55 mph highway & taking the lane

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Saturday, February 06, 2010
By Yokota Fritz


Those around the US westEAST coast: I hope you're enjoying the snow! Shoot your snow biking photos my way (links to Flickr or other photo sharing site) and I'll post them on Monday.

This is cool: The cyclist takes the lane on a 55 mph divided 4 lane highway with 12 foot lanes and 8 foot shoulders.



Discussion at Commute Orlando: Mythbusters on Highway 535.
To accuse a cyclist of being militant, selfish or rude for riding in the lane is nothing more than car-centric bias assuming the bicycle driver is of lesser status than the motor vehicle driver — especially in context of how easy it is to see and safely pass a cyclist.

Those of us who choose to ride in the lane vs the shoulder do not insist that others make the same choice if they are not comfortable with it. We simply provide information to allow others to make the choice based on something more than knee-jerk fear of the unknown. The only thing we insist upon is protecting our right to ride in the part of the road where we feel safest and most comfortable.





Yikes! Cyclists have been fighting shoulder rumble strips for years, so why do people like these wheel diverters all of a sudden?


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Comments:
US west coast snow? Here in Seattle, we had the warmest January since the temperatures began to be recorded in 1891.
 
I never thought taking the lane would cause drivers to give more passing space, so that is interesting. My biggest worry is that if a car can't move over and can't slow down quick enough, the cyclist will get hit.
 
Maybe I'm missing something, but this strikes me as just stupid. Room to ride on the right, so why annoy car drivers for no reason? Plus, at 55 even I, bike geek that I am, is not going to expect to come on a cyclist taking the lane FOR NO REASON other than they can.
 
I'm rather fond of shoulder rumble strips as long as the shoulder to the right of them is reasonably wide. It gives me a little extra assurance that drivers won't drift right and hit me while they're yakking on their phones.
 
I am all for taking the lane when the cyclist's speed approaches the speed of traffic or if it there are roadway obstructions making it unsafe for a car to pass. A 55mph to 17mph differential is too great... I have heard that cars driving on highways way under the speed limit are at greater risk of being hit ---and I assume this holds true for cyclists as well...
 
Yes Curtis, a cyclist's first concern should be to avoid annoying the car drivers. After all, we merely borrow roadway at their pleasure when they aren't using it. We must remember, they are far more important than us.

A competent driver expects ANYTHING to be in the roadway. Bicyclists, pedestrians, objects that have fallen from trucks. Drivers' first obligation is to watch the road ahead and avoid hitting things in their path.

How would a driver know if the bicyclist had NO REASON to be there? There are a lot of good reasons that are not detectable to a car driver.

If you want to surrender your rights to avoid annoying people with gross misperceptions of the "inconvenience" of having to change lanes, that's your choice. It doesn't bother me until you call my choice stupid.

I'll remind you that most progress toward equity and equality in history was made by people who refused to surrender their rights in the face of cultural bias.
 
I'm with Curtis. Taking the lane with this much room to ride and with this great a speed differential -- all in the name of proving a point -- is hard to rationalize.

The blather about competent drivers expecting ANYTHING (really? anything?) and "cultural bias" kind of reinforces the idea that for some people this is more about feeling powerful than feeling safe.
 
This is a toughie... Lane position is very important to me when riding in urban areas, where drivers often make sudden decisions of when to pass. I am more often than not in the middle of the lane to encourage safe passing instead of those treacherous squeezing passes. However, on roads 45mph or more, I'm not in the lane. The speed difference means that in a matter of seconds, when that texting driver happens to not notice a small bike on the road, I'm squished. Yes, they should all be competent drivers, but we all know that's not the case due to wonderful licensing procedures and lax penalties. Good luck to you for riding in the road, but I won't be joining you.

Yes, it's legal to cycle in the lane, but pissing off every driver is just going to make them hate cyclists more the next time they have to pass one. There's laws and there's courtesy - a good balance is what makes everyone happy. I read local transportation reports and it's scary how many comments are along the lines of "ban cyclists, they are always in my way." I have a sense that if cyclists are generally courteous and allow for easy passing, drivers wouldn't have as many hateful comments. Of course we can't please them all...
 
"west coast" -- ooops!
 
"Yes Curtis, a cyclist's first concern should be to avoid annoying the car drivers"... We are all (biker, driver, walker, whatever) trying to get somewhere. I usually use the golden rule when trying to figure out the right way to behave. I'm with Curtis on this one. Why do this? Almost all of my bike mileage is on crowded streets and there are sections where I take the lane. I have no problem with that and I believe people understand why I do it. The commenter seems to think that if it is legal it is ok to piss someone off, just because they sit in a steel cage, they are still human.
 
