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May 4, 2015

Are motorcycles the answer to urban traffic congestion?

Imagine if the streets of inner city Australia teemed with small, quiet motorcycles, scooters and bicycles with only the occasional car or truck. Imagine if they looked more like Hanoi than LA

Vehicles entering the central city of Melbourne at key locations during the morning peak 7-10am in March 2012 (source: MCC Bicycle Plan 2012-16)

As the inner parts of Australian cities get denser and more congested, the cost of driving in terms of time lost in congestion is rising. Travellers are increasingly looking to alternatives to cars for travelling to work, school and other destinations.

They’re mostly turning to public transport and bicycles for trips to the city centre (see exhibit) but they’re also using motorcycles and scooters more. For example, the number of motorcycles entering the City of Melbourne in the morning peak increased 73% between 2006 and 2014, while the number of cars fell by 2%. (1)

It’s no accident that motorcycles are the mode of choice in cities such as Hanoi where the cost of driving is prohibitively expensive for most. In Australian cities the attraction is down more to the cost of time lost in traffic than it is to low incomes, however in both cases motorcycles offer a number of advantages over other modes.

They’re cheaper to buy, operate and park than a car and, because they take up less road space and can filter between lanes, they’re faster in congested traffic conditions. According to Melbourne City Council’s (MCC) Motorcycle Plan 2015-18:

An Australian study…estimated that a 30km trip in metropolitan Melbourne can be three times faster by motorcycle than by car in peak hours.

They also provide significant social benefits. They use less fuel than cars and hence emit less carbon, as “little as 1.3 litres per 100 km”. MCC’s Motorcycle Plan says they also reduce traffic congestion:

A Belgian study found that a 10 per cent shift from cars to motorcycles could reduce travel time by an average 8 minutes for the remaining 90 per cent of drivers.

It’s not just cars; motorcycles offer advantages over public transport too. The big one is that, like cars and bicycles, they’re a private form of transport. They’re available on demand; they travel directly and without stops; they’re not shared with strangers; and they can carry and store chattels.

All that makes them attractive to travellers, but they also have social benefits. They don’t require an operating subsidy from the budget; they largely use existing road infrastructure; and it’s likely their environmental impact per passenger km is at least on a par with that of buses and trains. (2)

Motorcycles have some advantages compared to bicycles as well. They’re faster and so can travel longer distances (including on motorways); they’re harder to steal; they’re more usable by unfit and infirm travellers; they can carry a passenger and heavier goods; and riders don’t require a shower.

Motorcycles should have a large potential market in Australian cities because many trips are made solo e.g. the journey to work. They should appeal to the many travellers who want the flexibility of driving but with a lower penalty from congestion, operating and parking costs.

Despite their many advantages, motorcycles have drawbacks too. Discomfort due to weather is more of an issue than it is with either cars or public transport and they don’t provide as much exercise benefit as active modes. Further, some larger motorcycles offer little environmental advantage over a small car and too many are ludicrously loud. (3)

But the biggest dampener on the take-up of motorcycles is safety. Casualties have fallen over the last decade but riders are still 34 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a crash in Victoria than the occupants of a car.

Between 2004 and 2008, riders accounted for 13 per cent of all road fatalities and serious injuries in Victoria despite motorcycles making up only 3% of total registered vehicles and less than 1% of traffic volume.

Problems like excessive noise can be addressed by better regulation and enforcement, as well as by improvements in technology e.g. electrically powered bikes. However making motorcycling safe enough to attract large numbers of riders is a bigger challenge.

Fortunately, it’s likely that the population of prospective riders who’d benefit the most from switching to motorcycling is on average less vulnerable than existing riders. Those “waiting in the wings” are  more likely to be risk-averse; to eschew large high-powered bikes; to travel and accelerate cautiously; and to see motorcycling as a utilitarian rather than recreational mode.

That measured approach should help to reduce all crashes, especially in the largest category: “out of control” crashes where no other vehicle is involved. The behaviour of drivers will still be a risk though, as it is for cyclists.

The author of this report, Stop the blame game, argues that in the great majority of accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle, the driver is to blame. It’s also likely that some “out of control” crashes are the result of riders “compensating for the behaviour of other road users (such as sudden lane changes by motor vehicles)”.

The number and speed of cars will need to be reduced significantly in congested urban areas if motorcycling is to attract large numbers of travellers and capitalise on its potential as a major urban travel mode.

However it will be harder to segregate motorcycles from other motorised traffic than is the case with bicycles; motorcycles are faster and can travel at the same speed as other vehicles so they’ll need to continue to share road space with cars, trucks and buses.

It’s therefore likely the restrictions on driving necessary to make motorcycling an attractive option will need to be very strong. It’s a good thing then that motorcycles are a fair substitute for cars for many – perhaps even the majority – of urban trips in conditions where the private and social costs of cars are very high.

The great majority of streets in inner city Australia could look like the Hanoi of 15-20 years ago before cars got such a foothold. The mode share of public transport and cycling still needs to grow but my feeling is there’re many otherwise committed drivers who would find motorcycling an attractive option if the danger were reduced significantly.

It will require a long-term vision and considerable political courage to stare down opposition from rusted-on motorists, but provided they’re perceived as safe, I think motorcycles offer one of the most realistic alternatives to driving in congested urban areas. They’re not the whole answer (e.g. there’re other policies like congestion charging that must be part of the mix) but they could be an important part of it.

____________________

  1. For convenience, I use ‘motorcycles’ to cover scooters, motorbikes and mopeds. It’s debatable, but for the purposes of this discussion I treat power assisted bicycles (where the power only comes in if the rider is pedalling) as bicycles.
  2. That’s because most motorcycles have small engines and low weight, and because at present public transport in Australian cities necessarily offers many services with low load factors e.g. off peak; low density suburbs.
  3. Some older two stroke models also pollute

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62 thoughts on “Are motorcycles the answer to urban traffic congestion?

  1. Joe Vernossi

    The ’34 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured’ is nothing more than a rubbish statistic (with no known source) perpetuated by the likes of TAC to attempt to discourage riding – they’re notoriously anti-motorcycle and twist statistics in order to imply a high accident rate (yes, motorcyclists will be more likely to injured ‘if’ they crash, but it’s patronising to assume any of us are unaware of that).

