You may refer to it as “lane splitting” or “lane sharing”. Perhaps even “filtering.” In any case we’re all talking about the same thing – moving between lanes of four wheelers on our bikes and scooters – hopefully in the same direction. It’s not exactly a common practice in the USA as it’s legal only in the State of California (Which, of course, doesn’t mean we haven’t seen it elsewhere. Booya!) It is, however, legal and widely practiced in Europe, Japan, and much of the rest of the world. Thought we’d spend a few moments here chatting about the rationale for, and against the practice.
The leading argument for lane splitting centers around the concept of reducing traffic congestion by allowing use efficient use of that empty space between lanes of traffic. In particular by those vehicles that can readily fit in the space i.e bicycles and motorcycles. As a corollary, it offers reduced travel times for commuters willing to utilize those smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient modes of transportation. Ponder this for a moment. BMW recently introduced a pair of 650cc Maxi Scooters to the world and pitched them as one of many solutions to urban traffic congestion. How’s that going to work in places (like most of the US) where it’s not possible to filter ahead through rush hour congestion. Doesn’t that just leave bikes and scooters as yet another vehicle mindlessly waiting in line, albeit colder and wetter than the folks in the Toyota Sequoia ahead and the Ford Focus behind? There is also some body of data which may suggest that lane splitting reduces the incidence of rear end collisions for bikers.
The “against” arguments tend to center on safety issues. And it isn’t just the issue of “mad” bikers whistling through traffic, between lanes, at majorly extra-legal speeds. We all know that happens anyway – laws or not. It’s more about the low speed stuff. Bikes filtering through stationary traffic at 10 or 15 MPH and being whacked by a suddenly opened door or mowed down by an unexpected, and un-signaled, lane change or turn. There’s another issue too. Confinement in one’s “cage” in stopped traffic tends to be a blood pressure raiser. Agitated drivers, seeing others “succeed” at moving when they cannot can become belligerent. Sometimes the excitement escalates well beyond raised middle fingers and the next thing you know, someone’s laying on the ground. Sad to say, but true. One handy way to avoid such confrontations, safety advocates say, is to avoid laws which allow preferential treatment for a single class of vehicles. Ergo: no lane splitting for motorcyclists.
What do you think of lane splitting? Like it or not, we’d be interested in hearing your well considered opinion.