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MAG Belgium: ‘Motorcyclists must be allowed on bus lanes’

The Motorcycle Action Group Belgium (MAG Belgium) is asking for motorcyclists to be allowed to use bus lanes. Deputy Prime Minister and motorcyclist Kris Peeters supports this proposal.

In recent years, more and more people use a motorcycle to ride to work. Since 2011, a motorcyclist in Belgium can ‘filter’ through traffic, if the cars are stationary or driving slowly. However, this manoeuver involves certain risks.

Deputy Prime Minister and motorcyclist Kris Peeters supports the proposal to let motorcyclists use the bus lane to come to a faster flow of traffic (picture: De Standaard).

Tram lanes and bus lanes are special lanes which, in principle, may only be used by public transport, unless otherwise indicated. They are mainly found along busy roads, to ensure that the buses and trams can avoid the negative effects of congestion. The benefits of these special lanes are the shorter travel time and the reliable service to the travellers.

In 2004 FEMA member MAG Belgium wrote the document ‘motorcyclists & buses’. This document argued that, under certain circumstances, the bikers may use the bus lane. The document used legal texts, international investigations and international pilot projects. A proposal was formulated:

  • Motorcyclists may use tram and bus lanes, unless a ban is indicated.
  • The government, together with MAG Belgium, will research which bus lanes are eligible.
  • Motorcyclists must always give way to trams and buses.
  • Motorcyclists should not interfere with trams and buses, and should make room where necessary.
  • Motorcyclists must adhere to the speed limit on tram and bus lanes.
  • When traffic outside of the bus lane is flowing smoothly, the motorcyclist must use the normal road.

Eventually, the law was changed in 2011 and motorcyclist were allowed to use bus lanes in Belgium. But before motorcyclists can actually use the bus lanes, local road authorities must indicate on which bus lanes motorcycles are allowed, by placing a road sign with the symbol of a motorcycle. These road authorities, such as the Road and Traffic Agency, can decide autonomously whether motorcycles are allowed on the bus lane.

So far, this has not happened anywhere. And that’s a pity, because motorcyclists should not have to filter through traffic jams, but should easily be able to pass traffic jams on the bus lane. Bus lanes improve the flow of public transport, but at the same time they take road capacity away from the rest of the traffic. And bus lanes are not used for most of the time.

On 21 March 2017, Flemish member of parliament An Christiaens presented a draft paper for a motorcycle-friendly mobility policy. It encompasses a series of proposals to pay more attention to the motorcyclist in traffic. Mrs. Christiaens said: “When we take motorcycles out from between the cars, we increase road comfort for both the motorcyclist and the car driver. In places with a free bus lane that’s easy. Due to their manoeuvrability, motorcycles do not hinder bus traffic. This increases road safety for all road users. And we want to open the debate in the Flemish Parliament and make our proposals concrete.”

In 2011, a study by Transport & Mobility Leuven showed the positive effects of more motorcyclists at peak times: if 10 percent of motorists would opt for a powered two-wheeler, traffic jams could decrease by 40 percent. A free passage for motorcyclists on bus lanes could trigger more people to switch to a motorcycle or a scooter, because they would feel safer on the bus lane than between cars.

Flemish member of parliament An Christiaens.

Member of parliament Ann Christiaens stated: “There are actually no objective arguments not to allow this. Why does the regulation already provide the possibility? Motorcyclists do not obstruct anyone on the bus lane. It is time to provide them with the necessary space in the interests of everyone’s safety. Congestion does not decrease, on the contrary. Motorcyclists can be part of the solution, but then a specific policy is necessary. Allowing the use of bus lanes is a one concrete measure in this respect.”

The Flemish Minister for Mobility, Ben Weyts, is anything but in favour of this proposal: “If you allow motorcycles on bus lanes, you have to make an exception for many other categories as well. Perhaps it would be a popular decision, but it is also the shortest way to a traffic jam on the bus lane. The motorcycle is already the vehicle that is the least affected by traffic and can be the most fluent in traffic.” The minister fears that one exception opens the door for others and that the bus lanes will eventually fill up with traffic.

FEBIAC, the Belgian federation of the car and motorcycle industry, states: “The law has already been set up so that motorcyclists can be admitted to bus lanes. This is not an exceptional measure. Due to their compact size and ease of handling, motorcycles and scooters are not in the least the cause of traffic jams. As they ride at the same speed as the bus, they will therefore never compromise the flow and punctuality of public transport. This is just an argument that the public transport companies use, in order to keep the bus lanes exclusively reserved for them.”

Picture: Transport for London.

Motorcyclists in London are allowed on the bus lane for years, alongside taxis and cyclists. Transport for London states: “Because motorcyclists can use the bus lanes, their travel time decreased, the flow of the rest of traffic improved, and emissions are reduced. The road safety of other vulnerable road users continues to be preserved”.

Mobility organizations and the BIVV (the Belgian Institute for Traffic Safety) also see the benefits of a smooth traffic flow. A recent survey by Belgian insurance company Touring has shown that more than half (56%) of other road users agree that motorcyclists should be able to use the bus lane.

It is now time to take effective action in Belgium to improve mobility. In concrete terms, FEBIAC requests that pilot projects be set up so that a thorough analysis can be made on the basis of facts. Only when certain bus lanes are actually opened for motorcyclists, can be seen what the different effects are on:

  • The flow of public transport.
  • The possible conflict situations and possible accidents.
  • The relationship between riders and taxis (who also use the bus lanes) works out.

Road authorities, road safety institutes like the BIVV and public transport companies respond subjectively to the proposal. It is time to collect objective facts with pilot projects, to evaluate the measure with all parties involved, including the bicycle associations and the interest groups for motorcyclists.

Ultimately, motorcycles are part of the solution for the current mobility problems and the government can, with a number of simple measures, make life easier for motorcyclists, thus encouraging people to leave their cars at home and ride a motorcycle instead.

Written by Ilonka van Drunen, MAG Belgium.