    This US source (http://www.iii.org/issue-update/motorcycle-crashes?table_sort_739024=7) gives 26x for fatalities by distance, with a far less scary sounding 5x more likely to be injured. This tends to indicate crashes aren’t really that much more likely, just that the results of any crashes are more severe (a fender bender without injury in a car might mean a broken arm for a rider, a vegetable in a car accident will be a dead rider).

    But distance is a poor performance measure for motorcycles since most are not used over long distances, but for shorter distance in urban areas, which will inflate motorcycle statistics against car statistics (since km travelled are not bumped up by rural travel). The same study gives only 6x higher for fatalities by registration, which means the injury rate by registrations is not dissimilar to cars.

    It also gives the percentage of rider fatalities with BAC >0.08 to be 27%. As a rider who rides defensively, doesn’t drink ride, and gears up for anything beyond local, I’m more than happy to wear that level of risk for something I enjoy. I wouldn’t want to see the average driver on a high powered motorbike (most seem incapable of handling a shopping trolley and the lack of defensive skills would see them as roadpizza within a week), but scooters are probably safely within their capabilities (away from freeways and highways of course).

  2. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy, re “Within a generation, two at the most, probably close to half the population will be literally unemployable because they won’t be able to do anything a robot can’t do faster, cheaper and better.”

    I think you’re probably not far off, and the only eventual solution (which might take another generation or two) will far more income redistribution than we see now. And it’s probably fair to say that a world in which 40%-50% of the population are not able to find regular employment will be very different, and there’ll be less need to centralise as much as we do now. But I also worry that in such a world there’s virtually no hope of seeing increased democracy and increased actualisation of individual preferences regarding living arrangements, so whatever happens we have to find ways to make cities as we have them now work better. As I said though, Australian cities are already relatively low-density and don’t have particularly unmanageable populations – there are plenty of much larger/denser cities in the world that people still look to as great places to live, so I don’t see any reason we can’t hope for the same sort of result here.

  3. Roger Clifton

    Let’s value congestion for its benefits. Once it is too big for its infrastructure, a city becomes congested and thereby limits further growth. Inner city collapse is averted if outer dwellers are less competitive on the jobs, facilities and infrastructure. Pissed-off long distance commuters become clientele for markets in more convenient destinations – elsewhere.

  4. drsmithy

    ——–

    drsmithy, if “high-density cities and stagnating regions are a deliberate policy choice” then how come the same phenomenon is being observed in almost every country in the world?

    Because nearly all politicians inevitably seek to increase their influence, and in the absence of real democratic processes (which are extremely rare worldwide), as a group they usually succeed.

    It’s that whole “if someone wants to be in a position of power they are inherently unsuitable for being in one” thing.

    Further, I don’t really think this has anything to do with the advantages of having vehicles that are as economical, enjoyable, environmentally low-impact as motorbikes or scooters but enjoy at least some of the safety and comfort of cars. In fact if anything, if I *did* live in a regional town where public transport wasn’t going to be a feasible option then I’d almost certainly want to buy such a vehicle.

    I propose to you that if you only want a car that can carry two people and a few bags of shopping, in the face of no space or congestion pressures, you’re in a minority.

    The fundamental problem with your hypothetical vehicle is that it has nearly all the downsides of a motorcycle or scooter (less flexible, less convenient, more dangerous), with hardly any of the upsides (unless everyone else also has one).

    “Young people in Australia’s capital cities have 38 times more disposable wealth than their peers from the bush”

    That’s despite the fact that through taxation and redistribution cities effectively subsidize regional centres.

    Ah, yes, and we all know the only thing that matters is the mighty dollar !

    How well can you grow food in those cities ? How’s your supply of raw materials to build stuff ? How much water do you collect within city limits ? Where’s your power generation ? What do you do with all your waste ?

    Cities are far more dependent on “regional centres” than vice versa.

    So what policy choice are you referring to?

    An obvious one is concentrating Government services and departments in capital cities (in the name of “efficiency” – again, the mighty dollar rules all !). Business relocates to be near the seats of Government, so it can apply pressure and influence, and bring their employees with them.

    drsmithy @54, care to point to a city somewhere in the world that counts as built “in a way that people want to live in them”?

    If people want to live cheek-to-jowl in high-density residential, why does sprawl exist at all ? Why do people put big houses on the tiny blocks of land that they’re allowed to buy today ? Why do detached houses carry such a price premium over townhouses ?

    No one is forcing more and more people into cities, more and more people WANT to move to them.

    People move to big cities because that is where their employers are. It is the industrial revolution model.

    If the work was in a wider number of smaller cities, then that is where people would go.

    We should not ignore the challenges of today because of speculated future products or services.

    There is nothing even vaguely speculative about what’s coming from things like ubiquitous high-speed, high-bandwidth communications, “3D printing”, robotics and AI are going to have on manufacturing, transport and employment.

    Within a generation, two at the most, probably close to half the population will be literally unemployable because they won’t be able to do anything a robot can’t do faster, cheaper and better. It’ll probably only be another couple of generations after that a large chunk of “knowledge workers” are made similarly redundant.

    If you don’t need to live in a big city for work, accessibility to consumer goods or entertainment, why would you ?

  5. Dylan Nicholson

    @57 – I don’t have a problem with government policies that try to encourage decentralisation, or more specifically to encourage creation of new centres, as economies of agglomeration can run up against various ineconomies once too many people strive to live/work in the same small area. However it’s a bit hard to argue any Australian cities have passed that point given how sparse they are compared to big cities elsewhere in the world – they’re just starting to undergo growing pains as they adapt to necessary infrastructure re-prioritising brought on by higher densities.

  6. M Bourne

    54
    No one is forcing more and more people into cities, more and more people WANT to move to them. The only way we can accomodate those people is higher density and less car reliance.

    We should NOT be decentralising, it ignores the economies of agglomoration.

    We should not ignore the challenges of today because of speculated future products or services.

    There may be no shortage of space, but there are many many possible uses for that space, so it is irresponsible and short sighted to continue filling it up with sprawl.

