By Patrick Vernon
On any given day, large numbers of people cross the forecourts of motorcycle dealers such as Metropolis looking for a new way to get around and every year some 130,000+ new motorbike registrations are made.
There are many reasons people prefer riding a motorbike to driving a car, but one of the most common is the ability to avoid traffic jams. When the jam is not too tightly packed, a slim bike and a skilful rider always has the edge over cars. And it’s important because congestion on British roads is getting worse and worse.
Official government statistics for the year ending March 2015 revealed that average speeds on English ‘A’ roads were down 0.8 per cent, due in part to unpredictable weather, but also to the amount of vehicles on the road. At peak times of day, it can take forever to get across a major city, and on a hot day, or when you have a pressing appointment, even planning ahead leaves you feeling frustrated.
In Worcester, it was recently put to councillors that making it easier for motorcyclists to get around would be a major help in cutting congestion and in fact this concept is nothing new – a study of roads in Belgium some years ago found that a rise of only ten per cent in motorbikes used for commuting could result in falls in traffic jams by up to 25 per cent. So imagine if we could get 20 per cent of commuters on bikes…
As the UK population grows, there is a major push to building communities along more sustainable lines, and to make our existing urban areas work better. Promoting more motorbike usage would be a significant step in that direction. Here’s why:
Motorbikes have greater manoeuvrability when roads are congested. If a car driver is sat waiting for an hour to get past roadworks or a crash, a motorcyclist could expect to be past in half that time. A simple equation is that more bikes on the roads equals fewer cars, equals fewer and shorter jams.
Another point that should be considered is that with more mobility comes environmental benefits. Idling engines release harmful emissions, so every time a bike ‘lane-splits’ it makes the queue shorter and thereby improves overall air quality.
Think about the amount of space needed to park a motorbike. You can get three or four bikes into a space that would take only one car. But on your average road, how many dedicated parking spaces are there for motorbikes? Make it easier for motorcyclists to park in towns and cities, and the constant complaints about lack of spaces will reduce.
How to promote motorbike use
Here are a few suggestions:
Firstly, in addition to road builders, workplaces, whether in urban areas or outside, should be encouraged when thinking about on-site parking for their employees, to create substantial spaces for those who ride motorbikes or scooters. Major employers might look at storage facilities for bike gear, and offering their commuters the option of having a company motorbike instead of a company car.
Secondly, government planning might consider whether certain heavily congested roads could benefit from lanes specifically for powered two-wheelers. Admittedly that thought is unlikely, but 20 years ago people thought self-driving cars was a concept for science fiction alone, and look where we are now. Plant the seed now and a decade or two down the line it could come to fruition.
Financial sweeteners are one of the major drivers when it comes to changing behaviours. If the government were to lower taxes to make it economically smart for people to switch from cars to bikes then motorbike use would increase, rapidly.
Lastly and most importantly, increased motorbike use must be counter balanced by good rider training, and a focus on improving safety by educating and motivating all road-users. For many people, the potential benefits of riding a bike are often offset by the increased risk. If accident statistics start to fall, bike uptake will rise and congestion will drop off as a consequence.