Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Mopeds and Scooters

In the Netherlands, there is a massive wave of publicity over the Stop de Scooteroverlast campaign, an effort to prohibit light mopeds (the ones limited to 25 km/h, has a blue license plate not a yellow one and is allowed on all cycle paths and cycle moped paths) from the cycle paths, make them use the roadways, and they would get a helmet obligation.

Is all this fuss really justified? Or are people just complaining on an outgroup? The Aviefromthecyclepath blog writer David Hembrow wrote an article on this, and I agree. Like him, I don't want to be spreading fear and despise for a group that is misunderstood. I don't want to be misunderstood as a cyclist, I don't want people to hate me for being the way I am and riding the kind of vehicle I want to. I don't want to spread it around others. The complaints are quite similar to what I've experienced when riding my bike. People often just think that a group of people only defined by what vehicle they happen to ride who often do ride other forms of transport can be all be described in just a few sentences, like too wide, too fast, too stinky, unsafe, etc.

But they don't really make sense. I've googled Vespa widths and I got about 75 cm, which is around the same width as a bicycle. Keep in mind that two wheeled vehicles are widest at the handlebars, and so are some 3 wheeled vehicles. And not all vehicles that belong on the cycle path are mopeds or bicycles. Disability scooters are also usually around 75 cm. Would you ever argue that your grandma should be riding with traffic, especially quite heavy traffic? Velomobiles are also usually around this width as well. And if you really do have a place that is too narrow for these sorts of vehicles to be present, that's a problem with the infrastructure, not the vehicles. Cycle lanes must have an absolute minimum of 175 cm, should be 2 metres wide or wider, one way cycle paths must be at least 2 metres wide, 2.5 metres as much as possible, bidirectional paths must be at least 3 metres wide, should be between 3.5 and 4 metres wide for anything bigger than a small connector path connecting a couple access roads as part of filtered permeability.

Many claims are made about how fast these things are. A quoted average puts it about 36 km/h. A bit fast for an average speed isn't it? I mean with all the traffic lights and needing to slow down to corner, you really aren't going to be that fast on average. Top speed average, maybe. Either way, this is partly due to the fact that the limiters (also called governors) on these machines are easily removable and are non essential components, and another is that speeding fines take a while to issue, for example having the actually test whether the limiter was in place or not, and the lack of periodic inspections.

The stink (and noise) would be due to the motor. An electric motor and battery would solve this issue (with an artificial noisemaker making a low decibel rev to warn others of the approach). Maybe heritage mopeds could be kept but could require some modifications to reduce the stink.

The unsafe part can arise from either claims that mopeds are risking themselves by being on the bicycle paths in conflict with cars, the collisions that happen here are likely due to roadway design not being of the safest variety, for example at an advance stop line, in Edmonton and Portland, they are called bike boxes (I used to like the idea, I realized how futile they were about 10 months ago) collisions are more likely without the extremely low volume and speed needed for them to even have a hope of working, bike lanes where cycle paths should be used instead, or other improvements like this, or being risky to other cyclists. Given better limiters on the speed and higher quality paths, like widening an old 2 metre wide path to a 2.5 or a 2.7 metre wide path, this especially being useful in cities like Utrecht or Amsterdam, which often reduces a lot of the conflicts, and not all of the crashes are the moped rider's fault, like a pedestrian suddenly walking into the cycle path. Some cyclists, and also some moped riders and pedestrians, are on their phones or going through red lights. Not everyone is perfect. And if they are evicted from the pathway, then moped riders would be mixing with motor traffic, meaning that they would be much more exposed to their mistakes, and those mistakes are by far more dangerous. 55 kilograms at 50 km/h mixing with motor traffic with a mass perhaps 1500 kilograms at 50 km/h, means that a collision is not going to have a good outcome.

A helmet obligation is not going to help. At 25 km/h, falling off the moped would be like falling off a bicycle at 25 km/h, which most people are capable of going at. Nobody in Amsterdam would suggest helmets for bicycles and be considered intelligent. Why are moped riders any different?

I also note that these mopeds are a benefit. In urban areas with a 30 km/h moped speed limit, it can be pretty easy to know that the design speed needs to be at least that, although more is desired. In rural areas a design speed of a minimum of 50 km/h is also enforced with the limit for mopeds being 50 in these areas as well (as I propose for Edmonton, in the EU it's 45 km/h).

