Buses are big.
Buses are big (Image credit: Simon_sees, License: CC-BY-2.0).

In recent years, Bike Auckland has noticed a troubling trend:

When long-term plans for road upgrades are drawn up, the planners and engineers trying to allocate space for moving cars, parked cars, pedestrians, public transport and bikes often decide that bikes are (still) the ones that can be left out of the equation most easily.

Many key urban arterials – on which we desperately need dedicated, protected bike lanes – are also public transport routes of great importance. And we have seen cycling squeezed out on a number of strategic route plans over the last year or two, such as on Manukau Road. These Auckland Transport-internal documents called CMPs (Corridor Management Plans) aren’t actual construction plans – nothing in them is yet agreed, funded or consulted on – but they provide strategic direction for these routes, and on several, as it stands currently, that status is “sorry, nothing for people on bikes here, and there wont be anything in the future either“).

We also saw this in the Dominion Road planning, where opposition to car parking and cost-saving moves meant that cyclists went from getting first cycleways to then getting wide bus lanes only to getting nothing except back road routes (though, irony of ironies, the back routes were mostly completed, while the PT project is still waiting to go ahead, and may now become light rail).

The same issue even stalls shorter-term improvements, where smaller intersection fixes get declined “because we intend to add a bus lane here later”. Sure, a bus lane may make the ride to work easier for a confident rider. And some experience from other cities is that bus lanes are good for that first wave of cycle growth, which creates the argument for more.

But we’re getting past that now – we need to get people on bikes who’d never consider riding in a bus lane, being like “mice running with elephants”, vehicles literally a hundred times heavier and bigger than they are. And the hazards of bus lanes even for confident riders have been looked at, including in AKL.

No space for bikes AND buses on roads like Manukau Road?
No space for bikes AND buses on roads like Manukau Road?

Interestingly, AT’s recent – and widely applauded – decision to remove bus lanes from the “complete” bike network clarifies the situation and shows the stark choices that are being made (in the past, they were at times obfuscated by Councils arguing that the bus lanes were a form of cycleway after all).

This fight is one that will be difficult, and is particularly painful as Bike Auckland is a great supporter of public transport – it goes together well with cycling, and in any case, it’s one of the key moves to wean this city off its car addiction. But we can’t stand to keep silent when one good thing is argued as preventing another good thing. Almost all our arterials are big enough to provide for bikes AND buses (or light rail). But usually only if we also accept that cars can’t be king anymore. And that trying to make other ways of getting around our city more attractive needs not “balance” – but a clear and deliberate reprioritising of those modes.

AMETI, out east, is one of the few recent examples that swims against this “buses OR bikes” trend. Even in the more confined section of the route between Panmure and Pakuranga, the busway will have a parallel 4m wide shared path (wedged, together with the busway, between the Lagoon and the cliffside). Once over the new Panmure Bridge, cycling will get a fully separated path. It’s a great project – and it’s also stalled for several years now, because government isn’t putting in enough money.

A more promising short-term example may be Great North Road. It’s a major bus route into the city – but also one of the best, most direct and most gently graded cycle routes, on which we have campaigned since (at least) the late 2000s, with Pippa Coom’s “Ride The Ridges” campaign.

Last year, it was confirmed that Great North Road, between Grey Lynn and the City Centre, would be one of the Urban Cycleways routes. The current project was the brainchild of an AT engineer that Bike Auckland has worked with on a previous campaign of “quick fixes” along some other PT/cycle routes, and who then began cycling himself.

In 2016, we will see consultation for the Great North Road project, which is to provide separate bus and cycle facilities. It may still turn out to be a big fight (most of the remaining on-street parking has to go…) but hopefully, in a year or two we will have our first proper urban example of an arterial that serves both buses and bikes properly, at the same time.

And then we will revisit the plans for those corridors where we were told “there will be no cycleways here, it’s just not possible“. After all, “hopeless” causes are the only ones worth fighting for 😉

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8 responses to “Can busways and cycleways exist together?

  1. Of course they can!

    But it may require some unorthodox moves like having no central meridian.

    Of course the next question would be, what if someone is waiting to turn right? Is he going to hold up the traffic behind him all that time? About that, since there will be a bus lane next to the car lane, is it legal to overtake that waiting car on the bus lane?

    1. Legality doesn’t really matter much in that example. If people can use the bus lane to get round an obstruction, they will. The slim risk of a minor moving traffic infringement is no deterrent.

      On the other hand, the prospect of being shunted by a 12 tonne bus might be…

      1. So given that most bus lanes have less than one bus per minute, there is plenty of room to get around that waiting car.

        It follows that the argument that “OMG if we remove the meridian then right turning traffic will totally block traffic flow” is in this case not a valid argument against removing the meridian.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post Max.

    The nub of it for me is the issue of when will we genuinely see AT accepting that you mostly can’t create space for all modes, and that if cars aren’t king anymore, then space for them has to be restricted. For all the positive changes we’ve seen recently, it is hard to think of places where this has happened – maybe the upper queen st bridge, which lost two traffic lanes and some parking, and Nelson St. But in both cases the roads are still incredibly wide (and underpopulated). And then you get instances like customs/Beach road part 2 where the rights of cars were protected and pedestrians and bikes are asked to mix rather uneasily, when we could have had good bike lanes on both sides, plus bus lanes, right to queen.

    Totally agree with wsomc about medians too. i cycle a bit out west and there are nutty ones out there – west coast rd by parrs park has one that is wider than two car widths! it would be sooo easy to put in some kind of bike lanes here. but anyway, bit off topic because bus lanes aren’t a factor out there.

    also quite keen to know when the new car parking strategy (with no parking on arterials) is meant to come in. standing up to retailers and having no parking is surely a big step towards creating road space for both buses and people on bikes.

  3. Nice one Max. I typically don’t have a problem sharing the bus lanes with buses, but I am typically cycling at 25-35km/hr, so don’t get passed that often. The bus drivers using Remuera Rd in the morning also know I won’t put up with any bad driving or intimidation. For other slower commuters and newbies it can be frightening and dangerous, enough to give up cycle commuting. Given there nearly 3000 complaints about Auckland buses/bus driver in one year (2014?) I think AT could be doing a hell of a lot more in teaching bus driver road rules, consideration, etc.

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