Monday 9 June 2014

A Sunny Southern Seaside Safari Part 1: The Brilliant Brightonian Bus Stop Bypass

Last weekend was the Annual General Meeting & Gathering of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. The two-day event was held in Brighton & Hove and there was the opportunity to have a bike ride or two!

In this week's post, I will concentrate on the second day which rounded up the AGM with a ride along the A270 Lewes Road, ably led by Mark Strong (@ibikebrighton). We went to look at the Lewes Road Transport Scheme which includes several bus stop bypasses or floating bus stops which have cyclists passing behind the bus stop area. This is important as it means one doesn't need to pull out into traffic to get round a bus in the stop. Our ultimate destination was the Amex Stadium and University of Sussex area where we turned around and headed back into the city taking in the infrastructure as we went. 

The A270 starts at the southern end of a large park called "The Level" and branches off from the A23 in a north-easterly direction towards the A27. It is a bit more complicated because of gyratories and as far as cycling is concerned, it is a work in progress. The first part of the ride took us along cycle tracks next to Richmond Terrace. They were paint'n'signs shared, segregated cycle tracks along a wide path, broken up with several two-stage staggered toucan crossings. As there were quite a few of us on the route, the sheep-pens in the crossings were difficult to negotiate.

We were then unceremoniously dropped into an advanced stop line "box" with us spreading out like a starting grid at the start of Lewes Road. Then we were off. The route was standard fare of an advisory cycle lane interspersed with bus stops, loading, illegal parking and a horrible gyratory at Hollingdean Road (known as the "Vogue" gyratory). We paused to hear about some plans for the gyratory which includes a floating bus stop and various cycle lanes. A plan can be viewed here.

Beyond the gyratory, things started to get better as we got onto the section of Lewes Road which had been improved. 

The general approach to the scheme was to take a 2-lane (in each direction, albeit with a mandatory cycle lane) dual carriageway and make one lane a bus/ taxi/ cycle lane and the other, a general traffic lane. As I understood it, it was principally a bus priority type of scheme, but cycling has also benefited quite a bit from the changes.

The bus lane is wide by the standards we often see and it has an advisory cycle lane marked within it. When there is no bus, the bus lane acts as separation from general traffic. The advisory lane is on the whole quite wide (certainly from what I am used to) and it is possible to overtake slower bike riders. At some points, we were riding two-abreast and being a person on the outside felt a little unsafe when buses went past.

Junctions are highly variable. Side roads joined the main road without anything specific to protect cyclists, although being on the main road gives them priority. Some signalised T-junctions had a protected cycle track running through them on the side opposite the side road which meant that unless pedestrians were crossing, cyclists could bypass the signals. It might have been possible to have pedestrians crossing the cycle track without signals and then using the push button to cross the traffic lanes. This would mean that those on bikes wouldn't need stop and the traffic crossing times for pedestrians would be shorter which means a quicker cycle time (of the signals) overall. Of course, there will be pedestrians who prefer to have signal holding cyclists - I am thinking of blind and partially-sighted people who might finding crossing the cycle track and then pressing a button difficult or cumbersome.

In some locations, left turn lanes have been created which means for those riding ahead, there is the issue of drivers moving through the cycle lane into the left turn traffic lane (a "mixing" area) which is not great and did trip a few of us up as well as drivers turning left. There are numerous signalised crossings along the the route, with many being toucan from what I can see which allows cyclists to branch of into other areas. The crossings tended to be two-stage and some without staggers.

Then we have the bus stop bypasses or "floating" bus stops. These make use of the old bus layby layouts to bring the advisory cycle lane into a uni-directional cycle track which runs behind a "bus stop island" which carries the bus stop and shelter. 

Pedestrians continue on the existing footway, but cross the cycle track using a pair of dropped kerbs. The cycle tracks in the bus stop bypass are 1.85m in width and with the track surface finished to high standard using AC10 surfacing from what I could see.

The bypasses have nice gentle tapers in and out around the bus stop which meant that one's pace can be maintained (a nice gentle pace for us on the day). There is a cycle logo placed at the pedestrian crossing point, perhaps as a cue to pedestrians.

The pedestrian crossing points have dropped kerbs and tactile paving with a very gentle slope down to/ up from the cycle track. The crossing points were always on the approach side to the bus stops so pedestrians and cyclists could see each other without being obstructed by the bus shelters (which were all clear-glazed without adverts to keep views through clear).

Rejoining the advisory cycle lane require no thought, the cycle track bypasses just flow back into the lanes and the physicality of the bus stop islands protect riders from oncoming buses.