I suggest for Edmonton, and elsewhere, that the moped rules be clarified as follows: You need a class 7 license to ride it, a learner license, the mopeds will be defined as a vehicle with an engine size 50 cubic centimetres or less, with a limiter for 50 km/h or less, no wider than 75 cm on the handlebars, be electrically powered, and will need a license plate to be ridden. In urban areas you must not go faster than 30 km/h, and in rural areas no faster than 50. You will be required to use the bicycle path or cycle lane if present and it makes sense to use it (if turning left where there are on street cycle lanes, then you use the car left turning lane or otherwise left most lane to turn left for example), and on the road must be as far to the right as is practical. You will be protected under a strict liability law (as practiced in the Netherlands, not as some campaigners call for) as a vulnerable road user, do not have a helmet obligation, you can wear whatever on your eyes as you desire, including air. You will need insurance. And an annual inspection and registration. There is a maximum mass of 55 kilograms. Scooters with a mass at most 55 kg, engine size no larger than 50 cc, an electric engine, and with a limiter designed for 50 km/h and speed limits of 30 km/h in urban areas and 50 km/h everywhere else (obviously a 40 km/h rural speed limit makes a scooter rider also in need of going at most 40) would be considered the same as mopeds in terms of licensing, registration and insurance and capability to use cycle paths. Scooters and mopeds would be prohibited from roads classed as either a freeway/motorway and expressways, including the 2 lane expressways and divided highways, and roads with a speed limit of 70 km/h or more, and other places where there is a usable cycle path that will lead to the same destination as the roadway, just like cyclists are (this isn't bad if the cycle paths are of sufficient quality. Nobody suggests in the Netherlands that removing the obligation to cycle on a bike path where present is useful thing to do).

There are other small regulations like wheel size and how many lux your lightbulb must be able to produce and things like that, but I have the essential rules around them sorted out.

I also want to draw attention to E bikes. In the Netherlands they are pretty much the same as a normal bicycle except that they have a batter under the rear rack and a motor in the front wheel, plus some wires and a few other components, like a limiter. I'm guessing that the province wanted to put the limiter needed for power bicycles at 32 km/h because of the US's insistence on miles, and the closest mph equivalent is 20 mph, which is 32 km/h. Either way, the regulations for power bicycles, also called e bikes or motorized bicycles would be that you must have the limiter not able to let it go faster than 30 km/h under motor power, e bikes would be the kind that give you assistance but not fully powering it, motorized bicycles would let you just press a button and off you go. Ebikes would not need a helmet, eye protection (you can wear it if you want), and you don't need a license, you can ride them at any age, although you should think about how old a kid should be before getting them one of these. No registration nor insurance is required. The motorized bicycles would be considered the same as mopeds.

It should be considered an honour to the Dutch that so many scooter riders want to stay on the bicycle paths. They feel safe on them, and they feel like they are far better than the roadway. It's a testament to the quality of the cycle paths. With some improvements to the engine thing, electrification and speed limiter improvement, and improvements to the cycle paths themselves where they are old and not yet up to the modern standards, they should be able to mix quite well.

Mopeds (and scooters) are quite interesting machines. They are pretty easy to learn to ride, if you can ride a bike at 30 km/h you can probably quickly learn to do the same with a moped, turn handlebars, turn yourself, pull trottle, go forward, they are pretty cheap, a few hundred dollars will get you one, especially used but good condition models, and they are quite space efficient. Much more so than a car. And especially if the electric motor thing was introduced, it would be better for the environment than a car, it doesn't need freeways to run at an optimum speed, a 4 metre wide non stop pathway will do quite nicely for a main route for them, and they can provide mobility for some people that a bicycle might not. My grandparents recently came home from the EIA, Edmonton International Airport, to their home in southeast Edmonton, my dad asked me if I would like to drive them home (with my dad as a learner's instructor and because I didn't have anything else to do and it would have burned carbon anyway, so I did give them a ride, and I don't think that they would have liked to have ridden bicycles the 20 km/h+ distance in their 70s. But if they put a suitcase on the back of a scooter each and rode to the airport, that would be pretty fast, taking around 45 minutes or so, and the space to park the mopeds would be pretty small, maybe 1/3s that of a car or so for the both of them. Should they have been required to ride with heavy motor traffic along the way just because they wouldn't be strictly riding bicycles?

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