Lanesplitting: The practice of riding your motorcycle between moving cars
Filtering: The practice of riding your motorcycle between non-moving cars to get to the front at a stop sign, or red light.
It’s safe, it’s efficient, and it’s good for the environment. But despite rumblings from Toronto last summer, we seem no closer to having lanesplitting or filtering legalized in any Canadian jurisdiction.
It’s a shame. Last summer, when Toronto city council explored the idea of filtering, it was the first sign of common sense about the issue for a long, long time. But that proposal is moving very slowly, despite the fact the US seems more interested in the idea, and motorcycle manufacturers are working on technology that makes it safer.
First things first: While lanesplitting and filtering are frequently portrayed as the pastimes of dangerous hooligans in North America, both riding techniques are universally practised around the rest of the world, from first-world countries like the UK to anything-goes countries like Afghanistan. In some places, they’re only legal in certain jurisdictions (some areas in Australia allow filtering, others don’t), but generally speaking, Canada and the US are the biggest hold-outs against the idea.
In the US, lanesplitting’s legality is determined by each state’s transportation department, ultimately dependent on laws passed by state legislatures. It’s the same in Canada, with traffic rules dependent on laws passed by provincial legislatures.
For a long time, California was the only state that allowed lanesplitting, although it was all sort of unofficial. If you tried lanesplitting elsewhere, or filtering, you were risking a ticket. Then, last July, Hawaii got on board with the idea, sort of.
Originally, lawmakers in Hawaii were looking at legalizing lanesplitting and filtering. Instead, they settled for an extremely watered-down compromise. Motorcyclists are allowed to ride their bikes along the shoulder to bypass congested traffic, as long as there’s plenty of room. It’s all pretty weak sauce, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
Following Hawaii and California, Utah has just become the third state to legalize filtering. Last week, the state governor signed House Bill 149, which legalizes filtering on roads with a speed limit of 45 mph or less, with at least two lanes in one direction. Motorcycles must move at 15 mph or less while filtering.
Many other US states are considering similar moves. So far in 2019, Oregon is currently considering legalizing lanesplitting in certain circumstances, under House Bill 2314. Maryland is also considering it. A state senator in Connecticut is proposing something similar, under State Bill 629, which would “permit the operator of a motorcycle to operate between lanes of traffic, as is permitted in other states and countries and thereby ease traffic congestion.”
Along with these three states, politicians in Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Montana have proposed similar legalization in their regions in recent years, and maybe some other states we just haven’t heard about. Increasingly, leadership is starting to look at lanesplitting as a way to deal with congestion in North America.
Progress in Canada
Last summer, Toronto city council proposed a pilot project to examine the feasibility of filtering. Along with proposed motorcycle-only parking and clearance for restricted-usage lanes, the member’s motion also asked for “a pilot project along the Richmond Street and Adelaide Street corridors which would allow motorcycles to filter between stopped vehicles, up to the stop line at controlled intersections where a stop signal is active, and only along lane boundaries that are not adjacent to any curb or pedestrian walkway, with implications for minimizing the risk of rear or front end collisions, and the overall flow of traffic.”
Since then, we’d heard nothing. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who’d originally made the motion, tells us that’s because city employees are still examining the idea of whether or not to go ahead with the pilot project. They’ll make a recommendation to city council in coming months, most likely in June, after determining the feasibility, safety and legality of the idea.
We haven’t heard of any similar ideas or proposals from anywhere else in Canada in the past year.
Where do we go from here?
If you want to see lanesplitting or filtering legalized in Canada, there are a couple of things you can do.
First off, if you have access to scientific studies or other evidence proving lanesplitting and filtering are sensible and safe, you can forward that information to Nazzareno Capano, the manager of Operational Planning and Policy with the city of Toronto (click here for email address). You can also send the information to Councillor Perruzza’s office, and he says his office will make sure it gets sent to the people who need to see it (click here for office contact details).
Second, if you’re a member of the Canadian Motorcycle Association, you can tell leadership what you think about the issue. We reached out to the CMA to see their take on the issue of lanesplitting and filtering, and were told “the CMA is about to poll our members for their opinions on lane splitting so the Board can develop a policy.” If you want the CMA to fight the good fight here, now’s your chance to have your voice heard.
Otherwise, you can always talk to your local municipality and provincial politicians about the issue. Be warned, you’re going to hear some objections. You’d expect to hear those from over-cautious MLAs and bureaucrats, who are eagerly looking for more ways to protect us from anything with a hint of risk. However, some of the most obstreperous naysayers will be motorcyclists themselves. It’s surprising how many riders not only don’t feel safe with the idea of lanesplitting or filtering themselves, but are willing to criticize others who do so.
To handle these criticisms, you can fire back with this 2016 study from UC Berkeley. As we said last year, the researchers “investigated 5,969 crashes involving motorcyclists, including 997 riders who were lanesplitting when they crashed. The study found lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer head, torso or extremity injuries, and also less likely to be killed in a crash.” Lanesplitting is safer, and science backs it up. Add in improvements in V2V tech that help cars recognize when bikes are close by (here’s an example from Ford, and BMW, Suzuki and others are working on similar systems), and it’s only going to get safer in coming years.
And then there’s this 2012 study by Transportation and Mobility Leuven. These Belgian researchers found that “if 10 per cent of the cars on the road were replaced with motorcycles, congestion would drop by 40 per cent, and if 25 per cent of cars were replaced with motorcycles, congestion would disappear. The reason for this is that motorcycles take up less space in traffic, and the study assumes that at stoplights, motorcycles will filter between lanes to the front.” In other words, if you allow legal filtering everybody gets ahead, both car drivers and motorcyclists.
Of course, you’re still going to get neanderthals in cars who react violently to perceived unfairness of a motorcyclist “cheating” to get ahead. You’re also going to get inept cagers who aren’t capable of keeping an eye out for filtering/lanesplitting riders. To deal with those dangers, we’d suggest a tiered roll-out of any system.
First, there would have to be a concerted series of educational public announcements about the practice, making sure drivers know what to expect. They also need to be warned of severe consequences should they interfere with motorcyclists attempting legal riding practices. The rules around the practice should be clear, and should discourage hooligan behaviour.
Then, filtering at stops should come well before any lanesplitting is legalized; filtering is usually done at slower speeds, and theoretically carries less risk as a result.
After filtering is tried out, then a full-fledged move toward lanesplitting would be much more feasible.
Remember, we aren’t suggesting riders be allowed to fly down the highway between cars at 110 km/h. Most places have fairly common-sense guidelines about the speeds you can use to lanesplit or filter. After all, if there is no congestion in the first place, there’s no real need to ride between cars. If the highway is moving at 80 km/h already, it’s not necessary. If traffic is at a stop, though, it’s a lot more sensible.
What to expect?
Sadly, I fear we are unlikely to get a big boost from the city of Toronto’s pilot project research, unless motorcyclists prove me wrong and convince the city’s staff to give the project a try.
However, this is the first time in my years in the business that I’ve actually seen anyone in government trying to come up with a solution, and I suggest everybody get on board and talk to city staff about it. If the Toronto pilot project goes ahead, and is a success, it’s hard to think the rest of the country wouldn’t take notice.