Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Riding for the Right to Pollute

Two-stoke moto protesters (Photo from El Tiempo). The man's t-shirt says 'My whole family rides a motorcycle.'
Today, some one hundred two-stroke motorcycle riders rode from Simon Bolívar Park to Plaza Bolívar in protest against laws which restrict and will eventually ban their machines.

Bogotá environmental officials aim to prohibit the two-strokes because they're much more polluting than four-stroke engines. Two-strokes burn lubricating oil along with gasoline, and so often leave a trail of white smoke. They can also be loud.

Motorcyclists are complaining about the prohibition, but the writing's been on the wall for years. In 2009, Bogotá prohibited the registration of additional two-stroke motorcycles in the city. And Bogotá is way behind developed nations, which mostly banned two-stroke motorcycles decades ago. Lots of people use two-stroke motorcycles for their work. They won't suffer a total loss, however, since they can sell their motos to people living in other parts of Colombia where the machines are still allowed.

Unfortunately, the new law specifically excludes the bici-motos, because their engines are tiny. The bic-motos may not pollute much, but they often use bike lanes, subjecting the bicyclist behind them to fumes. A bicycle with a motor is a motorbike and should be on the street, not in a bike lane or on La Ciclovia. 

It's a good thing to clear out the two-strokes. But the city could reduce pollution lots more by junking those clunking, decades-old buses. However, the bus companies wield lots of political and economic power and want to keep those ancient, groaning fare collecting machines on the road, no matter what they're doing to our health.

Today also had more potentially positive news for Bogotá's air. To commemorate World No Tobacco Day, the minister of health announced that as of July 22 tobacco advertising and the sale of loose smokes will be prohibited. We'll have to wait and see whether the anti-loosies law actually gets enforced, as loose cigarrete sales are ubiquitous and very culturally accepted. However, buying single cigarrettes lets young people first experiment with tobacco and gets them hooked before they realize it.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours.

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