Motorbike threat to bus lanes

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 25.

Over recent years we have seen an increasing number of bus lanes introduced on the roads of Cambridge. We will see yet more over the next few years. At present, these may be used not only by buses and cyclists but also by taxis. In the future, however, we may have to share them with motorcycles, scooters and mopeds as well, if the ‘powered two wheeler’ (PTW) lobby in Cambridge gets its way.

A local motorcycle training organisation called CAMRIDER has recently started campaigning hard to get PTWs allowed into bus lanes, and is collecting signatures for a petition which, we understand, will probably be presented either to the City Council in September or to the County Council in November.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign policy on this issue, following a vote at February’s monthly meeting, is to oppose the use of bus lanes by motorbikes. At present, this is also the policy of the County Council: on 5 July it approved yet another bus lane – this time on Elizabeth Way – and confirmed that it would be for buses, pedal cycles and taxis only.

There is, however, a real threat that the council’s policy may change. The CAMRIDER petition will be taken seriously by the council and it will certainly not be dismissed out of hand. We are therefore starting a campaign on behalf of cyclists to oppose it and to urge the County Council to stick to its existing policy, which is to keep motorbikes out of bus lanes.



One of the reasons we are so worried is because of what happened in Bristol, where motorbikes have been allowed to use many bus lanes for several years. This started initially as an experimental scheme. There were – amazingly – no proper ‘before’ and ‘after’ studies, but a subsequent survey of cyclists found that 31% of cyclists had experienced problems with motorbikes in these bus lanes, leading Bristol City Council to conclude ‘it appears that the experiment had a measurable effect on cyclists.’ Nevertheless the scheme was made permanent, firstly because the local council said it could not afford to remove it. Secondly, the Chief Constable said that after allowing motorbikes into bus lanes it would be too difficult to enforce banning them again.

So if motorbikes are allowed into bus lanes, even as an experiment, we might be stuck with them for good. It would also set a precedent for other towns and cities. Transport experts have told us that if powered two-wheelers are allowed into bus lanes in ‘cycle city’ Cambridge, then this will set a standard for elsewhere in the country.

There is also concern that this would be the start of a ‘slippery slope.’ Once motorbikes and mopeds are allowed into bus lanes, we will see campaigns for them to be allowed into cycle lanes and advanced stop boxes at traffic lights, and even onto off-road facilities. In the Netherlands, mopeds are not only allowed to use cycle lanes, but also many off-road cycle paths. In west London, mopeds are allowed to use the cycle tracks alongside the A4.


We will be sending a more detailed paper to councillors and council officials, explaining why we object to this change. In summary:

Powered two-wheelers are not a green form of transport, and should not be encouraged in this way. Motorcycle industry figures confirm that although their energy consumption – per person – is slightly better than that of single-occupancy cars, it is worse than that of multiple-occupancy cars. And both are much less energy-efficient than buses, even at present levels of bus occupancy.

Powered two-wheelers are a threat to the safety of cyclists. Motorbikes have a much greater power-to-weight ratio than buses and taxis, and hence much faster acceleration. They are therefore much less predictable than buses and taxis, much more likely to appear out of nowhere and change direction suddenly. Their smaller size also means that they will be free to speed along bus lanes in a way that buses and taxis cannot. And they will. A Government survey of 30 mph areas found that 52% of powered two-wheelers were breaking the speed limit and 34% were doing over 35 mph. These figures include mopeds, which are limited by design to 30 mph.

Allowing PTWs into bus lanes would – let’s face it – make them unpleasant for cyclists. This would undermine both national and local policy which is to encourage cycling – a healthy, non-polluting and non-hazardous form of transport. It would also send out a strong message that the convenience of private motor vehicles is being placed before the convenience and safety of cyclists

Sign our petition

We are opposing the CAMRIDER petition with a petition of our own. Please, If you agree with us, download a PDF version of this petition, get as many signatures as possible, and return it to us by September 1.

Nigel Deakin, Clare Macrae