Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Motorcycle Miasma

A crowd of motorcycles waits for a light to change on Ave. Caracas.
We all know that motorcycles are often noisy and a hazard, and are proliferating on Bogotá's streets and avenues. But, according to a report the other day in El Tiempo, motorcycles are also a major source of air pollution.
Motorcycle alley. Bogotá has several streets packed
with motorcycle sales and repair shops.

Motorcycles pass between cars waiting in a traffic jam.
According to one calculation, motorcycles dump about 84 tons of pollution into Bogotá's air annually. That's a little more than 10% of the pollution from trucks and buses. However, the motorcycles are particularly hard to control. Bogotá, if it ever takes the trouble, could take the smog-belching trucks and buses off of the street or at least enforce emissions laws against them. But how could they ever rein in tens of thousands of private motorcycles?

Motorcycle exhaust isn't usually very visible, but contains dangerous microparticles. Particularly dirty are the cheap two-cycle engines, because they burn oil and have no filters. Two-cycle engines have in fact been banned in many cities - but in Bogotá they're increasingly common. Lately, shops are selling motor-equipped bicycles, called bici-motos. It's quite an impressive feat to make a bicycle more polluting than a car.

A motorized bike rider on Ave. Septima. 
In 2009 Bogotá passed a decree restricting the use of vehicles with two-cycle engines. But the decree was annulled in 2012 amidst charges that it discriminated against the lower-income owners of the cheap motorcycles. Is anybody concerned about discrimination against breathers, whether rich or poor?

It's obvious why motorcycles are popular and increasingly so: They're inexpensive, fast and avoid traffic jams. Motorcycles may have a legitimate role in the city, but they should have to obey pollution and other laws.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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