Motorcyclists briefly blocked traffic Monday in Quito to protest the city’s campaign against riders who drive between lanes of traffic, on sidewalks, and cut across private property. The new “Wheel with Respect” ordinance has resulted in more than a thousand fines and the confiscation of 200 motorcycles.
Protesters say it is “illogical” for motorcycles to wait in traffic lanes like cars and trucks and that they should be allowed to maneuver between stalled lanes to prevent additional congestion. “If we queue up like the cars, the traffic problems will be even worse and it will make our transit much slower,” says Jorge Calero, spokesman for Legion Bikers, one of the protesting groups. “All we ask is respect and the right to drive safely through the city. We demand the repeal of rule 284 [Wheel of Respect].”
Municipal authorities and transit police disagree and site sky-high accident rates as justification of the ordinance. “Based on the number of all types of vehicles, there are 400 percent more accidents involving motorcycles than cars and trucks,” says Quito city councilman Andrea Hidalgo. “Our ordinance is insisting that motorcycles follow the same laws that everyone else follows. They do not deserve special privileges. As it is, they are a serious hazard to drivers, pedestrians and property.”
He adds that it is not only the invasion of space between traffic lanes that is causing problems. “In cases of traffic jams, many of them are driving on sidewalks and across parking lots and green areas, endangering pedestrians and destroying property. Sometimes they drive the wrong way on one-way streets to reduce travel time.”
Transit police say there are other reasons for the number of fines applied to motorcyclists: almost half of motorcycles on Quito streets, they say, are unregistered and many have expired license plates.
It is not just police and city officials who support the crackdown. The Ecuadorian Motorcyclists Association says that motorcyclists that disobey traffic laws and cause accidents have become a menace to the city. “Our members support the respectful operation of motorcycles, which includes abiding by the law,” the association said in a statement. “Our streets are being invaded by a lawless element, many of them with illegal bikes, and this should not be allowed.”
All parties agree that Quito has a severe shortage of parking spaces for motorcycles. “This is an issue that must be addressed and we are looking for ways to solve it,” says Hidalgo. “We will work on finding a solution at the same time we reduce the illegality.”