Trucks and buses should share dedicated lanes: Hensher

A top transport and logistics academic says dedicated bus and truck lanes could reduce congestion

Trucks and buses should share dedicated lanes: Hensher
Trucks and busses should share dedicated lanes: Hensher

By Sean Muir | May 20, 2013

There aren’t many general motorists who relish the thought of a heavy vehicle roaring up behind them.

Trucks and buses can be intimidating, especially for people travelling in smaller vehicles on increasingly congested roads.

The constant media reminders about the damage that can be done by heavy vehicles don’t help to ease motorists’ anxiety.

But truck and
bus drivers aren’t exactly thrilled about the road-sharing arrangement either.

Both constantly have tight deadlines disrupted by car congestion, and more importantly, both shoulder a heavy burden of safety for other drivers.

So what's the solution?

If you pay much attention to the federal and state governments, it appears more heavy vehicle regulation is the key to safer roads.

The spate of police media announcements made weekly about heavy vehicle-related crimes and incidents goes a long way to support this argument.

The answer to growing congestion, according to the Federal Budget release last week, appears to be
greater investment in
costly road and rail infrastructure.

But at least one leading transport academic is proposing governments think outside the box and investigate more efficient and creative use of the infrastructure the nation already has to solve its growing transport problems.

University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) Director David Hensher says, in particular, the idea of ‘no car lanes’ has never been seriously considered in Australia, despite overseas support.

Hensher says in some cases ‘no car lanes’ – lanes that could be used by buses and trucks, but not cars – could help reduce congestion and increase road safety.

"There was a great study done in England, in fact, one of my professors did it, on what are called ‘no car lanes’ – basically saying that there are lanes that anything can go in, but cars," Hensher says.

"And the beauty of that is that – especially where you have fairly low-density bus use – those lanes can be better used by trucks.

"The problem is that if you have a high-frequency bus service you have just got to take into account whether it would work. But in many situations in Australia, those bus lanes are underutilised substantially and it makes good sense to allow the trucks to go into them."

Hensher says dedicated bus and truck lanes could also allow lanes used only by cars to be narrowed.

He says this could allow more car lanes to be introduced, albeit with lower speed limits.

"There has been a study in California that showed if you drop the speed limit down on narrower lanes to about 70 kilometres an hour, then you can possibly get yourself an extra lane of capacity," Hensher says.

"People are now saying
[we should]
drop the speed limit to a reasonable limit and
narrow the lanes so
people will travel faster because there will be less traffic delay. Some people say, well, 100 kilometres an hour is faster, but it’s not if its clogged with traffic because you have less capacity."

But Hensher concedes for the concept to work you would have to allow for ‘on-off’ arrangements so heavy vehicles can enter and leave the dedicated lanes efficiently.

"And if, in fact, you don’t get the appropriate on-off configuration set up, that can delay traffic in the other lanes," he says.

But Hensher says his primary point is smarter investment in roads needs to be made.

"The point I want to make is we need to recognise more people use public transport on roads than they do on rail," he says.

"With all these roads [being built and upgraded], we should actually insist we introduce dedicated lanes for buses, and then you can achieve both objectives.

"You can improve accessibility because the roads are actually delivering better origin destination outcomes than the rail projects.

"So my bottom line is, let's stop thinking roads are just for cars and trucks – they are also for buses if you treat them properly."

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