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As Long as We Remember...

March 3, 2009

Common Sense Solution; Rejection Likely

Nick Diaz

Just as I enjoy riding my Yamaha Venture touring motorcycle on invisible roads in our four-state area, I also like driving a car for pleasure on these same pathways. Three years ago, for example, I persuaded my wife, (who insists on more comfort than even my two-wheel Venture barcalounger can provide), to take the scenic route home from Asheville, NC.


As we had just delivered our “baby” to the University of Dayton, our alma mater, for her first year of school, we drove down to Asheville on interstates. Middletown to Dayton on I-70, Dayton to Asheville on I-75, etc. – enough is enough. Let’s take some “good” roads home.


Ah, the Blue Ridge Parkway... How many times have I two-wheeled the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way down to its southern terminus near Cherokee, NC! Four hundred sixty-nine miles of the best two-lane road in eastern North America. The BRP goes right into Asheville, so we decided to get on the Parkway at mile 380 and head north, knowing fully well we would need at least two days to make it back to Maryland.


Even on the big, wallowy Dodge Caravan, swaying left and right on the curves, having to take it much easier than I would in any motorized two-wheeled contraption, the Parkway was fun to drive. I had to drive the road, using practically the same degree of attention to its nuances than I would on my motorcycle.


So, after a side trip to Andy Griffith land (Mayberry/Mount Airy, NC), another stop at Walton’s Mountain (Schuyler) in Virginia, and an overnight stay in a mom-and-pop motel, we made it home safely the following day. It was then that I began to wonder whether driving a car for pleasure in North America was still possible. Having returned from our four-wheeled Blue Ridge Parkway trip, I knew the affirmative answer to that self-imposed question.


I’d chosen roads just like I would for a motorcycle ride to make the driving fun – easy because I already knew this engineering marvel called the Blue Ridge Parkway. It got me thinking, however, that motorcyclists have much in common with real car enthusiasts – people who drive for the sheer hell of it, not content to sit on the freeway cocooned in a three-ton SUV with a phone grafted to their ears. Just like motorcycling locally, it’s now a deliberate trip off the beaten path to find invisible roads to drive enjoyably.


Much has been written in the past 20 to 30 years about the age of American road gridlock. None of us needs to read or hear about other people’s commutes or travels to know how bad it’s getting; we all have our own stories. Traffic congestion in North America costs billions of dollars in wasted fuel and lost time. People now spend the equivalent of a whole work week stuck in traffic every year. The length of the combined morning-evening “rush hour” has doubled to almost six hours since the early 80s.


Of course, “expert” traffic planners have plenty of solutions:


* Computer-generated traffic advisories, to tell you where the slow-downs are.


* Nineteenth-century town planning, so some people can shop and work within walking distance of home.


* More public transportation, as ridership is at its highest level in years.


The favorite answer of the past, more roads, is now the least favored alternative, as urban sprawl always uses every mile of new road to support new development. The romantic “freedom” granted by the automobile, and America’s “love affair” with the personal vehicle may soon become anachronisms. The problem is so bad that it threatens to revolutionize political thinking. As we become more like bees climbing over one another’s backs, the person who must depend on his/her personal vehicle will soon be seen as the one left behind by governmental efforts to improve the situation.


But do you ever hear our “experts” say that motorcycle ridership should be encouraged? No! Too many of these bureaucratic types still see motorcyclists as a lunatic fringe. Would they suggest that their sons and daughters join an obscure eastern cult to alleviate traffic problems, much less the biker gang?


One answer is to make motorcycling more attractive to the commuter. Why should lane sharing only be an option in California? Just because LA has the worst traffic delays in the nation? Maybe. We should harangue our elected officials with the efficiency of such a solution. The ancient cities of Europe wouldn’t be able to move if inner city traffic didn’t allow motorcyclists to share lane space with the car traffic. Part of Europe’s tolerance for motorcycles stems from the fact that so many citizens worked their way up from bikes, to mopeds, to motorcycles, then to cars – in a natural progression.


Once commuters learn that scooters or motorcycles will get them to work with less stress, and even a bit of fun, we should have more allies on our side; once the bureaucrats see motorcyclists as “us” instead of “them,” we’ll be a lot better off. Traffic studies have shown that congestion and the number of cars on the road have a non-linear relationship, so that increasing numbers of cars can be handled with little slowdown until a critical point is reached.


Despite that fact, a few ninnies in Washington are asking for a return to Nixon’s 55-mph speed limit to “save fuel.” We won’t save much fuel if we’re all crawling along at five miles per hour on the highway. I say raise the speed limits and make it illegal for slow vehicles to hog the fast lane (like it is in the UK, Sweden, and Germany). Simple mathematics will show that one should spend less time on the freeway at a higher speed, and make room for more traffic.


How about this for a slogan: “Take the bus and leave the roads to those who know how to enjoy them;” or “We won’t take the freeway if you won’t take our invisible roads.” In politics, as in my garage, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Let’s think of this complaining as a contrarian grain of sand in the roller bearing of collective discourse. Let’s make a difference before it’s too late.


Spring is almost here. Ride safe, everyone!


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