Lothian Buses have long received plaudits for their pro-active approach to training their drivers to be aware of cyclists on the roads.
But consultation responses obtained via Freedom of Information legislation from the bus firm show that it has been actively lobbying against measures which make the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Our freedom of information requests looked at two issues. One on the specific feedback the firm had given the council on the Leith Walk redesign process, and the other the issue of extending 20mph limits in the city.
On Leith Walk, the documents show that Lothian Buses is strongly supportive of proposals for segregated bike lanes – describing them as “a welcome and interesting concept.” But remarkably, the firms’ officials then go on to argue that if “continental style” segregated facilities are provided on Elm Row then the proposed on-road bike safety measures should be removed and that a new law should be put in place that completely bans cyclists from using the road.
The Lothian Buses consultation response reads: “At Elm Row the removal of the double bus lanes is undesirable, although we fully understand the reason behind this move (to create sufficient space to accommodate the southbound cycleway). Given that public transport space is being reduced at this busy location we would ask that you investigate the removal of the southbound advance cycle box and the introduction of a traffic regulation order to ensure that cyclists use the newly provided southbound cycleway at this location. As there is no right turning cycle opportunity here there should be no issue with this arrangement.”
“The argument that some cyclists travel faster than others could equally apply to general traffic which also has no overtaking opportunity,” they add.
Further down the street, on the section north of Pilrig Street to the Foot of the Walk, the latest council proposals for the street include on-road advisory cycle lanes, rather than segregated off-road ones. But the plans also leave no room for bus lanes in order to allow for wider pavements, and at some stops the buses will stop in new “bus laybys,” on the inside of the bike lanes.
Lothian Buses are strongly critical of this approach on the northern section – describing the proposed design as a “highly retrograde step.” And it would appear that the firm would like to see cyclists banned from cycling on the road for the full-length of Leith Walk, if only they could persuade the council to provide segregated lanes on the whole street. Their response continues:
“The introduction of cycle lanes in both directions passing on the outside of bus lay‐bys causes us great concern as this increases the conflict between these road users. We believe that a better solution similar to the project south of Iona Street would provide a much better experience for cyclists whilst allowing motorised traffic to continue unimpeded by slower moving cyclists.”
As our regular readers know, Greener Leith has been involved in the consultation with the council on the future design of Leith Walk and we have also been pushing for extended segregated lanes to run the length of Leith Walk too, based on the many consultation responses from locals that support good, safe cycle infrastructure.
But no-one except for Lothian Buses has argued that cyclists should be banned from using the road and that on-road safety measures for cyclists be removed if segregated lanes are provided – something many others would regard as a highly retrograde transport policy.
And whilst Greener Leith has also argued that the design on the north section of the street could be improved, it is also difficult to understand why Lothian Buses see the proposed new cycle lanes in the new design as generating more conflict between buses and cyclists than the current arrangement. Right now buses and cyclists are forced to share the bus lane. This arrangement forces cyclists into conflict with faster moving traffic in the outside lane, or into “playing leap frog” with the buses from one bus stop to the next.
Lothian Buses on 20mph
Lothian Buses opposition to attempts to introduce 20mph speed limits as part of a pilot in South Edinburgh is already known. However, it turns out that in their recent consultation response to the council local transport strategy document that they have opposed the introduction of safer 20mph speed limits on all bus routes in the city – except for in very localised areas.
Lothian Buses write: “We are particularly concerned to emphasise that 20mph limits should not be introduced on bus routes, except in very localised applications (such as Moredun). This is because measures which tend to reduce [sic] overall bus journey times tend also to undermine the economics of the provision of the affected bus services. Ultimately this leads to higher fares, lower levels of service or increased calls on public subsidy. Such outcomes do not act in support of encouraging the use of public transport.”
Sadly, Lothian Buses present very little hard evidence to support their assertion that a 20mph limit will increase overall journey times and they ignore the growing evidence on road safety improvements that are associated with widespread adoption of 20mph limits.
Meanwhile, people who have used some hard date to try to estimate the likely impact of extensive 20mph limits on Lothian Buses have concluded that the impact on the bus company may well be almost negligible – as buses on city streets like Leith Walk barely ever travel faster than 20mph anyway.
Why it matters
Taken together, this evidence suggests that Lothian Buses is in the habit of lobbying the council against moves to design streets that are safer and more welcoming for the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists.
A more enlightened approach from the firm might recognise that measures that make “sustainable travel” modes – including public transport – more attractive are likely to encourage more people to cut their private car use and switch to other ways of travelling.
It’s not difficult to make the case that widespread adoption of 20mph speed limits are likely to have a greater impact on private motor car users – and that as a consequence bus journeys, relative to the speed of those undertaken by private car, will become more attractive. In turn, this is likely to have a positive impact on the bottom line of Lothian Buses as more car drivers would switch to buses.
Similarly, the bus firm should not advocate measures which restrict cyclists use of the roads, or make them more dangerous and inconvenient for cyclists to use.
Cyclists have a right to use the carriageway, just like any other road user, and whilst any cyclists would welcome the provision of better quality bike infrastructure, few in the UK would support the view that they should be compelled to use it – partly because UK local authorities – and that sadly includes Edinburgh in 2013 – have a very poor track record of designing bike infrastructure that is safe to use, of good quality and well maintained.
But this New York video illustrates the folly of putting in place laws that force cyclists to use cycle lanes far better:
City environments where more people choose to walk, cycle and take the bus will be ones where there are fewer private vehicles, and ones where traffic is moving more slowly. This means that, as has been proven all over the world, from Copenhagen, to Melborne, to New York, they are likely to become more vibrant places – with more people, spending more time and more money there.
This doesn’t just mean more potential passengers for Lothian Buses – it also may have other benefits for the firm to too. For example, the severity and the frequency of accidents would go down cutting the repair bill of the bus firm.
Lothian Buses wield an awful lot of influence over transport officials when it comes to the way our city streets are designed and alongside the Police, they played a significant role in reducing the extent of the 20mph trial zone in the southside of Edinburgh – even though locals backed a more extensive zone.
Given that it has emerged that there seem to some in Lothian Buses who think their road safety responsibilities to vulnerable road users begins and ends with a nice driver training YouTube video, it could be very unfortunate if council officials gave a similar weight to the Lothian Buses latest proposals for Leith Walk.
You can download all the documents that we received by FOI for this blog post here.