Sep 16, 2013

#20 Starting A Revolution
All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

The only thing (other than a mythical clean ocean that I'm almost certain I experienced in 1983) that I miss about California is lane-splitting. On warm rush-hour mornings, trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I really miss lane splitting. So much that . . . but this is not the place for self-incriminating admissions.

There's a lot of hand-wringing going on in the Cities these days, about what we're going to do with the 600,000 people the area is supposed to attract in the next twenty years. How are they all going to fit on our skinny little freeway system? Will light rail really move Minnesotans from solo vehicles to mass transit? Is Brittany really a virgin? Stuff like that.

There won't be any easy, clean, honorable, or fair solutions. As in most cities, the developers and realtors have the money and the power to convert our moderate sized, higher-than-typical quality of life city into another Denver or LA. Follow the money and you'll end up standing in front of the power. So, there's probably nothing we can do about a congested, polluted, and expensive future. But we can get our kicks in the middle of it all.

When you think about it, it would be possible to relieve a dramatic portion of the freeway congestion by replacing every other car with a motorcycle. Since most of us are doing the single occupancy-commuting thing, we have no more need for the other four seats in our vehicle than we have for a second . . . lower posterior orifice. Currently, there's very little social or economic inducement to ride a motorcycle. Sure Harleys are babe magnets, but most of the magnetic quality revolves around the economics of the vehicle, not the actual vehicle? On that standard, a Porsche is a lot more magnetic and if you can afford a Harley you can probably afford a Porsche. Whatever, few of us appear to be commuting on hippo-bikes. The state tossed us a microscopic bone in including motorcycles in the multi-occupancy-bus lanes, but that's so insignificant that it barely counts as noticeable.

But lane-splitting would be a real inducement. Especially for me.

As I understand it, lane-splitting was a happy accident in California. The law simply failed to put a limit on how many vehicles could occupy a single lane. Most likely, someone split a lane, got a ticket, went to court and tested the law, and the rest is history. Later, seeing the utility of the traffic management loophole, the law was modified to state that a motorcycle could share a lane as long as the motorcycle didn't exceed the speed limit and didn't pass existing traffic at more than 15mph over the speed of traffic. That's how it was explained to me by a well informed police official and that's how I behaved for 9 years and almost 150,000 miles of California traffic. I was ticket-less and unfrustrated by California freeways, so the explanation must have been fairly accurate.

Personally, I think lane splitting has a lot to offer the Twin Cities. If a significant number of us did the drive-time commute on bikes a lot of the projected expense, hassle, and waste that's being planned for the Cities' freeways would be unnecessary. If bikes were allowed to travel between the margins, a lot more of us would be tempted to do the daily trip on two wheels. That would cut down on congestion, pollution, parking problems, and that bad attitude that bikers come to work with when they don't get to ride.

Supposedly, the downside is that Minnesota cagers don't have the experience, skill, or attitude(?) to deal with lane-splitting motorcycles. We'd freak out the yokels and get ourselves killed or become even less popular than we are now. The heart of the logic to this argument is that California drivers are either more skilled or more tolerant than Minnesota drivers. Give me a freakin' break! Most of the drivers in southern California took their driving classes in Tijuana (or the Santa Ana equivalent) and have the temperament of a pit bull with a mouthful of mail carrier. Road rage was invented in California and is still being perfected there.

If lane-splitting made cagers angry, that would have been especially obvious in California. If you obey the law, you mostly find that cagers will make room for you to split. The faster you get off of the road the faster they get where they are going and even Californians can figure that out. It won't take long for Minnesotans to figure it out either.

The Darwin aspect of lane-splitting is a double-edged sword, I suppose. Idiots tend to get culled from the genetic pool when they're offered an opportunity to act stupidly. If your kid is one of the idiots that is a truly sad thing. If your daughter's boyfriend is a moron (as they usually are), your grandchildren will be better for legal lane-splitting. Personally, I think laws should be designed to allow the maximum freedom to responsible citizens and the consequences for those who aren't responsible are a step in the path of evolution. If you're not comfortable with lane splitting, don't do it. If you're not good enough to split lanes in moving freeway traffic, you need to improve your riding skills: you're obviously not good enough to ride safely.

I think we should make getting lane-splitting legislation passed this year, this spring in fact. Call it an anti-freeway-congestion bill, call it a fun-factor bill, call it "Fred." Whatever it takes to open up the roads for two-wheeled traffic, I don't care how it gets done as long as I get to do it.

MMM July 2002


  1. Hi Thomas,

    I've come upon your column a few times in my Google alerts. My name is Surj, and I run, where we work on driver awareness of lane splitting—and of course the recent CHP lane splitting guidelines—in hopes of keeping riders safer.

    If you're truly interested in legalizing lane splitting, you should check out the recent attempts to legalize lane splitting in Nevada. I was able to cover AB236 at almost every step, and it looked like it was going to pass: passing the assembly with overwhelming support and even the Senate transportation committee, before being killed on the Senate floor. But there's a lot to be learned from the way this was tackled in NV—something of a starter template for working on this in other states. Let me know if you'd like to discuss further.

  2. Surj,

    If you'd like to write up a brief (or not so brief) review and evaluation of what you learned from the Nevada experience, I'd be more than happy to post it here.

  3. Thomas, I will absolutely do that. The NV efforts were the best to date, and hopefully will help out in other states.


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