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Archive for the ‘motorcycles’ Category

I don’t usually just link to other blogs, but this is a very interesting post in the NY Times regarding the various considerations for approving / disapproving of the current congestion pricing plan the Manhattan. In addition to the general congestion, economy, air quality, etc. issues, including this one,which is primarily economic:

. . . Second, a new coalition of pro-congestion pricing groups, calling itself Communities United for Transportation Equity, presented research suggesting that black and Hispanic riders and low-income riders have the longest commutes of any residents of the New York region. Of the 750,000 New Yorkers who travel more than an hour each way, two-thirds make less than $35,000 a year and only 6 percent make more than $75,000 a year, the group noted, citing an analysis by the Pratt Center for Community Development of Census data.

So, there’s more to it than just what we, as the relatively wealthy (I guess, I don’t feel like it) fixate on, which is oil prices and carbon monoxide. And, of course, the general enjoyment of riding a motorcycle to work. But if the kind of economic analysis that this argument represents actually carries some weight, it bodes well for downtown-restricting regulation in other cities as well. We are, after all, never short of the economically-disadvantaged.

The larger operative question is, I think, would traffic restrictions in a downtown are actually render it a better place, increase commerce, encourage pedestrian traffic, and so on. It would certainly have a beneficial effect on air quality and fuel consumption, but would it have other benefits? That remains to be seen. But if we mean to make our cities more livable, this is something worth trying. Maybe it works, maybe not, but trying something is better than doing nothing.

Here‘s my first post dealing specifically with the congestion pricing proposal. For the rest of the posts on bikes, click on the “motorcycles” category in the blogroll.

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Here’s some additional thoughts on substituting some great two-wheeled time for time in your rolling cage, excuse me, your car. This assumes that a jump to 45 – 70 MPG isn’t enough to make your mouth water, that you need some other excuse to dive in and ride.

There is a growing awareness that it is in fact possible to do your commute by scooter or motorcycle, read a little more about it in the Rush Hour Rambling blog, interesting and well-written and based in Minneapolis.

Then, there is the National Ride to Work Day movement, based in Proctor, Minnesota. This year’s is 7/18/07, be there (on two wheels) or be square! The hard impact of RTW Day is estimated to be 60,000 gallons of fuel saved, based on extrapolated reported participation nationwide. This translates into 15 million gallons of fuel saved for a year, if every day were like RTW Day. Wow.

Riding-clothes maker Aerostitch has a cute little list of objections to commuting via motorcycle, and responses demolishing these objections.

Here’s a fun discussion of the psychological impact of motorcycle commuting in Southern California, not something I’d necessarily like to be involved in.

Finally, let me point out that another out-in-the-open option for tooling around town, in addition to motorcycles and scooters, is a motorcycle with a sidecar. This may be less intimidating to some people because now you don’t have to balance anything, and of course now you can take a passenger and / or bring home the bacon in bags in the sidecar — admittedly easier than strapping it on the bike. Sidecars also have panache in spades, and are firmly 1940s retro, which is currently stylistically in vogue. Hauling up to your local coffee shop in one of these will, believe me, stop the conversation right there.

A few firms make sidecars, including Harley, Royal Enfield, and Ural. The Harley sidecars are available only on a couple of their heavy touring bikes, not exactly the zippiest little numbers, and terrifically expensive. The Urals are copies of a 1943 BMW, updated slightly to modern standards, and assembled in Russia. C’mon now, doesn’t this look almost irrestable?

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In Part 1 on this subject, I noted some of the great benefits that would accrue to the environment if only 20% of the cars currently in Manhattan’s central business district were replaced by scooters or motorcycles. Based on a study by Sam Schwartz PLLC, a traffic consulting firm, the benefits included a 26,000 ton reduction in CO2 emissions, 2.5 million gallon gas saving, and 4.6 million hour reduction in traffic delays — every year. Gridlock Sam, they used to call him, when he was Commissioner of Traffic for the City, so I guess he knows New York traffic all right.

His report was a little piece of Mayor Bloomberg’s thrust to make New York more livable and more likely to retain it’s preeminent place in the American business community, and not strangle itself in it’s own wastes. The centerpiece of this initiative is “congestion pricing,” which means that incoming drivers would be charged an entrance fee:

The congestion pricing proposal is a central part of the long-range sustainability plan Mr. Bloomberg unveiled in April and could be a defining element of his legacy as mayor. The plan calls for charging cars $8 and large commercial trucks $21 to drive into Manhattan below 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The mayor says the plan would encourage people to leave their cars at home and would raise $380 million a year to improve and expand mass transit options like subways, buses and ferries. (NY Times)

London and some other European cities already have congestion-based tariffs, and at least in the European experience the seem to work.