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy @54, care to point to a city somewhere in the world that counts as built “in a way that people want to live in them”?
    I’ve already suggested before that the only “cities” that could be said to be built purely due what individual residents wish to do and with minimal state-imposed regulation are third world slums and shantytowns. Such slums/tenements etc. used to exist in fairly wealthy countries too, and it wasn’t the actions of individual citizens that got rid of them.

  8. michael r james

    #53 Alan Davies at 3:13 pm

    Groan, AD, you need more follow thru! We’d like to see how the calculation was done and the input raw data. You are the writer of this blog and you should do that and present a summary for your readers rather than force every one of us to go and do it on that site.

    Perhaps it is correct but it implies that private cars (I hope commercial vehicle or PT kms are not included in those data) are doing something like 6 to 8 times the km of a motorbike (to go from my calc of about 5 in #35, which doesn’t seem to have been challenged by anyone?). Even then there are confounding factors: more of those cars are driving in exurbia doing long distance just to buy a bottle of milk. That is not comparing like-with-like.

  9. drsmithy

    I want to live in a city with great services, but I don’t want to pay any taxes… oh, that doesn’t work? Ok, maybe there are more than just “wants’ that need to go into a discussion about how to make a city.

    “Want” here means actions taken voluntarily.

    Build cities in a way that people want to live in them, not where they are forced to live the way somebody else tells them to.

    Besides, many people want to live in a city where they don’t have to rely on a car.

    Great. Nobody is suggesting they shouldn’t be able to.

    Have a look at the fantasies of futurists all you like, why not have a jet pack too, much more fun, maybe it can be fusion powered!!

    My mistake, I didn’t realise you were just trolling.

  10. Alan Davies

    The Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Qld works out a figure from the data and concludes:

    Per distance travelled, the Australian rate of motorcyclist deaths is approximately 30 times the rate for car occupants. The corresponding rate for a serious injury is approximately 41 times higher. Similar elevated rates are also found in other developed countries.

    The critical addition to the variables I cited at #34 is distance: motorcycles only account for 1.1% of kms travelled, according to CARRSQ

  11. M Bourne

    50
    I’d suggest perception of safety and cost are the main reasons, and for the amount of design, engineering and construction that goes into a car, they are staggeringly cheap; that is only possible due to over a century of design evolution and a huge market. The upshot of that is that any new category is difficult to make cheap enough to compete (why buy a little almost-car when it’s cheaper to buy a used real-car).

    Ultimately different modes of private transport are just fiddling around the edges. The root cause of our congestion is how we’ve built our cities and how we (haven’t) priced our infrastructure for private vehicles.

  12. Dylan Nicholson

    Oh also drsmithy, re high-density cities being a deliberate policy choice – a quote from an article in today’s Age:

    “Young people in Australia’s capital cities have 38 times more disposable wealth than their peers from the bush”

    That’s despite the fact that through taxation and redistribution cities effectively subsidize regional centres. So what policy choice are you referring to?

  13. Dylan Nicholson

    michael @48, I would hardly consider the Mini as the sort of vehicle I have in mind – aside from the cost, it still needs a full size parking space and takes up entire lane of a road, and has at best a third of the fuel economy of a motorcycle.

  14. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy, if “high-density cities and stagnating regions are a deliberate policy choice” then how come the same phenomenon is being observed in almost every country in the world?
    Further, I don’t really think this has anything to do with the advantages of having vehicles that are as economical, enjoyable, environmentally low-impact as motorbikes or scooters but enjoy at least some of the safety and comfort of cars. In fact if anything, if I *did* live in a regional town where public transport wasn’t going to be a feasible option then I’d almost certainly want to buy such a vehicle.

  15. michael r james

    #41 Dylan Nicholson at 6:34 am
    [ I’m not convinced there’s a truly significant uptake of smaller vehicles. I don’t think you can just dismiss the fact that they’ve never been seen as “cool” or “fun”, in the way that motorbikes (or even scooters) are.]

    Wha?

    It is one of the most successful segments of the global car industry. Look at the fantastic success of the reintroduction of the Mini by BMW. Even the Americans* are buying it and driving it! (Brilliant idea to fund the Italian Job remake with Charlize Theron being an expert driver –of an original 60’s Mini before transitioning to the new one for the heist.)
    My fantasy of moving back to France involves a MiniCooper because it can be hoisted on to the deck of my (fantasy) 30m Tjalk (Dutch peniche) so I can take it all with me on the French canals. (Though getting a car on and off a boat is a bit of a bore by all accounts–but has often been done by the freighter bargees that live aboard–so that is why I would consider the 3wheel motorbikes …).
    Not to mention that this size car–that, at a pinch can still carry more than 2 people and luggage/shopping–will be easier/cheaper to convert to full electric.

    *It is true that you may have a let-out clause because BMW keep making versions of the Mini that are bigger, probably driven by the American market? And while the original concept is tres cool, the new ones are not.

  16. M Bourne

    “…want…”
    I want to live in a city with great services, but I don’t want to pay any taxes… oh, that doesn’t work? Ok, maybe there are more than just “wants’ that need to go into a discussion about how to make a city. Besides, many people want to live in a city where they don’t have to rely on a car.

    “Have a look at a future of …”
    Have a look at the fantasies of futurists all you like, why not have a jet pack too, much more fun, maybe it can be fusion powered!!

    “Given decades of effort by authoritarians to concentrate political power and wealth in cities…”
    Really?? Coming after centuries of trying to reduce the size and power of cities? And where power has been centralised in new cities (Canberra, Brasilia) those cities are pitiful compared to the cities that built up NATURALLY over time.

    Huge, high-density cities are part of the natural process. They’d be much bigger if it weren’t for active efforts by authoritarians to populate the regions and reduce growth and size in the big cities. Also with modern freight there is no need for lots of little small towns at rail heads or piers, and no need for lots of little piers and rail heads either because it is obviously far more efficient to truck the produce to larger rail heads or piers or straight to the city.

  17. drsmithy

    The only problem is that some people still believe we should make cities for cars instead of people.

    We should make cities the people want to live.

    Have a look at economies of agglomeration.

    Have a look at a future of ubiquitous high-speed communications and almost entirely automated manufacturing and transport (and half the population or more unemployed and unemployable).

    Also note that generally cities are getting bigger, and small towns are dying.

