Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The road ahead for bus lanes in Brighton and Hove

An issue raised at last week’s meeting of the Brighton and Hove Transport Partnership (declaration of interest: I sit on the Partnership as a pedestrian advocate) was the online petition launched by newly elected Labour Councillor Daniel Yates. The petition calls on Brighton & Hove City Council to reduce the hours of the Lewes Road bus lanes, opening them up to all traffic at certain times of day. Chair of the Partnership, Councillor Gill Mitchell, Labour’s new lead member for Transport, assured us that bus lanes will not be scrapped. She also said that the Valley Gardens scheme is on hold pending a review to ensure it delivers the right (economic) benefits and doesn’t worsen traffic congestion. 

Fair enough, but bus lanes are an essential element of the Valley Gardens scheme, and if they aren’t dedicated to buses (and taxis, and bikes, and possibly powered two wheelers), there’s no point in having them. The clue is in the name.

Taking up the theme, Brighton and Hove Buswatch has published a long piece in its latest newsletter. Since I can’t improve on it, I reproduce here (with permission) a few facts in support of bus lanes in Lewes Road, many of which apply to bus lanes in other parts of Brighton and Hove: 

Brighton and Hove has the highest bus use per head of population anywhere in England outside London. This is a fantastic achievement and good bus priority measures have made this possible.

Bus routes serving Lewes Road carry over 16 million bus journeys each year – that is over 50% more trips than in the entire city of Portsmouth which has a similar population to Brighton & Hove.

Over 60% local residents who responded supported the Lewes Road bus lanes during consultation

More people travel along Lewes Road by bus and bike than by car so it makes sense to give them priority.

One double deck bus can carry 90 passengers in the space of about three cars. Bendy buses can carry 120 or more, so they are very efficient users of road space.

Both Universities are expanding with the University of Sussex aiming to attract 1,000 extra students each year. If even a small proportion of these use cars traffic conditions could worsen significantly. Bus lanes enable students and staff to reach Universities easily.

Experience from London shows that restricting the hours of bus lanes creates confusion for motorists as most traffic regulations apply 24 hours.

Brighton is a 24 hour city – the N25 night bus runs up to every 10 minutes along Lewes Road, so the bus lanes are in use at all times.

Major events at the Amex Stadium involve Park and Ride buses which rely on bus lanes to speed them through traffic. 

The past few months have been very difficult for buses due to extremely disruptive roadworks which have often taken longer than planned. As a result bus use in the City has fallen for the first time in twenty years. We must reverse this trend and get back on track with improvements to keep Brighton and Hove moving. Bus lanes are vital to achieve this.

If bus lane times are restricted, services are likely to suffer. Here are some risks: 

Buses could become less frequent and less reliable

Fares may increase because fewer people travel to support the services

Evening services could be cut as these are often subsidised by profitable daytime buses

Congestion and pollution will get worse if more people use cars, so overall traffic levels will increase

Marginal bus services may become unviable, resulting in complete withdrawal unless the City Council funds a replacement service.

Taxi journeys will become slower and more expensive because taxis use bus lanes too 

Poor air quality has been mentioned as a reason for opening up bus lanes to reduce traffic queues. Clearly this will not be achieved if bus users transfer to cars and overall congestion increases. Bus companies are currently investing in low emission vehicles but money for new buses has to come from profits from bus services.

The City Council has been monitoring congestion since the first stage of the Lewes Road scheme was completed in 2013, but it was not possible to obtain accurate information while the Vogue Gyratory works were in progress last year. The initial monitoring report showed there was little change in journey times for general traffic along Lewes Road. We understand the spring 2015 monitoring report will be published soon. If it shows there has been increased rat running and congestion on other roads, this can be addressed in other ways. Restrictions can be imposed on through traffic movements and there is already a study into improving traffic flows at the Downs Hotel junction in Woodingdean.

The Buswatch piece goes on to make some excellent suggestions for getting people back on buses, which you can here.

And the MD of Brighton Buses, Martin Harris, has weighed in with a succinct blog post on the links between physical activity (see the previous post on this blog), public transport…and bus lanes.

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