I was pleased to note that in one interview one of the Mayor’s functionaries also stated that two-wheeled vehicles would be exempt from these fees. So, yet another reason to grab two wheels and scoot. But what happens when you’re there, however much it didn’t cost you to drive in? In either driving or parking, the numbers speak pretty clearly:

  • 250 square feet for a normal car, or van, or SUV;
  • 20 square feet for a scooter or bike.

So then, roughly 12 scooters per car. Now realistically, 12 scooters can’t actually ride in one car’s footprint, but they can certainly park there, but so what if the moving space reduction is, say, only 5:1? That’s still a whale of a lot of compression, and a whale of a lot of benefit to everybody. Or as my friend and co-rider Bob Saxler points out, why use 2 tons of steel and plastic to haul a couple of hundred pounds of payload around at 20 MPG on a good day, when you can use 550 pounds of bike, or 400 pounds of scooter, and get anywhere from 45 to 80 MPG? And enjoy it to boot?

Minneapolis, not exactly a hotbed of downtown scooters (think: winter for 5 months) still has several joint bicycle and scooter parking areas with set-in-the-pavement chain terminations, and every day I see them full. What would you rather do: walk outside 15 paces to your scooter, or 3 blocks to the ramp for your car? Think about it.

Finally, although you can get all kind of bike electronics to bolt onto big over-the-road cruising motorcycles, it’s pretty hard to do this on a small bike or a scooter. No i-Pod, no cell phone, hence no distractions that keep you from navigating the streets successfully, which is what your job is as a driver. So, things would get safer right away.

There is an increasing demand for two-wheeled motorized transport, and for good reason. Get in on the ground floor!

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There is a growing body of opinion that our greatest strike against Islamic extremists would not come from our military, but by freeing ourselves from Middle-Eastern petroleum, and one of the best steps we could take to start healing our environment would be to wean ourselves generally from petroleum.

First I have to admit that due to work-related reasons I have to drive a car from my home to downtown Minneapolis every day. I mitigate this somewhat by (a) driving a Toyota Prius and (b) hosting a carpool. On occasionally lucky days I manage to ride the bus in, a welcome relief. I also own a Harley motorcycle, which for many months of the year would be viable daily transportation, even in Minnesota, and which gets around 45 MPG. OK, OK, the bike is fun, but would it make a difference?

In Europe, motorcycles and especially scooters are refined and civilized urban transportation machines, see Kymco, Peugeot, and Piaggio just for example. Most European cities are alive with these cute little buzzers, and they’re not being ridden by the tattoo-and-black-leather set, either, but by ordinary people carrying briefcases. But do they actually make a difference?

New York City, which is drowning in cars and emissions, is really taking some steps to address the problem, including Mayor Bloomberg’s recent proposal to charge vehicles to enter Manhattan (referred to professionally as “congestion pricing”). Another step was to commission the respected traffic-management consulting firm of Sam Schwartz PLLC to examine the impact of changing the Manhattan vehicle mix to include motorcycles and scooters.

The study examined the Manhattan central business district, from 60th Street to Battery Park, substituting scooters for cars in varying increments and then simulating the traffic patterns and loading. Note that they did not factor in lane-splitting, space sharing, or any other two-wheel-specific maneuvers, they just treated each buzzer as a car, but one taking up much less space and getting much better mileage, so the results are conservative.

By shifting the daytime vehicle mix from 100% cars to 80% cars and 20% scooters, the results show:

  • A reduction in CO2 emissions by over 26,000 tons (tons!) per year;
  • The saving of 2.5 million gallons of gasoline per year;
  • The saving of 4.6 million hours of delay time, or roughly 100 working (or playing) hours per person, and
  • A total saving of $122 million per year in fuel and labor productivity.

This is of course not to mention that being on two wheels is much more fun than being trapped in a four-wheeled cage, so people would be arriving at work in a much better frame of mind than otherwise.

Could we really substitute scooters for 20% of cars in Manhattan? I think it would be realistic for much of the year. Experience shows that people will make changes in their behavior in response to financial incentives — if this substitution is a desirable result, just tariff cars until you get the right percentage, offer reduced-rate and buzzer-only parking, etc. The same approach holds true for any city.

So, going Green and lightening the load on our environment can be beneficial and enjoyable at the same time. Hopefully we’ll all come to realize this, and see that making some of these changes will generate positive economic benefits across the board, in contrast to the currently-entrenched view that any changes for energy efficiency will somehow harm business and bring on doom and despair.

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