Thursday, August 7, 2008

Coexistence 2: Bicycles Taking The Lane

carbikelove

Why is there a cyclist in the middle of the road? Aren't they supposed to ride to the right?


There are a number of reasons that a cyclist or group of cyclists may do what is commonly referred to as "taking the lane". Taking the lane is legal under certain circumstances which can make riding to the right hazardous and it is at the cyclists discretion what constituents a hazardous riding condition. Preparing to make a left turn is also a legally protected reason for a cyclist to take a lane. For the official legal language concerning riding to the right and taking the lane see C.V.C. 21202.

Common reasons for taking the lane include but are not limited to the following:
  • The right shoulder of the road is often in the worst condition. Although cyclists are generally expected to ride there, often times when roads are repaved the right shoulder is skipped over. Large potholes, deep cracks, broken glass, and storm grates with openings wide enough to swallow bike tires are some of the things that can force cyclists further to the center of the lane. Bike tires are much thinner and at higher pressure than car tires so more care must be taken to avoid such obstacles when cycling. In a nutshell, when the road gets rough, cyclists need more clearance than usual to avoid hazards.


  • When parallel parking is adjacent to the road, the region that a car door extends, known as the door zone, is an unpredictable and extremely hazardous area for cyclists to ride. Due to the prevalent nature of door related cycling injuries, which can even cause death if the fallen cyclist is pushed into oncoming traffic, most experienced cyclists will ride far enough left to be clear of the "door zone." This hazard is almost always the case when parallel parking lines the street, which is common throughout Los Angeles. Sometimes bike lanes are entirely within the door zone, an example of traffic engineering that encourages accidents. A fully open door can extend the hazard of a parked car by four feet into the roadway and often an exiting motorist opens without looking at all, or only a passing glance.



    • Safety Lesson For Motorists: Please, please, for the love of God, look for oncoming traffic before opening your car door, and remember that cyclists are smaller and further to the right than oncoming cars, so look carefully. I've lost count of how many people who have nearly hit me, who were looking for something in the passenger seat with their right hand hand while they slammed their door open with the left. A door may seem like such a mundane object that you open without thinking about it, but carelessness can render it a potentially fatal weapon. Mindfulness is key here, wait until you have left your car for multitasking.
    • Safety Lesson For Cyclists: Remaining clear of the door zone is a common reason that I will ride in the center of the lane, or to the far left of a bike lane when present, and doing so has prevented me from harm in numerous near miss door encounters. Never ride directly next to car doors, stay as far left as is comfortable. Motorists may be annoyed that they will have to go around you, but trust me, you do not want a door to launch you into oncoming traffic like a pin ball machine. I find it best to to find a good middle ground, being far enough right to not be too annoying to car traffic, potentially still within door range, but enough left that I give my self room for reaction time and to swerve if necessary. Here are some additional tips:
      • Keep an eye out for the presence of a driver or passengers by looking through the rear windows of cars as you pass them, as this is an obvious clue that the door could open any moment.
      • Use your ears. Listen for the click that always precedes the door coming open. Also helpful is being conscious of traffic behind you, so that if you need to suddenly move left to avoid a door, you are not placing your self into the path of an oncoming car.
      • While we are talking about parked cars, also hazardous is a parallel parked car that pulls out suddenly. A subtle clue that this is about to happen is the wheel alignment of the car. If you see the wheels move or are angled toward the street, the car may exit the space at any moment.

  • When a cyclist is moving at the speed of traffic they are no longer a slower moving vehicle and are no longer obligated to move to the right, regardless of road conditions. In this situation most cyclists will move to take the center of the lane so that they are more visible to other traffic. Most commonly this situation is when peak traffic congestion has slowed car movement to bicycle speeds or slower, or on downhills of sufficiently steep grade that a cyclist can move at the speed limit.

  • When trying to make a left turn a cyclist is allowed to change lanes in order to move over to a left turning lane. To the inexperienced cyclist, this can be intimidating, so some cyclists use the cross walk to make turns. However, bikes are legally allowed to make left turns with other vehicles, regardless of what the gentleman harassing fellow cycling blogger Bike Girl, had to say on the matter.
    • Safety Lesson For Cyclists: When making a turn, use proper hand signals to indicate to motorists your intention to turn. It's also best to learn the quick glance over the shoulder while holding a straight line, so that you can see cars behind you. Besides seeing the cars, this also communicates through body language a desire to move over in addition to the hand signal.

