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New research indicates motorcycle commuting reduces traffic congestion and emissions


February 12, 2012

A slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles has been found to significantly reduce traffic congestion and emissions

A slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles has been found to significantly reduce traffic congestion and emissions

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The answer to the world's urban traffic congestion may be as simple as creating policies to promote motorcycle commuting. A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.

The study, which was presented at the Association des Constructeurs Européens de Motocycles (ACEM) 2012 Conference in Brussels, found that if 10 percent of all private cars were replaced by motorcycles in the traffic flow of the test area, total time losses for all vehicles decreased by 40 percent and total emissions reduced by 6 percent (1 percent from the different traffic composition of more emission-reduced motorcycles and 5 percent from avoided traffic congestion). A 25 percent modal shift from cars to motorcycles was found to eliminate congestion entirely.

The results came from a case study for a stretch of highway between Leuven and Brussels in Belgium and may not translate directly to other road scenarios, as the report states quite clearly that the effects of a modal shift are dependent on the local traffic situation.

"The queues that develop at each bottleneck have different characteristics, which are dependent on local circumstances, such as the local traffic demand and the capacity of the local bottleneck and upstream road sections," states the report. "The relationship between the modal shift and the change in traffic flow, the reduction in travel times and the reduction in lost vehicle hours will consequently differ for each location."

The researchers extrapolated the figures, noting the above, and warning that "extrapolating the results of the case study can therefore only serve as an indication of the order of magnitude of the impact of a global modal shift."

When the case study results for this small area were extrapolated to Belgium's entire highway highway network, the total time savings for all vehicles was 15,000 hours per day, and that's just in Belgium. The amount of time all of humanity loses in the daily commute must be horrendous, and it might be far more easily managed by the implementation of some pro-motorcycling policies.

When I first read this research, I immediately thought of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), the Vietnamese city of 7.5 million people and nearly five million motorcycles, and by far the most motorcycle-dependent traffic environment I have ever seen.

The narrow streets of 300-year-old Saigon could not function without the enhanced traffic density and traffic flow of the motorcycle. Though cars are still plentiful on Saigon roads, the vast majority of traffic is made up of motorcycles.

Even in peak hour on the main thoroughfares, where you can sometimes see a tangle of motorcycles for miles in front of you, the traffic flow remains remarkably high.

Having watched what has happened to the traffic flows of many other Asian cities as the wealth of the population has grown and "progressed" the primary mode of transport through bicycle to motorcycles and hence to cars, I expect the traffic flows of Saigon to plummet unless the same traffic composition is somehow maintained. If cars make up say 10 percent of the traffic on Saigon roads, I suspect a modal change of 10 percent from motorcycles to cars would have catastrophic effect on the traffic congestion in the city.

A big role for smaller vehicles

The research is yet another indicator that smaller-than-a-car road vehicles will play a much greater role in personal transportation.

I raised this exact topic last year during a discussion with Chris Borroni-Bird, General Motors' Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts.

Over the last decade, Borroni-Bird has led GM's "Reinvention of the Automobile" program, running a series of fascinating projects designing electric and fuel cell vehicles from a clean sheet. The first of these, the AUTOnomy, was shown in 2002 followed by Hi-wire, Sequel and the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (PUMA) project which finally emerged as the EN-V.

I asked Chris how he saw things playing out across the world with transportation systems and he said he thought the most likely scenario was that rules would be framed city by city, and that a "user pays" system would inevitably evolve which basically saw the user paying for the amount of space their vehicle took up on the roads, and that parking space pricing would also promote smaller vehicles by charging for the amount of space used.

Quite clearly a change to smaller road vehicles offers the cities that can engineer it a more hospitable environment than those that don't or can't. The inhabitants of those cities will waste less time in transit and the air will be cleaner.

The report [PDF] and a slide show presentation delivered by the report's author, Isaak Yperman, at the 8th ACEM annual conference are all available online.

The following video is of Isaak Yperman's presentation at ACEM.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

And motorcycling is 38 times more lethal than being in a car.Just build more bicycle paths that open only to bicycles.



Where do you get that number from and in what context? On NZ roads riding a pushbike is playing with death because there are so few pushbikes on the road that drivers don\'t expect them.

In many Chinese cities they are the main vehicle on the road and a s such cars adapt to the pushbikes and not vice versa. The same can be seen in countries with high bike densities such as The Netherlands.

It be interesting to compare accident statistics when taking into account the proportion the vehicle makes up of total traffic.

Just saying 38 times more lethal is a bit short sighted.

Paul van Dinther

really we needed a study to tell us this?

