Motorbikes in bus lanes: where’s the beef?

Today an experimental scheme comes into operation in London, allowing motorcyclists to use bus lanes on “red routes” (main roads with stopping restrictions for all or part of the day). They have been allowed to use them in Bristol for some time, but such a measure has been delayed in London for want of a “feasibility study”, which is now happening. Naturally, cyclists’ groups have complained, because they don’t want to share their “special lane” with motorbikers.

Normally, I would agree with them - as a cyclist (and not a motorcyclist) myself, I have personally complained about people motorcycling through a subway under the A3 near my home, which is open for pedestrians and cyclists (who do not have to dismount), but not to motor vehicles of any kind. They have to use the main roads, i.e. the A3 and Malden Road. There is a good reason for banning motorcycles from narrow subways like that one, namely that visibility is restricted as it’s a short subway with a sharp dip in the middle. Bus lanes are not like that; you do not cycle in them expecting not to meet motor vehicles, because it’s a bus lane, and in London black cabs are allowed to use them as well. So I do not see what the cyclists are complaining about.

Besides which, motorcyclists are also vulnerable, because they are easily knocked off and can suffer worse injuries than cyclists, so they are best off away from other motor vehicles - especially cars (buses and trucks accelerate much more slowly than either cars or motorcyclists). If they are in a bus lane, they will cause far less delay than cyclists might (I recall driving along the side of Clapham Common in a truck, and getting stuck behind a cyclist because the road’s lanes were narrow and the pavement was too wide). While some have claimed that the new measure encourages overtaking on the left, I would prefer this to having them coming down the narrow gaps between cars, as they commonly do on the A40; there is plenty of room in a bus lane, and besides, overtaking on the left is legal when there is a slow-moving queue of traffic on the right, as is common near junctions. Motorcycling also causes less congestion and pollution than cars, being smaller and (usually) with smaller engines, and everything should be done to encourage commuters towards less congesting and polluting forms of transport.

The BBC’s report says that bikers “have been advised to make sure they know which lanes are open to them as the trial applies only to TfL [Transport for London] bus lanes”. You can find that information here, as it’s not directly linked off the BBC’s website, in five PDF maps and one PDF summary, and it turns out that very few lanes are affected as most bus lanes are not on red routes, but on local main roads, and some of the lanes were already open to motorcyclists, such as the one on the A23 through Brixton. Most are in what TfL strangely calls the “central” area, which covers Hackney, Islington and Lambeth boroughs (yes, all the way to Stamford Hill and Streatham) as well as the City and Westminster (but not Kensington and Chelsea or Southwark), and huge parts of Greater London are unaffected or barely affected. Their maps should really contain information on which routes are not affected, since some bikers would expect the M4 bus lane to be included, but it’s not (at least, it’s not on the map as motorways are not under TfL control), and since most bus lanes are in fact unaffected.

Finally, there are other problems with bus lanes in London, among them the fact that some of them operate at times when vehicles are parked on the other side of the road, causing traffic to swerve from the other side into your lane, and some are intrusive, cutting in at the apex of a bend (e.g. the start of the northbound bus lane in Mitcham Lane, Streatham) or narrowing the other lanes making it difficult to avoid either the bus lane or the oncoming lane at normal driving speed. I would also advocate colour-coding the parts of signs which advertise operation times, so that 24-hour bus lanes are obviously distinct from peak-hour ones, for example. I am all for making the buses run faster, but not at the expense of danger for other road users, or making them a “fine trap”.

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