Battle of the bus lanes

Result of driver entering cycle safe lane in Stoke Newington

You can say cycling has become second nature here in the borough of Hackney.  According to London Cycling Campaign (LCC  represents cyclists in London), not only does Hackney have the highest percentage of people cycling to work in London out of any London borough, but also an ever increasing amount of people taking to the pedal regularly.

With so many cyclists on the road, safety is a number one issue as is proper road planning.   In 2002 London began undertaking a pilot: allowing motorbikes to ride in selected bus lanes – sharing this section of the road with buses and cyclist.  Thus began the battle between motorbike riders or powered two wheelers (P2W) and cyclist.

The pilot findings of 2002 were challenged and campaign groups began to build up a momentum, effectively resulting in the Mayor Boris Johnson’s manifesto, where he gave an undertaking to allow the trials to continue.

LCC  effectively argued that motorbikes in the bus lanes would deter cycling and would be unsafe for cyclists.

The British Motorcyclists Federation campaigned for the inclusion of P2W, citing successful cities such as Manchester who have introduced motorbikes in all the bus lanes over the city after a successful trial.

The Department for Transport could not agree on a policy and issued a statement on their website which suggested the local highway and or the local authority are better placed to decide on the matter.

On the 5 January 2009 an experimental traffic order came in to use across London, along with a further and more comprehensive trial.  The objective of this trial had shifted away from safety and was now concerned with ‘traffic flow’.  This effectively changed the focus from, bus lanes are safer spaces for motorbikes to drive in, to bus lanes allow motorbikes easier traffic flow.  The argument is P2W can pass other road vehicles by driving in the bus lane and thus allow more space on the main carriageway for cars, vans and lorries to share.  Ultimately, this allows better traffic flow for everyone.

The second trial has concluded and Transport for London (TFL) has just published those results on their website.  The second trial covered fifty six sites in total, 28 locations had motorbikes sharing the bus lanes and the other twenty eight sites continued with existing traffic regulations – which generally meant no motorbikes in the bus lanes while the lanes were in operation for bus use.

Headline comments are that motorbikes in bus lanes did not impact on bus flows and cycling has increased across London, which suggests motorbikes did not deter cyclist.  However the accident data in TFL’s report was again challenged by both cycling and motorbike groups.  LCC say accidents have increased for cyclist and TFL state those increases are not statistically significant at this time and that accidents for motorbikes have been a much bigger increase.

The battle of the bus lanes continues on, with TFL preparing for a further pilot.  LCC have suggested the research stop as according to the current legislation, Temporary Traffic Orders can only be applied and used once – meaning the pilot has to either be implemented or abandoned.  Motorbike groups welcome a further, broader and more detailed study so that more motorbikes can use the lanes.  And others generally feel that at just under a million for further research on data that already exists, appears a little decadent; especially when all other public services are slashing their budgets.

What appears to be a key message for motorbikes for today is that: riding in the bus lane will decrease your journey time, but may also be a fast route to either the casualty department or police cell – as the results from this study also show that more motorbike riders are caught speeding in bus lanes and have more accidents from mainly cars turning left off the main carriageway into side roads.

TFL have undertaken another marketing campaign alerting car drivers of P2W in bus lanes; however, little or no consultation has involved insurance companies.  If car drivers knew from the outset that crossing bus lane would mainly be their liability – as is the case in other countries, and that insurers placed a higher excess on these types of accidents, it is likely that more car drivers would take better care as in cases like the one depicted in the photo above, where the young car driver entered the cycle safe zone at the end of the bus lane in Rectory Road, Hackney, to turn left and for some unknown reason could not see the cyclist, such accidents would become a rarity instead of the norm.

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