It’s one of the most disconcerting interactions on urban and suburban streets: the uncomfortable, out-of-sync dance between bicycles and buses traveling in the same direction. Often, the person riding a bike will have to leave the bike lane and go out into car traffic to pass a bus that has pulled into a stop—only to be quickly passed again by the bus driver, who then has to pull in for the next stop just as the cyclist is coming up from the rear again.
These two vehicles, because of their average speeds, relative sizes, and stopping patterns, are uniquely unsuited to share the same space. It’s scary for the person on the bicycle and the bus driver alike.
The need to solve that problem is the impetus behind a piece of infrastructure known as a floating bus stop. In this design, the bus stops at a raised concrete island, while the bike lane veers to the opposite side of the island. The bike lane flows gently and seamlessly in and out of this protected area.
Variations on this design exist around the world, but are only beginning to be implemented in the United States, with a few examples in places like Seattle and San Francisco. Even cities such as Minneapolis, which has extensive state-of-the art bicycle infrastructure, haven’t gotten the idea yet. On the blog streets.mn, Chris Iverson writes, “For the best biking city in America, Minneapolis is sorely lacking in the bike-bus conflict mitigation department.” He calls for the concept to be implemented into new construction on streets with potentially conflicting bike lanes and bus routes.
It would be great to see this type of treatment become standard practice in the United States, as it has been in many European countries for generations. Watch this video from Bicycle Dutch to see how they’ve been floating bus stops for 60 years. It makes the point that in many cases, the protection at the stop has been extended into fully protected bike lanes.
One potential problem with the floating bus stop design, at least when initially introduced into a city with no previous experience of the concept, is the conflict with pedestrians who are entering or exiting buses and must cross the bike lane to get to and from the stop. The islands must be big enough to give transit passengers a comfortable place to stand, and the cycle path must be clearly demarcated by differing pavement heights and coloring (watch this video of an English bus stop that floats in a very unprotected and sketchy way). Curb cuts with textured surfaces can assist the visually impaired to navigate the situation.
Once people get accustomed to the idea that there is a cycle lane running alongside a transit stop, they seem to adjust to the situation, and things flow smoothly for all users. Take a look at this example of a floating San Francisco MUNI stop.
Better still than a simple floating bus stop is a completely protected bike lane that is separated from the road and the bus stop. Examples abound in the Netherlands (of course), and if you want to see just how effectively both bus and bicycle transportation can be integrated into suburban settings as well as urban settings, check out this video showing 10 stellar examples on David Hembrow’s blog A View from the Cycle Path. “Buses and bicycles should never be combined in one lane,” Hembrow argues. “This is not only because of the subjective safety issue, but also because the two modes move in fundamentally incompatible ways.”
In Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, they’re trying yet another way of separating bikes and buses. A video from Streetfilms shows a bus route that runs in an abandoned rail right of way, with the buses essentially traveling along concrete tracks at high speeds next to a heavily used cycle path. The separation allows the peaceful coexistence of buses and bikes, each traveling at optimal speed. (Grass grows on the old rail bed as well, creating a natural bioswale drainage system.)
Compared with the European cities and suburbs that pioneered protected bike lanes and floating bus islands, suburbs and cities in the United States have ample space for such solutions. As awareness of their utility grows, maybe they will someday become the new normal.