North America

The Bus Train Bike Lane: A Bus-Bike Lane for the Smartphone Era

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

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

All aboard!

 

 

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North America

The Car-Sharing Sheltered Bus Stop and Seasonal Bike Lane

In recent years there have been two excellent new technologies, car apps and transit apps, which have nevertheless been unable to successfully solve traffic problems. Transit apps, which tell you when buses or trains are coming and, in some cases, tell you how crowded each bus is*, are useful but are still no antidote to challenges such as getting to and from bus stops or waiting for buses in bad weather. Car apps, which can summon lifts or carpools or make it easy to rent a car, tend to do little or nothing to alleviate traffic jams, and can also be relatively costly or inconvenient, especially in bad weather when there are no vehicles nearby, or when demand for lifts outstrips supply.

*This is very useful because buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses behind them. With this information, people can simply wait a tiny bit longer to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

What might be needed, therefore, is a way to use these new technologies to get to and from transit, especially in bad weather, and make it easier to wait for buses in bad weather, and do so without adding to traffic jams that block more efficient modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars or (in good weather) bikes.

Here, then, is a possible solution: have car-sharing cars double as sheltered bus stops in bad weather.

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Such a system could have a number of advantages:

  1. In suburban areas where people do not live near bus stops and where streets are not designed well for pedestrians, the car-sharing cars could be used to help people get to and from bus stops.
  2. In the event of an unexpected delay in the bus or streetcar system (e.g. a subway line is temporarily shut down or a streetcar line is temporarily obstructed, leading buses to become overcrowded) or if there is a sudden change in the weather (e.g. a sudden rainstorm), or if you have a personal emergency (e.g. you really have to go to the bathroom and your bus is late) you could have the option of simply paying to drive a car-sharing car to your destination
  3. the car-sharing car would not necessarily need to be a conventional car, but could instead be a tiny one-seater car, or an electric-assist pedal-car, or even an enclosed bicycle or tricycle. This would work very well on streets where there is a bike lane or a street-parking lane. Indeed, this would be ideal for a street in which a bike lane becomes a parking lane during winter. People in the winter want street parking so that they don’t have to worry about slipping on ice, and want sheltered bus stops where they can stay warm while they wait (often for a long time, since bus delays are more common in winter). When the weather is nice, on the other hand, people do not need street parking or sheltered bus stops, so the parking lane could instead become a bike lane. This bike lane could then be used not just by regular bicycles, but also by the car-share enclosed bicycles and tricycles and pedal-cars and one-seaters.
  4. The cars would not contribute too much to traffic jams or air pollution, as the cars would be used mainly to get to and from buses, and as most of the cars could be very small, lightweight, and possibly electric or pedal-powered or both.
  5. If they are electric, the car-sharing bus stop parking spots could perhaps double as charging stations. A car-sharing sheltered bus stop charging station might be an ideal charging station from both an economic and environmental point of view, because slow-charging batteries is better than fast-charging and as lightweight vehicles are far better than conventional electric cars
  6. The cars could perhaps also be vehicles that would facilitate carpooling. You could, for instance, have a car-sharing van or minibus that would serve as a sheltered bus  stop but could also be driven itself (if the bus or streetcar was running late, etc. etc.), if the passengers were willing to split the cost of driving it and if one of the passengers is willing and registered to drive it and then drop it off at another bus stop

It is not just car-sharing technologies that could make this idea viable, but also transit apps.

By having the cars equipped with these apps, people will able to use them as sheltered bus stops without needing to have a clear view of the horizon to see if a bus is approaching. Even though these cars would ideally be located immediately next to bus stops, the ability to know in advance when a bus is coming means that if necessary they could be located a bit further away from the bus stops, on an adjacent side street, without the risk of people missing their bus.

That might not even be needed though, since the car-sharing bus stops might not need to take up much more space than the current public bicycle-sharing systems often do, particularly if one-seaters or pedal-cars are used. (In Toronto, there are already 360 public bicycle-sharing stations, even though few people use them in the winter or during heat waves). People would then be able to use their transit passes to unlock the car’s door by prepaying their bus fare, so that the cars would not be misused too much.

So, if anyone influential happens to be reading this, please consider it the next time you are shivering or sweating at a bus stop. Oh, you don’t take the bus? The next time your Uber is stuck in traffic then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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North America

Bus/Bike Lanes: Can I Interest You in a Time-Share?

The idea of having shared bus-bike lanes has been raised in a number of cities, including Montreal. Not surprisingly, such lanes have tended to be unsatisfactory for both parties involved. People in busses do not like driving slowly behind cyclists. Cyclists do not like busses looming behind them.

What has not been tried, however (at least, as far as I can tell, according to Google) is a bus-bike time-share lane, in which busses get the lane when the weather is bad and cyclists get the lane when the weather is good. Such a lane might be a little bit tricky to sort out when the weather changes suddenly from good to bad (more on this in a moment), but in general it might work very well, since when the weather is bad most people do not want to ride their bikes much, whereas when the weather is good people are willing to wait longer at bus stops.

I imagine a bus-bike time-share lane working, perhaps, as follows:

  • During the three winter months, no cyclists are allowed to use the lane: it is a bus-only lane
  • During long heat waves, no cyclists are allowed to use the lane: it is a bus-only lane
  • In spring, summer, and fall, busses can only use the lane when the weather is bad (say, below 5 degrees or above 25 degrees, maybe adjusted for humidity, smog, shade, wind, rain, ice, etc.)
  • At times when the weather is intermediate (neither winter nor a long heat wave nor good weather), the lane works as a shared bus-bike lane. If, however, the weather gets very bad at such times (say, for e.g., above 30 and humid) busses can ring a special bell when there is a cyclist in front of them, forcing cyclists to pull over, stop, and let the bus pass.
  • Cyclists can check an app to see if, at any given moment, busses are using the time-share lane

Of course, a lane of this kind would not be ideal. No time-share in the history of humankind has ever been considered ideal. Better would be for every main street to have a lane for transit and another separated lane for cycling. But that would mean scoring big victories against cars, and this does not seem likely to happen anytime soon in North American cities, most of which have large suburbs and a lot of very hot and/or cold weather.

