Bus stop bypasses

What's a bus stop bypass?

If you want to get more people cycling, bike lanes aren’t the best use of your money. Why? The biggest deterrents to cycling are conflict points with vehicles – driveways, intersections, and bus stops, not midblock where the bike lanes are. If we don’t get those conflict points right, the bike lanes between them are pointless.

One solution to this problem is bus stop bypasses – they route cyclists off the road to allow them to avoid interactions with buses and other motorized traffic. Even though they are critical to both the cyclist and pedestrian experience, there is surprisingly little design guidance or research out there about them. As a result, different designers try different things, and we see loads of different variations across the country.

I spent last summer supervising a research project that did a deep dive into bus stop bypasses. We looked at eight different bus stop designs in Wellington and surveyed nearly 400 people to find out how both pedestrians and cyclists feel about them.

A huge thank you to Keren Love for conducting the research and Victoria University of Wellington and Wellington City Council for sponsoring this project.

Over the next few days, I will be breaking down the main findings from our research. Follow along to learn more!

Put pedestrians first

When we build a bus stop bypass, we fix one problem but can create a different one. We get rid of conflicts between cyclists and traffic and introduce a conflict between pedestrians and cyclists that didn’t exist before.

While this is a good idea from a safety perspective (because it reduces the risk of a death or serious injury), the feeling of safety for pedestrians is just as important. If something feels unsafe, it is unsafe.

In our study, pedestrians were asked to rate the safety of their bus stop from 1-very unsafe to 5-very safe when thinking about potential interactions with cyclists and scooters. We looked at seven different bus stop bypass designs in Wellington and compared them to a control site without a bypass.

We found that pedestrians views varied widely across the seven sites. Four locations seem to work well for pedestrians and had the same median score (4-somewhat safe) as the control site. But three sites had significantly lower pedestrian safety ratings. At two of these sites, most pedestrians felt unsafe.

We can’t just assume that designs will work for pedestrians when designing for cyclists. We need to put pedestrians first and remember that if we mess it up, we will be making people feel unsafe.

The chart below shows a summary of the results by site. See the study on my LinkedIn page to learn more about the designs that pedestrians did and didn’t rate well.  

Make it obvious

When I was out asking people about their views on bus stop bypasses, one idea kept coming up again and again, for both pedestrians and cyclists. It went something along the lines of “Why can’t you just make it obvious what you want us to do?”

Variations to this idea included feedback like:

  • (Bus passenger) I can’t explain to my daughter why she can’t run in the concrete strip because it’s supposed to be for bikes. Can’t you paint it green or something?
  • (Bus passenger) These red striped markings don’t make any sense. Who is supposed to give way to who here?
  • (Cyclist) It’s a pain because pedestrians don’t know it’s a cycle lane, but I know it’s not their fault.

Clear indications of right of way and expected behaviour reduces confusion and increases feelings of safety at bus stop bypasses. Making it obvious is particularly important in a New Zealand context because bus stop bypasses are a new thing; we can’t rely on previous experience for people to know what they are supposed to do.

So make it obvious, at all angles, to all users. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself if the 5-year-old waiting at the bus stop would know how to use it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on the one key ingredient that is guaranteed to make your bus stop bypass work better.

Take the lane

There is one key ingredient that is guaranteed to make your bus stop bypass work better. It reduces conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists and makes the buses run more smoothly.

What’s the secret?  Space.

Bus stops are conflict points where three or more travel modes travelling at different speeds need to navigate around each other safely. Giving more space allows for:

  • Cyclists to pass through without getting too close to pedestrians
  • High quality waiting areas that do not interfere with a through route for people who are walking by
  • A safe ‘landing pad’ where people can get off the bus and organise their things before moving on

How can you make more space? An in-lane bus stop.

Traditionally in New Zealand, bus stops are ‘kerbside’. This means that buses need to leave the traffic lane and pull over into the parking lane. This design is optimised for car travel because cars don’t get held up by the bus.

An alternative is an in-lane bus stop. With this design, the parking lane is built out and buses stop in the traffic lane. This can be achieved by either adding in a ‘bus boarder’ or widening the footpath into the parking lane.

In-lane bus stops make bus journeys faster because buses don’t waste time manoeuvring in and out of stops or get stuck trying to get back into the traffic stream. Buses have an easier time getting right up to the kerb line, making it easier for people for people with wheelchairs or prams to get on and off the bus.

The inconvenience for cars is usually outweighed by benefits when there are lots of bus passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.  Even if it doesn’t, prioritising buses over cars makes public transport more attractive and encourages mode shift.

Have you seen an in-lane bus stop in action? What did you think?

What design is best?

When I tell people about the bus bypass study, people usually ask the same question – what’s the best design to use?

There are three main design options when you build a bus stop bypass:

  • cyclists go behind the shelter (partial or full island design)
  • cyclists go in between the shelter and the road (boarding strip design)
  • cyclists go in a ‘shared zone’ with pedestrians

When we looked at seven different bus stop bypass designs, we found that each of the three options could work well, but it really depends on the local context. 

‘Go behind’ partial or full island designs work well when there is lots of space, and the design makes it obvious where people are supposed to go and who is supposed to give way to who.

‘In-between’ boarding strip designs present more conflicts between bikes and bus passengers, so are better suited to less busy places. They are more suitable for boarding stops rather than alighting stops because people getting off the bus may not be aware they need to cross a bike lane.

‘Shared zone’ designs can work well when cyclists are going uphill so are travelling at a similar speed to pedestrians.

The New Zealand Public Transport Design Guidance Bus Stop Design Chapter is currently in development and will provide detailed guidance into how to put different design options into practice.

In the meantime, have you had the chance to try different bus bypass designs? Which one do you like best?

Photo credit: Auckland Transport