    Given decades of effort by authoritarians to concentrate political power and wealth in cities, that’s hardly surprising.

    Huge, high-density cities and stagnating regions are a deliberate policy choice.

  18. M Bourne

    44
    No its not. The only problem is that some people still believe we should make cities for cars instead of people.

    You think decentralisation is great? Maybe can have more great successes like Albury-Wodonga, Canberra and Monarto? Maybe we can abra cadabra some water to the regions too.

    Have a look at economies of agglomeration. Also note that generally cities are getting bigger, and small towns are dying.

  19. drsmithy

    The real problem here is that we continue to try and jam more and more people into cities – leading to congestion of everything – when we should be decentralising.

    It’s not like there’s any shortage of space.

  20. drsmithy

    drsmithy, while I agree that the “holding” cost of owning vehicles is too high (and, conversely, the running costs are probably too low), even in countries where this isn’t the case I’m not convinced there’s a truly significant uptake of smaller vehicles.

    If by “smaller vehicles” you mean smaller than a small hatchback (say, Mazda2 sized) then you’re talking about a vehicle that is mostly impractical for general use. Which means you’re essentially buying a vehicle solely for commuting or (in the case of many motorocyclists) a combination of commuting and recreation, and will want/need to have another more practical vehicle for other purposes. Also, it’s not just the holding costs, it’s the purchase costs and inconvenience of needing somewhere to put it. Most urban dwellers don’t have a lot of space for multiple vehicles.

    But no room for even a single passenger. The gyroscopic stability looks good though – definitely better than having 3 wheels (having your bike lean through the corners is part of what makes it run to ride!)

    3-wheelers like the Piaggio’s do lean.

    The point here is that if you have a vehicle big enough for two people, or similar, then you have a vehicle that is for all practical purposes no different to a small hatchback – in which case, why not just get a small hatchback and have an essentially identical commuting experience but with none of the drawbacks ?

  21. Dylan Nicholson

    Here’s one attempt…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0m-cUxMcJw

    But no room for even a single passenger. The gyroscopic stability looks good though – definitely better than having 3 wheels (having your bike lean through the corners is part of what makes it run to ride!)

  22. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy, while I agree that the “holding” cost of owning vehicles is too high (and, conversely, the running costs are probably too low), even in countries where this isn’t the case I’m not convinced there’s a truly significant uptake of smaller vehicles. I don’t think you can just dismiss the fact that they’ve never been seen as “cool” or “fun”, in the way that motorbikes (or even scooters) are.

  23. Michael Czajka

    Victoria tends to outperform the rest of Australia in motorcycle safety… so whatever we calculate at national level it’s probably significantly better in Victoria?

    It’s really refreshing to see someone calculate risk from the raw data. Riders have argued for years that the government is misrepresenting the data on motorcycle risk.

    One other reason the motorcycle risk is almost certainly lower than the official figures is that the auditor general recently found that 2/3 of motorcycle accidents were not being recorded. These accidents were occurring on trail bikes or “off-road”. However in half these cases the auditor general found the accidents were actually on road.

    As the number of off-road riders is somewhere between 2 (based on imports) and 10x (if you include all imports not just those of the major importers) as great as the number of on-road riders (and at least 50% are riding on gazetted roads)… the overall risk has to drop if we include these riders?

    BTW: The missing data was in the hospital databases… and it was riders who pointed the auditor general in the right direction (kudos to him for listening).

    Now the problem is that nobody wants to tackle the problem: TAC don’t want to know (claims might increase?). Police don’t want to know (they would be expected to police it?). Vic Roads don’t want to know (they don’t want to worry about all gazetted roads… it opens up a can of worms?). BTW: Their responsibilities in this area have been pointed out to all 3 agencies repeatedly in various government inquiries.

    However the main point of post was to point out that things can be done to improve rider safety… and we shouldn’t dismiss it as too hard?

    Overall it was a good article. If only a few more people would write articles like this? …and let the data drive the debate?

    Quote
    “Car accidents normalized to registrations: 854÷20 = 42.7
    Motorbike accidents normalized to registrations: 202 (no adjustment)
    Therefore there are (202÷42.7) 4.7 more fatalities per registered vehicle for motorbikes than cars.

    Which happens to be similar to your “4.2″. But purely by accident because your statement “motorcycles account for 4.2 times as many fatalities as cars” is surely the wrong way round?

    So, very approximately it is a factor of 5 not 34.

    If your assumption about km travelled (more by cars) were correct then the figure would be higher but surely not a factor of 2 let alone 7?”

  24. democracy@work

    The Council’s statistics presented above is false and misleading. They have been gilding the Lilly somewhat. Traffic entering the city is no longer a peak hour traffic. Traffic flows ion the city extends throughout the day and lat into the night and carries on 24 hours a day. Relying on data that is 3-4 years old and taken on a day when there was a ride to work campaign. Bicycle riders do not represent 12% of traffic entering the City centre.

    Vicroads and the RACV need to undertake a more com0prehensive traffic survey that covers the city 7 x 24. A survey that is more reliable and that the public an trust.

    Robert Doyle and the City Council have been engineering congestion reducing traffic lanes down to a single lane with bike paths that are empty. How many bikes use the William Street Bike path? Very few.

    The accident rate in Latrobe street has gone up not down as a result of the Copenhagen Style bike lane costing the City over 3 Million Dollars and with less than 300 bikes using Latrobe Street.

    In short Robert Doyle and the City Council is in fairy land. Build it and they will come mentality.

    This week it was revealed that the Council adminstratio0n spend over 1.5 Million dollars engaging a hypnotist to make a video for Social media. Who authorized this expenditure and what checks and balances exist to prevent this waste of public money from happening again? If the Council is unable to manage its affairs then maybe the State Government should consider appointing commissioners to reign in the administration and their excess of failures.

  25. democracy@work

    Robert Doyle’s claim of 10 to 17% visitors to t6eh City is False. Melbourne City #Engineering Services have been fudging the statistics. Top try and justify the Councils Engineering of congestion and construction of Bicycle Paths. The Council needs to come clean and outline the methodology used in determining the statistics it has published. It has been claimed that the Engineering Department did a random survey during a ride to work promotion and extrapolated that data.

    Clearly the Council has lost all credibility on this issue.

