On bus lanes

There’s been some discussion in Edinburgh about bus lanes. The council are consulting on the idea of making them all part time. Apparently the fact that some are part time (by which we mean morning and evening rush hour) and some are all-day (something like 7 – 6:30 except Sundays) confuses people. So they think it would be better to make them all the same. You could, of course, remove the confusion but making all the bus lanes all day bus lanes, but that would involve removing road space from the drivers of private cars, and that would be terrible – sarcasm aside, I suspect it would be (or, more importantly, the politicians think it would be) politically difficult to increase the bus lanes times…

Anyway there was a bit of a debate on the cycling forum about how important or not bus lanes are to cyclists and should “we” (as cyclists) be getting involved in campaigning about infrastructure that really isn’t going to encourage any new cyclists onto the road (after all you still have to share them with buses and taxis, and while Lothian Buses are usually well and patiently driven, the standard of taxi driving is a lot more variable…) One of the things that came out was that those of us who use all day bus lanes really like them, while someone else whose only (regular) experience is of part-time lane wasn’t really bothered, because to them the bus lanes are places where cars and vans park and parked vehicles are a hazard to a cyclist.

I’m very much of the opinion that bus lanes are very useful to existing cyclists. And why would you do something that is going to make life worse for cyclists who already use the road, when you are (allegedly) trying to encourage more people to cycle, not put them off? (Or is what they really want to say; “We’d like more people to cycle, but, well, somewhere else. Not here…”)

I went out on the bike the other Saturday, and came home down the Calder Road. This is a 40mph dual carriageway, with all day bus lanes. “You came down the Calder Road?” said Wonderful Boyfriend, in a disbelieving tone of voice. And then, “Oh. It is Saturday, that is OK. I don’t like in on Sunday when the bus lanes are not working.” W.B. is a stereotypical vehicular cyclist; male, confident, fast, happy to mix it with traffic, thinks everyone else should just man up and take the lane. And here’s him saying that he avoids a road when the bus lanes are not in operation.

The bus lanes I use most regularly, however, are on the Lanark and Slateford Roads, on my “long commute”. This stretch of the Lanark Road is a reasonable hill, so in descent you go quite fast. It also has a 40mph speed limit and has 2 lanes each way (but is not a dual carriageway). The houses on the top section mostly have off-road parking so that bit is ok as there’s plenty of space for people to get past. Then the road flattens out, climbs a little (but not so much as you lose much speed) and then goes down again. This is the bit I find scary, because the houses here don’t have off-road parking so there’s only one usable lane and there are a couple of traffic islands forming pinch points. This is the place where Andrew McNicoll was knocked off his bicycle and killed by the driver of a lorry who overtook him, cut in, and knocked him off with the lorry trailer. So I particularly don’t like it for that reason. I’ve had a couple of occasions where a driver has followed me far too close – and that makes me nervous so I slow down, but I don’t move over until it is safe, which I don’t suppose helps the temper of the impatient person behind me. If there were no bus lanes on the Calder Road, I think it would be like that all the time. A place where theoretically you can cycle but in practice you’d need nerves of steel.

After the dodgy section there’s another little climb but by this point we’re past the parked cars so I can pull left and drivers can get past. Then (finally, you might think) we get to the bus lane, and if I’m really lucky there will be a big queue of traffic in the other lane and I can whiz smugly past all the people who were getting annoyed at having to do 25 in a 40.

After the lights there’s a bit more bus lane which I ride really centrally to make it clear that I am there, as eventually the lane runs out and drivers do have to move left as there’s usually queuing traffic in a right turn lane. Then there’s the Chesser Road junction and then the Slateford Road which does have a bus lane. There’s car parking on the left, but I can ride nice and wide, away from the parked cars, and the drivers can roll past in the other lane. There is, of course, the odd bus, but usually at that time of day I only need to pass it once. I nearly always seem to hoof it along there, it is still slightly downhill and by that time I’ve got my fast head on… If the bus lane were not there, drivers would mostly stick to the left and they’d all have to pull out to pass. I think I would get a lot of close passes.

Actually, I don’t always whiz along there. That’s also the way back from a running group I join sometimes. So sometimes I’m coming along there on the Brompton, really slowly because I’m really tired. Admittedly, that’s later on and the bus lane isn’t operational anyway, but drivers do tend to stay out of it and I can pootle along.

The bus lanes on the Dalry Road near to Haymarket aren’t so useful. There always seems to be something parked in them. On the way up the hill I just get out into the middle of the other lane and pootle up. If you create road conditions where you have to be obstreporous in order to cycle safely, then you get obstreporous cyclists…

So, I think all-day, well observed bus lanes are benifical to existing cyclists, and I hope that the council don’t change them. I wrote to my councillors saying as much, and got some platitudes back. I don’t know when the decision is going to be made.