Buses at Bruce Grove: lack of grip?

I am careful not to be too optimistic about the future of cycling on London’s roads, but I did have faith that with Khan as mayor, bus service at least was in safe hands. Now I’m not so sure.

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I use both bus and bike in London. As a cyclist, I’ve had hopes but they haven’t been high. I won’t go into detail because you can read the reasons for caution in so many places, most recently David Arditti’s report on a public meeting held by Will Norman, the new Walking and Cycling Commissioner, and Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport. I wasn’t there, but Arditti’s description chimes with everything I’ve seen on cycling since Khan’s election. I wish we had a city in which my wife wasn’t afraid to see me go off to work on a bike, and where there wasn’t going to be a family argument about whether our son will be allowed to ride a bike to secondary school a year and a half from now, and it looks like the only way to achieve those things is to move somewhere on the Continent (or Walthamstow). It makes me very sad. And it makes me wonder, of course, whether the lack of action (will Regents Park remain a rat run? looks likely. pathetic.) is due to a lack of understanding of cycling as a mode of actual transport, to cynical political calculation – unwilling to offend drivers generally or the black cab drivers who supported him in particular – or to simple lack of grip?

To answer that, let’s look at what’s happening to buses.

I will start close to home, with an example that is almost silly. In Tottenham, parallel to the route of the risible meandering backstreet TFL calls “Cycle Superhighway 1”, the Tottenham High Road runs through Bruce Grove. It is a busy North-South artery for both buses and private motor vehicles. I became aware of the changes planned there because cycle campaigners didn’t like two features of them: the creation of a new pinch point (a place where cyclists are suddenly squeezed in with the motor traffic) on the High Road; and the fact that the plans take an already bad cycle crossing – a link on a designated route from Alexandra Palace & Wood Green to Tottenham Hale and Walthamstow – and, instead of fixing it, make it worse. So far, so bad. But what really appalled me about the proposal is what it would do to the bus service.

The High Road’s width at this point accommodates two lanes each way, with many (123, 149, 243, 259, 279, 318, 341, 349, 476, W4) many buses in the curbside lanes. IMHO, those curbside lanes should be 24 hour bus lanes: they should flow, BRT (that’s bus rapid transit)-style. That option would not accommodate bikes well. There are others who would have bike lanes here instead, requiring the cars and buses to merge. There’s a tradeoff here between bus service and bike infrastructure, and I happen to think the call should be in favour of the buses, with the addition of decent parallel side street routes for bikes to both west and east.

But what Transport for London propose is neither improved bus service, nor bike lanes. Instead, they propose to “improve conditions for pedestrians with more space for walking, and create a better town centre environment”. This means widening the pavement, particularly at certain crossings. The widened pavement at crossings will create pinch points where buses will have to merge with the other traffic. It is quite simply a proposal to degrade the service on a number of heavily travelled bus lines, and to rule out the possibility of BRT-style service, in exchange for slightly wider footpaths.

TFL maintains that “these proposals are not expected to have an impact on traffic along this section of A10 High Road”. Perhaps its because the present curbside lanes get interrupted by loading and unloading, anyway. But the proposals would obstruction of these lanes, and the buses in them, in concrete.

If you visit that section of the Tottenham High Road, you will see plenty of ways in which the pedestrian environment could be improved without narrowing the roadway. There are a couple of places where the footpath is narrowed abruptly because a single building sticks out close to the roadway. Compulsory purchase of the ground floor rights to perhaps three meters back would allow the creation of short pedestrian colonnades, eliminating the pinch points that now occur on the footpath. The vacant space in front of the Bruce Grove station, now fenced off, could be put to good use as, with a little thought, could the alleys leading off the High Road on the east side.

