Two transport deals got underway in Manchester this month. Work to deliver a major bus priority route between Salford and Manchester, and a deal with China to build a £650 million ‘Airport City’ transport hub. Meanwhile, in Liverpool, we’re putting busses in the slow lane. Could two cities’ outlooks be any more polarised?
And so the big experiment is underway. Liverpool is making it just that little bit more difficult for us to use public transport – at a time when study after study shows bus lanes to be a catalyst for urban regeneration, we’re shoving things into reverse…
The US based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has, this week,
published its latest analysis of mass transit movement across key urban corridors.
Its findings? According to this post in Wired: the bus won out big time in terms of generating high-value development at a low upfront cost.
New investments along bus route corridors leveraged more than a billion dollars in development, according to the Institute’s Director for the U.S. and Africa, Annie Weinstock. The bus lanes have brought new businesses, stable communities and an increase in house prices: all things we could do with a bit more of around here. Especially in those areas of the city where car ownership amounts to just 46% of households, and where – according to the last census results – population is decreasing. So much for north Liverpool rising again.
As an example, Forbes mentions Cleveland’s Healthline, a dedicated bus lane project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, which has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each dollar invested. Portland’s Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested.
The big experiment flies in the face of every piece of current transport thinking – namely that the more kilometres of road available, the more cars take to the roads. It’s something called the ‘fundamental law of road congestion’ and it’s something that’s been arrived at not by a snap judgement, but by years of quantitative data capture. Evidence.
“A commonly suggested response to traffic congestion—expansions of the road network—does not appear to have their desired effect,” says Resources for the Future, about the Law, “road expansions should not be expected to reduce congestion. Reductions in travel time caused by an average highway expansion are not sufficient to justify the expense of such an expansion.”
Quite simply, the more road space you supply, the more traffic uses it. It’s something known as induced demand – and it’s been documented since, ooh, 1969.
One of the reasons Joe cites for bringing in the nine month experiment is a drop in bus passenger numbers. Reason, one would have thought, to work harder to encourage us all to consider public transport, and to make the prospect more enticing.
According to Joe “bus lanes simply don’t work“. “We have looked at it over six to seven months and we feel it makes no improvement to the traffic flow in the city,” he says. Note the word ‘feel’. Not especially scientific, is it? Here’s some science from a transport planner employed by forward-thinking cities across the UK.
“When a bus lane is put in, the queue length is observed to increase. This is simply because one of the lanes which the queue was spread across has now been removed. As long as the queue doesn’t stretch back across a previous junction, there is no ill effects due to the implementation of the bus lane,” he says. “It’s all about getting the bus lanes right. If this condition is reached, then the bus lane will not reduce the capacity of the road, nor will it increase congestion. A bus lane is just a smart way of improving bus journeys at no cost to car drivers, indeed, encouraging car drivers to leave the car at home and take the bus improves the congestion for everyone.”
And so how is Liverpool’s great bus lane experiment to be monitored? We spoke to the council, but there was no real answer. “It’s not an exact science,” they say, adding that the trial will be a mix of ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ assessment: with a steering group consisting of the Green Party’s John Coyne (who’s called the plan ‘crass’) and members of Arriva, Stagecoach, and city cycling forums. Data will be collected – passenger numbers on busses assessed (but what will a decrease mean? The experiment’s working? Or it’s not working, because bus times are longer? No-one seems to be too sure) and average journey times crunched. But, as the council admits, a lot of these findings’ interpretation will be ‘subjective’. Shouldn’t our traffic management be a bit smarter than this?
“Car culture is the biggest thing that needs to change,” says Krista Kline, employed by the City of Los Angeles to spearhead sustainability, and to keep the city moving. “People are realising that if we want a better quality of life, we need to take the bus more. Local entities need to work together. We need to walk more, use mass transit more, and be better connected. Los Angeles is moving to a cleaner, less car-reliant model not just because it’s healthier, but because smart cities know that’s where industry and investment is heading. Smart cities need to be based on future industries, not the old models of the past,” she adds.
For their part, Arriva claim the council lack of consultation prior to today’s big switch off: “The bus operators have had no involvement in the process for implementing a trial of withdrawing bus lanes and have been given no evidence from Liverpool City Council to justify such a trial,” says Arriva Howard Farrall, Area Managing Director, Arriva Merseyside. Joe says he’s met with them twice, and facilitated a further two meetings between his office and the bus companies.
“We have said repeatedly that we would welcome any review of the effectiveness of bus lanes and would be prepared to work with Liverpool City Council and other stakeholders. However, they have not invited any participation until now and, given that they have gone ahead with the decision to suspend the bus lanes with effect from 28th October, it is evident that whatever our views, they will be disregarded,” Farrall says.
“Keeping the city moving for our motorists, businesses, residents, commuters and visitors is absolutely vital,” says Joe, “so it’s important we take a proper look at this. While we don’t have extensive data, the evidence we do have suggests that bus lanes are not benefiting the city as planned, that they are not leading to an increase in bus usage, and that they may actually be making congestion worse. This trial is about getting the data we need so we can make an informed decision over this important issue which we know is a major source of frustration for motorists.”
Joe says he’s keeping an open mind on the matter, and that the trial can be stopped, or amended, at any time. “The suspension of the city’s bus lanes will only be made permanent if clear benefits to the city can be demonstrated,” he says.
SevenStreets sees public transport investment vital to the smooth, safe and healthy running of any modern metropolis. At a time when the world’s most forward-thinking cities are investing in BRT (Bus Rapid Transit – see above) systems, increased light rail and tram, we see this as a worryingly retrograde step, taken without the benefit of, y’know, science. Seemingly on a whim, the city centre movement strategy, designed to keep cars round the edge of the city, has been upended.
The results will, no-doubt, please motorists. When he was elected, one of Joe’s five central ambitions was to make Liverpool a world centre for green technology. Joe, looks like you’ve missed the bus…
(thanks @samuelhayes for the Manchester bus tip)