Last March, the London Assembly Transport Committee reported what thousands of motorcyclists already suspected.
The then chairman Val Shawcross said, “Transport for London know they’ve not done enough to protect motorcyclists in London” (london.gov.uk). The committee went on to tip motorcycles as the “congestion-buster of the future”.
One year on, however, thousands of riders claim the Easy Rider report has — like motorcyclists themselves — been largely ignored. And they are fighting back.
Sickened by rising motorcycle fatalities significantly in excess of those for cyclists, Cycle superhighway road schemes designed to prevent motorcycles filtering — that leave riders sandwiched between other vehicles — they are saying enough is enough. Other challenges include inconsistent access-to-bus lane rules across London, diminishing parking and inaction over motorcycle theft.
The final straw is Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proposals that could force riders of pre-2007 bikes to pay £12.50 a day — the same as for cars — or scrap their machines.
The result? A new campaign group, We Ride London (weridelondon.com), which has opened dialogue with the London Assembly and the All Party Parliamentary Motorcycle Group.
Now it has City Hall and Mayor Sadiq Khan in its sights with a series of high profile rallies and “die-ins”.
“Travelling by motorcycle in London has become more difficult and dangerous,” says WRL co-founder, senior banker Mike Butler.
“By contrast, we have seen the runaway successes cyclists achieved by lobbying hard for safer roads. Now it’s our turn.”
The group claims that while TfL has spent nearly £1 billion making cycling safer and with Mayor Khan promising a further £770 million over five years, motorcycling, with zero dedicated budget, has become more dangerous.
“Good for the cyclists,” says Butler. “But motorcyclists have been ignored. Our conditions are more dangerous because cycle lane measures are literally squeezing us off the roads. Now we are asking for the same respect that our fellow two-wheelers have. It’s time traffic engineers began protecting other vulnerable road users, too.”
One of the campaigners’ biggest complaints is that motorcyclist deaths — unlike those of cyclists — appear to go unnoticed. “Why no big statements, headlines, hand-wringing and expenditure when another motorcyclist dies?” demands Butler.
“Tragically, nine cyclists were killed and 378 seriously injured on London’s roads in 2015, but without the safety schemes and dedicated lanes that benefit pedal-powered riders, the number of deaths of motorcycle riders in the same year was much higher at 36, with 504 seriously injured.”
In 2014, while there were 13 cyclist fatalities, 27 motorcyclists died on London roads. The figures for 2013 were 22 motorcyclists and 14 cyclists.
“When a cyclist tragically dies, it’s ‘what can we do about it?’,” says WRL co-organiser, Anthony van Someren.
“When a motorcyclist dies, it’s ‘he was going too fast, forget it’. But motorcycle riders are also law-abiding men and women going about their business, trying to get to work safely.”
To highlight the issues, WRL are publishing selfies of policemen, doctors, cleaners and bankers, to remind policy-makers that underneath each crash helmet is a real person. In the first demonstration ride, in late March, participants will converge on City Hall — wearing what they wear for work.
“More than 55,000 motorcyclists ride to work every day and 150,000 riders live or travel in London,” says Butler.
“Two-wheelers use less road space and move through stationary traffic, taking pressure off roads, while average speeds for four-wheeled vehicles are seven mph. The ULEZ is the final straw that will hit over 44,000 riders.
“Motorcycles are congestion-busters, not gross polluters — but many will be driven off the roads. Many can’t afford to scrap their bikes and Tubes and buses are at bursting point. They can’t pedal in from Surrey or Kent. What are they meant to do?”
Someren, who runs the Bike Shed motorcycle club in Old Street, adds: “Schemes to promote bicycling are being imposed at great cost to the safety of motorcycle and scooter riders, and their shared use of the road. TfL constantly says it’s pro-bike and commissions impressive reports to prove it. We are simply asking them to act on this.”
Butler adds: “Why should there be a two-tier safety and investment policy? Is a motorcyclist’s life worth less than a cyclist’s?”
Their pleas are striking home. Keith Prince, Transport Committee deputy chair, is demanding a ‘root and branch’ investigation into why motorcyclists’ rights and safety are being ignored and plans to haul those responsible back in front of the committee.
“Motorcyclists are the forgotten commuter,” he says. “And yet motorcycles are a great London transport solution, greener than cars, less polluting than buses.
“New road schemes sandwich them in traffic thanks to advanced cycle stop lanes and cycle lanes narrowing the roads. Meanwhile, motorcycle fatalities go up. Why is it being allowed?”
WHAT THEY WANT
The We Ride London campaign, backed by Charley Boorman wants the following measures:
- Protection of lane-widths to allow safe filtering
- Exclusion from congestion and pollution charging
- Universal use of bus lanes as pioneered by TfL
- Adequate secure motorcycle parking
- More action against bike theft and bike-jacking