I live on the east coast, specifically in the DMV  (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), so I am forced to deal with traffic of epic proportions during specific times of the day–yes, I am talking about rush hour. If you have ever been in the DMV area between 6 am to 9 am or 3 pm to 7 pm, then you, too, probably understand my frustration.  The plethora of brake lights that populate the roads during these hours is a depressing sight, to say the least, and only intensifies when it is raining or snowing.

Traffic congestion during rush hour.

Whenever I am stuck in traffic, staring at the plethora of brake lights, I often wonder what could be causing the chaos.  Did someone fail to motor from point A to point B without hitting something, or did a turn in the road cause someone to brake suddenly in anticipation of stopped vehicles?  In either case, we are left with what I like to call the centipede: a series of stops and goes in three-feet increments as the traffic inches forward.

Traffic of motorcycles, but not congested.

I often wonder, too, if all the cars were replaced with motorcycles, would we have the same traffic issues?  I like to think not. To explain, I’ve been party to many bike rallies, and if you’ve ever been to one, then you’ve seen the number of bikes that can populate a single block, and at no time were we FORCED to travel below the speed limit because we hit another bike nor were the bikers overly concerned about stopped bikes around a corner.  It is the four-wheel vehicles and the inadequacies of some drivers, however, that cause this annoying traffic problem. Have you ever witnessed a car pushing forward in an attempt to block another car from entering the lane, usually at a merge area?  Well that idiotic move affects not only the cars in the rear but also the cars attempting to merge onto the road.  Or how about those idiots who know that a lane is about to close but continue to ride to the end before merging, once again affecting all the cars who have heeded the warning early and merged at a point that doesn’t slow the lane.

Attempting to merge

Now comes the dilemma: if you are on a bike dealing with these or other traffic issues, what should you do?  I’ve seen bikes ride the lane-divide lines, which I find to be extremely dangerous, for you cannot anticipate the movement of a car, especially in a heavy traffic situation.  Drivers are going to move their cars in whichever lane appears to be moving faster, which really is just a figment of their imagination.  Aside from being illegal, riding the lane divide can cause more problems than it is worth.  Of course, many of us are riding bikes that are air cooled; and if you are in traffic, there is no air cooling your bike, and, believe me, it will start to complain. So what can you do?  I have seen, and done, the move-to-the-shoulder technique.    However, this, too, can be dangerous due to potential debris on the shoulder, that and the narrowing of the shoulder over bridges and such.  Again, this maneuver is illegal but will help you get around the CARS that are causing the reduction in speed.

Motorcyclists want to be treated like every other vehicle on the road; we want to be accounted for and respected.  If we engage in actions like those mentioned above, then we reduce the level of respect we hope to gain from car drivers.  They will likely sit in their cars, shaking their heads, probably thinking we should be sitting in traffic complaining like the rest of the bunch.  We already have to deal with people failing to turn their heads before changing lanes, so let’s not add to the problem by running the lane divides or traveling the shoulder only to increase our chances of getting knocked off the bike.  I know what some of my fellow riding buddies might say, “well I gotta do what I gotta do”; and, honestly, I can relate.  I guess my point here is to avoid traffic whenever possible, so you don’t have to make a decision to do something that might get your hurt.

Lots of bikes, no congestion. Hmmmmm!!