Who benefits from TFL’s approach at Bruce Grove? My guess is that a few merchants think they do, because they get extended loading bays now that there’s no hope of continuous lanes for buses. Since they’ll also get a traffic jam and bad bus service, they are likely to lose out in the end. And, as with space for pedestrians, there is ample opportunity on the ground there for finding loading space that doesn’t obstruct bus traffic. Like widening pavements, extended loading bays is a generic feelgood faux solution; adequate space for buses (or bike lanes) together with creative use of the space around require both imagination and some hard planning work. Somebody needs to get a grip

Next post: Oxford Street.

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6 thoughts on “Buses at Bruce Grove: lack of grip?

  1. Pingback: Buses vs. cabs on Oxford Street | Frederick Guy

  2. Pingback: But where will the Wood Green traffic go? | Frederick Guy

  3. Do an analysis of bus services using that stretch of the A10 – how many are duplicated? What is are the timetabled journey speeds (at peak times especially – the 10 on Oxford Street is scheduled to average 4.1mph – its faster to walk briskly (4.5-5.5 mph) whilst TfL piles in 23 buses to operate a service which should require 9-10 buses to operate the service at off-peak journey times 37 minutes vice the 83 it takes at peak times!

    Check-out that wall of red buses and they’ll be less than 30% filled. Go to a city that thik thought its public transport, and the city centre will have a small number of frequent bus routes simple direct East-West and North-South, or circular that are free to use, simply because it costs less to do this than collecting the fares. Don’t have to travel far to see this as many UK cities do this – Manchester is a good example – TfL is simply stubbornly ‘old school’ thinking for bus operation.

    Dead simple to do – just set up a spreadsheet for the A10 and use the Londonbuses website that has all the details.

    As Tom K wryly notes New York City with twice the population of London uses half the number of buses to move them around, and world-wide London stands out as piling more buses into less road space in a massively inefficient way 4 bus services effectively run from Euston to Marble Arch over the same route (save for splitting to run parallel down Gower Street/Woburn Place at the Euston end, and the 2 routes via Holborn then join 3 routes that all run from Holborn to Oxford Circus where 3 of the routes ALL loop round via the cross roads where Tom was hit.

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    • I think you’re raising two issues – one is the number of buses and bus routes, and the other is the relationship between buses and road space.

      I’ll take road space first, since that’s the issue on the narrower sections of the A10: where there is heavy car and truck traffic together with bus routes, there should be bus lanes. I would say that about Bruce Grove even if there were far fewer buses there than there are now. A bus delayed by traffic is a punishment of both the poor and the virtuous; it is also an incentive to drive or take a taxi rather than the bus, which just feeds a vicious circle.

      Far from being an archaic view, the proposition that buses should have dedicated lanes for precisely these reasons is accepted increasingly by progressive city governments on all continents, under the banner of ‘bus rapid transit’.

      As for numbers of buses and routes: perhaps London’s buses are terrifically inefficient – I don’t know. But for several reasons your comment doesn’t start to convince me that they are. For London vs. New York, see the 2012 report by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority. They put the London and New York populations on a par, both just a bit over 8 million (a city’s population depends where you draw the line around it – you can find wildly different figures for New York’s population). London, thus defined, does have almost twice the buses of New York, but it has over three times the daily ridership, so it’s actually working the buses harder than New York.

      Overall my experience on buses in UK cities outside London is that you wait a lot, and most people drive; according to the DfT, over half of all bus journeys in England are in London. Maybe there’s something technically great those other English bus services are doing that London should copy, but I don’t see it.

      As a transport user I’d say a 30%-full bus may be working better than a full one that runs 1/3 as often, because I don’t have to wait as long and I’m sure to get a seat. Moving people isn’t moving freight – small waiting times have a real cost, and drive passengers to other modes. Even 30% full, a bus is still going to be a lot more efficient, in terms of both energy and road space, than a bunch of cars carrying the same people in ones and twos.

      I want dedicated road space for bikes, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of buses. To reclaim urban road space for bikes and transit and walking, it needs to come from cars; to get it away from the cars, we need to encourage all of those other modes simultaneously. Sometimes, that won’t produce bike routes that would, taken in isolation, be the very best ones.

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  4. Pingback: Too many buses? | Frederick Guy

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