Most discussions about motorcycling are dichotomous. Bikes make sense as efficient personal transport; they don’t congest, are easy to park and they don’t wear out the road. They’re generally more fuel-efficient and it doesn’t take nearly as much of the earth’s resources to make one as it does a car.
But, they aren’t safe are they? They’re noisy and a public nuisance, or so we are all too often told. For legislators, one way of tackling those negative aspects of biking is to ignore the positives. Ban them. Ipso facto there will be no injuries or death related to motorcycling and their journey times will not be comparably quicker or cleaner than a car because they won’t be making any.
Of course a ban would be irrational, draconian even and no-one would go for it. Why would legislators who are attempting to improve traffic flows and air quality, ban the very solution to their transportational woes? They would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces as someone of an older generation might say.
Well they’d probably do it in Britain if motorcyclists themselves begged them to and if a voting population of non-riders seemed supportive. It might not surprise you that the Germans have done it for years, banning motorcycles from various sections of their road network. They started it back in the 1990s because riders were killing themselves in unacceptably high numbers on particularly interesting pieces of road, which ultimately cost the State too much money and the general population too much heartache.
An ill-informed environmental lobby has, in many parts of the world, sought and succeeded in banning bikes from certain urban areas, preferring cars to sit and pollute in traffic jams rather than letting the populace keep moving on two, convenient wheels.
But why would motorcyclists cry out for legislation that penalises them directly? Well that’s the million dollar question of course. Regardless of attempts by legislators to get riders to accept they are part of a wider community and therefore have some personal responsibility, riders have insisted on fitting excessively loud exhausts, until repeated legislation reduced the permitted noise level of bikes to the dangerously muted that we have now. Excessive enforcement could have attempted to tackle the issue, but that costs too much, because Western democracies actually do most of their policing through consent. And so the persistently arrogant or ignorant brought us to the noise limits and the public perception that we have today.
And it seems the desire to fulfil society’s most negative perception of motorcycling is still alive and well in our Capital. Some riders have all but signed a petition to enact the ultimate penalty; to be banned from the streets they use.
After years of public complaints and failed soft policing, Brent Council have introduced a bike ban on the Rainsford Road in London’s Park Royal area. It’s basically a couple of roundabouts joined by a long sweeping corner by a hospital, and it seems that riding it repeatedly, quickly and noisily is a favourite past-time of some. The Council don’t want to fit speed bumps because it’s a thoroughfare designed in part to alleviate the congestion on the A406 Hanger Lane gyratory and because part of the adjoining land is earmarked for commercial development.
Dispersal Orders have been made to clear gatherings of riders who sometimes remain until the early hours, but still the activity persists. What would you do if you had to make the decision? Dealing with anti-social behaviour is one thing, but maintaining legal right of access is another. The BMF have pointed out that inconveniencing, or indeed criminalising the many, is no way to deal with the few. If a law-breaker is a law-breaker, will another law perturb them? Consensual policing is still the basis of enforcement, so surely only those who would use the road within legal confines will be the ones most affected.
It’s an Experimental Traffic Order that has been introduced, experimenting no doubt, to see whether or not a ban on bikes leads to a ban on bikes… Experimental or permanent, the cost of implementing multiple traffic orders is comparable to fitting some speed humps, something that residents and Hospital staff have called for. There are Hospital staff who commute by bike because it’s convenient and green, who will now have to take a detour.
And it’s an Order that has been implemented in part to ensure that a hypothetical fatality doesn’t occur, in the way that a fatality has been yet to occur. In that endeavour I expect it will succeed, therefore proving again, that only by banning green, efficient, congestion reducing bikes from an urban area, can hypothetical casualties be reduced and the perception of anti-social bikers be cemented. Ban them throughout the city and to hell with congestion and air quality, motorcycle casualties will fall, rather as they have been doing through improved road infrastructure and better rider training.
It’s a dichotomy alright. When the motorcycle community could be stealing a huge moral advantage within transport policy, part of it persistently invites repression and negative publicity, but to whose ultimate advantage?