Article on 'taking the lane'

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Lister Farrar
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Article on 'taking the lane'

Post by Lister Farrar » Sat May 29, 2010 10:23 am

Relevant to us as we think about the triathletes killed in Qc. Don't know the details, but this Can-Bike instructor and retired police officer and accident reconstruction expert, says collisions from behind are from staying too far right, and allowing cars to pass too close. (He's talking about roads without bike lanes, I beleive, so this doesn't contradict what Sarah and Peter have een saying about Interurban.)

He says deaths have not been from cyclists taking the lane.



(from a recent Can-bike instructors discussion. Can-bike is a traffic skills course, among other audiences, taught to police bicycle officers)

Good morning all.

There has been considerable 'banter' around Ottawa on the issue of taking the lane.

We have had several collisions the last year or so, and the one in Rougemont Quebec seems to have revived a look into the practice.

I am just finishing a response to the practice of "Taking the lane" and would like your views and comments on what else should be included in the explanation.

Many views expressed as 'expert' on the practice of "Taking the Lane" continue to come from uneducated individuals who have a motor vehicle centric opinion, not knowledge. I continue to challenge so-called experts or opinions on cycling as to the credentials of the persons claiming the 'fact' or opinion. Have they cycled on busy roads? Have they taken a Can-Bike II course?

I am a retired police officer, with extensive experience in Traffic Collision Reconstruction, including collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists. I have taught collision reconstruction at the Canadian Police College, and have testified numerous times in court on evidence obtained through reconstruction. I am also a Can-Bike National Examiner, and have been teaching Can-Bike courses to children, adults, and professionals for over 15 years. The methods used in Can-Bike are taught consistently to both community members who register for such courses, as well as police officers who require it as part of their training.

I strongly advocate the practice of 'taking the lane,' as the most safest maneuver for bicycle riders to use when travelling along a road lane that is too narrow to share safely.

The above sentence contains much more than the few words portray. It may involve harassment from motorist, a perception by cyclists that it puts them in more danger, and is a practice that is easy to teach, but may be difficult to sustain in the long term. A cyclist must have faith and confidence that the technique works. However, the 'alternate' to taking a lane, will and has caused many cycling deaths, and will continue to do so - I have no doubt in my mind.

First, lets define what a safely shareable road lane might look like, and compare it to the roads most commonly found in the city and country. Can-Bike advocates travelling at least one meter from the curbed edge of a road. This distance normally moves the travel path of the cyclist away from sewer grates, the pot holes around these grates, the dirt and debris that tends to accumulate at the edge of the road, and as well, provides an 'escape route,' should the cyclist have to move right around a hazard.

A cyclist, should also expect to be passed by a 'safe' distance' by motor vehicle traffic. While this distance has no definition within the current laws in Ontario; several states and jurisdiction have enacted laws indicating this distance is about a meter. Obviously, the distance has more meaning depending on the speed differential between the cyclist and motor vehicle traffic. A bicycle natural 'wobbles' slightly while in motion, and good cyclist can keep this wobble to about 10 cm or less, which still looks like the cyclist is travelling in a smooth straight line by passing motorists. This means a cyclist requires 2 meters of travel space along a roadway!

In most cases, the cyclist is usually comfortable with a .75 meter distance from a curb and passing cars. This still requires 1.5 meters of road with for the cyclist to be able to travel safely.

Motor vehicles can be a bit wider than 2 meters as per Ontario regulations. This means the lane being used by a cyclist needs to be 3.5 to 4 metres wide to be safely shareable! This is a very wide lane, and not usually found on most roads in cities and even the country. Roadways tend to be 3.0 to 3.5 metres wide.

The cyclist may have other choices then to riding on roads in which she/he has to take the lane, and that is alternate routes. In the city, this is the most common strategy used, but may not be viable outside of the city, without adding considerable distance onto their travels.

Also, within the city, roadways are usually comprised of multiple lanes going in the same direction, thus when the cyclist has to take the lane, there are other lanes motorist can use to pass the cyclist. A situation that is most problematic for cyclist, and which occurs regularly, is that the road lane width varies continuously. At one point it may be 3.75 meres, 100 meters down the road it may be 3.0. The cyclist needs to be aware of her/his surroundings, and be prepared to take the lane through these narrow areas. Usually, the distance requiring this manoeuvre is short, and other traffic is not impeded noticeably; although some motorist reactions may have you wonder.

The most dangerous manoeuvre a cyclist can do, along narrow stretches of road, is to move to the right. Unfortunately, this seems to be the most common strategy used by uneducated cyclists, who think they have to give up their safety for the convenience of motorists. Moving too far right, puts the cyclist in danger when he/she travels through the debris and potholes found along the road edge; any one of these hazards can cause a loss of control or flat. One a two wheeled vehicle, loss of control of the front wheel is disastrous for the rider, it usually throws the rider onto the roadway swiftly.

The body language exhibited by a cyclist trying to 'squeeze' as close as possible to the right is an "invitation" for motorists to pass them; and since many motorist have no idea how wide their vehicles are, the cyclist is in grave risk of being struck by the vehicle or the vehicle's mirrors.

The message I try and instil in cyclists, is that why would you give up your safety and invite motorist to pass you on a road that is not wide enough to do so safely. Take the decision about your own safety, away from the motorist and put it into your hands and take the lane.

An easy indicator for cyclist to determine if the road they are on is safe to share, is to travel a meter from the right curb, and look how much room motor vehicles are giving you as they pass. If you feel they are passing a safe distance, AND haven't had to change lanes, then the lane is sharable. However, if the motor vehicle has had to change lanes to pass you safely, then the lane is not wide enough to share, so take the lane. If the motor vehicle is having to exit its lanes to pass, then it will anyway when you take the lane.

It is always a good sign, that a motor vehicle has to move left when passing you; if the vehicle hasn't moved left to pass you, then you need to move left so that you are sure they are seeing you. A motorist that moves left, or sounds it horn, is a good thing, they have seen you. You will never be hit by a motorist that sees you. You will be hit by the one that doesn't see you. In Ottawa, in the last 35 years, no cyclist has been hit in the middle of the lane, all the fatalities (by overtaking) have occurred in bike lanes, shoulders and sidewalks. In these cases, the cyclist is too far right, and out of the field of view of the motorist that hit them.

The safest place for a cyclist is near the hood area of the motorist field of view; as the motorist travels faster, their field of view narrows, and they notice less and less of the objects off to the side of the road. This situation is made even worst at night and in poor weather conditions.

As an addendum to this, here are two tips for motorist who 'get it,' and appreciate the effort of cyclists on the roads with them; for every cyclist on the road ahead, there is one less car congesting traffic, one more parking spot, and more gasoline for you to use.
1. Always move to the left side of your lane when overtaking a cyclist; this lets them know you have seen them, and pass them at a distance of 1 meter.
2. When cyclist do have to take the lane, it is actually better for you if they double or triple up. This makes the passing distance shorter for you, instead of having to pass a long string of cyclist spread out in single file.

I find it ironic that so many are questioning the practice of taking the lane, throwing out lack of studies, evidence, laws - when one only has to look at the collision statistics. It pisses people off when cyclist take the lanes, for their own safety, but not one is dying doing it - they are all dying trying to get out of the way of motorists!

Cyclist fare best when they act and are treated like vehicular traffic.
Graydon Patterson * Ottawa * Canada * 613.884.3227
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Re: Article on 'taking the lane'

Post by Rita » Sat May 29, 2010 7:33 pm

Thanks for posting this, Lister. It's a very good reminder of what we should be doing.

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