Bikes & Buses as Buddies


“…If you want to go, wave hello and let me know”


Extending from our initiation of the investigation in early 2012, BIKESydney recently participated in a workshop aimed at improving road interactions between bikes and buses. The workshop was funded by the City of Sydney (CoS) and facilitated by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology.

Approximately 20 attendees spanning the Sydney Transit Authority (Sydney Buses) (STA), local bike groups, the ISF and CoS crafted lots of ideas and an undertaking that the group would further develop initiatives.

The workshop included time for a free-ranging cross-table exchange of issues but then grouped participants to focus on the interaction dynamics during overtaking and at intersections and bus stops.

This workshop followed from the publication of the ISF’s Bike Rider and Bus Driver Interaction Study 2012.


Existing Challenges

From the perspective of bus drivers, the main wishes expressed were that cyclists would:

  • ride without a sense of entitlement (shown by only some riders);
  • be predictable and decisive in their riding and to avoid ambiguous behaviour;
  • consistently signal their intentions (to turn, to stop, to change lanes…);
  • where viable, use routes other than bus routes so as to not detain buses;
  • when stopped at traffic lights, riders should either store in front or behind buses but never at its side.

From the perspective of bike riders, the main wishes expressed were that bus drivers would:

  • keep a safe distance and leave plenty of room when lane-changing;
  • overtake only when it is possible for the bus to pull entirely into an adjacent lane;
  • communicate with eye contact and hand signals.

Both groups agreed on the need to:

  • not ride/drive with a sense of entitlement don’t insist on your right of way/ride;
  • be patient, respectful, courteous and gracious;
  • avoid erratic behaviour.


BIKESydney’s contribution to the dialogue focused on:

Recommendation 1 – Removing interactions in the first place

The first instinct must always be to investigate the opportunity to separate bike and bus routes.

Recommendation 2 – Humanising the interaction

The need to encourage the tendency to humanise the interaction – it being between two individuals (personalities, even…) rather than merely between two modes (bus versus bike) or two roles (driver and rider).  This still must recognise that this interaction is not isolated from many other preceding interactions people will have on their journey. Merely, that the response can and should be inclusive of, not reliant on, a “humanising” component. It is possible to build a “relationship” and to express personality even during finite and sometimes distant interactions.

Recommendation 3 – That messaging be simple

Whatever the finally agreed messaging, it must be simple, clear and easily remembered (eg, “Wave”, “Smile”, or “Signal your intention”).

Recommendation 4 – Outreach by Video and Social Media

The critical importance of supported (funded) outreach and education that necessarily includes media- and social-media-digestible content (videos, graphics, slogans).

Recommendation 5 – Immutable themes

Any strategy for cooperative occupation of the road landscape must recognise that:

  • The first 30-50m after setting off from an intersection is key;
  • Cyclists may “filter” to the left of stopped traffic. Championing strategies that conflict with this will necessarily be counter-productive given that the road rules enshrine this provision. That said, we support the call by Sydney Buses to have cyclist avoid “storing” (stopping) at the SIDE of buses.

Recommendation 6 – Bikes and Buses as natural allies

We recommended further investigation into the possibility of buses and bikes being managed as natural allies:

  • Both are (relative to cars) slowly-accelerating vehicles – If properly managed, the bus can act as a buffer (“traffic plug”) for cyclists departing from an intersection. Key here is that communication between rider and driver has been established;
  • Recognising that there are challenges relating to RMS buy-in for the idea, there is scope for traffic signals to be programmed to permit preferential early-departures for sustainable transport modes (buses, bikes, and in the near future trams)

Recommendation 7 – Jurisdiction

Any campaign must consider where (which part of Sydney) it will be applied.  What may work in the congested streets of the CBD may not be appropriate in suburban streets. In our view, the best areas to trial any campaign will be on highly-shared routes where the speed differential between buses and bikes is smallest and where the length of mid-section blocks (distance between intersections) is not too large. CBD-fringe areas used by suburban (rather than regional) buses may provide a good trial zone.


Key Discoveries (for the cyclists in the room)

The worst place for a cyclists to position themselves?

Along side the bus near or between the bus’ wheel arches – a blind spot for bus drivers. At the traffic lights, its best that cyclists store themselves either in front of or behind the bus in a sight line of the driver.

Why not have drivers direct cyclists when stopped at the lights?

Drivers are not permitted (by Sydney Buses) to direct others/traffic (as they may then be liable in the event of an accident) …but they are allowed to signal their intention.


Themes from the group for the way forward
  • Recognising exemplary behaviour (in person and through online feedback)
  • Bring back the Bus Depot BBQ
  • Make use of media (e.g. MX, 7PM Project) to focus on instances of exemplary behaviour
  • Ride to Work day – cycle there in STA uniform and bring buses
  • invite STA BUG to participate in bike events;
  • ‘A day in my shoes’, similar to the UK program;
  • Take buses to cyclist events to give an understanding of blind spots;
  • Use of video and social media to expand the reach of programs  (e.g. showing what it’s like to drive a bus).
  • Make use of Scania bus simulation game (although if for right-hand drive).
  • Cycling “graciously” – stickers, t-shirts, pamphlets, posters, route maps showing
  • Articles in Bicycle Australia magazine
  • Brochures at bike shops
  • Training about cycling at induction for bus drivers;
  • Continue to lobby for segregated cycleways
  • Community organise with Sydney Alliance to highlight safety issues
  • Events aimed at having riders and drivers meet each other
  • Encouraging tolerance
  • Always say thanks to other road users. Spread the idea of courteous behaviour through implementation on a daily basis
  • Lead by example – ‘thank you’, smile, cooperate, share
  • Show demonstrably my communication with drivers so that others might follow suit
  • Demonstrably acknowledge bus drivers to show others the example
  • Allow bus drivers to pull out when indicating they are pulling out, be patient before overtaking
  • Educate other bike riders on bus driver perspectives
  • Smile and wave


Potential campaign slogans devised by the group

Many participants came up with possible communication slogans during the workshop:

  • “If you want to go, wave hello and let me know”
  • “Be patient, wave, use eye contact”
  • “Smile and wave”
  • “Smiling cyclist”
  • “Be seen and be safe”
  • “Take your lane”
  • “Don’t share lanes”
  • ‘You might have the right but is it good/right/best”
  • “Have a day in my shoes:
  • “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you”
  • “Give me a wave to give me a way”
  • “Look at me so I can see my ways free”
  • “Don’t squeeze me out”
  • “One vehicle per lane”
  • “Don’t fence me in”
  • “If you can’t see my mirrors I can’t see you”
  • “Give way, have a good day”
  • “Not the Grand Prix, don’t race me off”
  • “Get visible – see my mirrors”


Establishing a Reference Group

A key outcome of the workshop was an in-principle agreement from most participants to form a reference group that the City of Sydney could call on to draw feedback from on proposed initiatives and communication messages.

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