What We Amount to (on Ride to Work Day)
by Thomas Day
Earlier this year, the United States Census and the Department of Transportation released stats on urban commuting traffic. Motorcycles are an embarrassingly insignificant minority. Apparently, there are 80 million cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans on the road everyday, while only 200,000 motorcycles and scooters occupy those same public roads. For the math-impaired, that amounts to a paltry 0.25% of the total commuting vehicles on the road being two-wheeled. I would be amazed if motorcycles are more than half of that. As I’ve often suspected, we’re barely more than a pitiful two-tenths-of-a-percentage point.
“Ride free, but ride rarely,” must be the US motorcycle crowd’s motto.
Today was a beautiful, 80?F, cloudless June weekday with a mild breeze and the kind of clean, crisp summer feel that ought to irresistibly force motorcycles on to the highways. When I wake up to this kind of day, I gotta find some place to visit. Due to a management screw up, I ended up on the far west end of the Cities at the peak afternoon rush hour. I never travel these roads when other people are on them, but today I was out there in the human cattle drive. Man! Why are there so many people crammed into cages and wheeled coffins on days like this?
I rode forty-five rush hour miles, from the southwest end of the Cities, up 212 to 62 to I35W to I94 to I35E to home. You’d need a few hundred people assigned to counting particular colored cars or trucks or SUVs or minivans to be able to count the number of cars I passed on that trip. You barely need the fingers of two hands to count the motorcycles and scooters: seven motorcycles and two scooters. Forty-five miles and a zillion cages and seven freaking motorcycles. There is absolutely no chance that Minnesota holds up its end of that puny 0.25%. Just making a wild guess, I’d guess that every freeway mile I traveled held at least 600 cages and I did about 25 multi-lane miles: 15,000 cages. The other twenty miles probably averaged about 175 cars per mile: 3,500 cages. That makes us a grossly conservative estimated 0.038% of commuting traffic. I would buy someone a steak dinner for a thirty minute video of the trip I took this Monday; it would be a terrific documentary of how few Minnesotans actually use their motorcycles for anything practical.
We gotta fix this.
While we barely exist on the highway, we make a big mark in the morgues. A recent NPR report stated that Minnesota motorcyclists account for “10% of traffic accident deaths” and 1% of the vehicles on the road. Using the DOT’s statistics, that means a two-wheeled motorized traveler is forty times as likely to get killed on the road as a cager; bare minimum. Using MnDOT’s numbers, Minnesota motorcyclists mortality improves to ten times the cage rate. My seat-of-the-pants numbers make me suspect that we’re about 10X more likely to get killed than MnDOT estimates.
We gotta fix this.
On the other hand, I have a chunk of the freeway in my backyard and a stretch of relatively popular residential road practically in my front yard. I can sit on my porch and listen to the whine of cage tires, semis-rumbling, and the beeping of construction equipment backing up and it all blends into an irritating background noise that is the reason I could afford this house in the first place. The only noises that stand out amid this cacophony of mechanical noises is the occasionally window-rattling “potato-potato” farm implement sound produced by a “big twin” or the shriek of a over-rev’d squid-piloted crotch rocket. So, while we don’t contribute anything significant or worthwhile to traffic flow, we stand right out there as noise polluters.
Obviously, that has to be fixed.
So on June 15th this year, Ride to Work Day will be celebrated by the few, the valiant, the dedicated, the skilled. And the rest of you will drive your cage-lumps to work like all the other sheep on the highway. Or, you could join us. Put on a demonstration of how much we could contribute to traffic flow and safety, fuel economy, and how much better the world would be if more of us rode motorcycles to work every possible day.