Being a Responsible Motocitizen

The pros and cons of being the motorcycle rider through traffic

Let me start out by saying that I think motorcycles are more socially responsible vehicles than cars. The reasons are obvious: Motorcycles take up less space, therefore reducing congestion, and need less acreage to park. A motorcycle requires less energy and raw materials to manufacture and operate than an automobile, and a less robust infrastructure to support it. When they wear out, motorcycles leave less debris to dispose of or recycle.

Of course, there are negative aspects to motorcycles, too, primarily the fact that they offer less protection for their riders than cars provide for their occupants. Some critics regard the injury factor as a burden to society and are quick to criticize motorcycles, yet they rarely recognize the contributions motorcycles can and do provide. Some would add that motorcycles are a noisy irritant and possible health hazard, but we know that is not inherent, and rather the antisocial choice of a minority of riders.

It surprises me that relatively few people choose motorcycles for routine transportation, thereby losing much of the benefits they can offer society and their riders. To some extent this is due to the fact that attitudes and laws sometimes make it hard to fully exploit the advantages motorcycles can provide. America has been slow to appreciate the contributions that motorcycles make, particularly in congested areas. The only real recognition of efficiency is the fact that we are now permitted in virtually all HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle or carpool) lanes. However, motorcycles’ potential benefits could be exploited for the greater good to a much larger extent.

Motorcycle rider ethics through traffic
It surprises me that relatively few people choose motorcycles for routine transportation, thereby losing much of the benefits they can offer society and their riders.Cruiser

A primary example is lane-splitting. Although commonplace in other countries—some of which, like Thailand, have even developed traffic infrastructure to support and exploit the motorcycle's ability to reduce congestion—few of these United States even tolerate them. One reason for this prohibition is safety concerns, for which there is no real research to cite on either side, just an observation from the Hurt Report that lane-splitting appears to be slightly safer than staying in one lane in stop-and-go traffic. I suspect that lane-splitting is also regarded as unfair, in effect cutting in line ahead of people who are responsibly waiting for their turn to go. But car drivers wait because they choose to drive bulky, inefficient vehicles that take up more space than necessary to transport one or two people. By permitting motorcycles to split lanes of stopped or creeping traffic, you effectively create an additional lane.

And how about municipalities that only allow one motorcycle per parking space? Is meter revenue so precious that you have to waste space to get it? A couple of Internet groups where I lurk proposed a park-in to protest these stupid laws. The idea was to have a few dozen motorcycles show up early on the morning of some busy business day and take all the parking places in an area, leaving when the allotted time was up and having a second shift take their places. The action would be accompanied by handing out flyers, especially to businesspeople, pointing out how counterproductive these laws are and asking them to support a change allowing multiple motorcycles to occupy a single space as long as the meter is fed. Unfortunately, neither of these actions ever happened, as far as I know.

However, where parking multiple motorcycles per space is allowed and spaces are sparse, motorcyclists should take advantage, both for themselves and to free up space for stupidly large vehicles. Just feed the meter to make sure you are legal for as long as you'll be there. You can also ease congestion in parking lots by using odd-shaped corners and cutouts where car-sized spaces won't fit, leaving spaces for barges. If the lot uses planters in those leftover spaces, share one with another motorcycle or leave one for the next motorcycle. To me, the only thing more thoughtless than a parked motorcycle using the entire space is several doing so in a small area. On the other hand, when there is just one space open in a crowded lot and you wave a car into it, even though you were there first, then turn into a space with another motorcycle or a triangle at the end of the row, you have earned some approval for motorcycles. If a parking lot is going up in your neighborhood, it can be worthwhile to call the company involved and ask it to leave spaces for motorcycles instead of filling them with raised concrete or planters. A reader once told me of successfully doing this. It actually saved the builder some money. The half-spaces at the end of the parking-stall lines were painted "Motorcycle Parking."

A motorcycle’s small footprint can be used to help traffic flow, too. When waiting at the front of the right lane at a light where it’s legal to turn right, stay at the left side of the lane and pull forward to allow right-turners to get going. It is impressive how many people notice this. If you are the first vehicle in a long line in a left-turn lane, pull well into the intersection when the light turns green and it’s safe to do so. The farther you pull forward, the more cars can get into the intersection and turn when the light turns yellow. Also, be aware when easing up or over in crowded traffic might allow someone to get into a driveway or left-turn lane.

Most motorcyclists buy their rides for recreation or ego statements. Transportation seems to be a secondary function, unfortunately. And the motorcyclist who rides because a motorcycle is more socially responsible is a real rarity. If more motorcyclists were aware of the advantages their vehicles offer all road users and employed a bikes’ advantages to help others deal with increasing congestion and parking problems, we’d get more respect, leading to greater support for ideas like lane-splitting and making our rides even more useful.