Traffic Flow Realities

Written by  Michel Mersereau on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 16:53

As cities across Canada grapple with rising populations, the resulting strains on municipal infrastructures are forcing officials to consider alternative and sustainable ways to manage drastic increases in traffic congestion.

On its own, the density of traffic is not the problem; it’s the corresponding volume of traffic that causes headaches. Simply put, cars, trucks and buses take up a lot of space, and the problem only gets worse as more of them are added to roads with finite capacity. While building new roads may seem like the trick solution to the problem, in Canada’s largest cities this is often not a viable option, both in terms of available space, disruption, and cost efficiency.

There are many ways to help reduce traffic volume, and most cities across Canada actively pursue some version of the alternative transportation model (public transit, bicycling, carpooling). This is all well and good, and benefits everyone. One unfortunate reality is that many people who need to be in the city don’t actually live in the city, near a convenient public transit point, or close enough to make cycling a viable option. In other words, a large amount of people must still rely on their cars to get in and out of the core.

Another way to address the traffic volume issue while maintaining an optimal range of density is to lower the space occupied by individual vehicles. Enter the motorcycle. A transportation option that is often overlooked, maligned, and sometimes even ridiculed by municipal policymakers. While most riders would agree about the benefits of being on two wheels instead of four, trying to get policymakers to see it that way can be a real challenge. What many people may not realize is that the cumulative effect of motorcycles in a congested traffic environment is to reduce the occurrences of unnecessary traffic delay, and to recover from unnecessary traffic delay much more efficiently than any other vehicle on the road.

While traffic delay is unavoidable, unnecessary traffic delay is directly related to the amount of time spent by vehicles below the optimal rate of traffic speed for a given range. Managing unnecessary delay is one of the rationales behind networked traffic signals for example. Their job is to establish and maintain an optimal rate of speed based on the changing volume of traffic. There’s an inverse relationship between the two, as traffic volume increases beyond road capacity, the ability of the signal network to maintain optimal speed decreases.

We’ve been advocating for motorcycle friendly transportation policy for years, and our key message is pretty straightforward: motorcycles occupy less space than other vehicles, motorcycles reduce the occurrences of unnecessary delay, and motorcycles can recover from unnecessary delay better than other vehicles.

We decided it was time to put these arguments to the test, so we produced a simulation pitting 6 passenger cars against 6 motorcycles through a standard intersection, and based on real world traffic data.

• The motorcycles not only achieve optimal traffic speed faster than the cars, they all cleared the intersection before half of the cars had made it through.
• The motorcycles save nearly a second of time over each car through the intersection.
• Want to increase the time saved? Add more motorcycles. The compounding time savings correlate to a 2011 study hypothesizing that a 10% conversion of passenger cars to motorcycles could result in a 40% decrease in delay time.
Our lobbying efforts seem to be paying off; we were recently successful in convincing Toronto City Council to adopt a motion containing the most comprehensive set of motorcycle friendly policy recommendations ever seen in a Canadian municipality (even lane filtering made it onto the bill!). Hopefully other Canadian cities will start to take notice, and finally give motorcycles the credit (and encouragement) they deserve as a viable and cost-efficient solution to their own congestion woes.

Watch the intersection video here.
Read the council motion drafted by RTI here.

Michel Mersereau is a Senior Instructor with the Rider Training Institute based in Toronto.

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