Dynamic bus lanes in Sweden – a pre-study

Olstam, J., Häll, C.H., Smith, G., Habibovic, A. & Anund, A.
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Dedicated bus lanes and bus streets have, in recent years, become common measures for prioritisation of public transport. By ensuring free path along routes, they increase average speed and travel time reliability of buses. However, a major drawback is that the total traffic capacities of the roads decrease. Hence, these measures are only suitable when the total traffic flow is low enough to allow for a reduction of lanes; if it is possible to reroute adjacent traffic; or if it is possible to extend the road with additional lanes. A supplementary priority measure could be to utilize dynamic bus lanes (also called intermittent bus lanes and bus lanes with intermittent priority). Dynamic bus lanes are only dedicated for buses when and where the buses need them, and otherwise open for all vehicles to use. At any given point, adjacent traffic is only permitted from using the dynamic bus lanes at the stretches where buses are in the vicinity. This report presents the results from a pre-study, investigating the potential that dynamic bus lanes could have as a priority measure for public transport in a Swedish context.

Knowledge of situations in which dynamic bus lanes have the highest potential, and their implementation requirements is scarce. It is moreover uncertain how they would affect traffic safety, level of service and user experience. Two real world field tests have been conducted; one in Lisbon and one in Melbourne. The installation in Melbourne is now permanently applied for trams on one street. The field test in Lisbon was on the contrary not made permanent, although the results showed large benefits for buses and limited adverse effects on other vehicles. Dynamic bus lanes have also been investigated by means of traffic analysis and traffic simulation experiments. In general, these studies show that the effects on travel time for buses are in general positive and delays for other vehicles are limited. Results from example calculations in this pre-study show that this also could be true for a Swedish context. It has also been identified that the effects on travel times are highly dependent on factors such as: the total traffic flow; the bus flow, the capacity of roads and junctions; the distance between junctions and bus stops; the type of bus stops and the yielding rules at bus stops. The effects on travel time variations are unclear and need to be further investigated.

Few rigorous research studies have in general been undertaken to measure the user experiences or road safety implications of bus priority schemes, and evidence from those that do exist are mixed. Anyhow, the experiences from Lisbon and Melbourne suggest that drivers in adjacent lanes in general understand and accept that they are deprived of the right to use the lane when the buses need it, and that they will behave appropriately. Neither of the field tests has observed any negative impact on road safety. A workshop was conducted within this pre-study in order to further investigate plausible user experiences. The results indicate that bus drivers’ stress levels could be reduced; the relative attractiveness of travelling by bus might rise; and that motorists probably would experience the introduction of dynamic bus lanes as neither good nor bad, as long as the system is fairly intuitive.

Technical solutions for implementing dynamic bus lanes exist. A dynamic bus lane system would require development of a system control unit and integration with bus sensors, sensors for traffic flow measurement, variable message signs (to inform road users of the current status of the dynamic bus lane) and traffic signals. It is moreover, in Sweden, possible to develop a local traffic rule that regulates dynamic bus lanes. However, the rule needs to be properly specified, designed, communicated, signed and marked on the road.

The overall conclusion form the pre-study is that dynamic bus lanes could be a useful complementary priority measure for public transport vehicles in Sweden, especially when dedicated bus lanes are not feasible or desirable. However, a real world installation in Sweden, including pre implementation traffic analysis, is needed, in order to further investigate the potential and consequences. Thus, the next step is to plan for an implementation on a specific road stretch. That would include both estimation of costs, and generate input to further studies of effect on level of service and user experience. Driving simulators and traffic simulation experiments are applicable methods for investigating these issues. 

Public transport
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