Lane-Splitting Manners a Matter of Mutual Respect

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart: Why do freeway drivers seem to carry a grudge against motorcyclists? Not all do, of course, but the few who do are downright dangerous.

I am middle-aged and ride one of those big, full-dress touring bikes. Suffice to say I enjoy it. Like many motorcyclists, I split lanes in backed-up bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It's not always easy. I have had car drivers pull over in front of me to cut me off and block me from passing. If I don't see them in time, they could easily knock me down and into the path of an oncoming car or truck.

Obviously, many commuters are troubled by such lane splitting, but all of us motorcycle riders are really doing them a favor. If you took every motorcycle on every freeway and put them into a lane of traffic, I'll guarantee it would move every car a half-mile farther back than they are now.

It seems the mentality of most people is, "If I have to wait, everybody has to wait." But we are not costing anybody any time. In fact, we are actually saving everybody time spent on the freeway. Give us a break. Leave a little room.

Robert G. Xiques

Orange

An interesting point. I'm not sure just how much time the average commuter saves because lane-splitting motorcyclists aren't taking up space in the regular traffic lanes, but it must be a bit. There are, after all, more than 4 million registered motorcycles in the United States, 643,000 in California alone.

For the uninformed, lane splitting is legal in stalled traffic as long as the motorcyclist is moving at a safe speed. Unfortunately, some cyclists rip at a breakneck pace along the narrow corridor formed between the lanes of idling cars, putting themselves in a precarious position if some driver suddenly swings into another lane.

While car drivers should be careful to watch out for motorcycles splitting lanes during the daily peak traffic crunch, cyclists should also take precautions by keeping their speed down in such situations. California Highway Patrol officers typically recommend a motorcyclist go no faster than 10 m.p.h. than the flow of traffic when splitting lanes.

Don't look to do much cruising along 4th Street between Santa Ana and Tustin in the months to come. At 1 a.m. sharp this coming Friday, the state Department of Transportation will shut down the 4th Street bridges over both the Santa Ana and Costa Mesa freeways and begin making preparations to demolish the structures.

It's all being done as part of the ambitious effort to widen the traffic-choked Santa Ana Freeway. To expand the freeway from its current clogged six lanes to a commuter-friendly 12 lanes, the agency has to widen each of the bridges along the route, and the 4th Street crossings are first on the list. So down they'll come to make way for a pair of new structures, which Caltrans officials hope to complete in about a year.

The bridge work is really just an initial step in what promises to be a decade-long construction project. When completed, the freeway will consist of 12 lanes from its intersection with the San Diego Freeway on the south to the Orange and Garden Grove freeways on the north.

The Santa Ana Freeway was built in the mid-1950s as a rural four-lane freeway and expanded to six lanes in 1965. Unchecked population growth since then has dropped the average peak-hour speed on the freeway from 50 m.p.h. to less than 20.

Money to expand the freeway has always been scarce, but passage of Proposition 111, the state gas-tax hike, has solved that problem.

Now comes the hard part: the dust and noise and bother of construction. While we all put up with that for the next 10 years, motorists can get a peek at what the project will look like when it's completed. Caltrans has an impressive, 16-by-20-foot model of the entire network that will be on display at the Irvine Transportation Center beginning today. The display moves in November to the Tustin Senior Center, Caltrans said.

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