Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lane Splitting

A friend just got back from a visit to California - specifically the Sacramento area.

(He hand-carves and paints these awesome wooden duck decoys. There was a convention of like-minded folks down there; he reports that he entered his ducks in six categories and won five. He also sold several ducks, which I'm sure financed his trip, and enables him to buy another log to start more ducks. But I digress.)

He expressed some consternation about "lane splitting" on the freeway.

In case you're not familiar, "lane splitting" is the term for motorcyclists (legally) riding down the striped line in between traffic lanes on the freeway. It's a common practice down there. I s'pose the locals get used to it, but to us foreigners it's quite disconcerting.

As a motorcyclist, I've got mixed emotions about the practice.

On the one hand, it seems like you would be exposing yourself to hazards that you wouldn't otherwise have - cars abruptly changing lanes in your path, disgruntled motorists deliberately trying to block your progress, cell-phone yappers who don't notice you, etc.

But on the other hand, when there are six lanes of standstill "parking lot" traffic, and it's legal to ride between those lanes, I can understand the attraction.

I'd probably do it under such circumstances... very cautiously. (I don't think you'd see me out there going 75 in between lanes, when everybody else is going 60.)

So... what does any of that have to do with bicycling?

I see a form of "lane splitting" going on these days, involving bike lanes.

In this era of $4+ gas, it seems there are many folks who are too lazy to ride a bike, but they've resigned themselves to some form of scooter or moped or powered bicycle. And I see them taking to the BICYCLE lanes regularly, when it's convenient to do so. (And sidewalks, too, sometimes.)

Some are probably afraid to ride in traffic. And I bet many of them don't have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license.

A lady at the office bought this little electric-powered scooter thingie. I was looking it over - it has a "power" setting and a "distance" setting. I asked her about that. When it's in the "distance" setting, it tops out at about 15mph. The power setting allows for quicker acceleration AND 20mph. She said, "That seems VERY fast to me - I like the distance setting." Maybe she's gotten used to it now, and 20mph doesn't seem so daredevil. But in either of those settings... where do you operate such a vehicle? Hard to imagine it would be legal OR SAFE on a 35mph street. But it hardly seems appropriate to be driving motorized vehicles in the bike lane or along the shoulder of the road, either.

Of course, the local constabulary is happy to look the other way. Ignorance is bliss for them. Their official policy seems to be "bike violations are not priority violations," and I'm sure that would extend to bike lane violations, as well.

But to my BICYCLE-riding friends, BE CAREFUL! (Of course, cars have routinely used bike lanes as turn lanes, when it's convenient for them.)

(Some good info about MOTORCYCLE lane-splitting can be found HERE. The photo is also from that website.)


Eric said...

I'm curious if lane splitting is actually illegal in Idaho or is it just basically illegal anywhere where it's not specifically listed as legal (like Cali)? I don't own a motorcycle, only bicycles... but I've got two friends who recently joined the motorcycle club and am very curious. It really seems like it would be a time saver especially at the backed up stoplights in the area.

Bikeboy said...

eric - good question.

I did some searching (although by no means exhaustive).

I didn't find anything in the Idaho Code (available online HERE).

The Idaho Motorcycle Operator's Manual states on P.17: "Cars and motorcycles need a full lane to operate safely. Riding between rows of stopped or moving cars in the same lane can leave you vulnerable to the unexpected. A hand could come out of a window; a door could open; a car could turn suddenly. Discourage lane sharing by others." It doesn't say, or even suggest, that it's illegal.

I might have to run a flag up the pole to see if somebody salutes.

Even if it's legal, in Idaho I'd do it with the understanding that there are some wacked rageaholics out there, who would probably use their vehicles as weapons in their perceived war against incorrect behavior. (Same as everyplace else, I s'pose.) If they're sitting in traffic, by golly everybody else should be sitting in traffic, too!

Anonymous said...

Haven't yet had a close enounter with a scooter in the bike lane. I would prefer that they not use them but so far they don't seem to be causing any problems that I'm aware of. It will only be a few months until the weather turns colder and wetter and those vehicles will probably disappear, at least until next spring.

I wonder if those who purchased scooters and such to save on gas have thought about what they are going to do during the winter?

Bikeboy said...

