Sunday, March 30, 2008

Take the Lane (Revised)

Image from Bicycling is Better with an excellent discussion of shareable lanes.

(This based on my monthly column from the Red Dirt Pedalers "Wheel Issues"...Ed)

By Ed W. and Brian P.

One of the primary concepts in BikeEd is lane-positioning. A cyclist should always maintain a safe distance from the gutter pan or parked cars, a minimum of 3 to 4 feet. And motorists in Oklahoma are required to provide at least 3' passing distance when overtaking a cyclist. A little math tells us that if we add 3 feet from the gutter pan, 2 feet for the cyclist, and 3 feet for the minimum safe passing distance, we get 8 feet. Most cars are at least 6 feet wide. Therefore, a shareable lane can be no narrower than 14 feet. Keep in mind that in Oklahoma, lanes are rarely wider than 12 feet. That's where defensive lane-positioning comes in.

"Taking the lane" increases safety and visibility. Both new and experienced cyclists are often reluctant to try this. It seems counter-intuitive that by moving further to the left, one decreases the risk of collision, but when cyclists try the technique, they're astonished to discover how effective it is. Lane positioning communicates whether it's safe to pass or not. When a cyclist is in the middle of a narrow lane, he's telling drivers behind him that there isn't sufficient space to share the lane side-by-side, and that they'll have to yield to traffic in the adjacent lane before overtaking. When the cyclist moves further to the right, he's indicating it's safe to overtake. A cyclist should NEVER ride too far right (i.e., hugging the fog line, the curb, or even the gutter pan) because it invites motorists to 'sgueeze by' in the lane regardless of safety. On a 2-lane road, the passing motorist might be forced to choose between a head-on collision or running over a cyclist. In short, improper lane-position is a good way to get squeezed off the road.

Earlier today I read a comment by 'Siouxgeonz” on “Commute by Bike” about her introduction to lane positioning. (Her own blog is “Urbana-Champaign Bicycle Commute”.) Here's what she had to say:

I was reluctant to claim the lane at first, in a huge part because so many of the people who wrote to say it was the right thing to do seemed to emphasize “making a statement,” and I so much don’t want to make a statement that people can talk about in my eulogy...Now, I cringe whenever I hear somebody say “but I worry about the one who doesn’t see me” and hugs the line, because so many more people *don’t* see you when you’re doing that. It’s a perceptual thing…

I, too, learned to take my lane with a baptism in fire on a busy road...Two of us were riding and my friend noted that the drivers were buzzing by awfully closely… which (my silly verbal mind; it takes words to make anything happen) made me think “oh, yea! I’ve read that if we move out…” so we did.

Danged if suddenly the drivers didn’t get a whole lot better at giving us room! Instant education! And we weren’t dead center; just crossing into that “you’re in the car part” threshold.

We stopped for a bite to eat, and when we started riding again, the drivers forgot how to pass us again. Oops, make that we were too far to the right, because as soon as we nudged out again… the drivers got better. Amazing how educable they are! (Used by permission)

Some cyclists think that it's rude or arrogant to take the lane. Some think the practice antagonizes motorists unnecessarily. My response to that is simple. Safety always trumps convenience. Nothing in the law requires anyone on the road to do something they know is unsafe, and hugging the fog line is definitely not safe. Yes, overtaking motorists may have to slow down and wait until it's safe to pass. Taking the lane increases everyone's safety when a cyclist asserts his lane position. Stop caring about impeding traffic and realize that you have a right to use the road in safety and comfort the same as any other road user.

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Blogger Peter said...

i'm skeptical of that 1/3, 2/3 rule - i say go 1/2 if you're gonna do it at all - else, you'll just end up getting buzzed. whenever i take the lane, i go right down the middle - otherwise the message to drivers is ambiguous.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

There's a good reason for riding on the right hand third, Peter. It puts you in the tire track that's swept free of debris by cars. Also, since it may not rain for months here in Oklahoma during the summer, the center of the lane collects quite a lot of oil. It can be noticeably slicker than pavement to either side. And when that first rainfall hits, be very, very careful!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Da' Square Wheelman, said...

The IL State Legislature passed the 3-foot Law this summer. It's a wonderful idea but here in The Windy City it can be impractical because of narrow space even on major streets.

Also, the Share the Road issue reminds me of a similar issue in Amish Country. After years of deadly accidents involving cars and the much slower buggies, cagers - sometimes - grudgingly accept the presence of the buggy-drivers. And for their part, the latter will pull over to let the former pass.

It's a compromise worthy of our attention, I believe.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

C-dog: Preacher to the CHOIR; Santa preaches only to LEPERS.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Steve A said...

The "line of sweetness avoids the problem Peter refers to, as well as the problem that Ed refers to. "The Line of Sweetness" is the right edge of the LH tire track.

If a motorist is going to change lanes, why not induce that motorist to reach the conclusion early?

3:33 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

A local cyclist was cited for 'failure to keep right' recently, Steve. The officer didn't know bike law or practice, nor did he care. When the case came up at traffic court, the judge - who was also ignorant of bicycling law and practices - found the cyclist guilty. I'll be writing about this once it's settled as I've been in contact with the cyclist.

The take away is that regardless of where you ride in the lane - unless you're a gutterbunny - the police and the courts don't give a damn about your legal rights.

3:42 PM  

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