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Motorcycle path to understanding

Motorcycling, as described on the feature pages of this week's NCE, is almost certainly the most effective way of getting from A to B in town. As a day-in day-out scooter commuter, I can personally vouch for the convenience and time saving on offer - despite the seemingly endless rain over the last few months.

And as the mornings and evenings get lighter and warmer, more and more commuters seem to join me at the head of traffic queues. Figures estimating that 10% of road users in London are on two wheels might actually be true.

But for civil engineers, particularly those involved in highway and urban design, nipping around city streets on two wheels should be made a compulsory part of the training process. For it is surely the most effective way to research the effect of your work and identify the potentially life saving improvements possible.

There are the blind spots, the confusing junctions and dangerous traffic layouts. The poorly reinstated excavations, the uneven manhole covers that jut out of the road between car wheels but right in the path of bikes. The badly formed joints on newly resurfaced carriageways that create life threatening ruts.

And let us not forget the traffic management at roadworks.

The nice pictures in Chapter 8 of the traffic signs manual are one thing. In reality the signage and layout after a few weeks can be dangerously different.

The rain can actually help in this work. Blocked gullies and poorly designed surface drainage cause highway obstacles which are impossible to miss on two wheels. Broken or poorly sited street furniture can easily disappear from the view through a wet or foggy visor.

And road markings become instant hazards, as slippery as black ice and usually found at the apex of the motorcyclist's turn.

But it is not just civil engineers that would benefit from a spell on two wheels in the city.

The politicians and decision makers could also use a few pointers to help underpin their traffic busting policies.

Well, apparently they are.

Steve Norris owns a 50cc twist-and-go. And the Transport for London commissioner assures me that he uses it regularly for nipping into town from south London. While he is also adamant that the Bentley has not been abandoned and admits to avoiding the rain, Norris reckons it is the surest way to get to places on time.

And Cynthia Grant, civil engineer and former leader of the Docklands Development Corporation, has also bought one.

Now a transport consultant, the one time car commuting devotee has decided that guaranteed journey times between her east London home and Victoria office can best be achieved on two wheels.

At this rate John Prescott and Jeremy Clarkson must surely be next in the queue. Perhaps not.

But there is no doubt in my mind that if more of the experts and decision makers were on two wheels the amount of cash put into highways maintenance would rise dramatically. Better roads and less congestion - what better reason to invest in two wheels?

And you never know, you might even enjoy it.

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