My Enemy’s Enemy?

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 69.

This article was written for the Stagecoach bus company’s staff newsletter as well as for us.

Cyclists often complain about bus drivers and bus drivers often complain about cyclists, but shouldn’t we be friends?

It is the selfish car driver who is the real problem, the one who believes that cyclists pay no road tax (see article later in this newsletter) hence have no right on the road, or that bus lanes are just there to slow cars down. Without cars, both moving and parked, lives of both groups would be much more pleasant and almost stress-less.

I’m now a cycle campaigner in my spare time, but one of my early tasks in my first real job was to help evaluate different OMO (One Man Operation) fare systems at a time when many buses still had conductors. I also helped with the evaluation of one of the first RTI (Real Time Information) systems for buses over 30 years ago in Bristol, as well as with tests of an early experimental ‘Integrated Public Transport’ timetable, so I’ve a history of working to help the public transport industry. I’ve also been a regular cycle commuter, as I realised that growth in car travel was ‘unsustainable’, and this was long before I moved to Cambridge some 20 years ago.

So what can cyclists do to help bus drivers?

Firstly realise that a bus can easily replace twenty cars, and that bus drivers in busy Cambridge do have a difficult time. Make sure you obey the Highway Code. Unless you’ve a cycle lane, don’t move up the inside or outside of a stationary or slow moving bus in traffic, unless you are certain you can clear the vehicle before it moves off, especially if it is likely to turn. The rear of a 12 metre ‘Citi’ bus can ‘kick out’ over a metre when it turns sharply. Passing buses that are picking up or setting down is a skill, and try not to be alongside when the bus needs to set off.

What about bus drivers?

All professional drivers should know the Highway Code, but I find several common criticisms of bus drivers.

Firstly remember that many cyclists will average over 15 mph, and that a driver needs to allow plenty of space if stopping to pick up or set down after overtaking such cyclists. Idiot cyclists will try to undertake buses indicating left, but it is a frightening experience, even for a confident cyclist, when the bus alongside them starts to indicate left and pull in. Slowing down and dropping behind a cyclist should be the natural choice.

Cycle lanes are for cyclists, and motor vehicles must not enter those with a solid line. Even some driving instructors believe otherwise, but the DfT and DSA both confirm that only in exceptional circumstances, say after an accident, may motor vehicles enter such lanes, even to pass vehicles waiting to turn right.

Advance stop lines are another feature designed to make cycling safer. Together with approach lanes they enable cyclists to get to the front of the queue. It may seem annoying to have a shoal of wobbly cyclists set off in front of you, but you can easily see them, rather than they be strung alongside you when you want to turn left. Leave the ‘Stop Box’ clear. In some countries the cyclists even get an ‘early green’ to help them safely clear a junction.

Another common complaint the Campaign receives is that of the inappropriate speed of some buses. Much of the city centre will soon be a 20 mph limit, and being closely passed by a bus at speed is a frightening experience especially for a student new to cycling in Cambridge

What does the Cycling Campaign do? We have over 800 members, and work to ensure cycling is safe for law abiding cyclists. We work with the City and County Councils and others to try and get all new road layouts safe for cyclists as well as get new routes opened that enable cyclists to avoid difficult junctions or congested areas. Of course we can’t force the many non-members to cycle in a sensible manner, although we support the police in appropriate actions against illegal cycling.

We’ve recently published a revised ‘cycle lighting’ poster which is available for free download.

We hope that people will download copies and make them available for display at places of work and education.

Some time ago the Campaign suggested a ‘No Cycling Day’ in Cambridge. That might at first thought seem a good idea, but remember that nearly as many people come into central Cambridge by bike as by bus, and that many thousands of cyclists have a car, taxed and available at home. If all those who had cars drove, and others took the bus, the city would be jammed up for much of the day, with car parks full, and buses not only tied up in traffic, but leaving people at bus stops.

Let’s all work for perpetual ‘no-car’ days in Cambridge.

Jim Chisholm