Safe Cycling

A Florida bicycling group tells its members to ride in the middle of any lane that is less than 14 feet wide. An animation explains why doing so is safer for the cyclist and notes that (in Florida, at least) “a cyclist is entitled to use the full width of a lane that is less than 14 feet wide.”

“We ride with traffic, follow the rules, communicate, and move predictably,” says another Florida cycling group. “We do not ride on the edge of the road.” (The two web sites are so much in lock-step with one another that they were no doubt funded by the same government program.)

I guess this is time for the Antiplanner’s annual bicycle rant. As an active cyclist, I am in sympathy with the notion that cyclists are entitled to use the full lane when necessary. But I would never suggest that anyone do so except in specific circumstances. In particular, I would only regularly use a full lane when traffic is slow enough (perhaps because signals are timed to 15 to 20 mph) that I can keep up without delaying other vehicles.

When traffic is going faster than a cyclist can maintain, taking up a whole lane is selfish, politically hazardous, and generally unnecessary. While cyclists dread the thought of being hit from behind, such collisions are very rare. The best available data, which admittedly are somewhat old, suggest that autos hitting cyclists when overtaking them make up less than 5 percent of all auto-bicycle collision. Based on my own experience (which sadly includes several auto-bicycle collisions, all of which took place at intersections), that sounds about right.

The curious thing about the animation is that three of the four possible auto-bicycle collisions it presents are at intersections. The same data indicate that intersections are the location of more than half of all auto-bike collisions. But since major intersections tend to be spaced about a mile apart, is it really necessary for cyclists to hold up traffic for all the intervening miles? I don’t think so: Bicyclists can find other ways to avoid those collisions at intersections through such tactics as making themselves visible to drivers and making eye contact before entering the intersections.

Many bike route planners are guilty of the same error as the Florida cyclists: they worry too much about the rare car-overtaking-bicycle accident and not enough about the much-more-common intersection collision. The above photo shows a typical bike lane (the portion to the right of the solid white line) that disappears near the intersection then reappears on the other side of the cross street. In other words, many cities’ efforts to protect cyclists end just when the cyclists need the most help.

In sum, cyclists should feel free to take a full lane when they can do so without delaying traffic. They should also move to the center of the lane when approaching problematic intersections if doing so will increase their visibility and prevent collisions. They should also move towards the center to avoid potholes and debris, but only after signaling to motorists that they are moving to the left. A general policy of occupying a full lane is not warranted for safety or other reasons.

Unfortunately, movements such as Critical Mass have given cyclists a sense of moral superiority and entitlement. This self-rightousness comes through when the Florida cyclists try to answer the question, “Bicyclists don’t pay gas taxes; why should they be allowed on roads?” (sixth question down). “I pay for the roads when I drive,” they say, “so I should get to bicycle on them for free.” Yes, and you paid for the gallon of milk you bought at Whole Foods last week, but that doesn’t entitle you to take a carton of cottage cheese from Whole Foods this week. “But the Declaration of Independence says ‘all men are created equal,'” they sputter. Yes, and you have an equal right (and obligation) to pay for what you use. (The Antiplanner thinks states should dedicate a tax on bicycle tires to bike ways and bike safety programs.)

As the Florida cyclists point out, roads are a public right of way. But not every right of way is available to every member of the public. Most freeways, for example, are closed to slow-moving vehicles, while some streets and other rights-of-way are closed to motor vehicles. Like everyone else, cyclists are subject to the law, and if a relative handful of cyclists unnecessarily clog up the roads, they might find the law changing and not in their favor.

I have always believed that bicycles and motor vehicles are compatible. The real question should be how we can design our transportation systems so both can operate safely. Instead of fighting for space with cars on busy streets, it makes more sense for cyclists to advocate for bicycle boulevards, which are parallel routes used only by motor vehicles for local traffic but signed for bicycles. In most cities, parallel routes are laden with stop signs (to discourage through traffic), which is a major problem for cyclists who don’t want to stop and accelerate every block or so.

Unfortunately, the same people who promote bicycle boulevards also promote curb extensions and other forms of traffic calming that are profoundly anti-bicycle. Their real goal is to create an auto-hostile environment, not to promote mobility. Instead of policies that favor one mode over another, transportation policies should focus on safety, mobility, and cost-effectiveness.

Share

22 thoughts on “Safe Cycling

  1. the highwayman

    Motorists shouldn’t be favored by the government most of the time.

    Though that is what you are paid by Koch to promote Mr.O’Toole.

  2. prk166

    “When traffic is going faster than a cyclist can maintain, taking up a whole lane is selfish, politically hazardous, and generally unnecessary. ” -The AntiPlanner

    Here’s the Florida law on the subject :
    “The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle.”

    Most other states have similar laws to the above. Most states are also like Florida in that they do state in their statutes that cyclists do have the right to control a lane that is not wide enough to share with a vehicle and at that state it’s 14′.

