Forgotten Two Wheelers
February 21, 2017
As we have all seen, the humble bicycle has enjoyed somewhat of a welcome renaissance in recent years with some impressive infrastructure being delivered. However, the same cannot be said of the powered two-wheeler, which is sometimes seen as the poor relation in the transport planning and highway engineering sectors. Although motorcycles currently only form a small proportion of all road traffic in the UK, there is huge potential for this share to increase in future, tied to expanding urbanisation, increasing congestion and exciting new technology around electric and low emission ‘bikes’ of one sort or another. I would also include electrically assisted pedal cycles in this group which looks set to experience rapid growth.
Motorcycles (including scooters) are able to cut through congestion, require less road space, and can park quickly and easily in towns and cities, compared with cars. They can be very economical to run and can provide reliable journey times through congested cities, particularly for those with longer distance commutes for which the bicycle may not be practical.
The overriding argument against more motorcycle use has long been that of risk. It’s a sad fact that although they only form around 1% of all traffic, motorcycles currently account for 21% of all road deaths in the UK. To put this into context, in London in 2014, there were 432 cyclists Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI), for a 2% mode share across the capital. For motorcyclists, there were 526 KSIs over the same period, for a 1% mode share.
We have seen London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledge to spend £770m on cycling over his 5 year term, though the corresponding figure for spending to tackle the motorcycle safety issue is less clear. There are some encouraging signs however, with TfL having recently launched their ‘Urban Motorcycle Design Handbook‘. This is aimed at helping practitioners address the most pressing highway infrastructure issues affecting motorcyclists, and I have had some input into this through my company, Local Transport Projects Ltd. which authored the Handbook.
Personally I am a keen cyclist and its easy to see why compared with cycling, motorcycles garner less priority in terms of funding and promotional activity. There are all of the obvious benefits of cycling in terms of improving health, zero emissions, accessible and affordable for a wider range of people etc. etc. However that doesn’t disguise the fact that there are over 15 KSIs involving motorcyclists on the UK’s road every day and the level of resources allocated to tacking this issue have previously been limited at best.
The IHE has long supported the inclusion of motorcycling within the transport policy and highway engineering sector. Back in 2005, the Institute produced a set of award-winning guidelines for highway engineers and road safety professionals to encourage greater awareness of the needs of powered two-wheelers and effective interventions to improve safety. The ‘IHE Motorcycling Guidelines‘ were updated in 2014 and continue to provide the ‘go-to’ document for practitioners.
I recently represented the IHE at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Motorcycling, where a motorcycle safety and transport policy framework document was launched – ‘Realising the Motorcycling Opportunity‘. This is a joint effort between the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Motorcycle Industry Association, and Highways England, and sets out a ground-breaking framework to create a sustainable environment for safer motorcycling, as an integral part of UK transport policy. This document, and the new partnership between these three key organisations, offer hope that real change can be brought about in terms of how motorcycles are viewed in the overall transport mix, and to ensure real safety benefits can be brought to this most vulnerable of road user groups. In short, helping to ensure that this ‘forgotten mode’ is not forgotten anymore.
Tony Kirby IHE President