Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Left and Right

No, this isn't commentary on the recent primary elections. It's about those times when a bicyclist shouldn't stay to the right of the lane. For example, pass to the left of a car that is preparing to turn right. The fellow in the white shirt and shoulder bag is in a very bad place:

I've had a couple of terrifying moments recently, when I saw cyclists squeeze by on the right side of cars that were turning right. This guy tried to share a lane that was too narrow, putting himself and other road users in a risky situation. Two blocks later, he zipped by on the right of a car as it started to make a turn into a parking garage. No one expects to be passed on the right when they are in the right lane signalling a turn. That includes bike-on-bike situations too - I've had people squeeze past me on the right as I was turning. Scary!

On the other hand, I have also seen motorists try to make a right turn from the left lane rather than merging (safely) into or behind bicycle traffic in the right lane. This is neither safe, legal, nor practical. After all, there is more traffic behind the cyclist that will have to be dealt with.

There doesn't seem to be total agreement about right turns in a wide right lane or next to a bicycle lane. Many people see the bicycle lane being similar to a crosswalk or sidewalk, meaning that motorist turn across it after yielding to any traffic in that lane. I tend to prefer that drivers merge into the lane so I can pass them on the left, where I know they won't cross my path. This is especially true if it is a wide shared lane without bike lane markings. But I see many drivers get confused by the presence of a cyclist, swinging to the left of the lane so I have room to pass on the right - that just means I have to merge over further in order to pass on the left instead. What do others prefer?

Please drive and ride safely!


  1. Knowing that this is a risky situation and one of the leading bike-car accidents, anytime I see a car slow down drastically or put on a right turn signal, I slow down and slide towards the car's back left bumper/middle of the car to indicate that I am not going to pass them on the right. I use this same tactic, by moving to the center or even leftish of the lane when approaching busy intersections (or sometimes just ones where cars are behind me).

    Also, for equal parts courtesy and accident avoidance, I never slide up the right past cars stopped at a red light.

  2. I always take the lane when pulling up to a corner. Some people are aggravated that they can't turn right but most seem patient. They know I will dart off once that green arrow fades away.

    If I can't take the lane, I will stop to the right between the first and second cars in line, so the second driver is aware of me and I won't get crushed by the first.

  3. Even better, when on a bike, don't try to pass cars on the left either - people really aren't expecting that! I was driving one day and stopped at a red light in the straight lane on a street that also had a left turn lane. No biker was in sight until the light turned red and I began moving through the intersection, then I see a guy on a bike shoot past me on the left. It startled me, so I slowed down and thought he must actually be turning left. But no, he then shoots over in front of me! NOT a smart thing to do on a bike unless you have a death wish. I could just as easily have been someone not paying any attention or on my cell phone and run right over him.

  4. Lots of good advice. I could repeat "take the lane!" like a mantra to new cyclists or those who've seen too many bad examples.

    Kyle, that's a good point. Even if you are in a shareably-wide lane, you can still get hooked by a car turning right. Moving left at intersections is good, but at least never be in a driver's blind spot or next to their bumper as you enter the intersection.

    Traci, that sounds like a classic case of I-won't-slow-down-ism! It would have been a jerky (and possibly illegal) move even if he were driving... But I would still pass a car if, say, they stopped to drop off a passenger or broke down or whatever.

    Is impatience and recklessness an inherent American trait? Or just a symptom of a stress-inducing transportation system?