In so many walks of life 'going into the red' is a bad thing. Bank balance, fuel guage, temperature gauge, and even, yup you guessed it... The Bus Lane!
It is the dreaded bus lane that I thought I would have a little ramble about today.
Many a time, driving a familiar route at certain times of day I chuckle to myself, as all the law abiding, fearful drivers sit patiently (and impatiently) in the normal lane, waiting in a long queue of traffic in a mix of cars going straight on and being held up by those turning right.... Meanwhile, the left lane, THE BUS LANE is clear for traffic going straight on and left. But no one will use it.
Duh, Its a bus lane I hear you say. Yes it is, but like yellow and red lines, bus lanes also have hours of operation, and the times I refer to are those times of day when the bus lane is no longer in effect. Its fair to say that when driving along at 30mph, watching for idiots pulling out, pedestrians on the phone walking into the road, and cyclists who don't see to care for their own life, reading the operation hours of a bus lane comes low on the list of priorities. (I will come back to this later)
However, when sitting in stop start traffic, and running along side a bus lane, especially a road you are caught on regularly , my recommendation to you is this... Read the hours of operation. Make a mental note of the times, and remember them next time you use the road. In general its not hard to rememeber as there are only a few sets of hours used on most lanes.
7am-10am and 4pm-7pm
Not that much to remember now is it :)
The next thing to do is pay attention to the time of day you travel, and keep an eye on your clock or watch in the car (assuming you keep it adjusted correctly)
Its not just one or two places, nor is it just around the hour the restrictions change. I have frequently buzzed along up a 'not in service' bus lane only to receive glares from other drivers queuing, or even having them swerve into the lane to stop me passing. Its not my fault you are not paying attention, or are just in fact an idiot.
This basically brings me to something I have wondered for a long long time now. Is there really no way to use a basic lighting system to show a bus lane is allowed to be used by normal traffic? The emphasis seems to be on penalising the unauthorised use of them, rather than encouraging the use of them when they are not in service. It only takes a broken down car, road works in the middle of the road, or some other incident to bring the single 'permitted' lane to a grinding halt, and causing the fearful drivers to sit there politely waiting to navigate their way around the obstruction. Meanwhile, all traffic simply turning left is trapped in this queue.
Of course this could be avoided by drivers taking the time to pay attention to the signs, have a little read, and take advantage of the out of service bus lane. But the fact is... THEY DON'T!
In recent years, to ease congestion, and negate the need to widen motorways further, electronic signage has been used to advise motorists that they are permitted to drive on the hard shoulder, turning it into another lane. This can of course be reverted back to a hard shoulder at any time. So with this in mind, and as a trial for the really back areas for this on roads like the South Circular for example, how about replacing the standard bus lane hours of operation signs with ones more commonly found in town centres for car parks. With an electronic section, set to the hours of operation of the lane, but ultimately controlled by bodies like TfL, who could make the bus lane usable to clear congestion around an incident, or indeed extend the closure of the bus lane to traffic when traffic issues are causing serious delays for buses. (see it works both ways).
I have thought over the years about how this could be done. A simple red / green traffic light system on the hours of operation sign, giving a simple indication that the bus lane is open for use by other road users, right through to the above suggestion, which actually came to me writing this.
Working in the logistics business, I know how frustrating it can be for vehicles to be caught up on a long road, just waiting to turn left. And from a private road users perspective, I am flabbergasted by the number of people willing to sit in traffic purely driven by the fear of driving along or into a bus lane. Another thing I have noticed is that this 'fear' is so powerful, people actually swerve around bus stops laid with red tarmac.
While I know the aim of a bus lane is to ensure the bulk of commuters, those willing or required to use buses, are able to get to where they want in a timely manner, while the buses manage to stick quite closely to their timetables. And I'm all for that. having used buses quite a lot in the past its lovely to bypass the traffic and get there in a quarter of the time. Actually I can see that its an encouraging factor when it comes to deciding how to make your commute. 40 mins of traffic or a 15 min value for money bus journey. Personally I usually choose to drive.
So, people of London and other mighty cities, TfL, and dear Boris.... For those who concentrate SO much on the goings on on the roads that they can't read the hours of operation, for those caught in the moment and not aware, and for those who are terrified of the red tarmac which invaded our highways and threatened to charge us £100 for laying a wheel on to it (even if it is only a bus stop and the driver cant tell the difference) Please can we consider a way to make the drivers of the roads choked with traffic and bordered by expensive to drive in lanes, aware of when they are allowed to break free from the traffic, and make a run for freedom (a left turn).
Control over that extra lane could make such a difference. It has on the motorways, now to help those trapped in the cities (by their own stupidity)
And to those people reading this thinking aaaah..... Do something about it, get to know the roads on your journeys, and pay attention to the time of day. Its not a lot to do, but could be very rewarding. A quicker journey home, and the priceless looks on the faces you pass by. Try it.