THE INSIDE MAN

Give them a wide berth

Give them a wide berth image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted February 13, 2012 18:16

A plausible solution to dealing with motorcycles

"Let us give this buckaroo a wide berth..." quipped Lithuanian Marko Ramius, Captain of the then still secret Soviet nuclear submarine, Red October. Words of wisdom as played by no less than Sean Connery in the 1990 film, "the Hunt for Red October". At this point he was referring to USS Dallas, a US Navy nuclear submarine that was tracking him.

The good captain's quip would serve us Filipino car drivers well when it comes to dealing with 2-wheelers that seem to multiply like rabbits. After all, we always must remember the Fifth Commandment in dealing with them, like we need a plague of locusts. But then is this only the lament of one of 4 million 4-wheeled motor vehicle drivers? As against 12 million riders on 2-wheels?

Last year, a couple of broadsheets took an informal survey of daily commuters and drivers on EDSA. The most numerous complaint the respondents had was against the unruly behavior of 2-wheelers. It wasn't clear if 2-wheelers were able to respond to the survey, but they may have been too busy getting on their way to give time to answer any kind of survey.

Indeed, motorcycles can be annoying, even harrowing. Within the confines of the multi-lane thoroughfares of the city where smaller engine under-bones dominate, we are not spared their noise, their frenzy and the frequency of them cutting each other up. Sometimes they leave us hapless car drivers with either dented fenders or a hefty restorative surgery bill in the event these 2-wheeled rascals happen to run into us.

Many are aghast at the gall of seeing them risk their lives and limbs knowing that when they happen to hit our 4-wheeled conveyance, the bill is charged to us, regardless of who is at fault. The object of ire on sunny days, they deserve pity come the drenching season as one finds many of these poor creatures huddled beneath flyovers or train station pillars or the narrowest of roof awnings, next to their 2-wheeled "flying" machines.

Safe-T-Ryders and Honda Driving School have been proactive in bringing safe 2-wheeler riding to the burgeoning masses of rider-commuters. And why not? The explosion in 2-wheeled motoring is the natural outcome of congested urban roads and poor value for time/money public transport. One wonders if those long peak hour queues at light railway stations would dampen the rush to 2-wheelers if only government allowed the private sector take-over of the expansion of rail passenger capacity, but that's another story.

Recently, the MMDA instituted a central segregated "Motorsiklo" lane on the few mutli-lane thoroughfares of the city. But since the concept of "lane" to most kinds of Filipino drivers is an imaginary notion at best, it had scant chance to succeed in the medium term even if the discipline was enforced 24/7 and with a huge army of patrolmen, who incidentally, arrive promptly at their duty stations on two-wheelers too.

Perhaps short of memorizing 100% of the Safe-T-Ryders curriculum, there are a few pointers that motorcycle riders, motivated by the primal need of self-preservation, can observe. One practice that they can follow is what the Thais do in Bangkok's clogged streets. When car traffic is at a full stop, say waiting for a traffic light cycle, motorcycle riders are allowed to keep moving on the dotted white lines that separate traffic lanes. This allows the more nimble 2 wheelers to get ahead of the traffic queue ready to accelerate out of the slower 4 wheelers when the lights turn green.

Of course motorcycle riders will complain about the lane separator cats-eye studs on EDSA from the Bayani era, but worry not as the current MMDA hasn't been replacing the studs as they disappear.

In Bali, Indonesia, the traffic lane markings provide for a motorcycle box. This "box" is closest to the stop line of the imaginary traffic box of a traffic light junction. Behind this box is the pedestrian zebra crossing and then further behind this is the queue for 4-wheelers. When the light turns green, the more nimble 2 wheelers get a head start on all the lumbering 4-wheelers and since they have a clear road ahead of them, the 2 wheelers can jostle for their lane selections, free of slow moving 4-wheeled obstacles.

But these improvements will only work if we can get the motorcycle riders to refrain from overtaking 4-wheeled traffic when the queues are moving at 20km/h or more; in other words, 2 wheelers can only overtake and use the space in-between the lanes of cars when the cars are at a standstill. This will need a lot of restraint because most 2-wheeled riders in the city believe overtaking at will is a birthright. How can we expect them to refrain from overtaking cars and each other if the traffic is crawling at 20km/h? A lot more luck will be needed to make motorcycle riders and car drivers to allocate, yield and respect a whole car space for each 2 wheeler when traffic is already on the move. Even for the sake of one's conscience and the physical safety of the motorcycle riders' life and limb, this seems difficult in practice.

Out on the expressways, tell a different story. Big engined two wheelers blast by in a blur, invisible to anti speeding radar cameras, sweeping from emergency shoulder to fast lane at well over twice the national speed limit. Locally, the anti-speeding LIDAR cameras are designed to shoot at the car approaching the speed trap. Identifying a car's license plate is easy but since motorcycles only have plates in the rear, high powered bikes literally have license to speed. Gulf States speeding enforcement agencies, tired of scraping up the remains of shunts impacting over 200km/h, have now deployed cameras that shoot the rear license plate so both speeding cars and motorcycles can now be brought to book, shot from behind. If anything good can be said about speeding motorcycles, you can at least count on the genuine speed demons to get out of your way as they come by so fast that you would not have the time to even notice them in their hi-tech leather gear. The bigger problem on the expressways are the sanctimonious big bike riders in convoy who think that their sheer numbers occupying the overtaking lane allow them to lord it over other traffic, with some of them showing irritation at car drivers who take too long to return to the right lane after overtaking, while they themselves never leave the overtaking lane. People of influence and their security back-ups, neutered by the anti-"wang wang" directive, usually expect their Police motorcycle escorts to also behave in reserving the overtaking lane for themselves. We do believe that like all drivers, motorcycle riders mean no harm and they just as much want to get out of your way as you want them to get out of yours. So every time I spot these creatures in the rear/side view mirror, whether on city streets or expressways, I give them the space they deserve. No less than a wide berth indeed.