26 May 2011

Taking the lane keeps things safe on the ride.

Lisa* and I were biking downtown to the movies the other night. I was riding behind her where she likely would say I belong. There are a couple places on this particular ride where the vehicular travel lane becomes a turn lane requiring a merge into the straight ahead travel lane. (At this point those somewhat familiar with Columbia bicycling and driving might imagine eastbound Broadway approaching southbound Seventh Street.)

As we crossed the street before the turn lane Lisa took the lane. Not the turn lane but the travel lane to the right of the turn lane. I was impressed with her defensive pedaling. For non-bicyclists "taking the lane" refers to a decision a bicyclist makes that he or she needs to be positioned more or less in the center of a lane versus staying on the right edge of the lane. In a wikipedia entry on this topic John Franklin is cited as calling this the primary riding position (versus a secondary riding position where the bicyclist sticks to the meter or so nearest the curb.)

The main factor for me in whether or not to take the lane is whether I feel that there is safe clearance for both me and the inevitable passing cars. If there is room for all I will stay in the secondary rising position. If I feel I will get squeezed when car drivers pass due to a narrow lane, I will take the lane. Drivers may see this as a bicyclist being obstructionist or obstinate. I am not sure. All I know is I want to get to the movies safely and not become a road accident.

Right turn lanes complicate this situation for the bicyclist since passing cars have built up speed and here I go moving out into their travel lane. Car drivers at stoplights are generally rarin' to take off when they get the green light. With me in the primary riding position and upon the light turning green drivers who have stacked up behind me on my bike must wait until enough lane width exists for them to safely pass.

To avoid irritating drivers I always tend to ride up the right turn lane at this location, watching in my bike mirror for approaching cars who may wish to turn right. Moving left when I see the car approaching the turn location seemed to be the safer option vs. being in the straight-ahead travel lane. Did I mention all this is happening while headed up a fair incline on eastbound Broadway in downtown Columbia, Missouri? (Pictures forthcoming.)

*Thanks to Lisa for showing me confidence to be consistent in my pedaling. And for going with me to see a funny movie on a schoolnight.

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