The benefits of keeping buses and bikes apart

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.

Cycle and bus routes, in front of Nijmegen station

Cycle and bus routes, in front of Nijmegen station

Cycle corridor, bus corridor, Utrecht city centre

Cycle corridor, bus corridor, Utrecht city centre

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.

Technically, a 'bus stop bypass'. Very easy to cross this cycle track, to access the bus stop

Technically, a ‘bus stop bypass’. Very easy to cross this cycle track, to access the bus stop

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.

This entry was posted in Bus lanes, buses, Infrastructure, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The benefits of keeping buses and bikes apart

  1. rdrf says:

    This is a critical area and I have big doubts about what may happen in the UK. It looks fine in the video and I know it works in various places I have seen or heard of in Europe,
    A. With heavy pedestrian flows on crowded footways, combined with lots of people rushing on to and/or getting off buses, there is a different situation in much of the UK, certainly in London where it may be tried. On to that you have to factor in Brits who are not so used to being cyclists, or seeing so many cyclists around – particularly on the inside of the carriageway. And maybe Londoners are a more chaotic bunch to start off with. So I am concerned about the conflict between pedestrians (particularly immediately past or future bus passengers) and cyclists.

    B. One way of addressing cyclists being able to overtake buses at bus-stops is to indent the bus stop into the footway, which takes up no more room than a cycle track and can be easy at certain locations in the first place.
    C. Or have a cycle lane on the outside of the bus lane.
    D. Bus driver behaviour is a critical area – and needs to be of good quality for pedestrians anyway. Bus drivers can, in principle, be better trained and then policed (the critical area) than ordinary car drivers.

    There have been cycle tracks on the inside of bus stops for some time, but mainly they are on suburban/rural roads with low flows of both cyclists and people getting on to or off buses.

    It is certainly going to be interesting to see what happens.

    • Dan B says:

      Part of the problems you’re creating is due to looking at modes individually. You talk of ‘heavy pedestrian footfall’ and multiple buses as if these things are set in stone and desirable. Look at London’s Oxford Street – very heavy pedestrian use, incredibly high (often empty) bus numbers, impossible for safe cycling. If you reduce the number of buses in the particular area by integrating overlapping routes, adjusting where routes start and end or by diverting some routes it can make life easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

      Not all bus routes, roads and pedestrian levels are equal – even in London – and they can all be adjusted through good planning and infrastructure.

      • Joel C says:

        There’s also the assumption that all modal share change will come from cars. I would suggest that if conditions for cycling were as they ought to be, a significant number of people who are now pedestrians or bus users would switch to using bikes, thus reducing demand on the pavement and on bus services.

    • B. Means that you have exactly the problem mentioned in the article – constant switching of position and overtaking. How does the bus get from being on the outside of the cyclist to the inside at the bus stop? They cut straight across cyclists.
      C. Squeezing cyclists between two lanes of faster moving traffic, and making every turn, left or right, a lane merge/crossing manoeuvre. I wouldn’t take a 8 year old through that, would you?

      I’m a cycle campaigner in Cambridge, and we’ve recently had all these arguments about floating bus stops which were included in recent consultations. It never seemed to occur to critics that crossing 1.5m of ‘road’, with traffic in one direction, travelling at 10-20mph and weighing about 100kg, was just about the easiest crossing any bus passenger would have to deal with on their way to the bus stop.

    • Tim says:

      I think that well before we get a real test of this in London, the Manchester Oxford Road developments will be taking place. This corridor is often referred to as “the busiest bus route in Europe” and it’s a believable claim. Since these buses service both the largest and the fourth largest universities in the UK, the pavements are often very busy, although the real overcrowding tends to be focussed at certain times – term-time lunchtimes and between lectures. Also, despite the current intimidating infrastructure – including plenty of shared bus/bike lanes – it’s one of the busiest cycle routes in the city (which admittedly isn’t saying much).

      If your suggestion (B) is that “indented” bus lay-bys would remove the need for bus-stop-bypasses, then I humbly beg to differ. Buses and bikes would still need to cross path frequently with plenty of opportunity for conflict. Often there are queues of three or four buses all needing to pull in to let passengers off. This leaves cyclists nowhere to go, forcing them into the kerb, and this would still be the case with lay-bys. Much better, as the post suggests, to carefully put the cycling facility on the pedestrian side, where any potential conflict will be much less serious, and much less scary. Equally, sticking the cyclists in the middle of the road (C) hardly seems like a good way to encourage cycling!

