then counterbalance the potholes and parking complaints they get. And from a councillor point of view, unless you’re actually part of a committee or you’re a cabinet member or you’re influential within whichever party that is, as an ordinary ward council you don't actually have a lot of decision making power or influence, so to start to get that positive feedback enables you to go back to the decision makers and say, “Actually my community really support this.” So yes, it’s very easy to just say, “Yes, that’s great,” and move onto the next thing, but spend a bit of time telling people it’s great.

SG: But a great walking and cycling infrastructure network isn’t enough. How does planning fit into this?

MP: It is not just about transport systems, it’s about how the planning system works to support walking and cycling. So, for example, it’s having lots of small supermarkets in your town rather than a couple of big, out-of-town supermarkets. So you can’t disentangle transport from planning, but transport can go a long way to rebalance planning problems that we’ve created over the years. So walking, cycling, you’ve probably heard of the 15-minute neighbourhood which is more of an idea than a firm 15 minutes.

But, for example, if you’ve got legacy town layout that you have to get to a supermarket but you've got to cross a really big road, you’ve got four or five separate crossings through a junction and it take you five minutes to actually get across. If you want to try and modify that existing infrastructure we can do things like reduce the crossing wait times, we can get people crossing over in one big go rather than having to do multiple crossings. So the five minutes comes down to two minutes and all of a sudden you've got yourself three minutes back, and from a 15-miniute city point of view, your range is now extended.

Once you start getting more people moving by foot, cycle, wheeling and walking it’s often called, then you have a chance of actually trying to sort of unravel and unbundle what you've done previously. So you’ve got big roads which have caused severance. You’ve got what should be fairly straight forward walks to local shops, being made complicated by lots of awkward side roads and bad parking management and that kind of thing. So if we can actually design networks that are safe, and that’s in terms of low-risk for injuries, but actually they feel safe. So if you’re walking along and you’ve got priority over a side road, you feel invited, rather than having to get permission from a driver to cross, you feel invited. If we make it convenient for that, especially cycling, because the range is probably three to four times more than walking, we can start to put things in reach.

But it does mean you then have to start looking at the planning system, what your local planning policies might be to try to encourage the high densities. As I say, lots of shops rather than big shops out of town, schools within walking and cycling distance, that kind of thing. You can see in lots of towns and cities in the UK we are starting to make those changes, and that really means being bold. So if your main road is that barrier for cycling, that main road needs a cycle track to protect and invite people to cycle along it. So unless you've got those well-designed facilities, you’re not going to get that behaviour change. From Sweco’s point of view, one of the big things we push when we talk to clients and we look at projects is we’re interested in the theory of people, place, and movement.

So what I mean about that is in the work we do in terms of mobility type work. We're looking at focusing on people’s journeys and that experience. That’s for people. For place it’s about how the context of streets work, how they function, and it goes back to things like the network planning, how should that network function in the future. And movement, although streets are often sort of, traffic sewer is maybe too strong a word in some circumstances, but a lot of them are used for stuffing motor traffic down quite often, we do often forget about there’s other people moving on that street and it's not always along the street, it’s across the street. So we're also interested in considering, gather users of the street, how their experience could be improved, and ultimately this is about creating those sustainable communities.

SG: There we have it. Thank you so much to Mark Philpotts for coming on the podcast and sharing his knowledge with us. If you want to find out more about the work that Mark does you can find him on Twitter at @RantyHighwayman or visit

Should you wish to learn more about TROs, you can access the recording and slides from our Practical Democracy Project event titled Why Aren’t TROs Trending? on Delib’s website. Mark did a very insightful presentation, and I’ve added the link to that in this episode’s description. Thank you very much for listening.

Should you wish to contact us email This episode is hosted, edited, and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven. Our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. I’l be back in a month with another episode. Until then you can visit for great content on people making practical change improving democracy. There are some very interesting reads on TROs there too. Bye!