    Vicroads and RACV need to commission their own statistical survey, one that the public can have trust in.

  26. drsmithy

    Unfortunately I can’t find any statistics on the relative annual kilometres of light/commercial vehicles vs motorcycles, although I’d expect the latter to be lower.

    Anecdotally, I’ve typically put about twice as many kms onto my motorbikes as my cars. Most bike owners I know are the same, and use a similar rule of thumb when looking at second hand purchases (ie: average about 7,500km/yr).

  27. democracy@work

    The statistics published claiming 10% of traffic by Bicycle is false and misleading. More like less than 5%

    Safety in riding in the city has gotten worst over the last 3-5 years Mainly do to the poorly implemented bicycle paths in the city and the failure of the City Council to consider the needs of other road users, (Motorcyclists, elderly and the disabled)

    The report produced by the City Council has been over 2 years in the making and a number of important issues of concern have been left out, forgotten or ignored.

    Consultation has been poor, with only one meeting arranged with a few additional sub meetings hastily arranged with select interest groups. ( A problem that was also manifest in the City Council’s Bicycle strategy plan).

    Missing is the need for the City Council to consider
    * safer options for lane filtering,
    * left hand turn at anytime with care.
    * The sharing of bicycle lanes where appropriate. (Many of the City Bicycle lanes are under utilized and often are empty whilst causing congestion – There are no reported accidents between Motorcycles and bicycles).
    * The need for Trucks, Vans and buses that do not have a central rear vision mirror to install rear vision video cameras (with LED light to show they are switched on) so they can see traffic behind.

    Whilst many issues are outside the Council’s ambit of responsibility it never the less has a significant role in road design and layout and advocacy.

    The State Government has announced that it will be changing the laws to allow for Lane filtering yet the plan makes no mention of this fact.

    The City Council also gave an undertaking that it would include a statement with all traffic management proposals on the impact and effect on Motorcyclists (As they do with Bicycles). This agreement has been removed from the Motorcyclist plan.

    If the City Council is sincere about Road Safety and not just paying lip service it has to do much more.

    It needs to review the implementation of its bicycle plan to consider more the needs of Motorcyclists the elderly, disabled and other commuters.

    It needs to consult much wider and engage all road uses not just Bicycle lobby interest groups.

    The City of Melbourne Motorcycle plan is a small step in the right direction but poorly developed and lacks detail and substance.

    Melbourne Motorcycle/Scooters Riders Association

  28. michael r james

    #34 AD

    I agree that it can be a real bore to track down primary data sources.

    Anyway in your latest post, you didn’t take those figures to where they lead! (Another symptom of whatever condition leads you to always frame your headers as questions 🙂

    Car accidents normalized to registrations: 854÷20 = 42.7
    Motorbike accidents normalized to registrations: 202 (no adjustment)
    Therefore there are (202÷42.7) 4.7 more fatalities per registered vehicle for motorbikes than cars.

    Which happens to be similar to your “4.2”. But purely by accident because your statement “motorcycles account for 4.2 times as many fatalities as cars” is surely the wrong way round?

    So, very approximately it is a factor of 5 not 34.

    If your assumption about km travelled (more by cars) were correct then the figure would be higher but surely not a factor of 2 let alone 7?

    Please correct me if wrong.

  29. Alan Davies

    tonyofbrunswick #33:

    That study was my source; I can’t tell you what its source was though.

    However, I looked at the BITRE-ARRD database which shows 854 car occupants died on Australian roads in 2011 and 202 motorcyclists. ABS data shows 76% of registrations in 2013 were light vehicles, increasing to 92% when light commercial vehicles are included.

    So, motorcyclescars account for 4.2 times as many fatalities as carsmotorcycles and 17 to 21 times as many registrations. Unfortunately I can’t find any statistics on the relative annual kilometres of light/commercial vehicles vs motorcycles, although I’d expect the latter to be lower.

    There’s this ATSB document with a range of estimates too.

  30. tonyofbrunswick

    @AlanDavies

    That is not a source. That is merely another statement. I’m still waiting an original study that shows how that figure is derived.

  31. drsmithy

    drsmithy @26, well yes, I suppose I should have included an extra adjective to indicate I was talking about a 1 or 2 person vehicle.
    And yes there are very small cars that carry only 2 people, and why it is they haven’t seen more uptake is curious too – I suspect they fail somewhat on “joy to ride/drive” front.

    Most people don’t care about how enjoyable riding/driving is, unfortunately – it’s a means to get from A to B – so I can’t imagine that’s a big factor.

    I imagine the biggest reason is a simple cost/benefit assessment. Even a cheap “tiny” vehicle is going to be knocking on the door of ten grand to buy, cost upwards of a thousand bucks a year to register and insure[0], and then have running costs on top of that – for something that’s probably not practical for most of the other stuff [than commuting] people want a vehicle for. Ie: you’re spending a lot of money for something that really only delivers a benefit – and probably a marginal one at that – if everyone else has one too.

    Even something the size of one of those two-people ATVs is only really going to deliver a benefit when it comes to parking. On the road, they may as well be a car (ie: you can’t lane filter).

    [0] The “holding costs” for simply owning vehicles in this country are outrageously high, a prime example of how motorists are soaked for revenue.

  32. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy @26, well yes, I suppose I should have included an extra adjective to indicate I was talking about a 1 or 2 person vehicle.
    And yes there are very small cars that carry only 2 people, and why it is they haven’t seen more uptake is curious too – I suspect they fail somewhat on “joy to ride/drive” front.

  33. John

    Scott #5

    This is an example of a very common line of argument in transport debates:

    Booster: We need more priority to public transport and active transport.
    Doubter: But not everyone can use public transport! What about tradies? What about people with the weekly shopping? What about mum doing the soccer training run? What about the disabled? etc etc. You can’t expect them to use public transport!

    The answer, as always, is: WE KNOW. WE AGREE. No-one expects tradies and the rest to use public transport. But we’re not talking just about them. We’re talking about all the OTHER people in the middle who are not tradies etc, and who might use public transport if it was better, or who might cycle if it was safer.

    And if more of the people who could use public transport or active transport did so, the roads would be less congested and there would be more room for tradies etc.

