Restrictions on a third of bus lanes are set to be relaxed in a bid to keep traffic moving and clear up confusion surrounding the city’s complicated greenway rules.
All-day bus lanes will be scrapped, bringing 90 per cent of them into sync and giving drivers peace of mind that they won’t incur a fine outside of rush hour.
The move is designed to encourage drivers who shun the lanes entirely for fear of being fined to use them at off-peak times, cuttting queues on some of the Capital’s busiest roads.
In a Scottish first, the shake-up will also see motorbikes given permission to use bus lanes 24 hours a day.
A two-month survey earlier this year found that there was “little additional operational benefit” to having bus lanes closed to drivers throughout the day, and that drivers were often left scratching their heads at the variety of different rules for greenways.
Transport bosses believe the changes will improve safety for motorcyclists, cut pollution and help ease traffic congestion, as well as making regulations easier to understand.
More than a third of the city’s bus lanes will be affected – including those on major arteries such as Leith Walk and the A702 – with 22km of road being opened up to general traffic for six-and-a-half hours longer each day.
It means 90 per cent of the 65km of greenways across the Capital will only be in operation between 7.30am and 9.30am and between 4pm and 6.30pm.
The council is expected to approve a nine-month trial of the plans, to begin in June next year, with the option of a further nine months, at its transport committee on Tuesday.
Motorcycle campaigners have welcomed moves to allow bikers to join cyclists, buses and black cabs in using all bus lanes throughout the day.
However, the stretches will remain closed to private hire taxi firms after officials recommended that councillors reject calls for equal access.
Ken Glendinning of the British Motorcyclists Federation said: “To hear that the trial is likely to be approved is absolutely fantastic.
“The number of people who are using scooters to get around town has risen considerably. It’s becoming quite a lot cheaper for people to use two-wheeled transport these days.
“When you think about it for a few seconds, it’s a no-brainer that it’s safer for motorcycles to use bus lanes. Bus lanes are relatively quiet, and it makes a lot of sense for two-wheeled vehicles of all sorts, whether they’re cyclists or motorcyclists to actually be able to use them.
“There’s the added advantage that a bus is never going to get stuck behind a scooter or a motorcycle, whereas getting stuck behind a cyclist does slow a bus down.”
Mr Glendinning added that in places such as London and Bristol where bikers already have the freedom of bus lanes, overall awareness and respect for greenways increased, making accidents less likely.
He said: “What people actually found was that more two-wheeled vehicles in bus lanes actually raises the profile, and the number of pedestrians being knocked down in bus lanes actually reduced.
“The rate in the London trial dropped considerably. It made a huge difference.”
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “This report calls for the vast majority of bus lanes to operate at peak periods only, for a trial period to begin with. Our surveys have shown that there isn’t really any great difference made to buses at off-peak times in bus lanes that are currently all day.
“We also know that it can be very confusing for motorists not knowing which bus lanes operate under which hours. Standardising 90 per cent of the network will make things much simpler.
“Having heard from motorcycle users during our review, we’re minded to start a trial of allowing motorcycles to use bus lanes in Edinburgh.
“Given the relatively small proportion of motorcycles on Edinburgh’s roads, and the fact that motorcyclists themselves think using bus lanes would make their journeys both safer and quicker, we think this change should have little or no impact on other bus lane users.”
Cllr Hinds added: “We will keep this under close review during the trial, of course, before any decision is taken to make this permanent.”
There are currently three types of bus lane.
All-day bus lanes are enforced continuously between 7.30am and 6.30pm, and make up 22km of the 65km bus lane network. Peak-time bus lanes are the most common, and are enforced at rush hour between 7.30am and 9.30am, and between 4pm and 6.30pm.
Finally, there are a handful of bus lanes that are restricted around the clock, and are mainly located at bus gates, park and rides and in places where a single bus lane runs against the flow of traffic.
In order to simplify this complicated picture, all-day bus lanes are effectively being scrapped. Except for 24-hour bus lanes, all greenways will now be restricted during the existing peak times only. During those hours, only buses, cycles, taxis, and for the first time motorcycles will be able to enter bus lanes.
The affected bus lanes are at Leith Street, Leith Walk, Calder Road, Lanark Road, the A702 and York Place.
‘Drivers don’t trust cameras’
NEIL Greig of the Institute of Advanced Motorists said drivers need to have more confidence when they approach bus lanes, but respect basic etiquette.
“When a bus lane isn’t in operation, you should use the whole road,” he said. “Many drivers in Edinburgh are reticent to do that, especially since we’ve had camera enforcement of the bus lanes.
“They don’t really
trust the fact that the camera isn’t malfunctioning.
“But they should use the bus lane – particularly if they are holding up the traffic. I wouldn’t encourage undertaking, though.”