Bus lanes – buses love ‘em! But they could be better for bikes.

Wellington City Council are currently consulting on their bus priority plan. They’re doing some good things over there in terms of improving transport and creating more bus lanes is another one for the list. Hooray for bus lanes!

Now, I hate to be that annoying person that follows positive statements with a ‘but’ -….but……

This plan has some major implications for cyclists – here’s why. (Have a read and then submit your own thoughts here ). Submissions due Tuesday Sept 6, 5pm.

The bus lanes are sensibly planned for the key arterial roads into the CBD, where the busiest traffic exists. This network of roads is also known as the strategic cycling network, and has been recognised in the Regional Cycling Plan as the focus for making improvements to cycling as a mode of transport. These bus lanes are Wellington City Council’s plan for improving cycling on these routes, with no significant plans for alternative routes currently on the agenda.

I’m sure most cyclists would be very supportive of off-road or separated facilities for cyclists on these routes, and Cycle Aware Wellington will continue to advocate for these. However, if these bus lanes are what are proposed in lieu of separate facilities, we really need to give more thought to how they’ll affect all of the users in the shared user arrangement.

A survey Cycle Aware Wellington undertook earlier in 2011 indicated that most cyclists do not currently see bus lanes as a cycling solution – it just feels unsafe. For new cyclists on the road, riding in a bus lane is kind of reminiscent of that Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing the jeep in Jurassic Park (or, you know, something else big and scary).

Attitudes between bus drivers and cyclists are sometimes strained and while efforts to improve these are afoot, road design, rather than education campaigns, is best placed to ease this strain.

So here are a few ideas for getting the best bang for our cycling buck out of these bus lanes:

  • Review of best practice for sharing. Cycle Aware Wellington hasn’t had time do a comprehensive review of best practice for sharing bike/bus lanes, but we really think WCC needs to do one.
  • Signage. If the bus lanes are also going to be the bike lanes – we need them to say that! Signing bus/bike lanes as ‘Bus and Bike lanes’ both on the road and on signposts is common practice overseas and would be a great improvement on the current situation. See how they did it here?

This would give cyclists much more confidence sharing these lanes with buses and would make us slightly more comfortable with them being referred to as the cycle network. Yes, taxis and motorcycles are also allowed in these lanes but by signing the two most extreme users, the most vulnerable and the largest vehicle, everybody will win in terms of safety.


  • Adequate lane width. A bus lane width of 4m is recommended as the minimum width for shared bus/bike lanes with 4.5 recommended in other places. Lane widths of between 3.1m and 4m are the worst for cyclists as it feels like its safe to pass, but its not. If these bus/bike lane widths cannot be provided, we need to think of something else for cyclists along that route. Where lanes are less than 3.1m (as most of them are planned), there’s even more reason to sign them as shared on the roadway.
  • Let’s do something AWESOME for Kent/Cambridge Tce. “Wellington streets are too narrow for cycle lanes”. Really? Kent and Cambridge are amongst the widest streets in Wellington with parking on four sides, bus lanes, at least two lanes of traffic in each direction and significant space running down the middle. They are the perfect location for Wellington City Council to implement a showcase piece of roading, serving all transport modes using best practice techniques. The image used to illustrate WCC’s 2040 vision had it all figured out.


Imagining this street makes my knees shake with excitement.

So basically, bus lanes are a stellar idea and can provide benefits for cyclists by creating convenient routes with less traffic. BUT! Where bus lanes provide benefits for cyclists, careful consideration of their design and implementation to accommodate cyclists has taken place – so let’s make sure that happens.

Don’t forget to give your feedback on the bus priority plan by Tuesday Sept 6, 5pm at: www.wellington.govt.nz/haveyoursay/publicinput/buslanes/2011-08-traffic-buslanes.php

Claire Pascoe

Chair, Cycle Aware Wellington 

11 thoughts on “Bus lanes – buses love ‘em! But they could be better for bikes.

  1. Nigel

    Summarising the 3 problems I have with using bus lanes for cycling in:
    1. When a bus is heard descending on you, where do you go? Keep left, or move over into the adjacent car lane;
    2. Vehicles move into the lane prior to turning left and only look for buses (the drivers don’t have good visibility in this situation);
    3. Vehicles perform right turns across the bus lane, again without looking for anything other than a bus.
    In short, bus lanes give cyclists a false sense of security. Danger Will Robinson!


    1. I’m inclined to agree with your points, but my summary would read: In short, New Zealand’s poor road education and resulting low skill levels cause problems in bus lanes.


    2. atom

      @ #1- someone can correct me if i’m wrong, but since bicycles and buses are both legally allowed to use a “BUS LANE”, and assuming that a bus is moving faster than a bicycle, the bicyclist should maintain a SAFE LANE POSITION (sometimes this is far left and facilitates passing, sometimes it’s farther right and does not facilitate passing) and the bus should either move right to pass safely or follow at a safe distance until it can pass safely.

      that’s the theory, anyway 😉

      when approaching bus stops, do a shoulder check or mirror check to see if the bus behind you is indicating or pulling towards the curb, and in those cases it’s often best to move right (if it’s safe to do so), and make it easier for the bus to make the service stop. i often see buses held up while approaching service stops because a bicyclist is hugging the curb, instead of taking a more assertive lane position.

      #2 & #3 – these are cases of situational blindness – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inattentional_blindness

      as a guy, i tend to suffer from “kitchen blindness” 😉

      signage may help, but motorist education and the safety-in-numbers effect are the best fixes for this type of inattention blindness.


  2. James

    I had a bus driver abusing a cyclist for daring to use the bus lane last week — before I get all carried away and complain to the Council, is shared use approved for all bus lanes or only some of them?

    This was in on Manners St, between Willis and Victoria Sts

    – James


    1. That whole area is confusing. It depends where the person was, which direction they were riding, and at what time of day. According to http://www.wellington.govt.nz/projects/ongoing/pdfs/buslanes-existing.pdf, you can ride down Manners from Willis towards Victoria between 7pm and 6am, and that’s it. You can’t ride in the other direction, or from Victoria to Taranaki at any time.

      That stretch of road falls in the too-hard basket for me, I just avoid it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few confused people riding in the wrong bit and at the wrong time.


      1. Kirk

        I’m confused as to why this is the law for these Bus Lanes exclusively. Surely in the case of Bus lanes a one size fits all it the best option. This is unless the above amendments are made to markings. In this case simply leaving the bike part absent from lanes such as along manners would make sense. Clarity for both bikes and buses i believe would go a long way in terms of safety. It’s a pity i see this only now on the 7th.


      2. The bus-only lanes actually have “BUS ONLY” painted on them. Of course, if you’re on a bike, you have to ride a way on to them to see that…

        IIRC the Courtenay place bus lanes are shared with bikes and motorbikes, the Willis street ones are not, and the Manners St ones are as Lisa says.

        The whole situation is a mess. I recommend making councillors and senior council employees commute by bike for a couple of months.


  3. Stephanie

    Submission done just this minute!
    I totally agree about the potential for something amazing on Kent/Cambridge. This is something I put both in this submission and in the one I sent off on the big motorway/flyover NZTA plan. Just imagine whizzing down underneath those trees with nary a car door or boy racer in sight! (Well, at least somewhat further away from you)…. I wonder if anyone’s developed some kind of plan for this already? Anyone know?


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