Oregon Lane Splitting Public Meeting

Friday November 19, 6:30pm Portland OR USA

A record, standing room only crowd showed up for the November meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Board on Motorcycle Safety at the Kaiser Permanente Town Hall Ballroom on Portland’s N Interstate Avenue. The task was to hear opinion on the proposal to fund a survey among road users on the legalization of ‘lane splitting’ or ‘lane sharing’ by motorcyclists. Commonplace in both first and third world countries, the practice is illegal in all states but California.

Van Moore chaired the meeting; hardly had he finished his introduction when the first public speaker stepped up to the podium, eager to testify. Each was given two minutes to make their case and, while some ran over, a number had prepared their statement and got their points across more or less within the allotted time.

It was a motorcyclists’ meeting, encouraging in that many in the community simply want to be left alone to ride for pleasure or out of necessity without having to become politically active. If you grew up in a lane splitting culture you have difficulty in imagining it any other way, much less stopping to think of the many benefits of the practice beyond the obvious convenience of getting to your destination earlier.

The main concerns were overheating of air cooled engines and the wellbeing of riders in extreme conditions of cold and heat, the fear of being rear-ended while stationary, environmental concerns and the poor use of available road surface in ever denser traffic. Much of the testimony was from those who had ridden in California and Europe and had found the practice to be safe based on their personal experience and anecdotal evidence.

A few voices expressed their opposition, one of whom was worried that speed and convenience would trump safety and courtesy. Notably absent was anyone from the non-motorcycling side. Whether they thought they would be shouted down or (more likely) they have no strong feelings about the matter, it was hard to say. One lady brought with her results from an OregonLive poll which showed 380 against and 401 for the practice. This is surprising if your perception of the car driving public is one of ‘You get to wait your turn, just like me’.

More than once speakers recommended to introduce the practice only in congested areas to avoid resistance to a blanket and untested imposition which would alienate auto drivers and be expensive to implement. Education of both drivers and motorcycle riders was held to be key.

The evening was not without its humor. A man best described as a gentle giant stood up and spoke passionately about his fears of motorcyclists being unheard and eventually legislated out of existence. Naveen Mundanda raised a chuckle as he stated: ‘I am from India and we don’t have lanes…’, then went on to note that the accident rate was extraordinarily low given the apparent chaos of traffic in the overcrowded cities of the subcontinent.

Support for the survey turned out to be overwhelming, with the caveat voiced by many that the legislature should be careful to ask the right questions and address the right audience. Would it not be more appropriate to ask Californians what they thought of lane sharing ?

One speaker reminded us that Oregon had been here before in 2001, but if the meeting’s outcome has anything to do with it, it looks like the state will be going there again in 2011.

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