      Thankfully, the plans are for bus-stop-bypasses as shown in the video.
      I hope that, with appropriately sized kerbs to make the distinction, pedestrians will manage to avoid wandering around in the cycleway too much. As you say, the proof will be in the pudding. It will be interesting, but as someone who regularly cycles along here with kids, I’m cautiously optimistic.

      • paulc says:

        Kerbs must be forgiving so that cyclists can bail out safely to avoid an errant pedestrian. ie. they must be low, and at a 45 degree angle or even shallower so that the front wheel rides over it easily.

        • Tim says:

          I would certainly agree that in general kerbs should be higher on the motor vehicle side, and shallower on the cycleway side, which is why I said appropriate. I would also agree with the idea of angled kerbs, as shown here on the Bicycle Dutch blog (a little way down).

          But I notice that with a decent width of cycleway in the first couple of photos above the heights and angles don’t seem quite so important – these are examples of good quality Dutch infra, after all. And I think it’s really important that cars are physically obstructed from parking in cycle lanes (hence the high kerb on the car side) and that it’s obvious to pedestrians if they step into the cycleway. These are perhaps more important in the UK where drivers are used to parking wherever they like and pedestrians assume anything which isn’t road is pavement.

    • somedude says:

      “And maybe Londoners are a more chaotic bunch to start off with.”
      Please, please take a trip to Amsterdam rent a bike and go cycling there.
      I dare you to make that same statement afterwards.

  2. charlie_lcc says:

    The Dutch have brilliant cycle facilities and Utrecht is a joy to explore by bike.
    At the junction you stopped filming is Maliebaan where they built the first cycle only street in the Netherlands, possibly the world, in 1885 , originally built for playing Malie or pell mell as in Pall Mall and the Mall, London.

    Going straight on we enter Burgemeester Reigerstraat where it gets narrower with advisory cycle lanes and narrower still so that motors have to move into the bike lanes to pass each other. Then there is a squeeze for the bus stop , note the mum with 3 kids cycling the other way. At the next junction there are a couple of ASLs for left turning cyclists and a typical side road treatment with a shared space road table leading into a calm, unmarked cycle contraflow on the one way street .

  3. fred says:

    note also the very low level of motor traffic (including bus traffic) in the streets charlie mentions…

  4. Paul Gannon says:

    Bob says: “And maybe Londoners are a more chaotic bunch to start off with” & maybe they aren’t. Anyone can invent ‘maybe’ explanations dragged out of nowhere but they adon’t explain anything – so stop looking for and inventing cultural reasons why we can’t do what plenty of nations do, not just the Netherlands. I think that basis of Bob’s error is in assuming that we are ‘different’ (‘British exceptionalism’) and they are all the same. I realise this view of ‘Europe’ is quite important in British politics, but that doesn’t stop it being a mistake. When you get round this psychological barrier, Bob, you will see what is holding you back is your imagination, not reality.

  5. Dan B says:

    It’s important to remember that the Brighton scheme on Lewes Road is NOT a protected lane, but an advisory cycle lane with bus stop bypasses, similar to (but better than) the CS2 ones. It could be very easily improved to a protected lane and is better than many cycle lanes, but it is still just paint on the road. This is what this country is building NOW and it isn’t good enough.

    • Tim says:

      This is a good point, and the debate about the type of segregation planned for Manchester’s Oxford Road appears to be ongoing. There’s talk of “light” segregation. And partly this seems to be fuelled by existing confident cyclists who are concerned they’ll get trapped in a cr@ppy cycle path full of pedestrians.

      For my money, I don’t mind if there are gaps in the segregation along the main road, as long as it’s serious enough to stop cars pulling over into the cycleway and strong enough to avoid damage. Preferably not the cheap armadillos people keep talking about.

  6. rdrf says:

    To Dan B’s comments.
    Sure, they are all different.
    Oxford Street has particularly bad difficulties, which is why a solution could be what is currently being campaigned for – namely not having buses down it.
    The problem I am concerned about is the other places where it is quite likely that there will be what I referred to – lots of buses and lots of people getting on and off them.
    Now, if a lot of people move from buses (and other public transport) to cycling, that’s just fine. Bike is better than bus, tube , train. A key feature of the difference between the Netherlands and the UK is that their very high cycling share is largely what would be bus users in this country. But I do think that our aim should be to reduce car usage more than bus usage. Buses are not hat much better than cars, but car and road freight is the big problem.

  7. rdrf says:

    To Joel C, same as to Dan B. The fact is that some places really are heaving ith pedestrains and are going to be like that come what may.

