Monday, February 27, 2012

Medinas and Motorbikes - a growing problem

Since 2006 The View from Fez has been campaigning to ban motorbikes from the Medina in Fez. The constant complaints about the Marrakech motorbike menace should act as a warning to ban motorbikes from the Medina. We have not been alone in complaining; our readers have also been taking action. The motorbike problem is still growing and yet little or no action is forthcoming from the police.

Locals and tourists cover their noses against the fumes from a motorbike in the Medina

Richard from Fez wrote to us in 2008 with details of his campaign against the motorbikes. "For some years I have been trying to convince local authorities in meetings and by letter (to the pacha, wali, prefecture etc) that the introduction of motorbikes, three-wheelers and 'hondas' will soon destroy the ambience and charm of the Mcdina. None of these people have taken the slightest notice. Now, as tourism in Fes returns and wages rise and the bikes become cheaper, the médina in parts is crawling with motorbikes/mopeds. 

It appears that those involved in tourism and therefore with most vested interest are those least aware of the problem: they never venture out of the VN and also have absolutely no idea of the current situation in Marrakech, where bikers have become so aggressive that both vistors and locals are starting to shun the médina entirely.

In February this year a higly-placed member of the CRT, during a private meeting with me, called the Chief of Police and asked him about the notices banning motorised vehicles that were supposedly being prepared, to be installed on each main gate of the médina. The response, in front of me, was that these notices had already been placed at Bab Boujloud and Bab el Guissa. Has anyone seen them yet? Was this police official being economic with the actuality? And,if so,why?

Yet, apart from a very rare police action, nothing has happened and locals and tourists are convinced nothing much is being done.

Trying to enjoy a meal with motorbike noise and fumes is not easy

And in Marrakech, the problem is out of control. Jenny from Marrakech says: It would very good if Fés learns from the mistakes in Marrakech. Here the noise, pollution and danger of mopeds and bikes is a very big problem and our guests most common complaint is about nearly being run over. It would be so easy to ban them here, but nobody seems to understand what a problem it is. Fes should act now while the number of bikes is still small.

Our Marrakech correspondent, Derek Workman, reports from the Red City:
As you are wandering through the souks, you spend half your time dodging mopeds. At least the mule carts and bikes travel at a sedate pace, but the mopeds are pretty nippy and it can give you a moment’s nervousness to be staring the rider in the eyes at a distance and speed that makes you wonder which one of you is going to come off worse in the inevitable collision. Fortunately they usually nip past without doing any physical or emotional damage – but that’s not to say it never happens.

Eight years ago, on my first visit to Marrakech, I’d just walked away from Jmaa el Fna and the handlebar of a moped brushed my side. It was summer, and I was wearing a lightweight shirt, and as I felt the handlebar touch me I turned into it to avoid anything serious happening. The rider was full of apologies, but I just patted him on the back, said something to the effect, “It’s okay, no harm done,” and he smiled and rode off. I turned to continue my walk, and felt a light breeze around my midriff, where the handlebar had torn my shirt right across the middle, leaving my stomach exposed. I hadn’t felt a thing or, in all the hubbub, heard anything either. I was more amused than anything else that I’d actually patted the chap on the back and parted with smiles, and here I was exposing my paunch for all of Marrakech to see.

The Medina is no place for motorbikes like this one in Seffarine

And today, when an actual collision between man and moped did occur, I still walked away with a semblance of a smile.

I was ambling my way back to my riad in the Sidi ben Slimane area, not taking a great deal of notice of anything, when I heard a moped rev up. I looked up, and about two metres away I saw a small boy on a moped careering towards me, and it was obvious by the panic in is eyes that he’d only learned how to go forward, he hadn’t quite got the hang of braking and steering yet. If it had been a scene in an Indiana Jones film, where the hero was walking through the souk and an evil assassin was attempting to run him down, although it would probably have been a Harley Davidson in that case, and not just a tiny 50cc Yamaha, Harrison Ford would have dived out of the way at the last second, probably doing a roll through piles of antiques lamps and collapsing the tent poles that supported the awning to the shop. Me, I’m no Indiana Jones, I’m neither quick witted enough or know how to do forward rolls to end a neatly executed dive, so I just stood there and watched the panic stricken ten year-old hurtle towards me. (Although to say ‘hurtle’ is probably gilding the lily a bit.) I made a half-hearted attempt to get out of the way but he hit my leg with the front wheel, which was probably the bit of steering assistance that turned him to the right out of any other harm’s way.

When I turned around he’d managed to stop, and was on that point where he could well have burst into tears. Behind me I heard a man shouting at the lad, but as he didn’t look at me it could well have been that he was pretty brassed off because the nipper had ridden the moped in the first place. I turned around, just as an old woman joined in the tirade. When I looked at the boy again he was even closer to tears, so I just waved my arms around a bit in a huffy sort of way and walked off.

