Bus & Bike battles when lanes done poorly

Buses and cycling are two of the most sustainable modes of transport, and we should be planning for and encouraging both of them if we want to handle a future where we need to produce less green house gases, burn less precious oil, and keep a bit fitter. But over the last few weeks I've been realising, like Heather, that if infrastructure and planning is done badly they can seriously conflict.

Now I'm back in Melbourne, my regular work commute is a long trip from Strathmore (in Melbourne's mid NW) to Monash Uni's Clayton campus, in the state's middle east.

If i decide to go by public transport, it involves 2 train trips (with an interchange in the CBD), and then a bus from Huntingdale train station the last few Ks to the uni campus itself. The over-crowded peak hour trains and recent unreliability of the schedule due to several trains out of service is something i could write about but ... I'll leave that for another day. What I want to write about is my observations on the issue of bus & cyclist road sharing from the Huntingdale to Monash trip.

Since I last worked at Monash 2 years ago, they have modified the section of the 4-lane each way Wellington Rd that runs from Huntingdale to the monash campus to have a dedicated bus lane painted red. They also built a bike path in the center verge of the road among the trees. Sounds great right?

Wrong. The problem is that the bike path in the central verge is a very tokenistic effort: (a) it only goes part-way from the station to the campus, wherafter it's not really clear what's expected ... riding on the footpath? (b) it crosses several major roads, and the central bike path doesn't seem to have dedicated lights to get over them, and (c) it continually winds in and out the path of small trees - ok for a recreational ride in the country, but not if you want to get to a lecture in 5 minutes ;)

So in reality, the cyclists ride in the bus lane. And you thus get a situation of the bus having to overtake cyclists, and then the reverse happening when the bus stops to pick up/drop off. All in the context of several lanes of fast-moving car traffic alongside. This pisses everyone off: the other day a bus driver pulled up at the lights, opened the front door, and "told off" the 3 cyclists at the lights because "you 3 are holding up 100 people" (yes, the bus was crammed full of students so there could well have been 100 people on board.

As an urban planner, this makes me groan in frustration. It would seem the lesson to be learnt is that half-hearted gestures towards changes to the transport network to favour buses and bikes can easily do as much harm as good. This seems to be the lesson emerging from the 'copenhagen lane' in Sturt St as well. It's not that special bike & bus lanes, slow speed shared zones etc are a bad thing, and they do have huge potential :- but if done by institutions fixated in a car-centric status quo, there's a big chance they'll do an ordinary job, and our default position should be very skeptical of their buzzwords and PR speak.

What can we do if we want to improve the situation? In terms of actual projects, I can now really see the point of the Prospect BUG's policy of defending bike lanes proposed to be replaced with a 'shared use zone', particularly where there's heavy bus traffic. Yes the current lanes are far from perfect, but if they're to be replaced we need to be damn sure a genuine improvement will result.

Secondly, what I hope to do with my work with my colleagues in the GAMUT reseach team is to change the institutional path that results in underfunded, poorly designed public transport and cycling infrastructure in Australia. One day, hopefully we're reach the stage of the likes of Copenhagen's city planning, where planning for cyclist's needs is a core part of government's responsibilities and seen as totally natural as a major focus, not an afterthought.

At least on weekends i can enjoy a better ride along the Moonee ponds creek trail, which takes me all the way in to the CBD on a bike path alongside a re-juvenated creek that was once a drain.

Views: 62

Comment by Gus on March 21, 2010 at 13:34
Great observations that hopefully will be taken into account in any cycling and roads planning here in Adelaide.

I saw this video in the week. It's a an educational video to show how buses and cyclists should share the road in Chicago.

Watch the video.
Comment by Sophia MacRae on March 21, 2010 at 18:47
What is the law regarding cyclists using dedicated bus lanes? There was a question regarding this in the MUARC survey, and I had to say I honestly didn't know, despite the fact that I often use the dedicated bus lane on Nth Tce between Dequetaville and East.
It certainly is an issue, continually dancing with buses.