    I fail to see how the placement is selfish. Why is it selfish to be a foot or two over? Why would all these states enact all these laws specifically stating otherwise? Wouldn’t it also be selfish of drivers in a car expect to be completely unimpeded? After all, no matter where in the lane they’re legally obligated to get out and pass with a safe distance. And to do that, they need to get into the other lane, the oncoming lane, to carry that out as the law dictates.

    What’s next? Calling it selfish for pedestrians to expect autos to stop for them while they’re in the cross walk?

    “They should also move towards the center to avoid potholes and debris, but only after signaling to motorists that they are moving to the left. A general policy of occupying a full lane is not warranted for safety or other reasons.” -The Antiplanner

    Signalling? Are you on a Big Wheel and going 4mph? When you’re riding at 15-20mph, one doesn’t have time to signal to avoid a pot hole or debris. And what are you signalling? Are you signalling a left turn? A change to the lane to a left? No, you’re signalling that your swerving. THERE IS NO LEGALLY DEFINED SIGNAL FOR THAT SO WHAT IS ONE TO “SIGNAL”? That sort of situation is exactly why states laws refer to a safe passing distance. That’s why getting out in the right wheel rutt and even center is a good practice at all times. You’ll have the room to swerve further from the right. If you hug the shoulder you only have the option of swerving to the left. And hugging the shoulder also encourages a lot more vehicles to squeeze through, increasing your chances of swerving left and getting wacked.

  3. Neal Meyer

    I do not ride a bicycle, but this post got me to thinking of bicycles and accidents. FWIW – I have witnessed four accidents in my life that involved a bicyclist and someone driving a motor vehicle. In every instance, the motorist hit the cyclist. Also, all four of those accidents took place at intersections.

    Admittedly, four accidents does not a sample make, but I would not be surprised if the data on the subject were to show that most accidents between cyclists and motorists do in fact take place at intersections.

  4. Jardinero1

    Everybody has a right to protect their bodies on the road. The civil statutes of the state codify this right with rules for bicycle use on public roadways. It is a bizarre moral argument that one should not follow the civil statutes, and endanger oneself, just so a driver doesn’t have to slow down or, God forbid, yield to a cyclist. Bravo Antiplanner.

  5. stevenplunk

    I’ve been riding for more than 30 years and agree completely with the Antiplanner. Common sense should be used by all cyclists and we should also remember we will lose when pitting our roads rights against the reality of an automobile’s mass.

    The fact is cities and bicycling groups don’t always help the cause. Bike lanes appear and disappear, bike routes are often randomly placed, critical mass types are simply jackasses, and long term planning for bikes generally ignores practical matters.

  6. Scott

    Highman, Yeah, it’s just so unfair how the gov favors motorists: skipping ahead in medical lines, faster mail, lower taxes, better libraries, special treatment at the DMV. It sure is great to be a motorist.
    How does the gov do it, in favoring 92% of all households?

    And those Koch roads, they’re all over the place, with more lanes being added all the time.

  7. Borealis

    I cycle a lot for recreation, so I try to be patient with bicycles when I am driving. Most drivers seem patient with cyclists if they are in the lane for short periods of times to avoid obstacles (including water puddles) and for intersection safety. But I would imagine a cyclist just blocking a lane for no apparent reason when cars could go much faster would trigger a lot of road rage.

    I think the legalistic arguments for “savvy cycling” are weak. Cyclists commonly violate traffic rules, which is widely tolerated if it doesn’t impede anyone else. I doubt many cyclists would want to follow all traffic rules all the time — full stop at stop signs, signaling, lighting, maximum speed on downhills, minimum speed on uphills, etc. When was the last time you saw a cyclist come to a full stop at a stop sign, especially if they have pedal clips?

  8. Ryan1200

    Randal,

    John Forester (who was an ADC guest speaker) did an analysis of the effects of cyclists on surrounding traffic using an estimated passenger-car equivalent (PCE) for cyclists in Chapter 8 of his book Bicycle Transportation. He showed the effects are mostly negligible, i.e. the amount of measurable delay on most roads is very small. Since then I’ve seen other similar calculations for the PCE of cyclists; none are greater than 1.0, except in specific circumstances such as a narrow 2-lane road with heavy traffic (which is really in need of widening anyways). Being a fraction of a percent of traffic in most places, the overall impact is more perceived then real I think, I wouldn’t be surprised if mail trucks, garbage trucks and tractor trailers produced more measurable traffic delay than cyclists.

    If cyclists should pay for road use as you seem to imply, then I think you would agree that a fee based on road wear and tear and time costs imposed on others (for traffic delay) would be appropriate. I don’t know if anyone has measured the former, but I think it’s safe to say the latter is pretty small but the two combined may be worthy of some kind of fee. Many cities have tried bicycle licensing and fees and all proved more expensive for overhead and collections than the revenue could cover as far as I know, so that tends to be mostly impractical. I don’t know if my 700×23 road tires impart much wear on a typical road, but my chain lube overspray may have some adverse environmental impacts.

