Malcolm Walker is hardly a Hell's Angel.
But lately, the 49-year-old Walker and his Kawasaki 400 are attracting as much police and public attention as the notorious motorcycle gang.
Five times recently, Virginia and District police have pulled Walker, a Department of Energy cost analyst, off I-395 and ticketed him for riding his motorcycle in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes reserved for car pools and buses.
Walker says those Alexandria, Arlington and D.C. tickets are unfair because federal law allows motorcyclists in the HOV lanes, which are designed to encourage fuel conservation.
I'm not a crusader . . . . I'm a relatively conservative government employe," said Walker, who continues to zoom through the three local jurisdictions on I-395 from his Annandale home to his Washington office wearing a business suit.
"I've started looking over my shoulder" for police, Walker said. "But I know I'm right."
Ask William Boyce, the prosecutor who argued against Walker in Alexandria General District Court last Wednesday, who's right, and he'll tell you it's the state of Virginia.
State law forbids motorcycles on the HOV lanes marked for vehicles containing at least four persons, the prosecutor said.
"I suppose if one could squeeze three more people on a motorcycle, it would be okay," said Virginia state Del. Bernard Cohen (D-Alexandria), who is providing legal advice to Walker.
Cohen, a lawyer and a motorcycle enthusiast, argued in court that a 1982 federal law designed to promote energy conservation permits motorcycles on HOV lanes. Because Virginia receives millions in federal highway funds, some of it used for HOV-lane highways, the state must comply with federal law, he contended, or risk losing the funding.
According to prosecutor Boyce, that federal statute was not designed to limit Virginia's ability to control its traffic. It doesn't stop Virginia police officers from ticketing Walker if he won't stay off the HOV lanes, he said.
Alexandria General District Court Judge Daniel Fairfax O'Flaherty said he would rule on the case Friday.
"My wife at first asked me if it was worth it," Walker said. Now, he said, they both believe the court hassle and the threat of more than $200 in fines is worth the effort.
Because he saves almost an hour of commuting time each day and believes the less-congested traffic in the HOV lanes makes for safer motorcycle riding, Walker says he'll continue riding his bike, skirting law officers through Northern Virginia and into the city.
He successfully defended himself against a HOV-lane ticket written in Arlington in June by persuading a judge that his federal-funding argument was valid. The Arlington commonwealth's attorney's office recently informed him, however, that it will take him to court on another HOV ticket he received because it wants to present different arguments.
Gary Winn, the legal adviser for the National Motorcyclist Association in Ohio, said he is keeping close tabs on the Walker case because many of the group's 137,000 dues-paying members want to ride to and from work on restricted lanes.
"Motorcyclists conserve fuel and expedite traffic. That's exactly why the HOV lanes were developed," Winn said. He said the whole Walker episode is a "misunderstanding" between state and federal authorities, but he is certain Walker will win.
"It would be an enormous advantage if I could ride to work on the HOV lanes," said George Brosseau, who commutes on his 1978 BMW motorcycle from Reston to his job, in the District, as a National Science Foundation administrator. But he said he fears tickets. If Walker wins his case, Brosseau said, maybe he and many of the estimated 10 million motorcylists nationwidecan shave their commuting time.
Asked why ardent motorcyclists haven't lobbied against Virginia and other states' rules before, Brosseau said, "The trouble is you can't organize motorcycists. They're fiercely independent people."