Editorial: buscycle lanes

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Photo: Toomas Huik / Postimees

After Tallinn got busy painting BUS unto its streets, the mostly empty lanes have stirred the imagination of many an interest group. «Open them up for us,» begged people behind electric and hybrid cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles... The basis of any traffic decision must be safety of road users. That’s what decides if and what kinds of vehicles, and on what conditions, could be allowed unto the bus lanes.

The Tallinn transport department is now about to experiment with bicyclists. They, and all involved in traffic management now need to pay close attention, as well as those directly involved – the bus drivers, the folks pedalling away on bikes. The transport department needs to also pay heed to criticism for only then will they arrive at prudent conclusions. Should the change create dangerous situations, the experiment needs to be declared a flop.

Why the pull towards bus lanes? To get through intersections easy, of course. Even so, safety and speed in city traffic isn’t based on the comfort of single players alone; what matters is the overall dynamics of the traffic flow. Vehicles do have differing speed and acceleration traits; and, at least not in the Northern-European traffic culture, we’ll never go for total anarchy on the lanes. For instance: vehicles restricted to 40 km/h max are to stick to the right lane at the edge. Traffic Act says bicycles may be equipped with electric engines – that alters dynamics altogether.

Those responsible for organising traffic in Tallinn need to ensure that the signal given to people is explicit and precise. In legislation, all may be laid out in tiniest details; traffic control devices may be set up just fine; but road users still may develop their own personal interpretations. For instance, till today there’s quite a mess with the amendment that allows bicyclists to ride over crossings. A large part of bicyclists do not know that they only have right of way regarding drivers who are turning onto the road they are crossing.

Cyclists deciding to use bus lanes need to consider that while they have the right, recklessness is not recommended. A bus lane is no cycle/pedestrian track. Due to the large blind spot, the driver of a big vehicle is limited in his vision. At any rate, a cyclist on a bus lane must seek to be glaringly visible; a helmet might be a must – even if not prescribed by law.