Bus-truck lane call

A top transport academic says dedicated bus and truck lanes could reduce congestion

Bus-truck lane call
Bus-truck lane call

By Sean Muir | May 20, 2013

There aren’t many general motorists who relish the thought of a heavy vehicle roaring up behind them.

Trucks and buses can be intimidating, especially for people travelling in smaller vehicles on increasingly congested roads.

The constant media reminders about the damage that can be done by heavy vehicles don’t help to ease motorists’ anxiety.

But bus and truck drivers aren’t exactly thrilled about the road-sharing arrangement either.

Both constantly have tight deadlines disrupted by car congestion, and more importantly, both shoulder a heavy burden of safety for other drivers.

So what are the solutions?

If you pay much attention to the federal and state governments, it appears more heavy vehicle regulation is the key to safer roads.

The spate of police media announcements made weekly about heavy vehicle-related crimes and incidents goes a long way to support this argument.

The answer to growing congestion, according to the Federal Budget release last week, appears to be more costly road and rail infrastructure.

But at least one leading transport academic is proposing governments think outside the box and investigate more efficient and creative use of the infrastructure the nation already has to solve its growing transport problems.

University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) Director David Hensher says, in particular, the idea of ‘no car lanes’ has never been seriously considered in Australia, despite overseas support.

Hensher says in some cases ‘no car lanes’ – lanes that could be used by buses and trucks, but not cars – could help reduce congestion and increase road safety.

"There was a great study done in England, in fact, one of my professors did it, on what are called ‘no car lanes’ – basically saying that there are lanes that anything can go in, but cars," Hensher says.

"And the beauty of that is that – especially where you have fairly low-density bus use – those lanes can be better used by trucks.

"The problem is that if you have a high-frequency bus service you have just got to take into account whether it would work. But in many situations in Australia, those bus lanes are underutilized substantially and it makes good sense to allow the trucks to go into them."

Hensher says dedicated bus and truck lanes could also allow lanes used only by cars to be narrowed.

He says this could allow more car lanes to be introduced, albeit with lower speed limits.

"There has been a study in California that showed if you drop the speed limit down on narrower lanes to about 70 kilometres an hour, then you can possible get yourself an extra lane of capacity by narrowing the lanes," Hensher says.

"People are now saying lets drop the speed limit, still to a reasonable limit, and narrow the lanes, and people will travel faster because there will be less traffic delay. Some people say, well, 100 kilometres an hour is faster, but it’s not if it’s clogged with traffic because you have less capacity."

But Hensher concedes for it to work you would have to allow for ‘on-off’ arrangements so heavy vehicles can enter and leave the dedicated lanes efficiently.

"And if, in fact, you don’t get the appropriate on-off configuration set up, that can delay traffic in the other lanes," he says.

But Hensher says his primary point is smarter investment in roads needs to be made.

"The point I want to make is that we need to recognize that more people use public transport on roads than they do on rail and that we should actually insist with all these roads they have dedicated lanes for buses, and then you can achieve both objectives - you can improve accessibility because these roads are actually delivering better origin destination outcomes than some of these rail projects.

"So my bottom line is that lets stop thinking that roads are just for cars and trucks – they are also for buses if you treat them properly."

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