Do any of you who are afraid to upset other drivers, actually drive cars? I ask this because of the bizarre need you feel to mollycoddle your perceived feelings of other drivers. When I drive my car, I don't expect other drivers to be upset when they want to travel faster than I am proceeding, or worry that I am pissing them off. And I certainly don't drive at the edge of the road to make passing easier. I expect them to change lanes, and guess what? They do. Now here's the difficult part for some of you to grasp: when I drive my bike, I feel exactly the same way I do when I drive my car. I expect drivers moving faster than I am travelling to make lane changes to pass. It's normal driving behavior, and every driver does it. This irrational fear many of you have about upsetting other drivers is just plain silly in an overly sensitive and neurotic double-standard sort of way. Grow up and learn to drive your bicycles the same way we all drive our cars. It's not difficult...

Cyclists are Drivers!

You can watch more of this kind of driver behavior in this lane control video on our YouTube channel, "CyclistLorax":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1C3qqhW6Aw

Dan "CyclistLorax" Gutierrez
Long Beach, CA
LCI #962
CA Assoc. of Bicycling Orgs. D7 Director
http://www.CyclistView.com
http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=CyclistLorax#g/u
 
Our primary purpose with this video was to help a Texas cyclist with his citations for "impeding traffic." We could not exactly duplicate his conditions, which include a very poorly maintained shoulder; one much narrower than the one shown here.

Our key point was not that cyclists should control the lane along this particular road (indeed, I would normally use the shoulder there), but that reasonably careful motorists (who are the vast majority) have no trouble seeing, passing and avoiding a cyclist in this situation.
 
Be safe out there! Road rage and an aggressive attitude are a no-win mix no matter what you're driving. At those speeds, you'll need not only the law on your side, but also physics, a heightened sense of awareness, and snap-second defensive techniques. Smile and wave a lot. Ride in whatever position protects you the most and achieves the highest values for the above parameters. If you're not frightened a little bit by the high-speed two ton steel death machines flying past you, you may not have thought this through completely.
 
Cyclists sure are intolerant people. I hope ChipSeal doesn't have any cyclists on his jury.

Does a rational person get pissed off at having to change lanes (without delay, even!)? In several passes of that road, none of the car drivers even honked.

There are 2 lanes going in the same direction, why is it an outrage for a cyclist to use one of them?

We see cyclists cramming themselves onto 2-foot shoulders, riding through debris and bad pavement, and doing so where riding in the lane would cause no inconvenience to anyone. They do this out of fear, and they do it out of feeling they're not legitimate users of the public roads. We made the video to help people find balance. So they can make a choice based on reality rather than fear, superstition or taboo. Maybe most people wouldn't choose to ride in the lane if the shoulder is 8ft wide, but maybe this will help more choose the lane when the shoulder is 2 or 3 feet wide.

We also made it to help lawfully-riding cyclists defend themselves against unlawful arrest.
 
"If you're not frightened a little bit by the high-speed two ton steel death machines flying past you, you may not have thought this through completely."

I'm the cyclist in that video, and you can be damned sure I "thought it through completely." Frightened? No. Aware and concerned? Absolutely. I haven't survived 40 years and over 160,000 miles of cycling by being stupid.

Do I believe this approach presents zero risk? No. But neither does cycling on the shoulder. Inattentive drivers have a tendency to drift to the shoulder. As I pointed out in my first comment, we're trying to help a cyclist with his legal problems. We are not criticizing cyclists who use the shoulder; we are trying to show that a competent motorist can easily deal with a cyclist in such a situation.

If there were no paved shoulder on this roadway, would commenters here say a cyclist shouldn't use the road at all?

If there's a serous problem out there with inattentive motorists, let's attack that problem together, instead of attacking one another.
 
Mighk said "reasonably careful motorists (who are the vast majority) have no trouble seeing, passing and avoiding a cyclist in this situation."

The issue is that even if MOST drivers are watching out for all road users, there's always the one that isn't. By riding on a fast road where drivers have a higher chance of not seeing a bike, the cyclist is at much greater risk because of the speed difference. Of course it's the riders choice, but to me it just seems like a gamble that I don't wish to take.
 
I am a long time commuter (17+ years) but only recently did I change my behavior on the advice of a Bike Ambassador from the Cascade Bicycle club here in Seattle.

She said, (paraphrasing):
'taking the lane puts the approaching driver in a position to make a choice about you as a user of the lane. They look for a spot to pass, slow down as necessary, and make the pass just like you are a car in "your" lane.'
and
'if you are hugging the lane line or the curb nearly every driver doesn't think to make that same choice and instead buzzes right by out of a mixture of ignorance (at how close they really are) or annoyance at being squeezed in "their" lane without much room to move over. They weren't forced to make a choice so they don't - they just squeeze by.'

Already experienced and comfortable on the road, I immediately changed my behavior. I owned the lane where before I merely "borrowed a piece" and it works.

Over the course of an entire year the number of cases of honks/yells/harrassment, drive by's, right hooks, left crosses, blind driveway entries, all of it - the number of these types of incidents (happening or nearly happening) have plummeted to near nothing. Act like a car and they pretty much treat you like a car.

I am so much more visible for every road user (pedestrians too) that there isn't a question in my mind - taking the lane is safer, period.

