Edinburgh’s castration of bus lanes leaves only questions

Edinburgh Council is proposing to slash bus lane operating hours by 66%. Nine out of ten bus lanes will be a free-for-all at weekends and during the afternoon school run; object now.

Inarticulate justification for massive downgrade of network

It’s no secret that the people of Scotland have big issues with their health, pollution and congestion.

Bus lanes aren’t sexy but they are important. Glasgow is busy boosting its bus lane network so that more of it operates all day. You can see the logic, as this makes it possible to travel around the city without worrying about a lane cutting in or out of action while you’re en-route.

Bus lanes massively reduce hazardous parking which is great for everyone – pedestrians, other drivers, public transport and cyclists alike. Having a lane set aside from breakneck traffic makes walking along the pavement much nicer, and is essential if we want people to get around by bike and refuse to build cycle facilities (using the bus lanes as justification).

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Council claims:

  • “The Council is pursuing a number of policies to get people out of the car and to walk, bike or take the bus.”
  • “[bus lanes’] predominant purpose is to ensure public transport flows throughout the city.”
  • “it was decided that standardisation of the lane times would help make them simpler for drivers”

So far, so good? Well, that’s until you discover that the council is slashing operating times. In fact:

90% of Edinburgh bus lanes will be a free-for-all for almost 20 hours a day

Against this background you may raise an eyebrow to learn that Edinburgh is planning to massively downgrade its bus lane network. If all goes according to plan, 90% of the bus lane network will be in action for a miserly four and a half hours a day, and switched off for the other ~20.

This means anyone relying on a bus lane to get around outside the peak rush hour is getting a good kick in the teeth. In particular, it means that 90% of Edinburgh’s bus lanes are going to be switched off all weekend and for school pick up journeys:

cyclespace
Cycling to school, huh? Well, not if you were planning to use a bus lane.

66% slash in bus lane times goes against all declared council policy

The worst thing about this proposal is that it has no clear justification – despite significant costs and the potential for long-term damage to the city’s bus network.

Some officials (and councillors) are claiming reduced driver confusion from simplified operating times – instead of having some all-day bus lanes and some rush hour ones, they will all be the same. But this sounds like great justification to turn all bus lanes into all-day lanes (in the style of Glasgow) – it’s actually being used to slash operating hours from sixty six per week down to just over twenty two.

Sounds like a major policy shift to me and one which is very poorly aligned with the council’s published goals and some of its legal responsibilities.

As a driver, I have to admit that I find it very easy to handle bus lane operating hours but if some of my fellow drivers aren’t quite so smart, surely the rest of us can be saved from their crippling confusion without neutering valuable transport infrastructure?

The report to the Transport Committee (which you can read here) is seriously compromised on several important points. Here are a couple of highlights:

[Ineffective bus lanes are] locations where buses, taxis and cyclists receive marginal or no advantage and which also cause localised congestion (solution – remove bus lane)

Seems to be a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? A bus lane which is to be removed because there is a large demand from private vehicles to occupy it is, by definition, one which offers significant amenity to the buses, taxis and cyclists who are currently benefiting from their own space.

The surveys showed that, at most of these locations, there was little or no delay to buses during off-peak periods; that is between 9:30am and 4:00pm, Monday to Friday. This appears to indicate that all-day bus lanes, offer little additional operational benefit to buses, compared to peak periods lanes, under normal traffic conditions.

At face value this looks like a claim that because there is no delay to buses in all-day bus lanes in the middle of the day, all day bus lanes are of little benefit. Yes, I also find it hard to understand that logic – the only possible way to observe a delay is to look at roads where people are allowed to block the buses, not the ones where they aren’t.

In fact, not only is it hard to find a single policy that this proposal is aligned with, it’s easy to find many different policies that it compromises.

For instance, it’s the council’s stated policy to reduce private car use (from 43% to 31% by 2020) – it’s unclear how switching off bus lanes during the day will help convert people to taking the bus, walking, or cycling – either in terms of the direct impact of the lanes on individual journeys or the wider message it sends to the people living here.

I could go on but there’s not much point.

I’ve written to object to the experimental traffic orders making this happen – you can still do this until February 18th, see here for instructions.

Lothian Buses and 20mph limits

The strange case of the slow bus company which foiled reduced speed limits for its competitors… to say nothing of road safety.

The strange case of the slow bus company which foiled reduced speed limits for its competitors

To say nothing of road safety…

When the 20mph Limit Pilot in South Central Edinburgh was up for consultation, at one point it looked like the streets people actually need to use and cross to get anywhere in this city (such as Marchmont Road or Grange Road) would be included as well as quiet residential backwaters.

lothian-bus-20mph-1
Lothian Buses 177 Y177 CFS by Ingy The Wingy, on Flickr

Lothian and Borders Police appear to bear much of the responsibility for undermining political leadership here by refusing to uphold the law [Kim Harding has some good backstory from nearer the time], but the other influential objector who managed to derail this important aspect of the pilot was our very own (publicly-owned) Lothian Buses.

Their argument didn’t really hinge around safety or liveability concerns, but simply the impact that a 20mph limit would allegedly have on their timetable and business. (The obvious point that a bus service becomes even more attractive when car traffic is slowed down seemed to escape notice).

However, as a semi-regular bus user, this attack confused me. The public’s experience of being on 90% of Lothian Buses is one of moving very slowly. Do their vehicles really travel so far above 20mph that there would be a serious impact on timetabling if the limit was brought down?

When I read that in some other parts of the UK, bus services are taking a leading role in road safety by voluntarily driving at less than the maximum legal limit, my suspicions grew stronger. Surely such a scheme would be stillborn if it put them heavily out of pocket?

Lothian Buses said:

“[Service 38] can only be operated with financial support from the council, therefore any increase in operating cost would have to be passed to the council for an increased subsidy.”

I decided to measure exactly what the impact of a 20mph zone would be on this bus service using GPS technology and computer analysis.

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