Mixing buses and bikes

At the Harvard-Allston meeting last week about transportation, Harvard's transportation planner suggested that streets in North Allston could have lanes that would be shared by high-speed buses and bicyclists. As a frequent bike commuter on the roads of Allston and elsewhere, I was concerned about the inherent conflict created by putting huge fast vehicles in the same space as much smaller and less protected bicycles.

Various sources report success with this approach with a couple important caveats:
  • How much bus traffic will there be?

    Harvard emphasizes increased shuttle bus service in its transportation plan for its new campus. The Urban Ring's proposal for Rapid Bus Transit includes high-frequency buses in a system designed to maximize the speed of the buses.
  • How much space does a bus/bike lane need?

    According to bicyclinginfo.org, Madison, WI uses 16 foot lanes to allow a clear three feet of separation between the bicyclist and a passing bus. Putting one of these in each direction on a two-way road would require 32 feet of width.

    Considering that Western Ave and North Harvard Street are approximately 45 feet wide, there obviously is no space for a travel lane in each direction (~10' each), on-street parking lanes (~8' each), and these bus-bike lanes. Even without on-street parking, a two-way road would need 52 feet for travel lanes and bus/bike lanes. Maybe our roads should be wider, maybe some of them should be one-way, but neither of those solutions seem obvious or simple.

The Harvard shuttle bus / bicycle accident that occurred on Sunday morning is an important reminder that the safe design of our roads deserves significantly more attention.


  1. I'd rather share a lane with a drunken elephant than a bus. I haven't tangled with the Harvard shuttle, but the city bus drivers are super aggressive and abusive to bicyclists. I can't count how many times I've been honked at for no reason, verbally abused, or squeezed onto the curb by a city bus. As a matter of fact, the 66 tried to run me off the road just a couple of weeks ago.

  2. Anonymous9:40 PM

    I've twice written to MBTA officials about the behavior of bus drivers. Twice, I've received letters thanking me for the report, and assuring me that the bus driver had been identified and required to attend a seminar on driving with bicycles. I can't say what that has accomplished, but I can say that I don't think I can expect much more than that.

    We already have a lane like this one. It's on Washington Street in Boston, where cyclists can use a contra-flow bike / bus lane, giving them a short cut that motorists don't get to use. Then the lane becomes a shared bike / bus / right turn lane.

    That bicyclists aren't required to use this lane. They can if they want to. Similarly, bus operators are allowed to move their vehicles out of the lane if they want to pass someone in front of them. It's other motorists who can't use this lane, unless they're approaching an intersection where they want to turn right. In that case, they have to merge into the lane, yielding to buses and bikes in that lane, and take their right from it.

    It's a workable solution. The alternative for cyclists is to bar them from using the lane at all, even though it will be the rightmost lane in the road. That will only irritate both cyclists and motorists, especially since bus traffic is significantly more sporadic than ordinary motor traffic, giving cyclists a mostly empty lane -- that they're not allowed to use!