But I did have a bit of moped malarkey earlier in the day. I’d gone to do an interview with a delightful young chap who is the only hand-made football maker in Morocco – more of that another day – but stupidly, I’d left my recorder in the riad, on the other side of the Medina. By one of those delightful quirks of serendipity, he lived about three streets from the riad, and offered to take me there on his moped.

Why is it so difficult to outlaw bikes in Morocco's medinas?

I got a chance to see life from the other side of the handlebars. We dodged and weaved through the crowded narrow alleyways, and there were times I thought my kneecaps were getting just that bit close to the walls. As we left the tighter alleys of the souk he took some of the wider streets, in deference to it being my first ride on the back of a moped, with a rear seat which clearly wasn’t built for someone my size. I think I’d stick to a bike if I’m piloting something through the souks myself in the future.



Anonymous said...

Why would you want to ban mopeds?
I for once think you are wrong. Poor people need a cheap means of transportation, mopeds are the ideal solution.
Granted, they can be a nuisance at times, but you need to be more tolerant. This is how poor Moroccans have become mobile.

Richard said...

I stand by what was said those years ago, though the situation has got much worse, as expected. Of course there are ways of controlling the entry of bikes into the medina: to leave them outside the thoroughfares, in the parking lots should be obligatory. And fine the culprits who refuse. But:1) There is no law that prevents motorised vehicles in the medina, and it would take a national law to be passed, ie in Rabat and not in Fez, so I have been told. 2) There is a lack of police on the roads of Fes, and very few ever in the medina. How often could a motorbiker be fined for going into the streets at even 20dhs a time? once a week? once a month? and who would do it? I have an idea where any cash might go...
The problem lies with both the law and its implementation.
And it gets worse. In the past three years most of the beaten-up old mules have been replaced by three-wheeled Chinese bikes, luckily with a short life and no spareparts. They could be off the streets soon. The real dangers,to people and the environment, and the reputation of the medina as a beacon of Morocco's heritage, are the dumptrucks. These evil-smelling, evil-sounding machines roar up and down the smallest derbs as frequently at 2am as at 2pm. Generally they are steered by drivers with no expertise, no insurance, no permit and litle sense (I recently note the tendancy to drive the dumpers fast and in reverse). Quite apart from the obvious dangers to the Fes public and agog tourists, many of whom have started to shun the Marrakech souks, they shake the buildings: My dar in Zkak Roumane shudders when the dumpers comedown and trembles when they struggle to drive up. This is a reasonably solid building. Those of us who live in the medina know that hundreds of inhabited buildings are in a fragile state. After heavy winter rains buildings often collapse, killing the inhabitants.
These buildings are being weakened every day by the passing dumpers. It must stop before people are killed and their houses destroyed by the evident damage they cause.
Excuses will be made no doubt. All I know is that there could be a catastrophe at any time unless this activity is stopped.

Tugboat Willie said...

Anonymous, You're wrong and your attitude is wrong. You really have no opinion worth commenting on. The whole point is that the regression from bikes to mopeds to three-wheeled bikes to the 'dumptruckers' is a given. This medina is the heart of the patrimony of Morocco.Get real and be aware of the dangers to others, especially the Moroccan population of the medina. It is their kids and homes that are in the line of fire, even if that is not appreciated by all.

Fatima Zohra said...

I agree with Richard and with Tugboat Willie. Anonymous is just wrong and has not thought this through. If the Medina of Fez becomes like Marrakech it will impact on tourism which benefits the local people. Anonymous wants poor people to be mobile... no problem with that, but the DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A MOPED IN THE MEDINA.

And Wille, you are right, these idiots on mopeds are a danger to children.

Aycha said...

Les motos qui circulent en médina constituent un véritable problème de pollutions multiples. On oublie que la médina -ce patrimoine commun- est la plus grande zone piétonne du monde où le piéton doit rester roi et à l'abri des gaz d'échappement et de la pollution sonore...etc.
Il y a bien sûr des panneaux qui interdisent la circulation à moto mais la police ne sévit pas comme il convient. C'est le dernier de leurs soucis! Ils s'en foutent royalement...
Bonne soirée!

Saïda said...

Richard said:

I do agree with you Richard as mentioned above.

KiawahFun said...

My husband and I travel quite a bit, and this is our first time in Marrakesh. After my first day of touring I totally fell in love. The colors, the riads, the spiced tea and fresh bread all totally swept me away. We are staying in a riad in Bacha. The Medina reminds us of the streets of Venice mixed with the motorbikes of Danang Vietnam. Both places are very romantic. But mixing small streets with tourists, merchants, locals and motorbikes is a total calamity. The motorbikes are dangerous, stinky and LOUD. Because of this we will most likely not return here.