  8. rdrf says:

    On Paul Gannon’s comments on culture.

    I am absolutely not an exceptionalist. Culture can and does change. We want cultures to change. If ours doesn’t in a variety of areas associated with travel, consumption and everything else, we’re all going to be done for.

    Sometimes it is good change: more plain clothes dressed ladies in my neck of the woods riding cargo bikes and European style town bikes over the last few years. Sometimes it is bad change: over the last twenty/thirty years people thinking that you are asking for trouble if you don’t wear hi-viz and lid to cycle down to the shops.

    The issue – as I have referred to it a number of times before – is taking pieces of a society, based on features of parts of its built environment, and expecting what happens here to be the same as what goes on generally in that quite different society. The Dutch never went below about 10% of cycling modal share, and only below around 20% for thirty years or so. These figures may be a bit out, but in terms of people simply regarding cycling as a normal part of their everyday lives, there has been a massive difference in general expectations of road user behaviour and what normal people do – in the culture.

    So: my concern – and as everybody as well as me says, we don’t know because the proof is in the pudding – is what I referred to in my comment. How will people react? And my main concern is the effect on general attitudes to cycling of thinking that cyclists should – essentially – be separated from motors, which I think will end up leading to marginalisation and further discrimination against cyclists on the majority of roads where there will not be segregation. Hope I’m wrong.

    Finally, just to show that I am not exceptionalist, I have been spending thirty years describing how drivers in other countries – particularly France – have a different attitude towards cyclists. Still fallible human beings, but a better attitude, which helps. That’s culture. And there has not been much in the way of segregation in France as whole

    • Dan B says:

      We need to get away from the terms ‘segregation’ and ‘separation’. People need protection from motor vehicles, be they buses, cars or HGVs.

      While we don’t know exactly how things will work in the long term and how people will react to change we can be pretty sure of how things will proceed without any change, and this isn’t the direction most people want to take. We know the changes available – we just need to implement them properly, and then upgrade things when necessary.

    • Har Davids says:

      I have the feeling it’s all about attitude; as far as I know, the UK is the only country I know of where there’s an official war on cyclists, especially in the media; examples in de Daily Mail and from the mouth of J. Clarkson, describing people on bikes as morons and/or dangerous criminals, out to make the lives of motorists miserable. Over here in The Netherlands cyclists are hardly ever mentioned in a negative way, everybody being a cyclist at least part-time. People riding a bike are as news-worthy as people taking a walk. Cyclists in the surrounding countries may be less well off, but I never felt as uncomfortable riding there as I did when I tried it in London: a beautiful city with lots of unhappy people.

      • Tim says:

        I’ve found that if I physically stand in the way of my 18-month-old daughter in a doorway, she throws a wobbler about it, but if the door is closed, she accepts that as the way things are and goes about her business elsewhere.

        Could it be that the lack of cycling infrastructure in the UK has the additional disadvantage of leaving cyclists very visibly and obviously “in the way”, be it on roads (legally) or pavements (potentially illegally). I appreciate that getting facilities built is often politically difficult in the first place (eg removing car lanes or parking), but once done, and if done properly, drivers would find it easier to go about their business without worrying about cyclists in their way on busy roads. This appeals to me as a driver as well as as a cyclist.

        The comments under every cycling news story I read, or YouTube video I watch, indicate to me that cycling has a massive PR problem in this country. Better infrastructure might not solve that problem – I think we also need to call out prejudice when we see it – but safe space for cycling might help.

        • dave lambert says:

          “drivers would find it easier to go about their business without worrying about cyclists in their way on busy roads”

          This is where the Vehicular Cyclist morons would interject and insist that they will continue to ride on the roads anyway and that segregated cycle facilities will therefore make their lives more difficult.

          The VC crowd will fight against proper cycle facilities right up to the moment when they are flattened by a lorry. Why do you think the CTC are so against cycle facilities? It’s because the people in charge are VC through and through. Just look at the crap they’ve done just in the last few months, Nice Way Code and Turbo Roundabout bullshit.

          It’s hard enough fighting against the motor centric politicians and media without fighting a rear guard battle against the likes of the CTC.

          I predict that nothing will change in this country until the current people in charge of the main cycle campaigns die off and are replaced by more progressive types. Then at least we will all be pushing in roughly the same direction.

          • Sarah says:

            I’m not going to take the criticism of “Vehicular Cyclist morons” personally; I’m not in the CTC or the UK and it doesn’t really affect me. But looking in from the outside, I can’t help wondering if it’s constructive to be so derisive. If barriers within cycle campaigning are even possibly a factor explaining the construction of dual networks that serve everybody terribly, reinforcing those barriers through name-calling strikes me as a bit unfortunate.