      turnSignals
    • Safety Lesson For Motorists: If you see a cyclist trying to get over to make a left, be patient and allow the cyclist some space. Keep in mind that cyclists are expected to ride to the far right until it is time to turn, unlike a car which can enter the left lane long before a turn is made in anticipation. If you are close behind the cyclist it may make more sense to pass, but try to be sure the cyclist is aware of your intention before accelerating. Be aware of the hand signals above, it is required knowledge for a drivers license, and should your turn signals break, you are required to hand signal until the problem is fixed.
  • When the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass a cyclist, known as a substandard lane width, this is another instance where a cyclist is allowed to take the lane. In such a case, a motorist is expected to wait until it is safe to merge to the next lane and pass. Typically this is more the case with smaller side streets than main through ways. Cyclists often plan routes incorporating side streets to avoid heavy car traffic. However as the main through ways of the city crowd beyond capacity more motorists are taking side streets and expecting to drive at through way speeds in spite of the road not being designed for such a use. I see this a lot on certain very narrow stretches of Franklin with street parking, just North of often packed streets like Hollywood Blvd & Sunset. This is an inevitable problem as outdated roads are repurposed for new uses and population growth continues pushing more traffic. It may be easy to blame the cyclist for delay in such a case, but it's a complex issue that is not going to be easily solved, especially with dwindling budgets for infrastructure improvements.
Keep in mind, that although these are quite a number of valid reasons for a cyclist to take the lane, it generally constitutes a small proportion of a cyclists miles. We're just trying to get where we're going in one piece, and most cyclists will gladly give ample passing room as soon as it is safe to do so.

I've often confronted confusion about bicycles in the road, and I hope these points have answered some questions or given some helpful advice, wether you are a cyclist, a motorist, or both. This information comes both from reading safety literature, and my thousands of miles of experience cycling the streets of Los Angeles, with an occasional car trip in there too. Ride safe, drive safe, and keep the good times rolling.


(Click for the first post in the Bicycle & Automobile Coexistence series.)

20 comments:

bikinginla said...

Great advice, especially on how to avoid getting doored. I'd add a few thoughts, like look for the presence of brake or backup lights to indicate that a car might pull out, or that it just pulled in and the door may open. I also watch for faces in the driver's side mirrors. That tells me if someone is in the car, which means it could pull out or the door might open. And if I can't make eye contact with any driver I see in a mirror, it's safe to assume that driver doesn't see me.

I wish every driver could read this, as well. Maybe you should send a link to Damien at Streetsblog (la.streetsblog.org) and the Times' Bottleneck Blog (latimesblogs.latimes.com/bottleneck) to start a wider conversation.

Damien Newton said...

Thanks, BikinginLA, saw this one on Ridazz, it'll be up on Streetsblog later today.

speeddemon0117 said...

I am not at all confused. Everything that you say here makes perfect sense to me. Drivers always seem to get confused when they see cyclists in the road.

speeddemon0117 said...

Blog of a discontented conforming non-conformist

Gary said...

@ Damien: Thanks for the plug on the LA Streetsblog.

@ speeddemon0117: The confusion aspect was addressed mostly toward motorists, and I'm hoping to get a dialogue going with all road users about these issues.

Matthew Conroy said...

This is good advice.

Some grammar corrections: the four instances of the word "then" in this article should be replaced with "than". For example, "Bike tires are much thinner and at higher pressure than car tires ..."

cheers,

Matt

Damien Newton said...

Check it out, the Streetsblog article got picked up by the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/bike-culture

All the way at the bottom, there's a bunch of links in their "other stories" section

jeremy said...

My only problem with you cyclists is when you break common laws. I am to believe that cyclist must follow normal traffic laws if they expect vehicles to respect them. Untill every cyclists stops at a stop sign and doesn't come jetting out in front of me during 5 o'clock traffic from a side street, or randomly comes into the lane im in causing me to have to apply enough breaks to break traction, I will not respect anything written on here.

One such occasion was in malibu, ca. We were towing a large load and a cyclist came into the lane of traffic, even when the shoulder was wide enough and had no opsticles. We were travelling at 50 mph or so, we almost could not stop. This is clearly a case of a "vehicle" on the road pulling into traffic without looking. Later down the highway the cyclist caught up with us and started to confront us. "You almost hit me you F*** off" and such. I told him he must follow standard vehicle laws and if we were to hit him it was his fault.

I know not everyone here is like this, but can you please keep this lesson going. I've had way to many close calls with cyclists.

Bikers watch out, i think next time i will hit you when you jet out without stopping at that stop sign, or cross 3 lanes of traffic without signalling or looking.

Anonymous said...

Well Jeremy, how bout you try out get your fat a$$ off the couch and try riding a bike. then you might not want to hit riders so bad. you might see that piles of dirt in the on the shoulder that don't look like obstacles to you are obstacles to bikes. And its not our fault the sides of the roads are left out by street cleaners. Also if the stop lights EVER turned green for bikes then we wouldn't have to run red lights.

Good article Gary. Saw this on Ridazz and Im jealous of your bike awareness in LA.

Gary said...

While I appreciate the defense of the post Anonymous, I do want to try and keep the discussion civil, even if some take it in a sour direction. I'm preparing a lengthy response to Jeremy's post, and will post it as a new post, since it is characteristic of many responses I have seen in other forums and I want to address some of those points for all to read.