Jonathon Marks

this is great news for all the bikers of Europe who are fighting the EUs new regulations which are just the first wave of rules and restrictions which will eventually force bikers off the road - it just shows that the blind bureaucrats do no real research in their \"planning\" to make our lives better...more rules, more power to the bureaucrats...better for them...check out the current proceedings of the IMCO committee run by the Conservative Malcolm Harbour...get rid of the polluting unsafe bikers is their theme...


i dont think there data is reliable a car uses around GBP30-40 per week on fuel i used to use only maybe GBP4 so how can emissions only be reduced by 6% a bike uses ten times less fuel than cars it should be 90% reduction in emissions surely

Paul Ewing

You must be kidding? Based on what? I drove a MC until I was 23 and it was basically living a death wish daily here in Toronto. No one in car appreciates the fact that someone on a bike DIES when a car hits them. There isn\'t a motorist alive here (that I\'ve seen) that gives MC riders half a chance on the road or even a common courtesy.

Rocky Stefano

I am wth you: Paul van Dinther!!!

Nimrod Sapir

The results of this study will be a great plus for the prosthetics and wheelchair industry, not to mention lowering traffic by eliminating that portion of the populace stupid enough to start driving motorcycles.

Timothy Neill

I am watching for someone to build an affordable, fully enclosed tadpole trike using a scooter style medium displacement CVT power plant. Something with a bike sized footprint on the road or parked but with an aerodynamic fairing that keeps out the elements and offers extra protection in a crash. I like the economy and freedom of a bike, but I sincerely hope my first encounter with road rash will be my last. Also two wheelers seriously lack something in terms of all weather stability on the road.

Bob Ehresman

Unfortunately, it appears that most of the benefits come from the fact that in Europe, \"lane splitting\" is legal, while in most North American jurisdictions, it is illegal. Lane splitting is the practice of pulling around cars stopped for a traffic light and congregating at the front of the queue ready for the light to change. It also refers to the practice of driving up the middle between two lanes of stalled cars. These practices are widely used in Europe but outlawed in North America. They are incredibly effective, since motorcycles and scooters have greater exceleration and significantly better mobility than automobiles.


Great for crowded urban cities. Not much use anywhere else though.


Cars are seen as symbols of status and success in Asia. Bangkok, the biggest city in a nation that has embraced the motor scooter as transportation for a family of four (on ONE scooter) through to portable stores/restaurants, is among the world\'s worst for traffic. Why? They banned motorcycles from the city\'s major arteries...the very atherosclerotic highways that force more and more commuters to buy and use cars to get to work in a growing economy. Despite a stellar rail system, budgetary constraints have limited the only other option to get to work. If anything, Thailand should have the opposite rule...no cars on the highways and tollways, increase the number of railcars on the Skyrail, and get the elitists off their high horses.


Potentially, an \'improved\' version of the motorcycle could offer huge advantages for personal transportation. New technology isn\'t required, but investment is. We\'ve stuck with a 19th-Century format for the motorbike for more than 100 years. What\'s needed is something safer, more efficient and built around the rider (instead of the rider being slung over or wrapped around it). Google- or wiki-up feet-forward motorcycles, enclosed motorcycles, Ecomobile, Monotracer, velomobiles, recumbent bicycles, tilting vehicles, microcars, cyclecars, bubblecars just for a start. Some of these ideas have been around for nearly as long as conventional motorbikes, most are tried-and-tested.

Alexander Lowe

I have to agree with the Toronto \"danger\" problem as shown in \"The Long Way Around\" documentary, where 2 motorcyclist ride around the World and the only place they have accident with a car is in Toronto. That said if a large portion of vehicles are motorcycles then I believe there will be more awareness. If there are only a few, you just don\'t think about them. Holland has a dedicated diesel motorcycle manufacturer which gets around 100mpg. Kawasaki made a modern day replica of a early model 125cc motorcycle with modern materials that gets +200mpg. Even new models by Honda are around 70mpg. We need to push in this direction. I would like to see a slightly larger motorized version of a velomobile, where you are totally encased. It would provided protection and probably ridiculously low gas usage. Adding a motorcycle lane to freeways would be far less expensive then the carpool lanes they have now and would encourage more to switch to motorcycles.