            Vehicular cyclists are people, too, and I imagine most of them are people who are not indifferent to their own safety. Today I felt subjectively endangered on a [German] cycle track, cycling alongside a bus which was about ten inches from my elbow, with a buffer between me and the bus only in the form of a 4 inch drop. Then I immediately felt a liberating sense of space and freedom when the pavement cycle track stopped and I was able to assume a position in front of the bus on the road. Ten feet simply felt much better than ten inches, especially as the bus driver could now see me properly. Am I really a moron for feeling that? Or am I just mistaken in counting myself among the people you count as morons because I felt safe on a road (with a 20 mph limit) and didn’t feel safe on a cycle path (because it was’t a very good one, not because I have anything against cycle infrastructure as such?)

          • Tim says:

            Maybe I’m naively optimistic but I get the impression that cycling groups in the UK are beginning to sing with a more consistent voice now than they have for quite some time, which is really positive.

            A quick visit to the CTC home page presents a news item about the proposed signage updates and a blog post about the CTC’s “space for cycling guide”, none of which is exactly purist vehicular cycling.

            So I agree with Sarah that we might do well to avoid antagonistic language when we have so much in common. But I don’t think her anecdote makes her a vehicular cyclist (and certainly not a moron), because of that closing line. Myself and most people I know would be happy to say that in a hostile environment you do what you can to enjoy cycling and get home safely – eg don’t ride in a cycle lane that’s obviously in the door-zone, take the lane, etc – but at the same time I’m not a vehicular cyclist because I’ll be arguing that it’s a choice I shouldn’t have to make, there should be something better. The vehicular cyclist line I’ve heard to often is “all the cycle lanes I’ve ridden on were rubbish so we should give up on the idea”.

            • Dan B says:

              The is no choice as to whether to be a vehicular cyclist or not in the UK. If you cycle you HAVE to be a vehicular cyclist. That’s why modal share is so low, and why it can be really stressful. Sharing the road is all well and good, but what if the other, bigger vehicles don’t want to share with you? Sharing involves both sides and cyclists can only ever control one of those, and it’s always the one in the weaker position.

              I’d love to be able to choose whether to be a vehicular cyclist or to ride on high-quality, integrated, protected lanes. I’m also fairly sure what my choice would be, despite being a classic vehicular cyclist in the current environment (male, 30ish, lycra, helmet, road bike, comfortable cruising at 20mph, etc). If there was real choice I’d ditch the road bike, helmet and lycra and commute every day on my shopping bike, instead of saving that pleasure for Sundays and bank holidays when there’s less traffic.

              • Ricardo says:

                It is the same in #Coimbra (Portugal), there are no other options to go from A to B. If you choose to cycle here it has to be a combination of road+pavement (sidewalk)+road again+pavement+not connected cycle tracks+through public gardens+and so on…

              • Tim says:

                I would agree with all of this.

                Perhaps there is some confusion wrt my use of the term “vehicular cyclist” which could mean either
                (a) someone who currently cycles in a “vehicular” style or
                (b) A proponent/fan of vehicular cycling – someone who is actively against dedicated facilities for cycling (like Forester and Franklin, etc).

                I meant (b) because, as you correctly point out, in the UK “vehicular cyclist” as in (a) just means “cyclist”, and that’s the problem.

  9. Paul Gannon says:

    Bob, I think you may have been misled by the emphasis given by a lot of people (including me) to the Netherlands. That emphasis has been given because it is the best example of what can happen when one concentrates on developing high quality infrastructure and also because people can visit it easily (by train indeed) from the UK so it’s easy to go and have a look.

    Unfortunately that emphasis leads to people arguing, for example, as you do, “taking pieces of a society”.

    As a result you’ve missed the actual argument – that wherever you have high quality infrastructure (ie with dedicated cycle space) you get more cyclists and, critically, more women and more older cyclists, (unlike Blighty where we have a deeply sexist and ageist cycling outcome).

    There are enough countries that fit this ‘high-quality networks lead to more cyclists and a better cyclign age/gender profile’, each with very different histories, that clearly the effect is not dependent on” a society”. (This is why I think your argument is rooted in British exceptionalism – ‘it works there but it can’t work here’ to paraphrase you).

  10. USbike says:

    It would also help to avoid situations like this one:

  11. Pingback: The Advocates’ Resource: The evidence you need to build a case for cycling in your area – Cycling Industry News

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