Lane-splitting May Soon Be Legal in the Golden State. Oh Crap.

California is the only state in the U.S. that non-legally allows lane-splitting.

Before your brain explodes, allow me to clarify: Lane-splitting is allowed not because there’s a law saying it’s legal, but because there’s NO law saying it’s illegal. This week a few legislators are out to get some hard and fast rules on how motorcyclists can ride in the state. Basically they will be legalizing more stupidity and absurdity to our already stupid and absurd road system.

I want to clarify that I’m not against splitting/filtering per se; I’m anti-behaviors and -bogus justifications around lane-splitting.

I’m going to present a few points to articulate my disapproval, so bear with me.

Road Debris

Where do debris – such as sand, pebbles, nails, screws, shredded tire bits, lampshades, couches, and grandma – gather? The next time you’re driving while texting or fiddling with your favorite beverage or snack, take a gander at the roadside. Anything that can take out your car or the vehicles behind you can be found here, waiting to be kicked up by a wandering tire. Our Adopt-A-Highway program is more a suggestion than an active cleanliness initiative, it seems.

tireAssembly Bill 51 of the law proposes that motorcycles can split lanes as long as traffic isn’t moving faster than 50 MPH. Now, if you’ve ever driven behind a driver who moved over for an approaching lane-splitter you’d notice that (assuming y’all are in the outer- or inner-most lane) they will drive over the lane’s edge. Even if everyone was going at 30 MPH (let alone 50), debris will be kicked up. The effect is similar to driving behind a dump truck. Or like having sand thrown in your face. Immediate or gradual flats can occur, chunks can be imbedded in your car, or you could find a new (used) BBQ grill conveniently loaded on your hood ready for a new home.

To be honest, I don’t usually move over. I do not willingly put my car (or others’) in harms way just so a singular person or two can be more convenienced. For lane-splitting to work in this context, two things have to happen:

  • Drivers should NOT move over when a bike comes from behind – those who do are affecting the majority of the traffic around them more than they think (more below). It’s born on country road etiquette, but on high-density roadways? Furrgitaboutit.
  • Bike riders should NOT feel like the car/truck driver is obligated to move over. (Enough of the revving or hazard-flashing already.) Split where/when safe only.

Share the Road

share“Hey m#$%*#*&%$!, you need to share the road. We have rights!” rant bicyclist, motorcyclists, motorists, and people with handicap placards but not necessarily handicap. Dissenters of splitting say that the world is unfair and that there’s no benefit for drivers, and that everything is a conspiracy sparked by bike-riding lawmakers. And aliens. Who can blame them? Adoption of any idea is difficult if the advantage is not immediately apparent to the adopter. Therefore, the solution is to open up the infrastructure to all road users. Parking spaces that both bikes and cars can use. Dedicated car lanes and bike lanes. Everybody pays road tax and insurance, even cyclists. Share the road, share the load.

Nay, you say? Sounds absurd? Fine, let’s not even talk about lane-splitting, then.

Traffic Waves

Again, the next time you drive while picking your nose or laughing at Toyota owners, note what happens when a bike makes its way between two rows of cars. Besides those who move over (please, no!), there are those who are taken by surprise and tap their brakes. When a driver does that, s/he initiates a synchronized concert of brakelights that gradually drift backwards, like a ripple in a pool of water. It becomes a self-reinforcing chain reaction: one car brakes slightly, and the ones behind it brake just a bit more to avoid hitting it, with the braking eventually amplifying until it produces a wave of stopped or slowed traffic. Therefore, many traffic jams are not caused by accidents or zombie outbreaks, but by drivers who lack or slack in situational awareness, failing to anticipate changes in traffic. Or in this case, splitters.

TL:DR, get your head out of your phones and stop slamming on them brakes!

Economics

Break down swerving, braking, and such due to lane-splitting into numbers, and it begins to add up. Here are a couple of examples (by no means exhaustive):

  • Moving over is adding friction, which slows a vehicle down, which in turn decreases mpg. Moving over also slightly increases the heat in tires, which in turn increases tire wear. While seemingly negligible in isolation, factor those by number of times per day, then per year. The same logic applies to the act of braking.
  • The wear and tear for the biker are not insignificant either – straddling between the lanes, coasting over those cat’s eyes are hard on tires, suspension components, and one’s own cojones.

So that’s cost. What about the environmental impact? Think about the additional fuel burned to regain momentum, increased fumes released,  It goes on and on. For a place like California to ignore these things – the environmentalist and financially-strapped capital of the US of A – is heresy.

To conclude, it’s odd to me that lawmakers and the general public do not discuss the factors listed above. In my research, I’ve noticed that you either fall in the pro-splitting camp or not, most of time with heated exchanges on who’s right and who’s wrong. The point of this article is to present the need for change in current splitting practices (by riders and drivers) and to propose seldom/never-mentioned elements into the whole splitting debacle.

Now, get off my lawn.

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