Motorbikes update

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 27.

The British Motorcyclists’ Federation presented their petition to the County Council’s Environment and Transport Committee at the start of November.

The response from Cllr Shona Johnstone, Chairman of the Committee, was: ‘This request will form part of our review of the Local Transport Plan which is coming before Councillors in March 2000. It means that we can consider the contribution that motorcycles make to getting about in the county and how to incorporate them in our transport proposals.

‘Between now and then, officers will look at the issues raised by the petitioners and at other data such as the number of journeys made by motorbike, road safety statistics and other cities’ experiences with shared use lanes like this.’

The motorbike lobby gives three main reasons for motorcyclists to be allowed in bus lanes – safety grounds, environmental grounds, and ‘well, it worked in Bristol’.

There is no doubt that motorcyclists are vulnerable road users, as are cyclists. But is it acceptable to increase the hazards for one group, just because another is also vulnerable? I think not. The motorcycle lobby has not stated where most motorcycle collisions happen, and how bus lanes will help. We expect that collisions are concentrated at junctions, so use of bus lanes will make little difference. More news when we get a response from the police. Since motorbikes were allowed into bus lanes in Bristol, fatal motorbike collisions have doubled in the Avon area.

As for environmental claims for motorbikes, these simply do not hold water. Per passenger mile, motorbikes have roughly the same level of carbon dioxide emissions as the average car, and twice that of a small bus. Also, they are not subject to the same strict emission regulations as cars, and so produce higher levels of carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons than new cars. Nor can we accept the assurance that speeding bikes in bus lanes would get held up by the bus in front. There simply aren’t enough buses in Cambridge for that to be likely. What about the congestion argument? It seems to me that use of motorbikes allows more polluting vehicles to be fitted into our crowded streets – hardly sustainable transport.

And finally, what of the argument ‘But it has worked fine in Bristol’. Well, that depends on who you talk to. The minutes we have been given show that it was too expensive to reverse the experiment, and much of the support for the experiment came from outside the area. All the evidence on Bristol seems inconclusive. But absence of evidence does not mean absence of a problem.

Clare Macrae

Stop press: a letter in the Cambridge Evening News (9 November) calls for motorcyclists to be allowed to use ‘the advance stop line boxes’ as well as bus (and cycle) lanes. Sadly, our prediction in Newsletter 25 seems to be coming true: bus lanes are not the end of the PTW lobby’s demands.

Mark Irving