Friday, August 10, 2007

In the margins

Traffic congestion, as even the most startlingly retarded and web-fingered amongst us ought to be able to recognise, is becoming worse.

Solutions, such as they are, usually involve massive (and therefore expensive and environmentally damaging) road-building schemes which, during the time they are carried out, cause even more congestion and usually end up ‘solving’ the problem for only about six months. If at all. And this doesn’t even touch on rail ‘solutions’ (read ‘cock-ups’).

One of the slightly more forward-thinking attempts at alleviating the road congestion in the UK has been the advent of Bus Lanes, which pretty much didn’t exist when I was a kid. Eleventy trillion years ago.
Though not exactly a revolution, they are at least an attempt to persuade punters to not use a car for a journey that they can clearly see a bus making in a tenth of the time at rush hour. All niggles aside (like traveling at a time when children are allowed to use the damn things, our unique British way of needing the imagined privacy of our own car and not wanting any involvement at all with other people whatsoever, etc.), they are generally a good move and enable public transport to keep moving when other traffic is at a standstill.

Another way of cutting through traffic, especially like that shown above, is on a motorcycle. Filtering through the stationary lines of cars at a few miles an hour, intently watching for the jerk who changes lanes without seeming to find the indicator or mirrors that I’m damn sure were fitted to his/her car, can get you to your destination without adding in any way whatsoever to the congestion.

Which, circuitously, brings us back to Bus Lanes. Currently, in almost all parts of the UK, all other motorised vehicles are forbidden from using Bus Lanes. Restricting cars and trucks I understand. If there are enough of them, they just fill up the lane and the bus can’t get through. But bikes? Why? Unless there was a sudden failure of the electrics on all the bikes in a big rally (actually, if you had a big bunch of Harley Davidsons, that is a distinct possibility...) it’s rather unlikely that a broken-down or even illegally parked bike would cause much of an obstruction to a bus. Besides, the primary use of any vehicle is to get to the destination, so they would naturally keep moving. As you can see from the picture above, taxis are able to use the lanes, so how come bikes are not?

Recently, a petition on the government’s website was started:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Allow the use of “Bus Only” lanes by scooters and motorcycles throughout the UK.
Generally stated, the idea is that we (bike riders) should be able to use the bus lanes without risk of penalty at any time of the day. Bikes (unlike taxis) don’t contribute to congestion, so it ought to be a no-brainer.

Here’s the eventual, timid-as-fuck, buck-passing reply (my emphasis).
“The Government recognises that motorcycling has become increasingly popular and offers a number of benefits.

Bus lanes are the responsibility of the relevant highway authority. In February 2007, The Department for Transport issued new guidance in the form of a Traffic Advisory Leaflet 2/07 on “The Use of Bus Lanes by Motorcycles”. This makes clear to local highway authorities that it is open to them to decide whether or not to allow motorcycles to use bus lanes and encourage them to make an objective assessment of the issue.

The new guidance revises the previous Department for Transport’s advice on bus lanes, Local Transport Note 1/97: Keeping Buses Moving, which recommended that motorcycles should not normally be permitted to use bus lanes.”
So, they’ve sort of vaguely told local highway authorities to sort it out for themselves. Not recommended that they take it as the default position, just “made it clear” to local highway authorities to, erm, decide for themselves. Wow, tough stuff, eh? And just how are motorcyclists going to be able to work out whether a particular local authority is allowing or restricting usage? “Offers a number of benefits”. What? Like free healthcare and a two-for-one offer at the movies?

This is just one of those “Look at us, we had a meeting about it. Aren’t we great? Bet you didn’t have a meeting.” statements, stringing a bunch of English words together into something that looks like a coherent sentence, but is suspiciously free of meaning.

What staggers me even more is that there was, in 1997, a document drafted and passed, called “Keeping Buses Moving” that actually recommended that bikes not be allowed to use the lanes. This implies that someone somewhere actually took the time to think about it and came up with the addle-pated conclusion that somehow bikes would slow buses down. I’d love to know how.

When debating this, generally it actually has to be stated (and I’m not kidding here) that the subject is about bus lanes being used by traffic traveling in the same direction as the buses. Dear god...

Back in 2005, Baroness Hanham tried to raise an amendment in the House of Lords:
“My Lords, I return to the discussion that we had in Committee on the possibility of motorcycles using bus lanes. Primarily that would deliver important improvements in road safety, particularly for motorcyclists themselves. Moreover, increasing the safety of motorcycling would perhaps encourage more people to take up this environmentally friendly alternative to the car, which in turn would make significant contributions to the alleviation of local traffic problems.”
A good point, well made, to which Baroness Crawley came out with this platter of fresh tripe:
“As noble Lords will know, the purpose of designating bus lanes is to give priority to buses over other classes of traffic. The more other motorised vehicles are allowed to use those lanes as a statutory entitlement, the more their purpose becomes devalued. I am sympathetic to the principle of improving facilities for motorcyclists, including their use of bus lanes where appropriate. Local authorities have powers to allow other vehicles to use bus lanes if they consider that it would be desirable, and probably a minority of local authorities are pursuing that practice. We do not have the exact figures of the number of local authorities that allow motorcyclists to use bus lanes, but as the noble Baroness has said, the provision is there for local authorities to take up.”
So, allowing the use of bus lanes by vehicles which cause infinitesimal to no congestion and are much more environmentally friendly than cars would “devalue the purpose” of the bus lane? What utter drivel. I contend that buses and bikes could easily co-exist in the same space without the latter holding up the former in any way. And I’m itching for some car-industry-financed whore to attempt to prove otherwise...

Fobbing the responsibility off to scattered local authorities will result in a patchwork of confused permissions for bikes to use bus lanes and a slew of court cases featuring bikers disputing their fines, on the basis that there was no clear signposting, that will reveal the policy to be another ill-thought-out mess by an over-timid government which seems unable to apply common sense to a clear-cut situation.

Also, you have to think of the other road users’ need to know that a bike is supposed to be in the bus lane. Paramount in this is informing pedestrians. I for one wouldn’t like a kid from one area, where bikes are prohibited from using the lanes, staying at a relative’s place and getting injured by running out into the bus lane when a bike is approaching. The rider will also get hurt, by the way. You don’t plough through things and drive off on a bike...

Back to Baroness Hanham, bless her:
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am slightly disappointed because I thought that in Committee we were probably opening a little door to what seems to be a perfectly sensible proposal for road safety. I understand that local authorities may have their own views on this but, equally, I understand that there is consistency in most road usage. However, there is no consistency about buses using bus lanes. While it is not a matter for this amendment, noble Lords will be aware of many occasions when buses have been not in the bus lane, which takes at least half the width of the road, but in the motorists’ part of the road. So some even-handedness is required.
Hear hear, as they say. Sadly, her attempted amendment was forced to be withdrawn. It has taken a public petition to even get this tiny change in the position of government. I’m confused, don’t they work for us?


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