The other busway

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 119.

Luton busway at crossing of NCN6 looking toward Luton rail and bus stations in the background. Pavement is signed as dual use over the crossing.
Image as described adjacent

I recently had occasion to cycle along the other busway – the one from Luton to Dunstable. It’s not a patch on Cambridgeshire’s. Their busway construction itself is much like ours, and it has a ‘maintenance track’ alongside, which cyclists and walkers can use.

Firstly, the cycleway is mostly unsurfaced. It’s laid with fine gravel. It’s not too uncomfortable, but that’s mainly because cycles have worn a 20cm line down the middle where the stones are missing. When you have to move off this it reduces speed by about a third and it is much harder work. It was raining on the way back, and the rubbish this surface kicks up has made a real mess of my shoes and bike. This is what our Busway would have been like, had the county council not been persuaded to surface its full length at the eleventh hour.

Secondly, it has the most ridiculous motorcycle traps at each entry point. I was barely able to get through with my Brompton – about 1cm each side of the handlebars and a very tight squeeze on the upper body. There is no possibility that anyone with a trailer or a bakfiet could use this path. I have serious doubts whether a wheelchair user could get through, but surely they must have tried this. At the very least it would be extremely awkward. No possibility of mobility scooters getting through. You can see just how bad it is in two locations where bikes have carved out a bypass in mud alongside, in one case over a big hump – people would rather use that than the barrier. It’s a draconian restriction that hampers legitimate users over the minor problem of excluding illegitimate ones.

Thirdly, the path is not very wide. For the level of use it is probably adequate (I didn’t see many other cyclists) but there is one section that is only a metre wide with a vertical concrete wall on one side and the buses passing at 50mph on the other. This is extremely unnerving and worrying. Fortunately I wasn’t passed by a bus in that section. I understand the engineering limitations of an existing bridge, but this was deeply unsatisfactory, if not downright dangerous. There is also one section where you have to cross onto the (unsegregated, at that point) bus road itself and back again, in the space of 30 metres.

Fourthly, there is an almost complete absence of direction signage. I had to know where to turn off the path to get to my destination, and I’d not been there before. There aren’t many landmarks, so Cyclestreets on my iPad was my friend here.

However, my biggest complaint is at the Luton end where, despite oodles of space and an ordinary road, not guideway, bikes appear not to be permitted in the section up to and past Luton station! This is clearly a key destination and to exclude bikes is absurd. Cyclists wishing to enter the station are forced to dismount, while those wishing to continue on must navigate busy, hostile town centre streets and one-way systems (and to make things worse the main alternative street was entirely closed and looks like it will be for months). And to add insult to injury, the crossing at the point where bikes have to leave the busway is only signalled for pedestrians, so you have to break the law to get onto the ordinary street (or dismount).

Shame on Bedfordshire County Council for such a miserable, half-hearted facility. It might take existing cyclists off the absolutely awful adjacent roads, but it will do little to attract new cyclists if it ruins your clothes and doesn’t let you get to your destination.

David Earl