Anonymous said...

jeremy, i hope you come back here and review for comments because i must know what an opsticle is. now, on to your post...since you were clipping along at 50 mph, how would you know there were no opsticles that the biker saw that you didn't that could have caused him to unexpectedly swerve into your lane? Why is it that motorists only remember when a bicycle rolls through a stop sign? No one talks about those darn jaywalkers or those impatient motorists who coined the phrase years ago, a "california stop" which isn't much of a stop at all. The bicyclist is only endangering himself when he rolls through and while I don't condone it, I do understand why it's done, stopping and starting is slow on a bike and to make the bicycle ride as quick & efficient as possible means a minimum of stops/starts. Relax, don't hit any cyclists, I'm glad I no longer live in L.A. County.

jeremy said...

I laugh at you all. Get out of the street or i will hit you...putting a new push bar on my car tommorrow. I had a cyclist run a red light on a very very busy street today...nearly got rear ended due to him running the light. Next time i wont hit the brakes...you need to start following the rules of the road, and get your ass in the bike lane. you dont need those skinny ass tires on there, go buy something that can let you roll through that teaspoon of sand. I think next time i have someone that doesnt follow the rules of the road, i will show the consequences...after reading this i did start checking before i open my door, but with the responses i got i will no longer do this. have fun go end over end and dying. lol.

Gary said...

Jeremy, I have a lengthy response to your first comment needed to finish up, sort of forgot about it. I intended to put it up when I get back to blogging, taking a little break right now. This second comment though, it seems maybe taking you seriously was the wrong thing to do since now you sound either like an internet prankster or certifiably psychopathic. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.

jeremy said...

Indeed it is, i just get frustrated when people expect others to watch out for them, when if fact they should watch out for themselves. Sometimes i just want to shout out "Didn't your mom ever teach not to play in the street." Don't get me wrong, there are some of you out there that do follow right of way and what nots. My comments are not directed toward you, its towards those who shoot out of a neighborhood street onto a two lane 40mph+ street through a redlight.

Gary said...

If you read the vehicle code there is a responsibility for all road users to look out for others. This does not absolve the responsibility of anyone, cyclists included, to follow the rules and common sense, but it's important for the smooth and safe operation of our roads that we keep an eye out for each other.

There are a lot of cyclists who do stupid things and I sometimes tell them so to their face, which isn't usually well received. However there are a lot of automobile drivers who behave in clueless ways as well, and with a greater potential to harm others.

Education and respect are I think the only constructive ways to go forward. Motorists threatening to hit cyclists, and cyclists talking about mob justice against cars with u-locks, are not going to get us anywhere.

danceralamode said...

Gary! Fantastic article! I read a pamphlet on bike commuting before I started almost 2 years ago, and had a fellow experienced cyclist at work fill me in on the do's and don'ts. I find that in the end, whether driving or biking (or walking across the street for that matter) it's all about being as vigilant as possible about your own safety, which seems to be the premise of your post.

I second the motion to have every driver in LA read this or try to bike to work for one week. I became a much safer and more cautious driver once I started biking.

Thanks again!

Emma said...

Jeremy - At what point in our society did it become okay to threaten, injure, maim, and/or kill someone because he/she does not follow a traffic law? Not to mention a traffic law created for motor vehicles. For someone so concerned with being respected on the road, I would think you would hold human life more valuable. Sort it out man.

BobS said...

You left out two other common reasons a cyclist might be farther left than a motorist might expect:
(1) To pass a slower moving cyclist or vehicle (CVC 21202(a)(1) and 21208(a)(1)). Never pass on the right because that puts you in the driver's blind spot. That's especially important as you approach an intersection.
(2) At a location where a right turn is authorized (CVC 21202(a)(4) and 21208(a)(4)). Riding too far right encourages a right turning driver to rush past, brake hard, and turn right - which results in the cyclist being right hooked. Ride far enough left as you approach an intersection so that right-turning drivers can merge to the curb (CVC 22100(a) and maybe 21717) to make the turn to your right.

fuchsia g said...

Watching for drivers sitting in parked cars is not sufficient. I know someone who was doored by a very short woman who was not visble above the head rest. Just ride outside the door zone; you have enough to watch out for already.

I signal both left and right turns with my right arm (to signal left, I mirror the standard right turn signal.) Those hand signals were designed for drivers, and I need my left hand for braking.

Cyclist_Lorax said...

I think it is easier to understand what lane control (a better term for the act, than the archaic term "taking the lane", which conjures images of theft or impropriety - after all when I'm in the center of lane I am controlling it against too close in-lane passing, I'm not "taking" anything, and neither is any other driver who is controlling a lane!) looks like in practice by viewing it with dynamic video than to "talk" about it:

The rights and duties of cyclists:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU4nKKq02BU

Lane Control in Long Beach, CA:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yp32rEpecQ

Lane Control in Orlando, FL:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=adTpGj2MFec

Lane Control in San Luis Obispo, CA:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2RZMANlHls

Lane Control in Dallas, TX:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B18Pwdnybo

We also have Roundabout and Traffic Circle video showing lane control on the "CyclistLorax" Chanel on YouTube. You can also view these videos on the Cyclist View website at the link below, just click on the "InnerTube" link

- Dan Gutierrez -
http://www.CyclistView.com