Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Taking the Lane When You Least Want To

It seems to me that sometimes when you're feeling the most pressure to ride to the right of traffic is just when to do the opposite - take the lane. Nobody wants to be disliked, even by strangers; the thing is, when your safety is on the line it is time to take popularity out of the equation and do the right thing. An example:
There is a stretch of bridge on Highbury Ave in London Ontario where traffic volumes are high and there are lots of big trucks. There is a fairly steep incline right after a traffic light that means low speeds for cyclists and semis alike. When riding, you can really feel the collective pressure to just get out of the way; this bridge on an arterial road is no place for you to be, so move over! Here's what it is like when I give in to that pressure:
I haven't ridden to the right like that on this stretch for years. When I first got back into cycling I did, for a short while, before I saw the light and began taking the lane. Riding on the right on purpose just to make this video went against all of my better cycling instincts! I'm sure fewer drivers were mad at me, but what is the value of that when weighed against how awful a collision would be for all of us?
Now here's some video of what the same stretch is like when I take the lane.
Traffic wasn't quite as heavy at the time I took that second video, I admit, but part of why it isn't as crazy looking is that the trucks (most of which tend to stay in the right lane) were forced to stay behind me while I climbed the hill. On a bad morning one of these might startle me with a honk, or worse, an airhorn. Even then, however, I am in way less danger and they aren't tempted to make close passes that put me (and indeed every vehicle on the bridge) at greater risk.
The point I'm trying to make is that ticking people off for a short time is often better than keeping them happy, despite the basic and strong human desire to be liked. It took a shift in thinking that was a little difficult, but now that I've experienced the reduction in risk (and therefore fear and stress) it creates, I'll never go back.
I wish every driver who gets pissed at me on this stretch could read this post and see those videos; similarly, I wish I could personally thank those who show a little patience and civility and allow me to get over the bridge without being cranky. Sadly, that just isn't in the cards.
Yer Pal,


RoadQueen said...

You know, Rantwick, I really get a lot out of your methods and thoughts for riding in traffic. Thanks for posting this, it makes sense and is particularly titillating when you put it on video.

Oh, and way to get out of the saddle and grind! Your shadow looked really cool in front of the bike like that. :)

RANTWICK said...

RQ - Hey, thanks! Video really does wonders, doesn't it? As far getting out of the saddle, I'm on a fixed gear, so its stand up or almost stall out on a hill like that.

chris gist said...

Great demonstration of why taking the lane is the safest method to protect yourself. Like you said, when feeling the urge to stay as far over to the right as possible is the most important time to take the lane.

RANTWICK said...

chris - Thanks for your comment, and you are certainly welcome. Come back and agree with me any time!

Steve A said...

The only thing I disliked here was the "take the lane" notion - it was your lane to either control or not. As you showed, sometimes the cyclist must take control to stay safe even if that is unpopular.

RANTWICK said...

Steve - I appreciate what you are saying; it was always my lane. "Take The Lane", has become such a common phrase that I guess I've always equated it with "control the lane".

Graham said...

Love the post Rantwick, kind of timely as yesterday I felt the pressure and danger of a large pickup wanting to pass me so I took the lane before he could and we had a nice conversation there after which ended with the motorist asking me would I rather be right and dead. (A blog post in itself).

Did that cube van ever brush by you closely, unreal in that first video. Cause I know that in videos it needs to be real close for the viewer to actually get a sense of how dangerous a situation really is.

Thanks for sharing!

Mighk said...

I'll second Steve's request to use "control the lane" rather than "take." There's an implication with "take" that one is "stealing" something that belongs to others.

In most circumstances an even more leftward position in the lane is useful, because it sends a clear signal to overtaking drivers that they need to change lanes to pass. This actually improves traffic flow around you. Watch: http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2010/11/29/helping-motorists-with-lane-positioning/

Well done post!

RANTWICK said...

Graham - Right or dead. Love that one.

MIghk - Thanks. I too noticed my less than optimal position when I first reviewed the vid; always room for improvement!

Richard Sleegers said...

Word. That pothole at the bottom of the hill is a perfect example of why you need to leave room in the lane to negotiate around it at high speed.

The shadow also makes it look like you are riding a penny farthing, also a fixed gear!

I would argue the right wheel track is the best, going in the centre or left track would give more ammunition to the motorists that we are in the way. Also it lets faster cyclists or motorcycles pass in the same lane on the proper side, I wouldn't expect them to wait behind me or pass on the right.

Rantwick, you quote "right or dead", but Graham said "right and dead", a subtle difference (or it could be a typo on your part). I think the motorist means you may be right to take the lane but dead because of an impatient motorist, but the argument is moot because a squeeze play is more likely to send a cyclist under the rear wheel or off the road without the motorist even knowing. If the cyclist is dead when taking the lane, it is because a motorist has deliberately assaulted with a vehicle. Knowing I can't prevent either, I would take intent over apathy.

Lastly, it's worth noting in the second video that the light was red after the bridge, so there really was no net time lost to the motorists.

RANTWICK said...

Woops. That WAS a typo on my part. Rigth and dead is what i meant.

troy said...

Rantwick, don't disagree with you in any way, however, taking the lane still involves a lot of pressure to keep your speed up - taking the lane can be unpopular, but imagine just riding casually, looking around, etc. I'm too old for this shit now, I want to just sit on my upright and enjoy my commute - I'd be taking that footpath any time there is moderate traffic.

RANTWICK said...

Troy - I have long believed that sidewalk riding actually makes sense for some, those who are willing to keep their speed way down and show every respect to pedestrians, dismount at crossings where it makes better sense, etc. You sound like that kind of rider. I don't buy that there is a single best way that all should follow.

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