I think the floating bus stops are very successful from a cyclists' point of view, although I can fully understand that some pedestrians might be intimidated in crossing the cycle track when they didn't have to before. What helps greatly is that the layout is consistent and everyone should be able to understand how it all works.

I have ridden Cycle Superhighway 2 which runs through Stratford in East-London. There are floating bus stops there, but they are narrow (I understand to slow cyclists and get them in single file), have tight tapers and with the full-height kerbs next to them, don't feel comfortable to use. Brighton's have low kerbs (45 degree splays would have been perfection of course) and are wide enough to pass people or ride together which what we did.

On reaching the Amex stadium and University, we had a quick look round and indeed an impromptu Brompton freewheel race down a long slope, although those of us on full-sized bikes sneered at the obvious cheating!

On the way back to Brighton, it was more of the same, but with a couple more stops at bus stops!

All of the bus stops are fully compatible with low floor buses which means that the road-side kerb of the bus stop island has been raised to meet the entrance to the bus. Where buses can "kneel" (lower their suspension) this gives an almost step free entry and exit to the bus which makes services accessible to all.

The kerbs were specially made for the job - a "Kassel" kerb or similar. The high kerbs have been laid long enough to accommodate bendy-buses which use the corridor and which were booted out of London by Mayor, Boris Johnson!

At peak times, there is a bus every two minutes along the A270 and so the arrangement of the bus stops allow drivers to easily pull into and out of the stops without having to squeeze into laybys built before we bothered making bus stops accessible and without the hassle of rejoining traffic.

The other interesting kerb (for me at least) is the dropped kerb giving access to pedestrians across the cycle track. 

The detailing is spot on and clearly, the contractor has been instructed to lay the kerbs properly flush with the track surface. Tactile paving is present to guide blind and partially-sighted people over the crossing point and the consistent layout of the bus stops mean that you always walk in the same direction (towards oncoming cyclists when one gets off the bus!)

Dropped kerbs normally come with a rounded top edge to fit in with other kerbs. Here, they have bee turned upside down and everything laid to a square edge. Kerb perfection and more importantly, no trip hazard or lip to catch the wheels of buggies or wheelchairs.

Drainage hasn't been forgotten (unlike the pond on CS2!). Most of the gullies from the "old days" remain in place and the new connections are made to new gullies in various positions. Whenever a gully grating is within an area used by people riding, a wheel-friendly grating is provided so we don't get wheels caught in the bars throwing the rider. Again, excellent attention to detail.

The route itself has a long way to go to be perfect. At we headed back to Brighton, things got a little routine (poor) again. One of the floating bus stops is entered after swerving around a loading bay which means cyclists have buses on one side, stationary vehicles on the other with the door zone to contend with. This could have been done better with the cycle lane passing on the inside of the loading bay, possibly on a cycle track raised about the road surface.

There is a bit of "early green" on the route whereby cyclists get a green signal a few seconds before drivers which reduces the possibility of a "left hook" conflict. If you are waiting at a red signal it is good as you are pretty much through the junction before traffic runs.

If there are a lot of you, the poor souls at the back of the platoon are still in the left hook area as traffic is released and if the traffic have a green, there is no advantage. It is not a huge leap of the imagination to provide a separate stage for cyclists or a separated left turn stage for traffic (which is a post in itself!). There were some Trixi mirrors in evidence which are yet another mirror for the lorry driver to keep an eye on - I am not a fan.

As we headed back to The Level, there was another example of a signalised T-junction bypass as mentioned above and it also showed another Brighton problem of big wheelie bins stored on the street. In this case, helpfully blocking pedestrian views.

On the whole, the route is far better than much one can find in the UK as even the wide bus lane with cycle lane is fair when cyclists are in single file. The feeling of safety is compromised a bit by buses going past and the left hooks at the signalised junctions are pretty horrible.

As we rolled back into the park, we stopped at the grass-roofed Velo Cafe for some much needed refreshment and a chat about what we had seen and life in general. Oh and it was there I agreed to write a blog post about the floating bus stops!

I saw and heard a lot in my two days at the CEoGB AGM and I will be writing a little more in the next week or two. But for now, let's celebrate the brilliant Brightonian bus stop bypass as it is a piece of infrastructure which is so well laid out, you soon take it for granted!


  1. 'Bus platform' rather than 'floating bus stop' or 'bus stop bypass'? - sounds less jargon-y and more like bus users are getting something out of the improvements perhaps.

    1. I guess the bus platform is part of the set up - floating and bypass are terms which have come into common use in recent times, but I get the sentiment!