    I do agree that groups such as Critical Mass have done substantial damage to cycling advocacy. I think the FBA riding tips are mostly a response to city governments, transportation planners and even other cycling advocates that promote dangerous cycling facilities, some which have mandatory use (such as in Oregon) and present significant safety and legal problems for cyclists. FBA is currently fighting a mandatory bike lane law recently enacted which considerably reduces cyclists’ legal rights and can impart additional and disproportionally greater liability and fault in an accident.

  9. the highwayman

    Scott said: Those Koch roads, they’re all over the place, with more lanes being added all the time.

    THWM: Socialism is great isn’t it.

  10. Spokker

    Critical Mass is awful but they are not representative of all cyclists. There are actually splinter groups that denounce what Critical Mass does.

    However, cyclists should take the full lane when appropriate. It isn’t that hard to switch to another lane and pass them.

  11. Spokker

    “When was the last time you saw a cyclist come to a full stop at a stop sign, especially if they have pedal clips?”

    Yesterday.

    The guy actually had some balls. He was cycling on a very busy six lane street with 50 MPH speed limits and followed all the rules of the road. I think he’s going to be dead soon but I wish him luck.

  12. prk166

    “I think the legalistic arguments for “savvy cycling” are weak. Cyclists commonly violate traffic rules, which is widely tolerated if it doesn’t impede anyone else. I doubt many cyclists would want to follow all traffic rules all the time — full stop at stop signs, signaling, lighting, maximum speed on downhills, minimum speed on uphills, etc. When was the last time you saw a cyclist come to a full stop at a stop sign, especially if they have pedal clips?” – Borealis

    When was the last time you followed a car that obeyed every traffic law to the T? Signalling before and through an entire lane change? Stopping before the cross walk? Obeying the speed limit? Coming to a complete stop before the crosswalk and yielding to traffic that has the right of way when making a right turn on red? Making a double turn on a red (illegal in most states)? Not drifing across the fog line or the lane divider (especially on curves on the highway)? Maintaining a proper following distance (almost always legally mandated)?

    If the following the law is weak for cyclists because some break the law, then surely the same applies to automobiles, does it not?

  13. werdnagreb

    Another good reason for cyclists to stay more towards the center of the lane is the “side door special”. I have almost been nabbed a few times by drivers of parked cars swinging their doors open without looking. Similarly, cars leaving their parking spots often have drivers who are not looking for cyclists hugging the edge of the lane.

    In my experience, it is *much* safer to stay towards the center of the lane when there are parked cars.

    I do agree, though that bicycle boulevards parallel to major roads are a positive step and help make a more friendly environment for both cyclists and cars.

  14. werdnagreb

    And what’s this talk about cyclists not paying for their share of the road?

    About 6 cents of every dollar of my municipal property taxes goes towards maintaining city roads. I cycle more miles per week than I drive. My bicycle is much kinder to the pavement than my car. Why am I not getting the cycling infrastructure that I pay for?

  15. Dan

    Why am I not getting the cycling infrastructure that I pay for?

    Aaaaa-men, bruddah.

    This avid and hi-mile cyclist also wonders where are the calls for bike mirrors, tips on handling idiot drivers, and such to protect against idiot drivers and their vehicles?

    And what Randal said.

    DS

  16. Spokker

    The drivers wanted the streetcars and cyclists off the road. The cyclists want the drivers off the road. The pedestrians want the cyclists off the sidewalk.

    Sounds like too many people want use of these public roads and we’re all going to have to work together instead of against each other.

  17. the highwayman

    Spokker said: The drivers wanted the streetcars and cyclists off the road. The cyclists want the drivers off the road. The pedestrians want the cyclists off the sidewalk.

    Sounds like too many people want use of these public roads and we’re all going to have to work together instead of against each other.

    THWM: Kudos Spokker, that was very well said!

    Though unfortunately O’Toole & Cox won’t cease & desist their autos only political agenda.

  18. Dan

    Why am I not getting the cycling infrastructure that I pay for?

    You are. They are called roads.

    Too bad auto drivers claim or assume sole entitlement. And too bad the infra is sub-standard, safety-wise, in many areas. Bicyclists are the ones to thank for effecting change and demanding better road quality.

    DS

  19. Scott

    Lanes are not wide enough to fit more than a vehicle in & it’s dangerous, otherwise. You should know that Dan. Jeez are you lost, to blame drivers for their cars needing 12′ of lanes.

    Sounds like Kunstler, being mad for Interstate standards not allowing for bikes. That’s ridiculous madness, to think that bikers would want to go along w/vehicles at 70mph & to nowhere.

  20. Spokker

    Kunstler is a nut. No cyclist I know is advocating for bikes on highways.

    However, there was an experiment a while back where a bunch of cyclists decided to hop on the 405 freeway in rush hour traffic and they demonstrated their ability to go much faster than all the cars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoytnxm9Qr8

    Warning: turn down your speakers because it has really bad techno music.

  21. Dan

    My bike commute in Sacto was 14 mi one way, 3x/week. Usu once a week I’d be in quicker than someone who lived nearby. 3x a week I’d be in with zero stress and home with zero stress.

    DS

Leave a Reply