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Bikes in Bus lanes – Indifference, Intolerance or Bias?

July 26, 2009



Biking Nirvana - Using London's Bus Lanes

Biking Nirvana - Using London's Bus Lanes

Exeter, England – Now that all the back slapping and credit grabbing over motorcycles and scooters getting access to bus lanes on the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) has passed into history time, I think, for reflection and review of just where we are in gaining access throughout the UK.

Just to refresh memories, and in case you have been away riding on one of the outer planets, from 5 January 2009, an 18-month trial allows motorcycles, mopeds, scooters and tricycles to travel in most red route bus lanes on the TLRN.


Ok fine that’s three 18-month trial’s we have had in six years, the first one provided data that proved without a shadow of a doubt that the lives of nine motorcycle/scooter users would be saved each year if access was given to TLRN bus lanes. However due to Transport for London’s (TfL) ‘adjustment’ of the data the second trial was ordered. This basically proved that data from the first trial was correct, much to TfLs annoyance. This lead too much ringing of hands and shouting in the office of Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London, and much backtracking from TfL officers. Officers who badly let down London’s bikers by siding with Livingstone’s stance that whatever the facts were motorcyclists were NOT getting into the bus lanes.


Only months later, and following his election, Mayor Boris Johnson ordered a review of the trial data and subsequently announced access to the TLRN bus lanes for motorcyclists as a life saving measure. Johnsons move proved too many that Livingstone stance had been politically driven, and not based on the facts. But, and here’s the catch, Jonson only approved access for 18 months, a sop to the cyclists lobby perhaps, what happens next is critical as the London bus lane trial will influence the UK Department of Transports position and thus future UK national policy.


London’s bus lanes and access to them for bikers is a sorry tale but one repeated time and gain throughout the UK. Out of 455 Local Authorities it is reckoned that less than 30 currently allow motorcycle and scooter riders to use bus lanes where they are available. These Authorities have powers to allow any vehicles to use bus lanes if they consider this to be desirable, and the Secretary of State for Transport has similar powers in respect of bus lanes on trunk roads and motorways. Yet time and again access is refused often in the face of overwhelming data in favour of motorcycle and scooter usage.


Why is this the case? It an easy out to say that effective negative lobbying by the Cycle Tour Club (CTC), Cycle England and Living Streets (formally the Pedestrian Association) is a root cause of our access to bus lanes problems. But it must be said that CTC’s monopoly of local council cycle training contracts plus the huge amounts that councils spend on cycle facilities and training tends to gives them, the CTC etc,  a cosy relationship with councils and councillors and thus a voice that is often listened too.


All too often motorcyclists lose out to attitudinal surveys of other road users. One of former London Mayor Livingstone’s arguments against allowing motorcyclists and scooter rider’s access to the capitals bus lanes was that the cyclists didn’t want it. Indeed almost half the surveyed pedestrians and a large proportion of cyclists asked for their views expressed a negative. It was only latterly leaned by the motorcycle lobby that out of 800 survey forms directly handed to London cyclists only 40 were returned, a number which is statistically insignificant compared with total cycle usage in London.


It is my view that indifference, intolerance or simple bias from councils, councillors and council officers is the real reason for the lack of progress in getting motorcycles and scooters into bus lanes. That and the activists inability to win over the detractors and present a water tight fact based case that bikers are safer using bus lanes when faced with the urban traffic mix. Simple saying we want access because ‘we do’ is not a case.


And the good news……..


Cyclists’ opposition to motorcycles in bus lanes ‘baseless’ says council.


Motorcyclists have been granted permanent access to bus lanes in Sheffield after the city council hailed the success of a trial.


A ‘before and after’ study has concluded that allowing motorbikes to use bus lanes has had no detrimental impact on accidents, levels of cycling, or bus journey time reliability.


The results prompted council officials to voice doubts about the evidence base underpinning cyclists’ opposition to the policy.

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