Monday, March 31, 2008

Take the lane (Revised)

By Brian P and Ed W...

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.

(Image from Bicycling is Better, with an excellent discussion of lane positioning.)

"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 thingŠ

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 closelyŠ which (my silly verbal mind; it takes words to make anything happen) made me think "oh, yea! I've read that if we move outŠ" 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 againŠ the drivers got better. Amazing how educable they are! (Used by permission of Siouxgenoz.)

Some cyclists think that it's rude or arrogant to take the lane. Some think the practice antagonizes motorists unnecessarily. My response to that it 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 or gutter is definitely not safe. Yes, overtaking motorists may have to slow down and wait to pass. The law requires them to do so. A cyclist who asserts his lane position increases everyone's safety. Stop worrying 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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