    Note also that to label people as potential users or non-users, once and for all, is simplistic. Circumstances change. The soccer mum may be a regular commuter at other times, or will be in a few years. The tradie, at the weekend, may be just another Joe taking his kids to a show. There are of course plenty of people who can’t use public transport for their present trip, but the proportion of people who won’t benefit at all from better public transport will be much smaller.

  34. Oz (Horst) Kayak

    Wow …27 comments so far. The topic has touched a sensitive nerve.
    Maybe more consideration should be also given to a low watt motorised scooters similar that used by primary school children that can be speed governed to walking speed on footpaths.
    Not very sexy for commuters, but very practical for the golden oldies for visiting, shopping and the like. More than 30% of the population could have their travel needs met by such a device on a non rainy day.

  35. Oz (Horst) Kayak

    Wow…27 comments so far, seems to have touched a more sensitive nerve that normal.
    Some of us who may be termed as golden oldies consider a motorised scooter, of a few watts governed to walking speed. similar to what our very young grand children use and no threat to anyone one a footpath as an option to be favoured for a few kilometres of travel to visit, shop or whatever.
    Maybe not sexy for a commuter. but very functional for most of the 70% of the population who are not daily commuters.

  36. drsmithy

    And no one has ever to have been to explain why.

    The Australia Tax. It’s not just scooters, it applies to most things – cars, clothes, food, etc.

    There is no reason other than greed. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of money out of enormous markups setting stuff to Aussies.

  37. drsmithy

    I do wonder why it is that nobody’s managed to come up with a truly stable and enclosed vehicle – motorised or otherwise – that’s a genuine enough pleasure to ride that large scale uptake is feasible.

    Er, is that not a car ?

  38. michael r james

    #23 Dylan Nicholson at 7:46 pm

    I tend to agree (despite what I write below), but I can’t see that semi-enclosed motorcycles (which have existed & are popular in Japan since the 60s) are any “solution”. I prefer to live where I can pretty much walk everywhere or if need be, use proper PT (not a bus) but of course distance and time … outside central cities …

    What stops me is my experience as a motorbike rider in my youth. Three accidents (all three were the cars fault) two of which were just minor nudges but one which could have easily killed me. At night. By a P-plate driver T-boning me by coming out of a side street simply because he admitted he didn’t see me. My helmet may have saved me but it actually came off (presumably after we hit the tarmac together …).

    Anyway, if I was tempted (this would be for semi-rural France where I am told they are rather better than in Anglophone countries; I don’t know except that it is bound to be true cf. the UK.) it would be one of those reverse-trikes, ie. tilting-three-wheelers., where the double wheels are at the front and have independent suspension. Exempting the gimmicky or hideous ones, the main contenders appear to be the Yamaha Tricity, Piaggio MP3 and Peugeot Metropolis; curiously these are available as hybrid-electrics but no one has managed good range.

    Apparently this arrangement greatly improves mobile stability, including cornering and on slippery roads, and improves braking performance; because not only do you have double the rubber on the road, at the front (where it is much more effective) the tilting mechanism gives additional stability/traction on cornering. The three models are no wider than standard motorbikes (whose effective width is defined by the handlebars/crashbars).

    I don’t know, and can’t imagine there are any meaningful statistics, as to whether it would reduce accidents or outcomes.

  39. ken svay

    Motor cycles or better scooters are the way to go, I rode a Honda Airblade scooter in Phnom Penh and indeed all over Cambodia for many years. But the sort of handsome scooters like Clicks, Airblades, Scoopys andFinos are incredibly expensive in Australia compared to Asia. Roughly they are three times the price!
    And no one has ever to have been to explain why.These great little machines are really economical, easy to ride being auto and very nice to look at. Everyone should be riding them as they do in Asia.

  40. Dylan Nicholson

    I dunno…much as I love being on two wheels and swear by the benefits and joys of it, the number of accidents and incidents and the increased necessary maintenance caused by being on a precariously balanced vehicle with its key components constantly exposed to the weather is gradually leading me to think there’s real limits to how popular such forms of travel are ever going to become (though there’s certainly huge scope for improvement in this country). I do wonder why it is that nobody’s managed to come up with a truly stable and enclosed vehicle – motorised or otherwise – that’s a genuine enough pleasure to ride that large scale uptake is feasible.

  41. drsmithy

    This myth also leads to good safety interventions not being implemented.

    Nothing unusual there. Authorities across the country have next to zero interest in fundamentally improving road safety across the board. Far easier to just punch out a few more speed cameras.

  42. drsmithy

    I don’t intend to get into an extended and pointless bout with you again, doc. It seems that all your life’s decisions on career and where you live etc, have made you angry and unhappy that the world doesn’t work to make your choices nicer to live with. You should stop blaming other people for those decisions.

    It seems you’re making stuff up.

    I’m quite happy with my life decisions. Not sure why you’d think otherwise.

    A quick Google and I can’t find it, but remember the joke about aliens watching towns and cities from low earth orbit. They come to the conclusion that the predominant intelligent life form is a four-wheeled metal vehicle, but there also seems to be a ubiquitous small parasite that attaches itself to the vehicle whenever it moves, presumably in some kind of symbiosis. This dependency becomes ever stronger the further from city centres one goes, and becomes total in rural environs!

    Yes, you’ve made it quite clear you’re completely incapable of empathising with anyone who has different priorities to you.

  43. Alan Davies

    Michael Czajka #16; tonyofbrunswick #19:

    The source for the 34 times statistic is Victoria’s Road Safety and Transport Strategic Action Plan for Powered Two Wheelers 2009–2013. It says at page 3:

    However, riders and pillion passengers are amongst the most vulnerable road users. The likelihood of serious injury or death in a crash is 34 times higher than for the occupants of a car.

    This data from the US National Center for Data and Statistics puts it slightly higher: “Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are about 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash.”

    It’s welcome that the risk of motorcycling has improved since these statistics were published, but I expect it’s still much, much higher than driving.

  44. tonyofbrunswick

    If you want some good details on motorcycling you need to go to one of the seminal studies on motorcycling in Australia – Prof. Marcus Wigan’s “Powered Two Wheelers in Victoria” (a study commissioned by VicRoads by the way. This is one of the two Victorian studies cited in the Leuven Report from Belgium. The Leuven report indicated that by increasing motorcycle traffic to 10% of the total cuts congestion by 40%.

