Where do we Need Bus Lanes?

I find one of the most frustrating things about catching the bus is getting stuck in traffic. Traffic is frustrating enough in a car – in a bus I find it twice as infuriating due to (a) pulling in and out of bus stops and the fact a bus needs larger gaps than a car means you get delayed even more by it and (b) it feels innately unfair that even though you’re not contributing to the congestion, you still get penalised by it.

It’s one of the big reasons we don’t get as much uptake on the buses as we should – if I had a dollar for every person who’s complained that catching the bus is too slow compared to driving I’d be a rich man.

Bus lanes can fix this, by allowing buses to operate quickly and reliably irrespective of how heavy traffic congestion is. So I thought I’d have a look at bus lanes around the city. This map shows the high-frequency bus network in red, and the current areas where we have bus lanes in green. Note: there are a couple of short sections that I haven’t included as they were too small to see properly – little bits on Manchester Street and around hospital corner.


It shows that some of the core bus routes have some bus lanes, but that most of the network currently has nothing.

Bus lanes provide the biggest benefits on roads that are heavily congested. The maps below show typical traffic congestion in the morning and evening peak periods.

830AM Wednesday traffic.JPG

530AM Wednesday traffic.JPG

The areas where core bus routes are affected by heavy congestion, but don’t currently have any bus lanes, are:

  • Lincoln Road
  • Ferry Road
  • Memorial Avenue
  • Various parts of the Orbiter route – QEII Drive, Grahams Road, Ilam Road, Pages Road
  • All the routes in the CBD

I’d like to see bus lanes being investigated on all these routes. I’m not sure why bus lanes don’t seem to be a big part of the CBD conversation. Other than a short right turn bus lane on Manchester Street, and a wee bit around hospital corner, there are no bus lanes within the 4 avenues, not even around the central bus exchange. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite us in a few years. Lincoln Road bus lanes have just been announced for consultation – I’ll do a post on this soon.

Thankfully several of the worst congested parts of our network are not parts that core buses operate on, for example both ends of the new Southern Motorway. I’m not sure if this is good management or just good luck.

Another thing this analysis doesn’t go into is the quality of bus lanes. Continuity through intersections and priority at traffic lights (sensors that detect approaching buses and switch to green) can vary widely, and if not done well can mean some bus lanes are pretty much useless, while others are really effective.

The main downside to bus lanes is not the cost, it’s the reallocation of street space. Bus lanes usually mean taking space that was previously used for queueing traffic or parked cars. This downside needs to be taken into account, but it should be done in an objective, quantitative manner, such as by calculating the benefits and costs based on well-accepted economic methods. Instead, it’s usually it’s taken into account in a political manner, which translates as just giving the road space to whoever complains the loudest. This approach is why we have ended up with so many severely compromised bus lanes around the city. It’s currently being played out on Victoria Street, Riccarton Road and Main North Road. I’d love to see us grow up as a society and start being more rational in our decision-making around how best to allocate our publicly owned street space. Hopefully the new suburban parking policy helps start us along this path.

Where do you think we need bus lanes?

13 thoughts on “Where do we Need Bus Lanes?

  1. When I lived in Helsinki I sometimes caught a bus to their central bus station. The buses were fortunate to have their own roads and tunnels through the CBD. It was highly effective way of avoiding motor vehicle congestion.

    Given the recent post about how many cbd connecting roads Christchurch has, perhaps one through road should be reallocated as a bus priority lane?

    I would suggest extending out the Manchester st bus priority lane.

    Manchester st is only 1 block from the bus exchange so it easily connects with this central destination.

    A tunnel under Moorhouse Ave to Buchan st could solve the problem of how to quickly access Manchester st from the south.

    This bus route could connect with a train station at Moorhouse Ave. This could be the start of a rapid transit network.

    This sort of infrastructure is needed to cope with city growth over the next 30 to 50 years.


    1. “A tunnel under Moorhouse Ave to Buchan st could solve the problem of how to quickly access Manchester st from the south. ”


      And break the CBD up into about 4 quadrants within the one way street system to remove the through traffic. The links between the quadrants can be bus/cycle/walk/tram only as needed


  2. Great to see this topic being discussed. To achieve modal shift onto buses will require a fundamental change in focus from the current watered down ineffective bus lanes which try too hard to balance competing demands from commuter traffic and parking (which seems to be a right in Christchurch) and end up providing little or no priority at key congestion areas/intersections. To get people out of their cars, buses will need to offer travel time savings – if its quicker to catch the bus than commute people will change mode – if its slower and more expensive they won’t. This could be achieved through more extensive bus lanes (including priority at intersections) at the expense of commuter traffic and car parking. Christchurch residents as the end user need to make decision whether they want to keep the status quo of heavily congested routes and single occupant vehicles commuting to the city (this seems to be the most popular choice as Christchurch people seem to have an adversity to public transport and cycle use), or a high quality public transport network that priorities buses and cycling over other traffic and accepts there will be impact on parking and commuter traffic.


    1. I agree Mike. I think their will be a transition period though. What Christchurch needs to start is one route that is genuine high quality rapid transit. That could be the commuter trains, BRT or light rail. Once Greater Christchurch people see the benefit of that then further additions will happen. Eventually a network of rapid transit setvices with integrated bike lanes etc will result.

      A key question is where to start first?


      1. I think we still need to put bus lanes in though. Bus lanes are easy to build, cost basically nothing, and yield immediate benefits with no need for any land use changes, so it makes to roll them out now while we’re getting everything ready place for rapid transit (eg changes to zoning and district plan to allow the higher densities that are required to support it). If they end up getting ripped up in a few years to make way for rapid transit it’s not like a large investment has been wasted.


  3. I’m just planning a trip down to Christchurch (from Auckland – train and ferry, with the Coastal Pacific starting up in December, yay!) It’s a long, long time since I’ve been down and I’m really looking forward to it. But in planning where to stay and how to get to friends’ places, and so on, I’ve been looking at streetview quite a bit. Not impressed with the wide roads dominated by cars everywhere. Auckland’s diabolical, of course, but I’d somehow hoped Christchurch would have made more of the benefits of its size.
    Looks to me like you need bus and cycle lanes in all the places mentioned here.


    1. Hi Heidi – nice to see you here, I’m a fan of your writing in Auckland. Christchurch has made some good changes on a small number of high profile streets, mainly in the CBD and on the cycle routes. But the other 99% of the city’s streets are exactly the same as they were pre-quake. We have a long way to go in changing entrenched infrastructure and entrenched attitudes…


      1. Hi Chris, thanks. I think we’ll be taking the bus quite a bit – the bus timetables and routes seem to work for what (little) we’ve got planned. But I guess if it feels right to cycle, we’ll be trying that out too! 🙂 Keep up the great work.


      2. If you’re a regular enough traveller, it’s worth getting yourself MetroCards to save on bus travel ($5.30 max a day within Chch City). I seem to have the entire set of buscards from Akld/Wgtn/Chch/Dndn…


      3. Thanks, Glen. I’ve just had a quick look at those. It seems you can’t buy them at the train station (! Just as bad as Auckland). Do the drivers tend to ask for age ID from children who are obviously children? It says they accept CanDo cards, drivers’ licenses 🙂 and Metro ID cards, none of which my son will have.


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