Super bus – super crunch?

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 38.

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Münster: cycle parking is standard at suburban bus stops

Stagecoach in Cambridge has announced that bus services will be completely revised in Cambridge in November. Changes include new buses coming into service, better timetabling, revised routes and more services. In the longer term a consortium called SuperCAM proposes a guided bus system for the city. Changes may have both positive and negative effects. So what are the implications for cyclists? We hear more complaints about near misses (and worse) with buses than any other vehicles.

If a better bus (or a tram) system means less traffic or less traffic growth in the city then, clearly, cyclists benefit. However, the vehicles themselves pose a threat simply because of their size and sometimes the way they are driven.

Stagecoach’s changes in November will introduce forty new ‘Citi’ branded buses. These modern vehicles should be less polluting. The extra capacity should allow the rearranged city services to operate more effectively, and will extend services into the evening and weekend. I know, as someone recently forced to use buses for a period, that that can only be for the better. The new vehicles and new routes will be accompanied by easier-to-read timetables with better maps – ‘the old ones are, frankly, dull’ said Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of Stagecoach Cambridge – more customer consultation, and direct marketing of the service. Clearly the company believes that the Cambridge market has huge potential.

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New leaflets from the National Cycling Strategy include: ‘Combined bicycle and bus or coach journeys’, ‘Model Conditions of Carriage – accommodating the bicycle on bus and coach’ (which points out that over 40 operators will now carry bikes on their vehicles) and two unrelated publications on cycle security

On the other hand, the new buses are longer than their current vehicles. In particular, the back end of the new bus models protrudes further behind the rear wheels. While bus drivers are getting used to them, cyclists will have to be very careful indeed where a bus is turning nearby.

The problem of inconsiderate (and sometimes downright unsafe) driving has not gone away either. In the last couple of months we have received copies of two complaints to Stagecoach about drivers whose buses actually made contact with the cyclist concerned. One driver told the complainant that he’d brushed him because he was ‘taking up too much room on the road.’

Almost a tram

We may see even bigger vehicles on the streets in a few years if SuperCAM’s proposals bear fruit. These include a guided bus system from St Ives to Trumpington. Initially using city streets, but later running alongside the railway, the tram-like vehicles have their own ‘guideway’ for the dedicated sections, but can also run on ordinary streets in the central area.

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‘SuperCAM will look like a state-of-the-art transportation system. Not like a bus, more like a modern tram. We intend to provide a high quality vehicle that is a pleasure to use. While the exact vehicle has not been chosen [the consortium] is working to find the very best vehicles for Cambridge’ – SuperCAM

Any system that has grooves in the road is a clear hazard for cyclists. Two cyclists have been killed in Sheffield as a result of their new tramlines. However, most of the possible guidance systems don’t rely on a rail at least when street running. The cars are very long: articulated, some models twice.

There is potential for positive side-effects for cyclists too. It should be possible to construct any guideway with a cycle track alongside. Indeed, this may be the most fruitful way to achieve our Chisholm Trail proposals in the future, as the consortium want to utilise the same corridor along the railway. It would be not unreasonable for us to expect that the Councils would insist on this. But what happens at pinch points where space is tight?

Could bikes be put on the vehicles? It’s entirely possible. While it would be unreasonable to expect a whole car to be taken up with bikes, there’s no reason some shouldn’t be carried. Most US cities now have bike carrying facilities on their buses. Among recent National Cycling Strategy publications are two leaflets on combining bus and bike travel (see below). Several Councillors have contacted us recently about the potential for the new system to carry bikes.

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‘Linking with pedestrian, cycle, bus and train networks’ – SuperCAM

And, of course, all tram stops should have bike parking. In our trips to Århus in Denmark last year and Münster in Germany recently we have seen cycle stands either incorporated in standard bus shelters or sited beside them.

Call me a cynic, though. I have so often heard about fanciful transport schemes for Cambridge which have never got anywhere, that I wonder whether anything will ever get off the ground. And would ordinary buses not fulfil the need more cheaply?

David Earl