    Prof. Wigan found among other things that motorcyclists are far more likely to ride in bad weather (rain and cold) than cyclists are and were the only group to actively enjoy their commute (even more than cyclists).

    I note some of the other issues here… Noise problems are generally confined to modified machines of a specific make – relatively easy to enforce if the will is there. In real terms, motorcycling is still becoming safer – over the same period that the number of motorcycles on the road has risen by around 100%, fatalities have actually declined.

    Parking remains a non-issue in Victoria. The last count done by the Victorian Motorcycle Council (October 2014)showed 1350 motorcycles parked on footpaths or in motorcycle parking bays in the CBD. Counts have consistently showed a 2:1 ratio of motorcycles to bicycles parked in the sheet (bicycles generally are parked off street. Properly laid out parking generally enables 4 motorcycles to one car park and that’s without taking “dead space into account (all the otherwise unused nooks and crannies in carparks and streets)

    I note that the author has fallen for the 34 ties ore likely… scenario. I suggest he researches this figure. I have been searching for a verifiable source for this for years but never found one. Overseas studies point to 18 times as a maximum, however thee are often not relevant to local conditions (mandatory helmets for instance).

    The one verifiable safety figure comes from Flinders Uni who found one serious injury for every 1,000 hours of horse riding and downhill skiing and one for every 10,000 hours of motorcycling (including racing). Yet neither of these pastimes receive the opprobrium that motorcycling does.

    Until recently motorcycling has been viewed purely as a rod safety issue and solutions have been purely seen as “enforcement issues. Only now that it’s legitimacy as a
    valid and useful form of transport is beginning to be recognised can we begin to take an holistic approach. Issues such as fair road space usage and training are areas which remain to be properly addressed,

  45. Alan Davies

    Jill Baird #17:

    What platform are you using? The title of the exhibit comes up on my Windows 8 PC, my iPad and my Android phone. The title is:

    Vehicles entering the central city of Melbourne at key locations during the morning peak 7-10am in March 2012 (source: MCC Bicycle Plan 2012-16)

  46. Jill Baird

    Alan, it’s great to use a graph to illustrate your point, but unfortunately there’s no indicaton (a title, for example) of what the graph is all about.

  47. Michael Czajka

    In the last 14 years (2001-2014) the risk of a fatality on a motorcycle has dropped 304 %:

    Rider numbers more than doubled while fatalities almost halved.

    We can of course reduce this further… but it helps if someone recognises the HUGE improvements.

    Unfortunately the TAC, police, Vic Roads and the media continue to quote 34x (or other even higher figures)… and thus perpetuate the myth that motorcycle safety is intractible.

    This myth also leads to good safety interventions not being implemented.

    🙂

  48. mikeb

    I ride a motorbike for recreation but the thought of a daily commute leaves me cold. With a car you jump in & take off. With a bike you get on your safety gear, change of clothes (possibly), strap on your luggage, and hope the weather is fine as it’s not really fun riding in the rain and cold. Then you have to watch out for idiot drivers who can’t concentrate on anything that isn’t straight in front of them or on their iphone.

  49. michael r james

    #13 drsmithy at 4:11 pm

    You do know that Swedes and Danes and Amsterdammers (and Pairisians, New Yorkers etc) do own cars (though a lot fewer per household, and yes more households are car free) but simply don’t use them nearly as much?

    I don’t intend to get into an extended and pointless bout with you again, doc. It seems that all your life’s decisions on career and where you live etc, have made you angry and unhappy that the world doesn’t work to make your choices nicer to live with. You should stop blaming other people for those decisions.

    [Small-town and rural dwellers are probably like an alien species.]

    A quick Google and I can’t find it, but remember the joke about aliens watching towns and cities from low earth orbit. They come to the conclusion that the predominant intelligent life form is a four-wheeled metal vehicle, but there also seems to be a ubiquitous small parasite that attaches itself to the vehicle whenever it moves, presumably in some kind of symbiosis. This dependency becomes ever stronger the further from city centres one goes, and becomes total in rural environs!

  50. drsmithy

    Here is an extract from the maker of a film (Fredrik Gertten, a Swedish documentary-maker) that opened in UK yesterday (Bikes vs Cars.):

    Presumably those of us who are happy to cycle to work when we can but still wouldn’t entertain life without a car (and/or motorcycle) are too much for his little brain to handle.

    I imagine he also struggles mightily with the idea of people who don’t want to live cheek-to-jowl in high-density housing. Small-town and rural dwellers are probably like an alien species.

  51. M Bourne

    9
    “Why is it…”
    MRJ already answered that one for you. We built our cities so that most people need to have a car to live in that city.

    If you have some magic solution to stop people from being inexperienced or over confident, drugged, drunk, demented, daft or 90% dead, please elaborate, I’m sure it would help in far more areas than just traffic speed.

  52. Reechard

    No path to hihg bike ownership??
    Perhaps make it more attractive, with changes to roads and parking, as some suggest here.
    If possible, certain roads could be bike or local only at certain times (Bikes between barriers, cars on a keycard system) I am sure many will say “Can’t be done, too hard.” but I reply “If we can think of it, we can do it. Where there is a will, there is a way”

  53. Reechard

    Zebee.. “.. And does every family really need a large 4WD..”
    No.

  54. Reechard

    “..The number and speed of cars will need to be reduced significantly in congested urban areas if motorcycling…”
    Again, the tired old mantra about speed.
    Why is it, when again and again, road authorities slip up and let out the truth that speed per se is only a minor factor in most accidents, compared to drivers who are, inexperienced or over confident, drugged, drunk, demented, daft or 90% dead, driving decrepit and dangerous cars and therefore a menace at any speed, why is it that rusted on (lovely phrase that) commentators use speed as the causative factor.
    Bad driving can manifest in many ways at any speed. The only real implications of speed are 1) you have less time to screw up 2) the outcome worsen as the square of the speed.
    We need better training for ALL road users, including pedestrians, most of whom need special lessons on how to cross roads using only ESP..
    More police on the roads would be a good idea.
    Of course, in a few more years we will have autonomous cars traveling safely and comfortably at sensible speeds. Just wait for the high pitched whining about the loss in revenue from the $afety camera$ then!

