Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lane Splitting For Motorcycles

From 2011 I have reproduced this essay from a  vacation my wife and I took in Italy to visit my family. We decided to spend three days seeing the sights in Rome and rented a three wheeled Piaggio scooter for the purpose. I wrote this essay on the joys of what Europeans call filtering, which is how two wheelers pick their way through traffic. To American eyes the practice is dangerous and unfair as it allows motorcycles to get in front of the sacrosanct line thus shriveling the manliness of the SUV drivers and their cup holders. In fact the California Highway patrol did a study which found that lane splitting as is permitted in California is safer for motorcyclists and keeps traffic moving safely. California permits motorcycles to share lanes with slow moving traffic, not exactly European filtering a shown below, but it is a practice that encourages traffic to keep moving and keeps motorcycles from being rear ended in stationary traffic by inattentive drivers - a bigger problem than you might think.
Meanwhile there is a move, following publication of the California report to allow lane sharing (not cross traffic filtering!) across the US. I of course signed the petition on the forum and thought this view of chaos in Rome might be timely.  

Lane Splitting Or Death

"If you catch me sitting in a line of cars you need to pinch me" I called out to my wife. She was riding pillion on the 250cc Piaggio MP3 scooter we had rented for two days to explore Rome and it's suburbs, but I was not pulling my weight in the Roman traffic. Too much Florida was still coursing through my tropical veins and I was acting polite where Rome's car drivers expected me to cut and thrust my way through traffic. Showing cages mercy was just confusing them as they expect scooters to rip them to shreds in the congestion. No more sitting passively waiting for a green light dammit! We're not in Key West anymore. Check this street scene out, scooters and a car approaching a light:

Car slows for the traffic signal but the scooters move in and surround the hapless driver. I took this sequence of pictures from the top deck of a tour bus, by the way.

Then the light changes and the scooters swarm ahead.

What's interesting about this technique is that cars yield to scooters, they expect the mad rush and they defer to scooter riders in a way SUV toting Americans would never do. And the scooters actually treat the Rome traffic like it was an amusing obstacle course. Pedestrians and scooters dodge between the lines:

Over the lines into oncoming traffic :

Weaving between cars stopped at lights:

And between lanes of cars:

Traffic can be horrendous too so riding a scooter is a job for people who need to stay mobile, and not just scooting enthusiasts:

Our Mp3 rented for €65 or $100 a day is a great tool to slice and dice Rome traffic.

If only I can get used to being thoroughly rude on two wheels. That I can do, I just have to get back in the Italian riding groove of my youth and that takes a couple of days.