Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mopeds out of bikeways: less accidents

The Finnish traffic law says mopeds are allowed on bikeways (MUP's) if there is a sign saying so. Often the sign is there.

For a few years there was loud complaints and public discussion in the local newspaper about youngsters riding noisy mopeds too fast on the bikeways and too close to other users of the paths  giving them a scare. Part of the problem was that moped users rarely seemed to slow down, they liked to ride full throttle everywhere, including underpasses and tight corners with limited visibility. (Car drivers go faster it the road is wide. Maybe the same is true for mopedists: our bikeways are too wide?)

The other part was that the speed differential with other users of the MUPs was too big. A moped has a max. 50 cm3  (or 4 kW if electric) engine and has a maximum speed of 45 km/h. It is rather easy to do some changes to make the moped go faster (60? 80?). And who would be likely to tune up their moped to go faster? Maybe the reckless youngsters. Mopeds going over 45 km/h among pedestrians... not good!

In August 2010, most of those signs were removed in Oulu and mopeds had to ride on the streets (default speed limit in urban areas is 50km/h, could also be 40km/h or 30km/h) and on roads with speed limits of 60km/h or less. If the speed limit was higher and there was no other route, they were allowed on bikeways next to the road. It's the speed differential thing again, only mopeds are the slow vehicle this time.

There was another cry in August 2010: the mopedists would be slaughtered by the cars. Some parents were afraid their kids would get hurt if they had to use the streets. Others said the reckless mopedists don't know traffic rules and shouldn't be allowed on the roads.

A research comparing injuries before and after the change shows safety improved 70%, says the local newspaper. I haven't seen the article in print, but the short web clip says in the year before the change (Aug 2009-Jul 2010) there was 53 injuries involving mopeds. A year later the figure was only 16!

Unfortunately the short version of the article on the web page doesn't give exact figures for pedestrian, cyclists and mopedist injuries in moped related crashes. So I can't tell you how many less grannies were mowed down by the mopedists. Neither can I tell you if there has been a decline in trips taken or kilometers travelled by moped. Fuel prices have gone up, but the mopeds are not exactly gas guzzlers.

One might make an educated guess that there might be less mopeds in the winter than the previous year. The moped riders had to move from well gritted and snowplowed bikeways to icy, rutted streets and roads, which are not gritted or plowed well enough for two-wheeled vehicles. On the other hand, riding a moped in the winter is very cold. You're just sitting there and you're not getting heat by using your muscles like when biking. And what I recall, there weren't that many moped users in the winter anyway.

Anybody who has been reading Hembrow's blog knows he has written how in the NL the different modes (or speeds) of traffic are often kept separate to reduce conflict and damages done by a collision. Their bike paths for bikes only are world famous.

Unfortunately, in Finland many politicians and traffic planners think streets are for cars and they use 'light traffic roads' (also known as MUP, multi-use paths )for everything else. Looking from the windshield perspective it seems dangerous to have unarmored mopeds on the streets, they might get hurt! Not to mention they are slowing down the traffic! This is why allowing mopeds on MUPs has been widespread even if it puts fast moving mopeds among dogwalkers and kids and grannies.

On the other hand mixing pedestrians and cyclists does work, sort of, if the MUP is wide enough and there isn't too many of them. If the traffic is heavy, the modes should be split, to reduce conflict and smooth the bicycle traffic flow, just like they do in the Netherlands! :-)

Now that Oulu has shown the example and has statistics to show it works and is safe, some other cities are doing the same. It certainly has calmed down our bikeways when the noisy contraptions are gone!

1 comment:

  1. I was in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago. Mopeds and motorcycles on the bicycle paths are soooo scary! And they are so loud and obnoxious. At least you can hear them and have time to close your eyes and hope for the best. And god forbid you slow them down! I was told most of them are just angry people in general and don't let them bully you around. They are trying to pass legislation to get them out of the cycle paths. They are the biggest irritant. But I doubt they think so.