Update - [motorcycle] lane splitting: I happened across a BPD motorcycle cop yesterday afternoon, and thought he'd know the law. So I asked him. He said - and I paraphrase - that lane-splitting is NOT technically illegal in Idaho, although some related laws, such as returning to your lane ASAP after passing, etc., suggest that it's not advisable from a legal standpoint. I got the impression you would NOT be ticketed for it, unless some other law was broken. He also said with the new popularity of high-mileage motorcycles, scooters, etc., the Legislature might want to consider a lane-splitting law. (We agreed that Idaho has some pretty good bike laws. I'm disappointed in the level of enforcement, as my regular readers know.)

bob t - I, too, am curious to see what happens when the weather turns bad. Frankly, I'm quite surprised that transportation cycling has remained so popular over these upper-90 days; I thought it would trail off.

Anonymous said...

Ok, the lane splitting thing, I basically have little comment. If it is leagal, it needs to be defined as to what is or is not allowed, etc.

As for scooters in the bike lane, once again, it would be nice if there was some definition for what is or is not allowed, but maybe we should get those folks on our side.

I have this vision of low speed traffic routes. These would accomodate all two wheeled vehicles that are not capable of speeds higher than 25mph, regardless of their power source.

What difference does it make if I go 20mph on my bike or on an electric scooter? No, I think the idea is to make legal provisions for slower traffic and then vigously enforce those laws.

Easy, Punchy, let me explain!

One of the problems with getting things done in the bicycle transportation community is that we all seem to be in pretty good shape. Well, the per capita of obiese people rises every year, so our numbers are dwindling every year.

Hello, this is a democracy and we need numbers! Fat people need to get to work too! So if they want to hop on an electric scooter or a gas powered moped and share the bike lane, great! Let them do it legally and safely. Limit their speed to 25mph and their engine displacement 40cc or something. Sure, they are cheating, no question, but is the object to carve out a place for slower alternative transportation, or to turn everyone into a cycling pureist? The first has a ghost of a chance, the latter no prayer.

Yes, there will occasionally be jerks on scooters that act pretty much like the jerks in cars that we deal with when sharing the road. But I've long since given up on an jerk free society. I have dealt with plenty of jerks on bikes too.

I commute 9.5 miles each way to work. There are not that many people in my county who would do that. But if offered the alternative of riding a scooter, and being ensured that they could do so safely, I think more people would get out of their SUVs to save a buck.

We are the ones who are saying "Don't be so narrow minded about transportation." If we ever want to get to where we are accepted on the road, and truely protected by the law, we need to be open minded too.

Kirk said...

I own a bicycle, motorcycle, and an electric "scooter" actually it is an eGo cycle.

I live in California and yes, it is legal to lane-split. I do it whenever I feel it is safe. In many ways I feel it is safer for the motorcyclist. It allows them to get out ahead of the traffic and other dangers. I also split lanes to get up to the light, and then I am ahead of that group of traffic until the next light. A much safer position in traffic. Also lane splitting relieves traffic congestion. If the motorcyclist simply followed the cars he is taking up the space of a car. If he splits lanes he is no longer taking up that space thus reducing the traffic congestion. On a freeway the motorcyclist is always allowed in the carpool lane, and the area between the carpool lane and the first regular lane is the preferred location to lane split since the gap between those lanes is the biggest.

As far as the electric scooter, mine goes about the same speeds as your friend's. Since it can only go about 20 mph at max which is about the max that a bicycle can go, I treat it as a bicycle, and ride on the side of the road and on bike paths. Though it is specifically forbidden from some bike paths in my area (the strand along the beach in particular). Going up steep hills it is often slower than a bicycle, though this depends on the state of charge.


Anonymous said...

I just moved to Boise, ID from Fresno, CA, I ride a motorcycle and I am very used to splitting traffic only at stop lights when traffic is stopped and I feel it is safe enough to do so. When I was in CA it was no big deal to anyone (cars & other motorcycles), but since being in Boise every single time I have split vehicles at a stop light someone honks their horn or yells out the window. I purchased a motorcycle to relax and a form of cheap transportation to and from work, has anyone else come across this problem? If so what have you done? I wish the DMV would post something in black and white that says it IS legal or it is NOT legal so this way I can print out several copies and hand it to the people that honk their horns!

The Tye said...

I live in Idaho Falls, Idaho and i do quite a bit of lane splitting. I've never been honked at or yelled at. I usually only do it when cars are going well under the speed limit and I can safely pass them without exceeding the posted speed limit. I have heard that it is legal as long as you aren't going more the 5 mph faster than the cars you're passing. That may just be hearsay though