Motorbikes are death traps, is such rubbish. Consequences of a crash are higher, but crashes are still really quite rare. Here are some stats for Victoria, Australia: http://www.tacsafety.com.au/jsp/content/NavigationController.do?areaID=12&tierID=1&navID=2B63301D7F0000010080CB01C9E47EBA&navLink=null&pageID=162 39% of all fatalities were on highways (posted at 100km/hr) and 39% were single vehicle and 53% were in rural areas. So very few deaths in cities where congestion is an issue. I\'ll also point out that the vast majority of motorcyclists don\'t die, don\'t have an accident (more than a drop in a car park or at the lights). Being more dangerous than cars is a bit debatable. Just late last year 11 people in one car died in a single accident. Generally when a bike crashes, just the one person cops it. More bikes, less cars and we will thin the population of douchebag drivers.


I can\'t believe the number of comments from people with blinders on. This applies to far more than just motorcycles. It can apply to any narrow-track or reduced footprint vehicle. What about the BMW C1? That basically eliminates most of your worries about safety.


Or the Tango:


As an added benefit, small-footprint vehicles like this also reduce the hassles of limited parking space in cities. Although to really get the full benefit, the world should really go all the way with autonomous vehicles that not only take over the duties of driving (humans are terrible drivers), but also are available for public use and have an intelligent management system that knows where to send cars to keep availability high for whomever needs them. It makes no sense to own a vehicle and have it taking up parking space just so it can sit around unused for 20-22 hours a day. Shared vehicles let someone else use it when you\'re not using it.


new research?...eastern countries knew this yonks ago

Eric Malatji

BMW made a MC with cage and seatbelt. Piaggio makes a 3-wheeler that could be enclosed. Problem with most is engine design that is inefficient and noisy. MCs should be getting mileage close to 300 instead of 80. Low power electric and diesel mopeds would lower emissions and mileage over 300 is very doable. Very congested areas should dedicate streets to non-cars & non-trucks. The motorcycle buss is very efficient but needs a clean diesel.


I love motorcycles as much as the next guy. But after three near-death experiences, and months of hobbling around, I now prefer 6 foot of steel and airbags to using my forearms and face as a crumple-zone. I suppose I might reconsider riding a motorcycle if I had young children, as I could sit them on the front mudguard as extra protection.


The reason why motorcycles are deemed \'dangerous\' is because when a 2 ton car hits one at 60km/h, of course it\'s gonna get mangled; including the rider.

Like it\'s been said - the more motorcyclists there are, the more awareness there will be. Awareness is the key issue here. Most drivers look out for other cars. Not motorcycles. So if there\'s more riders around, people will start to look for the motorcycles, too.

I think if anything, the motorcycle needs side lighting so it\'s easier to see (so many blind dingbats out there...).

In the end.. If you\'re not looking for something, you\'re not likely to find it.. (relates to drivers not looking for motorcyclists or bicyclists, too)


As someone who has been involved with MC safety (and who wrote a paper referenced by that Leuven paper) it\'s sad to see the safety misconceptions still being perpetuated. Especially the tired old \"38 times more likely...\" \'rubbish being perpetuated. (From the Victorian Transport Accident Commission)

The same people who perpetuate the unsubstantiated \"38 times\" claim also claim bicycles are \"34 times more likely...\"

And what the Victorian figures don\'t mention is the huge increase in motorcycle numbers over that period. Well over 100% increase for Victoria means that safety continues to seriously improve. UK studies from London since the congestion tax and subsequent increase in motorcycle and scooter use also show that as the number of powered two wheelers goes up, the percentage of crashes goes down.

And if you\'ve had three near-death experiences then might I suggest you have a really good look at your riding style!

Tony Ellis

Filtering in peak hour slow moving queued bumper to bumper traffic is some of the safest time to filter.

A rider in the queue appears as a break in the queue to a half asleep driver and they might just change lanes into the perceived gap. A collision is a certainty. On the other hand, a rider in between the queue does nothing to break up the apparent solid wall of vehicles and drivers tend not to change lanes. When they do though, drivers generally indicate and make very obvious deliberate motions to break into the next queue.

As for the emmissions comment, motorcycles tend to issue more NOx and SOx pollutant\'s per litre of fuel (especially those without CATs), but less CO2.

This is a great study. In Australia I\'ve referenced it to the National Transport Council (GHG vehicle and National Road Rules reviews) and the Victorian Parliamentary Road Safety Committee Inquiry into Motorcycle safety as a key point FOR the pro filtering case.

We motorcyclists know the results of the study intuitively, but the bureaucrats have no idea.

Rob Salvv

My research shows that walking, running, and riding a bicycle reduce pollution and congestion more.


The solution is to make the basic motorcycle safer in order to prevent topple, simple as that, 2 wheels can topple. This can be done with 2 smaller wheels at the sides, connected by a light frame starting from back of bike, arching forward and downward, and flexible, rotatable back connection.

