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Motorcycle lanes

September 2010


There have been proposals to have exclusive lanes for motorcycles along major roads. The rationale for such proposals is the increasing number of road crashes involving motorcycles. It is assumed that having exclusive lanes will result in a significant decrease in motorcycle involvement in crashes since it is further assumed that with exclusive lanes, there will be fewer interactions among motorcycles and other motor vehicles. There are evidences to support these assumptions.

Anyone observing traffic along our roads can easily see that the biggest reason for the rapidly increasing number of road crashes involving motorcycles is the behavior of motorcyclists. Motorcyclists have the propensity to weave in traffic, heavy or not, often splitting lanes and catching drivers unaware. This behavior frequently results in crashes, most of which involve only damage to property and thus are usually relegated as minor incidents that are not newsworthy. However, crash statistics with both the MMDA (for Metro Manila) and the DPWH (for national roads) indicate that motorcycle crashes with fatalities are alarmingly increasing, and therefore require intervention. Motorcycles’ notoriety are now the among the pet peeves of many drivers, regardless of whether they drive cars, public transport or even trucks.

There are still many riders who do not wear helmets. And not a few bring their gear but choose not to wear these; a habit that has led to jokes about helmets being for elbows or shoulders rather than for heads. This is despite a Helmet Law stipulating penalties that are supposed to discourage non-compliance. The practice significantly increases the chances of having fatalities in crashes, especially considering that there are no restraints for riders or other protective devices for motorcycles like seatbelts and airbags that are already standard features for many other motor vehicles.

There is a bill filed before the Senate, SB 871, which stipulates the delineation of one-meter wide lanes for exclusive use of motorcycles. The bill has a provision directing the DPWH and local government units to designate motorcycle lanes, presumably for both national and local roads. SB 871 proposes fines (i.e., not more than six (6) years of imprisonment or a fine of not less than Five Thousand Pesos (PHP 5,000.00) but not more than Twenty Thousand Pesos (PHP 20,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court) for motorcyclists using other lanes. There is no mention of penalties for drivers of vehicles encroaching on lanes designated for motorcycles.

While the bill is well meaning, it begs the question of whether its provisions are enforceable once the bill becomes a law given the extent of our national road system. After all, there are many laws that are not effectively enforced but were also designed to instill road discipline among drivers and riders, and to ultimately make roads safer for all users. And motorcycle riders are among those commonly seen as violators of road traffic rules and regulations.

In urban areas, for example, where many roads have multiple lanes, space for motorcycles may be derived from existing lanes but may lead to congestion due to the decrease in road capacities. In some cases, motorcycle lanes of at least one meter may be constructed by taking part of medians (e.g., islands) or shoulders. However, along roads where there are no medians, motorcycle lanes from shoulders may lead to conflicts with public transport vehicles that operate along the outer lanes of the road. Further, it is noticeable that there are no shoulders in most urban roads in the Philippines and there are also many instances where roadside parking is allowed or tolerated. And deriving motorcycle lanes from pedestrian rights of way such as sidewalks is definitely not recommended.

In the case of most national roads including rural highways, there are only 2 lanes and shoulders on either side that are most likely unpaved. Road rights of way are often unsecured, with structures such as houses and shops encroaching within the RROW and leading to shoulders being utilized for parking or other purposes. The DPWH Highway Planning Manual does not stipulate motorcycle lanes or even pedestrian walkways as standard specifications for typical national roads. And it is supposed that a law emanating from bills such as SB 871, should encourage if not mandate a review of road design standards to include provisions for motorcycles, and perhaps more importantly, for pedestrians and non-motorized transport (NMT) as well.

Other countries such as Malaysia have already incorporated in their road design manuals lanes that are for the exclusive use of motorcycles, bicycles and other NMTs. These have reportedly improved safety so much that their governments approved the budgets for implementing the provisions for roads where there is significant motorcycle traffic. Perhaps the Malaysian example is proof of the concept that having motorcycle lanes will indeed improve road safety. It should only be emphasized that road design improvements can go only so far if a key element, enforcement, is lax or nonexistent. Without this key element, motorcycle lanes in this country will just be destined for the ningas cogon hall of shame.

For more information about motorcycle lanes and road safety, one may refer to the website of the International Road Assessment Program. They also have a Flickr account showing their activities in Southeast Asia.

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