It stands, therefore, to reason that even on a 55MPH freeway, especially with visibility and conditions like this, the best place to be is in the lane. Every situation is different and the point (that the cyclist is absolutely not obstructing traffic) was made very clearly by these folks.

It's not a power trip, it's not an ego thing and the only point is that it just plain works.
 
GeekGuyAndy wrote:

"The issue is that even if MOST drivers are watching out for all road users, there's always the one that isn't."

True. But once again, we created this to help a cyclist defending himself against an unjust charge of bicycling in the roadway.

Should a cyclist be prohibited from using the roadway because a small percentage of motorists are so incompetent that they can't see a cyclist plainly visible in front of them?

Or in other words, should a cyclist be banned from roadway use because other roadway users are driving illegally?

If so, then a pedestrian should not be permitted to enter a crosswalk unless all approaching vehicles have stopped. But that's not what the law says about pedestrians. It says a pedestrian may enter the crosswalk as long as the approaching vehicles have time and distance to stop or yield.

Dictating pedestrian and bicyclist behavior based on illegal motorist behavior strikes be as legal insanity. What's next, we arrest women walking in dangerous neighborhoods because they might get raped?
 
Ok calm down now Mighk... I said it's the riders choice. You can choose to ride in the road if you want, and that should be legal in my mind. I'm an experienced rider and everyday commuter myself, and I have no problem taking the lane on city roads. But once the speeds are 45mph and up, I don't feel it necessary or safe to take the lane solo. YMMV...
 
My last comment was not really for you Andy, but for those who think "this is just stupid" and feel justified in criticizing those who utilize lane control on higher-speed roads.
 
Thanks for the comments here, all. This was posted Saturday night and I honestly didn't think this post would generate so much conversation!

The wide shoulder is probably a bit of a distraction -- there are plenty of 45 - 55 mph roads without shoulders. Your choices are to hug the fog line or take the lane. Keri's video shows that taking the lane works and doesn't necessarily endanger the cyclist or even inconvenience the motorist.

If you haven't read it yet, there's much more discussion about the purpose of this video at Commute Orlando.
 
If you are going to use a bicycle on the roads, then knowing the best practices is important. If swimming, flapping your arms like a bird is counterproductive. Similarly, riding too far right in the lane is also counterproductive, enabling and encouraging the exact opposite behavior in motorists that you want.

Counterintuitively, by operating further into the lane, you compel motorists to give you more room. Motorcyclists are taught to manage their lane space, but typical bicyclists are way behind the curve on this, much the same as long time recreational swimmers who never bother to understand the proper mechanics of efficient swimming.
 
I'm really intrigued by the commenters that prefer to ride in the lane on 55mph roads. I have two questions:

1) At what speed of traffic would you be willing to cycle at in the lane? (I'm comfortable at 30mph, the next fastest around here is 45mph, and I'm on the shoulder then.)

2) What width shoulder makes that preferable to riding in the lane? For example, if a 55mph road has a 5' shoulder, would you prefer the shoulder or the lane?
 
You travel 200 miles and spend $300 to ride on a designated bikeway that's actually a shoulder. When you get there, the shoulder is missing because of a reconstruction project that's been left unfinished because of cost overruns. Do you shrug and go home?
 
Here's another example -- bikes are permitted on Interstate Highway 5 in parts of Northern California. The shoulder disappears for significant stretches, e.g. on this bridge over Shasta Lake, or look at this fun view from Google Maps. If you're traveling north from Redding, this bridge is pretty much your only option.
 
Unfortunately on my local streets, 55 mph is witnessed daily even though the posted limit is 35 and no shoulders. But the problem isn't just taking the lane but being seen especially at higher driving speeds since reaction time is much shorter to avoid dangerous, life threatening situations. SUVs have made these sight line issues more problematic.
Jack
 
Zendude... I didn't think so either. Then I was cruising down a 45 or 55 mph road (if it was 45, the cars were doing 55 anyway) and cars were buzzing us regularly. We moved out.
They stopped buzzing us.
As with Lief, I was surprised too ... but even now, on our quieter streets, when I get buzzed by a car it's almost always when I've drifted over to the right.
Also to my surprise, the honks and expressions of annoyance went down (including the accelerate as they go by thing).
Indeed, "it only takes one." However, the inattentive driver is actually, significantly *more* likely to not see me when I"m on the shoulder, and yes, drivers swerve over there a lot, especially while using paraphernalia. (Remember Matt Wilhelm?)
It's counterintuitive... but human behavior sometimes is. DO you still think sidewalks are safer than the road, too? Before I tried it, I'd read people saying "you have to assert yourself" and did, wrongly, think it was a "statement." Now I know better.
 
(Oh, but for full disclosure... I basically don't have to ride on 55 mph roads. We've got better options.
As to the worry that a car "can't move over and can't slow down," that depends on the driver seeing me... which happens **much** sooner if I'm out in the lane, so there's more room to slow down and move over. I also have a nice rear view mirror, so I *can* swerve right when a true idiot's coming.
 
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