  55. michael r james

    #5 Scott

    The problem with your scenario is that it is totally conditional on urban design. Your car-dependency is only because we have built our cities so that you have to “drive” long distances for 1. work, 2. school, 3. shopping and 4. sport & entertainment.

    Fifty-five percent of households in NYC (all 5 boroughs not just Manhattan where the figure is 70+%) don’t own cars. Yet they obviously get by perfectly well. No accident that there is no Wal-Mart in NYC (fairly remarkable but true, they have been trying for decades). That is a city twice as big in population as any Australian city. It is also the Greenest city in north America, by a long way.

    Here is an extract from the maker of a film (Fredrik Gertten, a Swedish documentary-maker) that opened in UK yesterday (Bikes vs Cars.):
    [“Car dependency,” Gertten says, “is a disease for society. If you’re dependent on having a car every day, you have lost your freedom. It’s very sad. Most people are unhappy in traffic. The people who bike their cities, they become city-lovers. When you’re in a car, you don’t see the city, you are only watching the road. On a bike, you can see the sky, you can see the trees. People get to know their countries in a different way.”
    .
    … at the end of the film, it’s the car-drivers you feel really sorry for. It just looks so miserable, so choked, so futile, so wasteful: not of the planet’s resources, but of your actual life.]

  56. Alan Davies

    Scott #5:

    The car has indeed been a great enabler in many ways – getting her own car improved my mother’s life immeasurably when I was a kid. But a motorcycle is a viable substitute for many trips e.g. in Greater Sydney, 67% of all weekday trips are solo; 49% on a weekend. The average occupancy for the journey to work in Sydney is just 1.1. Other modes don’t suit all these trips but I think there are potentially viable alternatives for many of them, especially in inner and middle ring regions.

  57. Zebee Johnstone

    I dunno anyone was saying replace cars entirely with bikes.

    If only 1/3 of the able bodied drivers of single occupant vehicles used a motorcycle or bicycle then the disabled and others with a definite need for a car would find they had an easier time. Congestion caused by use of inappropriate vehicles hurts them too.

    MInd you, they also need to think about their car use. Just how needful is the school run really? And does every family really need a large 4WD compared to say a station wagon?

  58. Scott

    I’m constantly amazed on this blog how little attention is paid to those members of society with young families or who have disabilities. (or who need to transport anything larger than a backpack).

    The car has been the great enabler for these people (as a passenger or as a driver). To say that motor cycles or bikes is an option in these cases is not practical.

    Urban planning is not just for the fit and able. Its also for the most vulnerable. I suggest you review your framework to include them as well.

  59. Zebee Johnstone

    On the safety front I note that NSW has had a marked decrease in car/bike crashes with car at fault over the last 10 years. This is almost certainly due to the motorcycle awareness work the NSW govt and the MCC of NSW have been doing. Motorcycle awareness week, lots of ads on buses and so on. Plus other studies have shown that the more bikes (and so more people with relatives and friends who ride) the fewer car/bike crashes.

    I don’t know how many new riders will end up risk averse as nicking in and out of slow cars and generally carving up peak hour is what they are on the thing for, and you see suits (make and female) on scooters in Sydney doing that. Not sure if all of them have a GSXR1000 or Harley in the garage and are just using the scooter to commute.

    Noise is all about image. The stupid “loud pipes save lives” meme which just means no one has thought about how sound works in traffic. I have a number of years riding the same commute on the same bike with loud pipes and without and no difference in driver behavior was observed, A very small number of people did stupid things in both cases.

    Noise is about image and feeling like you have a powerful beast. Same thing that makes drivers of boring but vaguely sporty looking cars put 6″ tailpipes on them.

    The vast majority of loud bikes are Harleys and that is because in stock legal form they are 1200cc of slow anaemic rubbish and you have to spend a few grand more on pipe and carb to get any go out of one. If someone does that they want a pipe that says “outlaw” like the image they bought the bike for. (Apologies to the 0.01% of H riders who aren’t like that)

    These pipes are sold as “not for road use” nudge nudge wink wink and the way to solve the problem is to only allow them to be sold new or 2nd hand to someone with a current valid road race licence… Plus of course active enforcement but that costs money.

    Certainly if a city wants to see more motorcycles then convert more car parking spots to bikes (one car spot can fit 5 bikes), put bike spots parallel to kerbing close to intersections, fix rules about pay and display tickets, allow timed access to loading zones. City of Sydney did that and got a lot more commuters on bikes.

    Shoup is right, parking is the key to traffic.

  60. Alan Davies

    Jason Murphy #1:

    I don’t think Copenhagen was ever high-driving in the sense that our cities are; and for that matter I’m not sure either that there are many examples of high-driving cities taking up public transport in the way Copenhagen and Dutch cities took up cycling. Our issue is that driving is getting very expensive in terms of time lost to congestion.

    MarkD #2:

    Parking has a big impact on mode share but I don’t think it’s a major constraint on motorcycling in the City of Melbourne where it’s legal to park a motorcycle on the footpath. I think more on-road car spaces should be given over to motorcycles in the CBD so that parking on footpaths can be eliminated (a single car space can accommodate 4-6 motorcycles and up to 10 scooters). I agree noise is a serious problem that requires much better enforcement.

  61. MarkD

    Alan, do you think the availability of parking (and other end of trip facilities) has a significant impact on mode share? What happens when car parking is replaced with bicycle or motorcycle parking. I hypothesise that you’d get more drivers to become riders if there were fewer places to park cars and more places to park cycles.

    And, I’d be happy to see more motorcycles on the road if excessive noise was policed/enforced and their parking was not permitted on footpaths.

  62. Jason Murphy

    I suspect you are right about safety and that with more numbers riding, the odds of dying on a motorbike would fall. Still, I don’t see motorcycles as a realistic option to scale up.

    1. There is no proven path from a high-driving to a high-motorcycling city, unlike the example shown by Copenhagen etc with bicycling. In fact, cities with high numbers of motorcycles are likely to grow into cars as they accumulate wealth.

    2. Parking. Motorbikes take up a lot more space than bikes. Once any real share of people were riding them, there’d be a parking crisis and charging for parking would be likely to be on the agenda.

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