Life on bikes

Why are cities ignoring motorcycles?

With one or two notable exceptions, your local town really doesn’t want you riding motorbikes. They’re scared of them, which is why motorcycles rarely feature in transport policy to alleviate congestion and pollution. We looked at plans from 10 UK cities to see how motorcycles are integrated into their transport planning.

Motorcycles are proven to reduce congestion. By some estimates, if just 10% of car drivers switched to powered two wheelers general congestion levels would reduce by 40%.

And when you reduce congestion, you reduce pollution. The motorbike’s emission footprint is one-sixth that of a car.

Vehicles produce the most harmful emissions when they are stationary and moving off from a stationary position. Switching to motorcycles, with their legal ability to filter through traffic, significantly reduces the amount of carbon monoxide and other pollutants thrown into the atmosphere.

Not to mention there are no commercially successful diesel motorbikes out there. 99.99% of bikes out there are petrol and they could be replacing diesel vehicles that are now known to produce extremely harmful particulate matter.

And then there’s parking. In the same amount of land required for a car you can park between 7 and 10 motorcycles and mopeds.

So why aren’t bikes being included in town congestion planning policy?

It’s well known that the guy in charge of London’s transport infrastructure, Sadiq Khan, doesn’t give a toss about the motorcycle’s role in reducing congestion and pollution.

For proof, you need to look no further than the fact Transport for London has invested over £700m in cycling and precisely zero in pro-motorcycle initiatives. Yes, you did read that right.

But what about the UK’s other leading cities?

We looked at published transport strategies from 10 cities, chosen at random from across the UK, to see what efforts they are making to embrace the motorbike.

Frankly, it makes you want to bash your head against the wall, with one or two laudable exceptions.

Manchester

In 2010 the city published its Transport Strategy for Manchester. The terms motorcycle, motorbike or motorcyclist appeared just twice, in a 56-page document…

It gets worse. In Greater Manchester’s Transport Strategy 2040 vision document, the total tally is just once, in a reference to increasing safety for the motorcyclist.

Marks out of ten: 0

Leeds

One of the most populated areas of the country can’t even manage that. In Leeds’ Transport Strategy, there is not a single mention in relation to motorcycles.

So we put a call into their press office to see why not. They had no answer. But someone might call us back.

Marks out of ten: 0

Birmingham

As the UK’s 2nd largest city and very much seen as driving progressive regeneration policies, we were hoping for a better result from a city that needs to plan for an estimated 440,000 population increase in the region.

In Movement for Growth, the West Midlands Strategic Transport Plan, we found it.

Two whole sections recognise that motorcycling can reduce emissions and are a cost effective means of transport for much of the population.

The strategy calls for initiatives on rider safety – mainly the reduction in collisions from right turns and increased compliance of road rules.

The document also highlights that riders themselves have a role to play, by wearing better protective equipment and improving their own skills and riding behaviour.

More parking for bikes and letting us use bus lanes are also included, but this is the best bit:  “ensuring traffic management scheme design takes into account the requirements of PTWers. Measures to improve conditions for cycling need to be mindful of any potential adverse impacts on PTWers”.

Birmingham clearly gets it.

Marks out of ten: 8 (you get 10 if you implement the recommendations).

Nottingham

C’mon U Reds! (Sorry…)

According to the Nottinghamshire Local Transport Plan Evidence Base Report of 2010, the exact percentage of people using motorcycles to get to work was…1%. 68% use a car or van.

That is, mind you, the national average too.

So what is the city proposing to do to get more people to use this lower emissions, congestion-reducing mode of transport?

In the local vernacular, ‘Nothing, me duck.’

In their strategy document for Nottingham’s transport vision to 2026 there are zero mentions of motorcycle use.

Marks out of ten: 0

Southampton

Southampton’s Local Transport Plan has three mentions, two calling for more parking for motorcycles and one mention of the fact we are the most vulnerable group of road users.

So at least they recognise we exist, unlike some councils. But nothing about the positive contribution we can make to transport strategy.

Marks out of ten: 1

Exeter

108 mentions of cycles. Zero mentions if you put the word motor in front of that.

Marks out of ten: 0. (10/10 for completely blinkered thinking and bias towards cyclists. Sadiq would be proud).

Glasgow

Four mentions, mainly to do with providing extra parking in the next few years (of a plan that lasts until 2024…).

Plus, a very vague promise to develop the concept of ‘Avenues’ with ‘benefits for motorcyclists.’ Except the Avenue design concept is to prioritise pedestrian and cycling travel only. So what those benefits are only time will tell.

Marks out of ten: 2

Belfast

In the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan there is not a single mention of motorcycles. None, zip, nada, zilch. However, that plan is over 12 years old and in the meantime the city has implemented free parking bays for bikes and allows us to use all bus lanes.

Marks out of ten: 4

Newcastle

There’s no specific plan for Newcastle – instead, it falls within the wider Strategic Transport Plan for Northumberland.

Maybe because of this ‘motorcyclists’ are mentioned 15 times. However, 14 of these mentions are in reference to casualty statistics. They are very hung up about bikes accounting for just 1% of journeys but 22% of all road deaths and serious injuries. Still, at least they recognise the issue and want to do something about it.

The other mention? “Investigate funding to deliver training that will improve the skills and confidence of motorcyclists.” Investigate, not ‘provide’, mind.

Marks out of ten: 3

Edinburgh

From the Edinburgh Local Transport Strategy, Vision 30: “The Council recognises that motorcycles, mopeds and other powered two-wheelers (PTWs) provide efficient individual mobility. Compared with the car, they require less road space, whether moving or parked, and can keep moving when other vehicles are queued. They do, however, have a significantly worse safety record than cars.

“The Council is concerned about PTW safety, and will take into account the needs of PTWs in new traffic management schemes. It will also continue to encourage effective training for novice and returning riders and support rider improvement programmes.”

The council claimed to have worked with MAG and the BMF to identify improvements they could make to motorcyclist safety and they also made a commitment to providing more parking.

Marks out of ten: 6

So what’s the score?

We haven’t played with the order of the cities – it’s simply the order they were written down – so it’s not deliberate that the final two cities, Newcastle and Edinburgh are both hung up about motorcycle safety.

And that could be the root of the problem? It’s not that the big cities want to ignore the motorcycle – it’s perhaps that they are afraid of them.

Every time a motorcyclist has a major accident roads close, causing chaos in the surrounding area. Although the council doesn’t pay for the policing and hospitalisation involved, they do often have to clean up the mess – especially if damage to road furniture is involved. And they are directly called to account by the public for road safety in accident black spots. Every time there’s an accident there’s very bad congestion, and very bad congestion makes people very angry. Mainly at the council for not sorting out the terrible congestion.

So the task ahead, if we want to see more recognition for motorcycling within transport plans is to come up with reasonable, practicable and beneficial ideas to make the roads safer for motorcyclists. Priority at traffic lights? Shared use of cycle lanes? How about dedicated motorcycle lanes…

Then, perhaps, we’ll be given the serious consideration we deserve, and we can help to alleviate the problems caused by the people driving cars (including to the town council offices…).

Get yourself sorted:

Answers on a postcard, please. If you have ideas on how to reduce motorcycle casualties so that we can be included in more transport solution planning, please drop us a line via the Contact Us page.

Previous post

The bike crime epidemic Part 4: What it takes to change the 'no chase’ policy

Next post

WTF? Advertising?

The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.