Bicycle Network: Good Design Guides
Buses and bicycles
- bus, bus stop, bus rack, shared lane
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Buses and bicycles are both efficient ways of getting around. Bicycles are especially useful for shorter trips whereas buses better cater for longer trips. Integrating bicycles and buses makes a lot of sense as it caters for a wide range of trip lengths and purposes. But care must be take to make sure the two work together and don't impede or discourage the other.
VicRoads: bikes could share most bus lanes
17 October 2012. Vicroads' proposal to allow bikes to share bus lanes has met opposition from the Bus Association (see Age Article) despite current guidelines supporting the position.
But shared bus/bike lanes, if done properly, can and are used effectively to allow maximum use of road space without impeding buses.
As the Vicroads speaker at the Bike Futures conference stated: 'Is a lane that is only allocated to buses the best use for road space, especially if you keep in mind that for a bus frequency of [say] five minutes, you might have the bus lane not being used for four minutes and 55 seconds.''
What's the problem?
Buses and bikes are both efficient ways to transport people as they both use less space per person than cars. Many bus routes are also important bicycle routes that provide access to important destinations such as city centres. Banning bikes on bus routes can prevent bike riders reaching their destination or force them to use a long detour or more dangerous route.
On many existing streets, commuter cyclists have limited options of separated on-road facilities such as bike lanes. An exclusive bike facility or an alternate route may not be an option on many bus routes and so consideration needs to be given to allowing bikes to use bus lanes where it can be done safely.
What are the risks?
When buses and bikes are using the same lane on a road, the differences in relative size, weight and speed mean that any crash could potentially result in serious injuries to a bike rider. The risk is linked to the number and frequency of both cyclists and buses, the speed of motor vehicles and the width of thelane.
Not permitting cyclist to use a bus lane may increase their risk exposure by forcing them to use an adjacent heavily trafficked car lane or denied the use of the road. Both outcomes are undesirable and may increase the risk to bike riders.
Overtaking buses at bus stops will require a suitably wide bus lane to allow cyclists to pass without entering the adjacent car travel lane. Similarly, buses need room to overtake bikes within the lane.
What is the Solution?
Separation of cyclists from busy motorised traffic is the preferred solution but this is not always possible on all roads, especially existing roads where bus lanes have been provided. Possible solutions include:
1. Parallel street or alternate route. Development of an alternate route on a suitably quiet or wide street where safe separation can be achieved may be the simplest and effective solution in some cases. The decision to put in cycle friendly infrastructure on a parallel street can be guided by how attractive it will be to the target cyclists (the "level of service"). For commuter cyclists the overall trip time is important and parallel streets may not be as attractive if they are required to stop and wait at minor intersections. For recreational and less time conscious riders, separation from busy traffic may be more important as long as the alternate route is not too much slower or circuitous. Cyclists will be willing to accept a deviation from a direct route if the alternate route is generally within the desire-line corridor and particularly if it is safer.
2. A variation on the above is a Parallel Service Road adjacent to the road. Service roads typically have low speed and low volume traffic. However bike lanes on many service roads can be stop-start where the cyclist has to exit to the main road or use the footpath at intersecting roads. Such an arrangement is not a viable alternative for most riders. A service road alternative must have smooth connections at intersections etc and preference to giving cyclists right of way where there is an option. Given that a service road bike lane is very similar to an off road path in its performance then consideration should be given to off road path design as in Path Crossings of Roads where examples are given of cycle priority crossings.
3. Cyclist mix with buses in a bus lane of normal or minimum width - A minimum width Bus lane with permitted cycle use is the least preferred solution because of overtaking manoeuvres which have an inherent risk. Most less confident riders will find these conditions intimidating. Mixing may have application on routes that carry only low volumes of cyclists and /or large bus headways (frequency). Mixed bus/bike lanes should be at least 3.0m wide and carry less than 50 bikes per hour and less than 2 buses an hour on 60km/h roads. The technical details for width of lanes, volumes and headways, etc. are detailed in Vic Roads Cycle Note No. 19: ‘Providing for Cyclists Within Bus Lanes’.
4. Cyclist share with buses in a wide kerbside lane [WKL] - Where a travel lane for buses has sufficient width cycle use can be safely permitted. Wide kerbside bus lanes shared with bikes should be at least 3.7m wide on 60km/h roads. Although probably the next least preferred solution it can be done safely in selected situations. The obvious leapfrog overtaking as buses stop and start is made easier by the greater width of a WKL. The issues, options and technical details for width of lanes, signs, volumes and headways, etc. are detailed in Vic Roads Cycle Note No. 19: ‘Providing for Cyclists Within Bus Lanes’.
5. Separated on-road bicycle lane - A separated on-road bicycle lane next to a bus lane is a better solution where an alternative on or off road route of comparable level of service is not available. The lane should be at least 1.2m wide within a 4.2m wide bus lane on 60km/h roads. Such separation eliminates many of the risks and operational limitations of combined bus/ bike lanes. However the availability of road space is likely to severely limit the application of this facility. At bus stops cyclists need awareness signing or bypass routes so as to minimise conflict with bus passengers. The bike lane can continue behind the bus shelter so bikes can go around stopped buses or continue through the front of the stop in which case bikes stop behind buses on the roadway. On-road bike lanes suit more confident and experienced riders but are less suitable to the wider cycling population. Enhancements to bike lanes such as colour and visual or audible separation can help improve them for bike riders.
