School buses share the roads with other motorists, but they also share the roadway with bicyclists and scooter users, and in cities where bike lanes are increasingly becoming more prevalent, ensuring the safety of everyone on the road has become much more complicated.
In November 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a public meeting on bicycle safety. In tandem with the meeting, the NTSB released a report with 22 safety recommendations that aim to “increase bicycle safety, addressing issues such as roadway and intersection design, collision avoidance technology, blind spot detection systems, and helmet use.” In this report, the NTSB noted that, if implemented, the two recommendations that would have the greatest safety impact are improving roadway infrastructure and enhancing the conspicuity of bicycles to other road users.
Aiming to better understand bicycling safety, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico found in 2019 that cities with protected and separated bike lanes (lanes with some type of buffer) had 44% fewer deaths and 50% fewer serious injuries than the average city. However, although protected and separated lanes are critical to improving safety, the study also found that painted bike lanes provide no improvement to road safety and if protected, separated lanes are not possible — it is actually safer for bicyclists if there are no bicycle road markings at all.
Recognizing that not enough was being done, the District of Columbia recently announced that it will issue $150 tickets to any motorist improperly standing, stopping, or parking in a bike lane. The nation’s capital currently has 89 miles of bike lanes with 11.5 miles of protected lanes, and has pledged to create an additional 20 miles of protected lanes over the next three years.
Other cities are taking similar steps. New York City officials recently voted to create 250 miles of protected lanes over the next 10 years and San Francisco has announced it will build 20 miles of protected bike lanes over two years. Critics, however, say the growth of protected bike lanes is not keeping pace with the demand of bicycle and scooter riders.
Our school bus drivers must contend with a variety of safety concerns, and roadways that have been retrofitted to add bike lanes or travel lanes crisscrossing bike lanes add yet another. Drivers must be vigilant in keeping a 360-degree perspective of the safety of their vehicle to ensure they are not failing to spot cyclists traveling in the bicycle lane, especially as they move across those lanes.
In addition, the prohibition of standing, stopping, or parking in a bicycle lane makes common sense from a bicycling perspective, but it changes things significantly from the perspective of a motorist or a school bus driver trying to stop to allow passengers to exit the vehicle, for example, on a field trip.
Here are some recommendations to help ensure the safety of everyone using our roadways:
• Talk to your drivers about bike lane safety and the concept of 360 degrees of safety.
• Engage your school resource officers and talk to your local PTAs or PTOs about bicycle safety with respect to the traveling public in your community.
• Carefully consider all bike lanes around the schools you serve. Identify any areas of transitional concern to be sure your drivers are aware and mindful.
• Know the bike lane rules in your community and the communities where you travel, and be mindful that stopping outside of those bike lanes is the safest solution for all.