Putting a cycle track alongside a bus lane is standard practice in the Netherlands. The principles of sustainable safety – specifically, homogeneity – mean you should not mix vehicles that differ greatly in mass. So unless it is completely unavoidable, the Dutch separate cycling from bus traffic, in urban areas.
This is completely alien in Britain, where bus lanes are usually presented as ‘cycling infrastructure’ – although this is starting to change, with schemes in Brighton and London (and proposed schemes in Manchester, Bristol and elsewhere) separating cycles from bus traffic on particular roads.
Of course, this does mean that bus stops have to be dealt with – cycle tracks will have to pass behind bus stops, as they are separate from the carriageway. Naturally this is less convenient for bus passengers; instead of stepping straight off onto a footway, they step onto a waiting island, before having to cross the cycle track.
It is easy to overstate this inconvenience. In Britain, “a cyclist” is typically conceived of as a fast, silent vehicle, whistling past in lycra. But in the Netherlands in particular, “a cyclist” is typically more like a wheeled pedestrian, wearing ordinary clothes, and travelling at 10-15mph. It is easy to negotiate your way across a cycle track on foot when people are essentially travelling like you.
But what I think is being overlooked in Britain at the moment is how poor a solution it is to place cycling in bus lanes, not just for people cycling, but for people on buses.
The average speed of people cycling, and a bus, is very similar, but the fluctuations in speed are very different. Someone cycling will be travelling at a constant 10 to 20mph, while a bus will be travelling from 0mph to 20-30mph, back down to 0mph again. In practice – as anyone who cycles regularly in bus lanes will tell you – a bus will constantly be overlapping you, while you constantly have to overtake the bus at each stop.
This is not attractive (or indeed safe) for cycling, and it’s not very good for bus passengers either, who will be held up by people cycling in the bus lane.
I’ve made a short video to demonstrate how smoothly cycling and bus traffic can co-exist if they are separated. It was filmed at about 8pm on a Thursday evening on Nachtegaalstraat in Utrecht. Not a particularly busy time, as you can tell from the video, but this is actually a very busy street, carrying well over 10,000 people cycling, and probably at least as many bus passengers, every day. It is one of the main routes from the city centre to the campus of Utrecht University.
As I hope is clear from the video, these arrangements benefit cycling and bus travel, by removing conflict, and preventing each mode from delaying the other.
Towns and cities that take cycling and public transport seriously should not push the two modes into the same space.