Dawar Saify

True the congestion will reduce but fatality will increase because manufacturers are violating Safety norms. The Indian Law calls SAFETY DEVICES FOR DRIVERS, PASSENGERS AND ROAD USERS

Central Motor Vehicle Rule 123. Safety devices in motorcycle

No motor cycle, which has provision for pillion rider, shall be constructed without provision for a permanent hand grip on the side or behind the driver's seat and a foot rest and a protective device covering not less than half of the rear wheel so as to prevent the clothes of the person sitting on the pillion from being entangled in the wheel.

In India more than 30,000 motorcyclists are killed annually. Solution lies in adopting Car Safety Features in motorcycle and enforce Urban Motorcycle Speed Limit in the Gear Box design during manufacture, which AECM will not like. Currently Motorcycle falls in Power Sports Engineering not only devoid of Safety but also difficult to control, requirement of Power Sport. Bring motorcycle engineering within Automobile Engineering. In India,the High Court of several States have banned motorcycle for violating above law and manufacturers made appeal in Supreme Court of India where case is pending for hearing since year 2008.

Gyan Prakash

Yeah we didn\'t need a study to tell us this but we do need the figures to quote in studies and business cases to say make a case for say a motorcycle only lane etc. Hopefully we can actually get that kind of outcome.

Gavin Greaves

I live in the U.S. and I can\'t even use my car\'s front seat for my child until they have almost reached adulthood due to overregulation by the Government. How could I possibly move a baby around on a motorcycle? You\'re response is, just use your car until they are older. My response is, I have to have a car only for the purpose of transporting my baby around? Give me a break.

This false science of Global Warming is causing people to come up with stupid solutions to non problems. I will keep driving my car whenever, and whereever, I feel like. A motorcycle is a killing/maiming implement as far as I\'m concerned. Move out of the city if it\'s too hostile of a driving environment for you.


ozzietech, they are out-dated statistics. Latest stats out of Europe state that in major cities, push bike riders (road-nazis) are a whopping 1,800 times more likely to die than a car driver whilst commuting. The simple act of banning these mobile chicanes from the road during peak hours would speed up everyones commuting time.


How ironic that Ozzietech chooses to see dedicated bicycle lanes as the answer to congestion.

I've been to Leuven, where this study was conducted and there are loads of bicycles and some amazing dedicated cycle paths, running alongside the main roads. Motorists have to give way at traffic lights too, so the cyclists can keep going. It's practically Dutch there.

Yet they still have congestion worthy of conducting this research. Back to the drawing board eh?

James Evans

As Alex Lowe says, a large part of the answer is to make motorcycles that are safe, comfortable and aerodynamic, as some people have been doing for decades; they just need to be mass-produced: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfS3ZYwWk1E


more bike paths,a shift to aerodynamic enclosed motorcycles,[tilters see BMW's concepts the Simple and Clever],narrow 3 and 4 wheeled vehicles etc.If we can build a carbon fiber tub that can protect a driver hitting a wall at 200 plus mph,I would think we can build a enclosed motorcycle or other small vehicle's to protect a driver at normal road speeds.

Thomas Lewis

A enclosed motorcycle or narrow tracked vehicle generally doubles fuel range,and safety can be as good as your small car.Motorcycles are poor aerodynamically,their fast[larger,big displacement engines class] because of a high power to weight.A small 125 cc Honda will return about 100 mpg USA/ 2 liters per 100 Km.now enclose that same bike in a aerodynamic body and it now gets double the range,really!!!We can build a safe,low emission gas,diesel or electric vehicle right now,tadem seating,room for groceries etc.It could be a stripped down entry model or have the ride and comfort of a nice sedan with all the goodies.Can you imagine what LA or NY traffic would look like even if only half,which is entirerly possible switched to commuter type vehicles,no more 20 mph or less rides to work.driving will be fun again and cheap at 100 -200 mpg or better.Hyper loop sounds great and should be developed using quantum levitation in the future,but right now we should be spending money on saving oil,the enviroment and building a new class of commuter vehicles.The thought of taking a ride to the next state to visit a friend would be fun again,a twenty dollar bill and a cooler would get you there and back home.How cool would that be.I'm hoping more and more people start to read up on these type vehicles,educating the public will help them understand the incredible advantages to owning a vehicle like this.

Thomas Lewis

This is interesting and something I think major cities should look at; cities could potentially encourage more riders by breaks in licensing and rebates.

It's important that all riders remember it's in their best interest to wear a helmet regardless of the fact of if they're required to by law in their state.

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