6. Separate off-road bicycle path - A separate off-road path is the preferred solution but may not be possible on many existing roads with limited space. Off road paths though, suit a wider range of potential bike riders including children, family groups and less experienced riders. Continuity at minor intersections is important so that bike riders don't have to stop and give way to motor vehicles. At bus stops the path can go behind the stop or over the front depending on the situation. Both have pros and cons but going over the front of the bus stop allows passengers to board or disembark with less risk of coming into conflict with bike riders who must stop and give way.
7. Bike racks on buses - Bike racks on buses have limited application as the racks can usually only carry two bikes at a time and loading and unloading them can reduce bus frequency (add to headway). A route for cycling can carry many more people than can be catered for on a bus with their bikes. But for express buses or those with longer routes with fewer stops they can provide some capacity but at some cost. The ACT provides bike racks on buses as does Brisbane on some routes.
What do the Guidelines say?
The Vicroads Cyclenotes No. 19 acknowledges the importance of allowing bikes to shared bus lanes:
"In most circumstances, cyclists should be permitted to use bus lanes when they are located next to the kerb on arterial or local roads.
In these situations, not permitting cyclists to use the bus lane would result in them being forced to use the adjacent traffic lane or banned from using the road. Both of these outcomes are considered undesirable from a safety and mobility perspective."
The Cyclenote also provide guidance on the lane widths required for shared bus/bike lanes for varying speeds and volumes - at higher speeds and volumes of buses or bikes, more separation is required. Bikes and buses should only share a minimum width bus lane (3.0m wide in 60km/h zone) where there are fewer than 50 bicycles per hour and bikes run at more than 30min intervals (see table below).
The Cycling Aspects of the Austroads Guides also states that "it is desirable that bicycles are accommodated in a separate bicycle lane, examples exist where bicycles have successfully shared in the use of bus lanes. In most circumstances cyclists may be permitted to use bus lanes when they are located next to the kerb on arterial or local roads." The number so cyclists, buses, bus stops and loading/unloading times should all be considered when providing for bikes and buses. "The key to managing the impact of this process on the level of service to buses and cyclists is to provide a bus lane that is wide enough to accommodate these movements". "Alternatively, it may be possible to provide a separate on-road bicycle lane or off-road bicycle path adjacent to the bus lane and at bus stops. "
A 2005 Austroads Research Report on bus bike interaction in the road network gave guidance on how to manage bikes and buses including treatments at bus stops. The report gives a series of 20 Information Notes as supplements to the Austroads Guides including notes on influencing bus driver and rider behaviour.
Cyclenotes No. 20 gives guidance on how to provide for bikes at bus stops.
What do we say about the Guidelines?
The Guidelines provide good guidance on when and how to provide for bikes in bus lanes. There is an emphasis, however on providing for bikes on existing roads and bus routes rather than the preferred treatment of separating bikes and buses in the roadway and what is required for new roads.
Bikes and buses (and other forms of public transport) are complementary modes of transport that are both more space efficient than cars for transporting people especially in inner urban areas. Bikes should be encouraged along most bus routes in urban areas. There are a range of options to allow them to operate safely and efficiently in the same transport corridor.
On existing roads sharing existing bus lanes may be the only feasible option as there may not be enough room to provide separated bicycle lanes or paths.
On new roads, separated bicycle paths or lanes should be provided as they provide for a wider range of potential bike riders and also are less likely to impinge upon the operation of buses including future planned services.
Examples, Good and Bad
|The shared bike/bus lane on Punt Rd is wide and has large gaps between buses which makes it suitable for some commuters who can have the lane to themselves for long stretches. Note that the cars in the lane behind this rider are turning left from the bus lane as allowed. This can cause some potential conflict with riders travelling straight ahead, especially if drivers move into the left lane early (the lane is signed to indicate when drivers can use the left lane in preparation for turning left).|
|Punt road - signage indicates that bikes can share the lane with buses and taxis during the morning peak hours.|
|Copenhagen - an example of an off-road bike path going behind a bus stop.|
|Copenhagen - an example of a bike path going across the front of a bus stop (the bus stop shelter is off to the left) . Bikes must give way to people getting onto or off a bus. A similar system is used in Montreal for one-way and two way paths.|
|Punt Road Melbourne - the wide kerbside lane leaves enough room for buses to pass bikes within the lane but it is uncomfortable and feels unsafe for most potential riders. Note that the bus would usually pull further out from the kerb when passing a rider.|
Tables below from VicRoads Cyclenotes No. 19 - Providing for Cyclists within Bus Lanes
Table 1 from Cyclenotes 19 gives guidance on when to mix, share and separate bike and buses in a lane.
Table 2 from CycleNotes 20 gives guidance on the width of bus lane required to share with bike for various speeds.