Sharing the road with a city bus

With the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) planning Bus Rapid Transit in the area, there’s a debate among local cyclists in Silicon Valley on the preferred bike lane treatment around city bus pullouts.

VTA’s preferred option is to run a bus-only lane in the median of El Camino Real, but the cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Altos have nixed that idea, forcing VTA to design for a “BRT-lite” with traditional bus pullouts in the right lane just like they have now.

Silicon Valley cycling advocates are using the opportunity of a major redesign of El Camino Real to submit ideas for improved cycling on this historic byway.

A significant number of people believe running the bike lane to the right of a bus pullout is a safe option. The bus pulls over and stops to the left of the bike lane, allowing cyclists to pass to the right of the bus. These “bus islands” are apparently used in Seattle, as shown here:

Terminology Needed

Some of these folks cite the example of “world class cycling cities” (e.g. Copengagen and Amsterdam). In those cities, however, cyclists are required to stop behind the bus. Planners in northern Europe learned long ago that sending vehicles through the passenger loading zone is a recipe for disaster.

People like me think “no way” to these bus islands. Pedestrians boarding and exiting the bus will get clobbered by passing cyclists. cyclists should pass stopped traffic, including stopped city buses, to the left.

The “pass on the right” crowd claim that passing buses on the left is “terrifying” and “dangerous.” My response: emulate your cycling cousins in the “world class cycling cities” and just stop behind the bus. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I would like to demonstrate how to pass a bus on the left. I have my GoPro helmet cam, but I need a volunteer to ride in front of me to demonstrate :

  • Checking back for traffic
  • Merging far left into the lane where the bus driver can see you.
  • Staying in the lane until you’ve safely passed the pass.

I’ll be in downtown San Jose around 5 PM on Thursday. Let me know if you’d like to participate. You must be comfortable in heavy, downtown traffic. The video will be posted to YouTube.

Thanks for the help.


  1. Those cities stop behind buses? That seems a bit strange to me.

    In any case, why not just leave the bus where is it, in the travel lane, and let _cars_ stop behind the bus — bike can continue along the cycletrack as is.

    And the point of cycletracks generally and them continuing behind bus shelters, etc., is _not_ to cater to the 1% of the population that currently cycles — it’s to allow the other 99% to cycle if they wish — right now they cannot.

    There is very simple math here — do you want to allow everyone to ride?

    If that answer is ‘yes’, then we have to physically protect cyclists from generally-massive motorized vehicles — that means ‘pass on the left’ is out, especially on a major corridor like El Camino Real.

    If buses _do_ get exclusive lanes in the middle of the road, we have to guarantee that bikes get exclusive lanes on the outside of the road. A simple bike lane, as we know from looking at San Jose, will not cut it — will not allow normal people to bike.

    We can’t afford to get El Camino Real wrong, and we need all existing cyclists to get off the VC bandwagon and look out for their fellow man — that means supporting cycletracks even if one feels they don’t need them because they are a ‘confident cyclist’.

  2. p.s. If you don’t get any takers today I can do it tomorrow or early next week. That is, if a cyclist in a dress and heels on a mixte works for you.

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