ZiL lanes (also sometimes called “Chaika lanes”) are lanes on some principal roads in Moscow dedicated to vehicles carrying senior government officials. Known officially in Russian as rezervniye polosy (“reserved lanes”), they took their nickname from the black limousines produced by ZiL and the luxury Chaika cars that were used by officials of the Soviet Union as their official vehicles. ZiL lanes emerged in the 1960s during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, replacing the previous system of having other vehicles flagged down to make way for those of top officials. The lanes were inserted into the middle of some of Moscow’s main highways in place of the central reservations and were off-limits to all but authorised civilian and emergency service vehicles.
The ZiL lanes and restricted routes caused considerable disruption to Moscow’s traffic because of the absolute priority given to their users. The Guardian’s Martin Kettle described how the frustration they caused to ordinary motorists in the mid-1980s:
You can spend up to 20 minutes sitting in a lengthening queue on the bridge that crosses the main access road to the Kremlin. The lights are controlled by the Kremlin’s own traffic control centre, and other cars simply have to wait. About a kilometre farther down the same road is the Oktyabrskaya Hotel, reserved for guests of the Central Committee. They, too, have a traffic priority, and when the cavalcades are leaving the hotel while the ZiLs are heading into the Kremlin, the whole of central Moscow can grind to a halt.
The term has also been used pejoratively for the ‘games lanes’ of the Olympic route network in London dedicated to vehicles transporting VIPs, athletes and officials during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Regular traffic is blocked from many Olympic Lanes, though local buses can share some of them. Such lanes have been used in other Olympic events, but have attracted controversy in London for their disruptive effect on the traffic and for the fact that corporate sponsors are also entitled to use the lanes despite not having an operational need to do so.