Let the buses – and cycles – through!

trentbarton’s express bus services between Derby and Nottingham, the Red Arrow is a public transport success.  Using the A52 – Brian Clough Way – it speeds its way between these cities with a bus every 10 minutes during the day.

Most of the route is dual carriageway.  At the Derby end this goes all the way to the bus station, though queues at the junction with the A61 – Pentagon Island – can be a problem, but the driver has the freedom to try alternative routes at peak times.

At the Nottingham end it’s more difficult.  The bus lane on the A52 where it runs between Beeston and Bramcote is wonderful, but the road narrows between Wollerton Park and Nottingham University.  This section – just over a mile – can seem very slow if the bus is crawling in peak hour traffic.  Then the bus lanes return and it’s on into Nottingham proper and the journey is all but over.

Today I was at a Highways Agency regional meeting for people representing groups of non-motorised users (NMUs!) of their network.  I was there for Derby Cycling Group.  There was also a representative of Pedals – the equivalent cycle campaigning body in Nottingham.  And this Wollerton Park section of the A52 trunk road came up in discussion.

Not only is this a pinch point for buses, it also is for cyclists.  Either side of this length, the cyclists share the bus lanes, but here they have no help.  The pavements are apparently too narrow to make shared use, and alternative routes beyond the park and university campus mean significant diversions.  Pedals have suggested on-road cycle lanes.  The Highways Agency is less than sure.

I think this should be explored further.  At present, at peak times, we were told the traffic apparently uses the width  of the generous traffic lanes to the full, by forming two queues sometimes down most of the length of this section of road.  There are two – even three – official lanes as the road meets the roundabouts at each end of this section, and drivers are anticipating these. 

No wonder the bus has difficulty.  It’s having to wait for two lanes of traffic to get through the roundabout ahead of it!  If this traffic were in one lane with the rest queuing further back, before the roundabout, the bus could have passed half the queue while still in a bus lane.  There’s another mile and a half of queuing opportunity further back!

For traffic going straight on into Nottingham it would make no difference whether they queue before or after the roundabout.  However there will be more delays to people waiting to turn left or right.

Would giving the bus – and cyclists – more advantage like this encourage more people to use the bus instead of their car?  In most of the country, traffic levels peaked a couple of years ago and are now steady or falling (see p9 on this link).  Giving people an attractive alternative is one way to encourage this virtuous trend.  Could this be one way to encourage more ‘modal shift’ – and would it mean the Red Arrow becomes so popular that it can support not just six, but eight, buses an hour?

UPDATE – next day…

I’ve now been out to get a photo of a Red Arrow bus to illustrate this post – and had the opportunity to speak to one of the Red Arrow drivers.  He didn’t recognise the description of two lanes of traffic queuing down this section – he said that except at the junctions it’s only one abreast.  Queue-shifting may therefore be more difficult to achieve than just by giving the cyclists some help…

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