Bus lanes

The results of National Road Unsafety survey conducted amidst 6000 Belgian road users show that 72% of the society is in favour of creating more separate lanes for buses and trams. Allocating a dedicated road space for bus-lanes is not a revolutionary measure - and probably their quite simple look makes their benefits somewhat underestimated by some people. However, this highly efficient, inexpensive in deployment tool proves to bring significant added value to reliability of public transport. By painting the road coating or by putting cones on the road, authorities can in a simple way achieve great improvements in trafficability performance.   

In principle, we distinguish two types of bus-lanes: a stretch of the road that is only restricted to buses for a certain of the day (usually during peak traffic period); or a bus lane that is exclusively dedicated for buses at all time. In cities suffering from severe congestion, separated space dedicated for buses and trams can help to increase the utilization of public transport and lower the share of car use in the modal split.

The performance of on-ground public transport (commercial speed and reliability) is strongly affected by traffic jams and in most cases does not really compete with the attractiveness of private cars. Already back in 2006, a study in San Francisco has shown that mixed traffic badly impacts the performances of public buses. The travel times of buses were shown to be twice longer compared with private car. Moreover, around half of their operation time, buses spent at standstill. The widely known problem of poor performance is the key issue to tackle in order to increase the use of public transport.

The commercial speed of a bus is an important indicator in the process of designing an attractive public transport network. The primary impact of a bus-lane installation is to increase the operation speed of the bus. That happens thanks isolating it from the impact of heavy traffic. In Warsaw, after implementing the bus lane, the average speed of buses in both directions has increased (19% faster to the east city edge and 30% faster to city center). The average speed of 26 km/h in both directions was achieved, rising from an average 10km/h before the bus lane was installed. In Seoul, the implantation of two corridors in Dobong-Mia have not only doubled the average bus speeds but also allowed the reduction of the general traffic as buses were not zigzagging anymore across lanes to pick up and drop off passengers.

Additional benefit – saving in fuel costs! A case study from Thessaloniki showed that implementation of bus lanes in city led not only to improvement in the transit speed of buses but also in their fuel economy. Fuel consumption has been reduced by 24,22% during the morning peak period and by 28,32% during the afternoon peak period.

Another notable benefit of improved buses performance is increase of the public transport ridership and accessibility which result also in social benefits. In cities like Brussels, where half of households do not have a car, people rely heavily on public transport. It is proved in literature that providing accessible public transport network contributes to greater inclusion of vulnerable or disadvantaged societal groups. Having affect on their access to basic services such as employment, education, health services, robust public transport network can be a factor conditioning the well-being of the society. Accessible buses network offers more connectivity than rail or tube through its relative richness of both orbital and radial links. Thanks to that, buses are suitable for short local journeys between and in neighborhood, maintaining social and community links to employments and services.

Noteworthy is also the impact that dedicated bus lanes can have on road safety. Several studies point out the fact that their contribution to road safety may vary depending on many factors such as the type of bus-lanes, location of bus stops, signal prioritization, etc. However, based on the direct comparison of accident frequencies before and after the implementation in San Francisco, the decrease in collision was 16%. Furthermore, 24% less crashes resulting in injuries. A study from Paris mentions reductions from 3% to 16% in accidents involving buses.

In general, bus operation seems to be safer when isolated from mixed traffic, though this observation is not necessarily true for other road users. Due to changes in traffic conditions, safety of pedestrians and cyclists can be jeopardized – a thorough preparation is always necessary to mitigate that the possible risks observed in other cities. An after-before study realized in three major Israeli cities shows that bus-lanes implementation is generally associated with an increase of accidents at junctions, particularly these involving pedestrian. Therefore, it is of utmost important that public authorities make sure that road safety measures are put in place when considering the implementations of bus-lanes.

Bus-lanes implementation is a doubtless, powerful and unexpensive measure to improve the service level of public transport and thus offer a credible and competitive alternative to private cars. To do so, it is important to identify the corridors where buses would benefit the most of being isolated from the traffic. In order to fully benefit from many advantages that the measure can offer, we cannot not jeopardize safety of other road users. There are many tools to increase the positive performance - it is possible to complete bus-lanes with the implementation of transit signal priority, off-board fare collection, station at level of the bus for easy boarding of passenger. To overcome the obstacles that are there for the use of public transport, authorities and public transit agencies need to work together to find measures improving the service level. By doing so, they will be able to trigger a change in the modal spit.

  1. John Preston, Fiona Rajé, Accessibility, mobility and transport-related social exclusion, Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 151-160. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0966692306000512
  2. Goh KCK, Currie G, Sarvi M, Logan D. Road Safety Benefits from Bus Priority: An Empirical Study. Transportation Research Record. 2013;2352(1):41-49, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3141/2352-05
  3. Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., Todd Goldman, Ph.D., and Nancy Hannaford, Shared-Use Bus Priority Lanes on City Streets: Case Studies in Design and Management, U.S. Department of Transportation Research & Innovative Technology Admin. 2012, https://nacto.org/docs/usdg/shared_use_bus_priority_lanes_on_city_streets_agrawal.pdf
  4. Ibidem

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