For such cities, having a weather-dependent time-sharing bus-bike lane may not be ideal, but it could still be an ideal compromise.

 

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North America

An Electric Car-Bike Lane Plan, for Cities like Toronto

Many Conservatives disparage electric cars and bike lanes, while many Liberals fetishize electric cars and bike lanes. The correct approach lies between: some bike lanes and some electric cars are good. Others are not.

For bike lanes, geography can be decisive. Cities like Amsterdam—which is almost entirely flat, and which has no months in which average daily highs exceed 22 degrees celsius or fall below 6 degrees celsius—are ideal for cycling. But most cities are much hillier, hotter, and colder than that. These cities need bike lanes too, but not the same type of bike lane system that Amsterdam has.

For electric cars, size and speed can be decisive. The electric cars currently being marketed to us—the Tesla S, the Nissan Leaf, etc. — are actually far too big and fast to be environmentally or economically efficient. Their batteries expend a lot of pollution during their production, do not provide enough range before needing to be either charged or swapped-out (plus, slow-charging stations, fast-charging stations, and/or battery-swapping stations are all problematic, for various environmental or economic reasons) and are too heavy and bulky to come even close to being  ideal.

This is a shame, since electric vehicles in general can be more efficient and eco-friendly than gasoline-fueled vehicles. This is (among other reasons) because they do not contribute to local air pollution, and because they receive their power from power plants, which can be several times more energy-efficient than internal combustion engines and can use energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Electric cars that are much lighter and/or slower than, for example, the Nissan Leaf do not face the same significant battery limitations that electric cars like the Leaf face. If, hypothetically, we all were to decide to buy cars that are closer in their size and speed to golf carts rather than to today’s style of North American automobile, urban areas would very likely experience a substantial economic and environmental gain as a result. The reduced speed limit of the cars would not even cause average driving speeds to drop by much during rush hour, because traffic congestion in urban areas is usually severe enough that vehicles’ average driving speeds already tend to be far below speed limits.

Of course, the goal is not to make people drive tiny cars. Apart from being illiberal, such cars would not be practical or safe on expressways and in suburban areas in which low speed limits would be limiting. The goal, rather, should be to make it safe and comfortable for drivers in urban areas to use small lightweight cars (whether privately owned or, more likely at first, car2go-style rentals), even while sharing the road with much larger, heavier conventional cars.

Designating certain road lanes (or, better yet, entire streets or downtown cores) as slow-speed limit lanes might accomplish this. Lighter and slow electric cars could safely drive in these lanes alongside conventional vehicles.

Moreover, this could also allow for bike lane systems ideal for cities like Toronto; cities that have a lot of days that are too hot and a lot of days that are too cold/snowy/icy/ to bike comfortably or safely, especially up hills (in summer) or down hills (in winter):

Like electric vehicles, cyclists too would be able to use the slow-speed car lanes relatively safely and comfortably. This could mean three things, all of them good:

  1. the city would generally be much more bike-friendly than would otherwise be the case
  2. if you put a two-lane bike lane on one side of the street (see image below), then cyclists would have the option of either using the bike lane or using the slow-speed car lanes — in other words, cyclists would have the option of biking on the sunny side or the shaded side of the street, no matter what time of day it was. This should be very useful on hot days, when cyclists are trying to get to work without breaking a sweat
  3.  instead of having three or four winter months a year in which bike lanes are extremely underutilized, you could instead use the bike lanes during the winter as a parking lane and extra slow speed lane for some of the smaller very small cars (one-seaters or especially narrow 2-4 seaters) that would become common as a result of the slow-speed car lanes. Having a parking lane in the winter would be useful for older people who are at risk of slipping on ice and falling if they have to walk longer distances from their car to their destination.

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So, there it is: a plan to promote efficient electric cars, rather than inefficient ones or none at all; and a plan for having bike lanes that could be useful during hot summers as well as during cold winters.

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On Politics and the Weather…and Bike Lanes, in Toronto

I tend to agree with those who say that the ideal city would have both right-of-way transit lines and separated bike lanes on every major street. But I also recognize that this is not politically viable. Too many suburban voters are against it. Urbanites have enough clout to get bike lanes or transit, but not necessarily both.

For this reason, I think it would be best to advocate for transit only, leaving the issue of bike lanes to the side until the transit fight is won. Bike lanes are great too of course, but not nearly as useful as transit can be.

However, I also recognize that even this is not politically viable. There are too many bike enthusiasts who will not delay their push for better bike lanes. For these bike enthusiasts and transit advocates to present a unified front in their negotiations with suburbanites, they must first reach a compromise among themselves.

The compromise could be this: a hybrid transit/bike lane, which changes functions depending on the weather.

It would work something like as follows. On days when the weather is expected to stay within a range of, say, 0-30 degrees celcius, and not rain too much, cyclists will get to have a separated bike lane that is so wide that it will actually have two bike lanes within it: a passing lane and a slower lane. On these days, Toronto would become ideally the most bike-friendly city in North America.

However on days when the weather is expected to be too cold, hot, or rainy, bicylists will not be allowed to bike on major roads at all. Instead, the bike lanes would be used as a right-of-way bus lane.

Of course, there would be winners and losers in this plan, as in any political solution. The losers would be ultraenthusiastic cyclists, the people who love to brag about how they bike to work even in January.

The winners would be everybody else.

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