Shared bus-bike lanes are an imperfect compromise. They get buses and cyclists away from cars, but also often limit buses’ maximum speeds and force cyclists to wait behind buses at bus stops.
With today’s smartphones, though, people have two new tools at their disposal that could change how bus-bike lanes are configured: bus apps and bike-sharing (or scooter-sharing, etc.) apps.
Imagine, for example, a bus-bike lane in which a bus comes every 10 minutes on average, but with there sometimes being a much longer wait between busses. In the olden days, that long, uncertain wait could be an agonizing experience. But with bus apps and bike-sharing apps, you can:
— wait for the bus without any uncertainty as to when it will actually show up
— walk to a nearby shop (or transit oasis)to wait for the bus indoors, use the bathroom, etc.
— not wait for the bus at all, but instead rent a bike to use on the bus-bike lane
— wait somewhat longer than you otherwise would, to avoid an over-crowded bus
Obviously, these apps might make it easier to get around a city by bus or bike. But they could also, perhaps, allow for the creation of an excellent and extreme type of bus-bike lane:
The Bus Train Bike Lane
Now imagine that instead of one bus coming once every 10 minutes on average, three buses come closely bunched together in a bus ‘train’ once every 30 minutes on average. For cyclists, this would mean there would, in effect, be only a third as many buses to make them stop at bus stops. For buses too, it could mean that cyclists would no longer slow them down: whenever a bus train approaches, cyclists could simply pull over to the curb in order to let it pass.
This would not have been possible in the past of course, as waiting 30 minutes for a bus (or more, in case of delays which would inevitably occur sometimes) would not have been practicable. But with today’s excellent batch of waiting options – no uncertain wait times, the ability to walk somewhere close by to get shelter from the outdoors or to use a bathroom, the ability to rent a bike, etc. – it might actually work. Indeed, it might have several other benefits too:
- Bus-bike lanes tend to be wider than bike-only lanes, which may be increasingly useful as the Baby Boomers age and as mobility-sharing services proliferate. A wide bus-bike lane could allow faster cyclists or e-bikers to safely overtake slower cyclists, rollerbladers, e-wheelchairs, scooters, etc.
- A smartphone-era bus train bike lane could also make bussing and cycling more efficient by facilitating express bus routes. Bus stops could be farther apart since people would have the option of using a bike to get to or from their bus stop. Having bus stops farther apart would help cyclists as well as bus riders, as there would then be fewer bus stops to slow down both types of vehicles. With fewer bus stops, you could also make the bus stops wide enough to allow cyclists to overtake the stopped buses.
- It’s easily weather-adjustable: when the weather is bad for cycling, you can easily use the lane as a conventional bus-bike lane instead, by simply disbanding or at least shortening the bus trains, so that buses arrive more frequently. This would also be useful since people do not like to wait a long time for buses in bad weather, and they do not like to walk further to get to or from express bus stops in bad weather, rather than walk a short distance to a local stop.
- Eventually, the bus train could perhaps become a partially automated platoon, with only the lead bus in each group driven by a human. This would be a benefit at least in financial terms, and it might be more technically or politically more viable than wholly driverless buses. Plus, even if all buses do remain human-driven, bus trains could perhaps help make bus drivers’ jobs easier by allowing all but the lead drivers to use auto-pilot features for a decent chunk of the time. Bus drivers might also find driving in bus train formations less lonely.
- With extra-long bus trains (say, a ten-bus bus train, arriving once or twice an hour on average), you might be able to differentiate a bus or two in each train, in useful or interesting ways. For instance you might have a RoRo (roll on, roll off) Bus for cyclists, wheelchairs, rollerblades, or scooters, which would have no seats, floor-level doors, and handholds.
To sum up, then, it’s a time-sharing, weather-adjustable, potentially semi-autonomous express bus-bike lane, where bikes and other ultra-lightweight forms of mobility are used as a first mile-last mile option for bus riders, in addition to being an excellent means of transport in their own right.
Instead of resisting the ‘bus bunching’ that occurs so frequently in our cities, the bus train bike lane would embrace it, turning bus bunching to its advantage through the use of bus apps and bike-sharing.