This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 113.
Not something for the Fens or Somerset Levels, but something to much reduce conflicts and stress for both bus drivers and those on cycles.
I had cycled to work before I came to Cambridge in 1985, but those trips were on rural roads with no buses. Now cycling from Stapleford to Trumpington I had new skills to learn. There were seven bus stops on that stretch, many on a 40mph section.
As I cycled home I could normally hear a bus approaching from the rear. The engine note would give some idea of what might happen next as I approached a stop. If the note fell I could be reasonably sure the bus would slow behind me, but that pedalling that bit harder would help the driver. If it was constant, the bus probably would not stop. If the note rose it might mean the driver was ‘racing’ me to the stop. This might not be an aggressive move, as he might have ample time. In the 1980s most of the bus drivers were local, and many would be cycling to work at the depot in Hills Road (had it gone by then?). Such drivers would have understood the judgement required, although errors might occur, and would be compounded if the passenger rang the bell for a stop very late.
In the morning slightly different conflicts occurred. I would see someone waiting at a stop as the bus passed me. Would this solitary passenger have the right change ready, or a pass, or would they have to delve into some remote pocket or handbag, only to offer a large note to the poor driver? Should I relax from pedalling and coast as the bus restarted, or should I pedal hard and pass the bus before it did?
This was relatively easy for all as there was only one regular bus service and not thousands of cycles each day.
Now, the main radials into Cambridge are a different matter, as we have hundreds of buses and thousands on cycles each day. Many bus drivers will never have ridden a bike, and many cycles are ridden by those not skilled or experienced enough to cope with heavy traffic. Even for those with skills and experience heavy traffic is unpleasant.
Hence many on bikes revert to footway riding, coming into conflict with pedestrians. Even the faster and confident riders who remain on the road can easily be cut-up by the bus driver weaving through the stream to set down or pick up passengers.
Where better segregation such as Mandatory Cycle Lanes exist, the conflicts can be worse as each feels rights have to be asserted – buses may enter an MCL to access a marked bus stop.
So what of the future?
‘Floating’ or ‘island’ bus stops have existed for many years in countries where fully-segregated cycle routes are common. With these, the cycle route passes inside the bus stop, usually with an ‘island’ to permit easy boarding and alighting, and sometimes this island even includes the bus shelter. The bus driver has no worries about the cycles, and those on cycles have no worries about the buses. This seems like a win-win situation and it is, but only if we forget the bus passengers!
Some of the early designs in the UK seem not only to forget the bus passengers but also those on bikes! There may be a sharp turn and narrowing in the cycle route to the rear of the island or the island may not exist, with passenger stepping directly from the bus into the path of cycles.
Of course, this is exactly what happens when a shared-use path goes past a bus stop, and I have seen some very near misses on Trumpington Road. It is such conflicts that alarm some bus passengers, especially those with poor hearing or sight or with young children.
We now have proposals for floating bus stops on both Hills Road and Huntingdon Road. These do have islands but limited space means that the bus shelters will be to the rear of the footway. The island should be large enough for anyone alighting to get their bearings, or for a pushchair or wheelchair to be clear of the bus without fouling the cycle lane. It should also be clear to anyone approaching in the cycle lane whether large numbers disgorging from the bus will overflow the island. Remember also that cycles should only be approaching from one direction. To provide space, any cycle lane will have to narrow, and it should be clear that overtaking another cycle on that short stretch should be discouraged. The cycle lane will need to rise to the level of the footway at the point where passengers should cross to or from the island.
Those on foot clearly have concerns that they are being disadvantaged, but if island bus stops mean far fewer cycles on footways as these are no longer designated for cycling, then illegal footway cycling diminishes, and if the islands are well-designed, even those on foot should see they gain.
Have I convinced you that this is a win for those on foot, on cycles, and on buses (both passengers and drivers)?