Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hugging the fog line...

I've taken a tiny excerpt from The Cycling Dude blog, and focused on a common cycling complaint. Since I've been in a problem/solution mode all week, of course I couldn't resist this one. The blog covers much, much more than this excerpt would imply, and it's truly worth reading. The piece is titled: "Do Cyclists have the same rights as cars?" My immediate response is, yes, within the limits of the law, they do. Debating the point is unnecessary.

Greg Dobbs wrote:

...some son-of-a-you-know-what of a driver — or maybe the daughter-of-a-you-know-what — nearly knocked me off the road. I wasn’t hogging the lane; I heard the car behind me, saw it in the mirror that hangs from my handlebar, and hugged the shoulder. But the driver came close to either accidentally killing me … or trying to kill me.

So here's the problem. Greg is riding along the very edge of the pavement, believing that by doing so he's being courteous and considerate of other road users. Yet some motorists insist on returning that courtesy by buzzing past his handlebar dangerously close. The problem is how to encourage motorists to overtake with more space separating them from a cyclist, giving the cyclist ample room for safety.

There are two solutions. First, its possible to build a bicycle lane that gives lateral separation from traffic at a cost of about $1 million per mile. I won't belabor the problems with bike lanes. They're commonly known and recognized, so there's no need to cover that ground again.

Second, and to my way of thinking, the preferable solution, is to take the lane by riding in the right-hand tire track. This is a simple solution that actually works, though many cyclists simply refuse to attempt it or even consider it. John Forester calls this "fear from the rear" and the fear is very real. The risk is vastly overstated, but the fear is real nonetheless.

Let's be clear about one thing: I'm not blaming Greg for this. It's ALWAYS the responsibility of an overtaking motorist (or cyclist, or motorcyclist, as the case may be) to do so in a safe manner.

When a cyclist hugs the shoulder, motorists will 'thread the needle' between him and oncoming traffic. Many have difficulty judging where the right side of their car is, and when they have to make a decision at speed, they dither too long. As a result, the cyclist gets squeezed.

But when the cyclist occupies the right-hand tire track, he takes away that option. Motorists are VERY good at avoiding what's directly in front of them. This takes away the necessity for a judgment call, and makes the decision much easier. They slow down, wait until it's safe to pass, then go around the cyclist. A cyclist isn't being rude or arrogant by taking the lane. He's increasing his own safety, and safety is always our first priority.

Here's another way to look at it. Riding the fog line and having traffic whizz by your elbow is obviously dangerous and unsafe. Nothing in the law requires any lawful road user to operate in an unsafe manner. So move further left.

Taking the lane isn't rocket science. It doesn't require a leap of faith like a religious experience. It can be tested if only cyclists will try. One of my co-workers was astonished to find how easy it was to ride on four lane arterials when he took the right hand lane. There's ample passing room. Cars simply move over into the other lane and go around. Like I said, it isn't rocket science, but it does work.


Blogger John said...

I was one of those folks who religiously hugged the curb. But I've finally gotten wise to the idea that staying a little farther left is actually safer. Not sure if it prompts motorists to pass more safely, but it makes me much more visible to motorists emerging from driveways and side streets. They don't pull out in front of me nearly as often now.

8:10 AM  

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