Another question, while I'm thinking about it - are cyclists legally allowed to make their way to the front of banked up traffic at a stopped traffic light? I read a comment from a driver recently (can't remember where) saying how it pissed him off that cyclist kept illegally pushing their way to the front of the queue, so he kept on passing (and being passed by) the same cyclist in traffic. (Sounds like sour grapes to me)
Comment by Sophia MacRae on March 21, 2010 at 19:25
Thanks Jim and Derek

Legal or not, I don't want to go in the lane to the right of the bus lane on that stretch of Nth Tce. Even though I may get stuck behind a standing bus, as it's a layover zone. It can be frustrating... but still better than driving a car ;-)
Comment by Daniel Wade on March 21, 2010 at 20:01
how does it go the other way around with Buses driving and stopping in designated bike lanes?
My morning commute down North East Rd is in a marked bike lane (until it disappears, but that's another story) which always has buses stopping in it and is also a clearway.
Are buses exempt from bicycle lane and Clearway laws?
Comment by heather on March 21, 2010 at 22:19
Buses and taxis are legally allowed to stop in bicycle lanes to pick up and set down passengers. Have you noticed taxi drivers who stop in bicycle lanes, then leave the vehicle to make deli purchases?
Emergency vehicles are permitted to stop in bicycle lanes, eg police, ambulance.
Australia Post have some exemptions, but are not permitted to stop in bicycle lanes. Although I had to lobby for 12 months to stop them from parking in the Prospect Road bicycle lane. The Postmaster has verbally abused me for this, so I am voting with my utility accounts and paying elsewhere.
In SA there are bus lanes and bus only lanes (usually painted red). Cyclists are permitted in the former but not the latter. Recently realised that I have been stopping in the far left of a bus only lane in King William Road, near Victoria Drive, where buses make a U-turn. I recall in 1990s when the road was narrowed to do this, leaving no space for cyclists. Beforehand, Adelaide BUG asked for consideration for cyclists, to no avail.
Comment by Patrick Sunter on March 22, 2010 at 8:17
Interesting discussion on the legality of these lanes guys and thanks for the video link.

Yes I remember the bike lanes in the city too along North Terrace - have they finished the tram works yet and what's it like for cyclists there now? Guess I'll get to take a look next weekend as I'll be over for my uni graduation.
Comment by heather on March 22, 2010 at 21:49
Patrick, perhaps we will see you at the Earth Ride where a portion of the CBD will be car free for 90 minutes from 10.30am. If you are there, look for me in the Prospect BUG T-shirt, white with red wording of 'keep bicycle lanes'.
Congrats on your uni graduation.
Comment by Nathan Adams on March 23, 2010 at 21:21
Sophia, I regularly use the same bus lane on North Tce. I think the bigger problem than dealing with buses is dealing with the cars that always use the bus lane illegally. More so the case at the end of the day heading East. And they rarely give ample room on the left to ride through, making it necessary to lane split between the bus lane and the left most car lane. I always wonder why police don't set up along side there, as they'd make a ton of cash from booking people.
Comment by P'An-Tau Jiricek-Scott on April 14, 2010 at 0:42
That video is great. I think something like that needs to be implemented into driver training for anyone getting their car licence. From memory the only thing relating to bicycles is in the 'Hazard Perception Test' where a cyclist is hiding behind a truck at an intersection (the funny thing about that test is that you only need to touch the screen twice from memory).
I've never really had problems with buses myself (unless I was being stupid). They tend to be patient, because they're getting paid either way :P. I've even had quick conversations with quite a few while waiting at traffic lights.
I can certainly see where the dangers are for the above mentioned post though. Slightly faster travelling buses than the usual CBD area I ride around in with buses.
Is the path shared with pedestrians? I find this is often quite a concerning point that is over looked. If I'm flying along at 30 - 40 km/h it makes it particularly unsafe for any pedestrian (this is why i use roads about 99% of the time when commuting), and often results in lowering my speed back down to 25km/h or less.

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