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Buses and pedestrians are an uncomfortable mix

Francis King, Bath, BA2
16 August 2019
 

You report the decision by Oxfordshire County Council to allow buses to continue using Queen Street (‘Plan to pedestrianise Oxford shopping street abandoned’ LTT 02 Aug). In an interesting but mild article, is this rather alarming paragraph: “[Simon] Furlong [Oxford’s strategic director for communication] said bus speed surveys carried out on two summer days in 2018 showed 91 per cent of buses travelling through Bonn Square (outside of the Westgate shopping centre entrance) did so at less than 10mph. The figure for the rest of Queen Street were 91 and 88 percent on the two days.”

It was surprising to me that Mr Furlong thought the speeds were so important, given that with heavy vehicles the speed of impact is less important than the weight of the vehicle. The double decker bus used to illustrate the article probably weighs about 15 tonnes, and if it runs over anyone at that speed it will crush them to death. That’s why the entrance to bus depots are invariably covered in prominent boards warning the public to keep out, despite low travel speeds in depots, and why pushing buses through pedestrianised areas is inappropriate at any speed. In Bath, for example, the bus station has doors that prevent members of the public entering the bus manoeuvre and parking area. 

Trams have wheels covered with guards, precisely to prevent the vehicles running over pedestrians. Occasionally, trams run down pedestrians, which can cause major injuries, but the trams can only shove the pedestrians along the tracks. Without the guards the wheel flanges would act like bacon slicers.

When I was studying for my transport MSc, I had the great privilege of being shown around Croydon’s tram depot, and we discussed this technical feature. At the time I wondered why this simply safety measure could not be applied to other heavy vehicles such as trains, buses and trucks. Certainly, the transport industry would have to finesse what happens on buses and trucks when they come across a speed hump – does the driver have to ‘lift the skirts’? – but this should be not be intractable.  

 
 
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