Middle of the Road

Whenever a person first discovers I bike, they reply with a story. And it’s always the same story.

“I was driving down [insert any road name] when all of the sudden I saw a cyclist in the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!” Inevitably it always ends with them saying they “just tapped on their horn” or “squeezed by” or “yelled out to the cyclist.” 

And many many times I’ve been the cyclist in one of these stories- the one sharing the road with a driver that isn’t aware of the basic road rules regarding bikes.

What’s worse is that sometimes reasonable people panic at the sight of a bicycle in the lane… and then all that reason flies out the window.

Middle of the Road

So I wanted to explain it to those who have never biked in the city:

Middle of the Road

And there’s more. Bikes are small, but they still need space. Cars should give cyclists the same amount of space when passing as another vehicle, at least 3 ft. However, not all roads allow for that, particularly in Boston:

Middle of the Road

So don’t panic when you see a bike in your lane. Just treat it like another vehicle. If you can pass safely, that’s fine. If not, most likely you won’t be slowed down much if at all. In the city, I find that car traffic slows me down much more than the other way around.

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87 Responses to “Middle of the Road”

  • Ryan Surface

    Great Post love the driver in the first frame and the license plates are awesome. Nice work.

  • Lee Hollenbeck

    In response to Hollys comment. Yes, sometimes there is some leapfrogging. Filtering to the front is not illegal in MA. It is not nice to be right hooked. Use your turn signal every time, right? I will sometimes filter to the front depending on traffic speed or if a bike lane is there. Share the road and it helps if all road users are patient. In heavy city traffic, bikes are usually quicker than cars.

  • Love it!

    I shared this as part of the discussion for my week long series on safer cycling in Chicago.

    It all begins at http://www.chicagonow.com/easy-as-riding-a-bike/2012/12/perfect-become-the-enemy-of-the-good/

    Keep up the great work – you said it all so perfectly!

  • John John

    This person has shamelessly ripped off your post, with the smallest of credit right at the bottom:


  • Kagi

    The Massachusetts DMV could probably get people to pay extra for license plates that say what the cursive writing says, there…

  • Joe

    I love these. Thank you. Do you mind if I post one on my blog; of course I’ll give you credit and link it back to you. Here’s a link to my blog http://www.urbansimplicity.com.

  • Ian

    Wow, you have nicely positioned bike lanes in Boston! That car door is hardly intruding into it at all.

    Not like the ones in this part of LA, where any car door will extend right across the entire bike lane (even from a well parked, modestly sized car).

  • Rebecca Albrecht

    I love all of your cartoons but this has to be one my favorites!

  • Perry

    Great post. I was actually hit today by a driver who was as confused as the first driver in your post. I am shaken but ok. I am still baffled that she made the decision to try and squeeze by me. I do wish auto drivers would be required to take full road tests every 5 years.

  • I’ve been called a “dickhead” once or twice in my life, but the cyclist in the stencil on the road actually does seem to have a penis for a head.

  • Robert Prinz

    Not sure about MA, but here in CA one can also take the lane anywhere a right turn is permitted (intersection, driveway, parking lot, etc) helping to avoid traffic coming from the right but also the dreaded “right hook” from traffic behind. We can also take the lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic (downhill, at stop lights, or in gridlock), or on the left hand side of the road on one way streets.

    In an urban environment, this means that there is almost constantly an excuse for leaving the bike lane or the right hand side of the road, so a cyclist should never feel constrained or trapped by that little white line.

  • Rai

    I’m a biker and, even before I started biking on the roads, I didn’t have a problem with cyclists as long as they were following the laws. If they’re biking, then weave onto the sidewalk without slowing down, I’m annoyed. If they don’t stop at stop signs. If they don’t make any effort to indicate they’re turning, weaving in and out of traffic (and not enough space between the vehicles to easily do it). Yes, drivers freak out, but its not just the drivers

  • Steve

    I noticed the license plate on that hondaish SUV was casually drawn at Massachusettsish. As much as I love your cartoons, now that the winter is settling in, could you make a strip of what you wear riding when it’s 40, and 30, and 20… help us chicken winter riders out with a Bikey Face guide to cold weather riding?

    Your doing a great job as a positive advocate for us riders, and a mentor for the correct way we should ride.

  • Heather

    I think I definitely relate to the girl in the first picture, because this is what I have come to expect all the time from motorist when I am riding my bike in the road. I have been honked at, been told to get off and stay off the road, and have been looked at like I was a danger to them and all the other motorists who I was carefully sharing the road with. I have been fortunate to say I have NOT been hit by one yet.

  • Jon Webb

    I wish there was a book with all your car-related drawings in it that would get passed out during drivers ed. Teenagers might actually read them and remember. Also, there should be posters based on your drawings at the driver’s licensing centers.

  • There were quite a few people on Clinton Street in Brooklyn this morning who needed this advice…

  • mansard

    i ride on the sidewalk. if there’s a person walking, i stop and let them go past me. i live in Austin, one of the most reckless driving cities i’ve ever lived in. you take your chances riding in the street. ps i don’t drive a car, i usually take the bus.

  • Heather

    A daily struggle. Actually a cyclist should legally be riding on the road where the tires on the passenger side of a vehicle would be. You have the right to take the lane. I rarely do where I live simply because the majority of drivers are frantic rural drivers in a hurry for something or other. They speed everywhere. In my rural area, many roads don’t even have shoulders, but I am usually forced to ride on the nano patch of road just before it becomes dirt and it can be scary. Cars speed and will pass in a hissy fit without making room, drive far onto the other side endangering oncoming traffic or hover angrily behind me like a wasp.

  • Paul

    This thread keeps going and going. Let me add some oil to the fire. About half my cycling is in suburbian / rural roads. Cars often drive quite fast and don’t expect anything but other cars or tractors. Especially when the view is not so good (rainy, sunset) I prefer to drive on the far left rather over the far right side, because then I can see the hazard approaching and get of the tar if necessary. (This behaviour is also recommended for pedestrians.)
    It really makes drivers outrageously angry. Probably because they don’t expect it.

  • CMS

    EVERYONE, cyclists and drivers alike should ALWAYS look before they change lanes to be sure that it is safe to do so. If it is not safe they should STOP and wait until it is.

    Here’s the problem I run into all too frequently when I’m driving … a cyclist in the bike lane comes upon an obstruction — 8/10 times it is a slower cyclist — and they just slip into the driving lane to avoid or pass — without signalling — when a car is too close for this to be done safely.

    This is not fair to the driver who has to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the cyclist — and possibly be liable for his/her injury. A tap on the horn will usually yeild an obscene gesture or/and a shout that they “have the right to ride in that lane”.

    No. Not unless one has followed the rules of safety and common courtesy. I am in favor of sharing the road with cyclists and have myself been the victim of having a parked car’s door open/hit me as I was riding my bike properly so I am sensitive to the plight of cyclists. But I drive in Cambridge where I promise you, the scenario I just described happens a lot.

    • dr2chase

      I drive in Cambridge sometimes, and the scenario you describe has never happened to me. I think you might just be a bad driver. You might be driving too fast, or you might have very sloppy lane positioning, or you might not be paying careful attention to the bicycle in front of you; it’s not like cyclists are unaware of cars approaching from behind (cars are really noisy). Since I see lots of people who drive badly in various ways, I think you should consider this possibility.

      And the horn? You’re using it wrong. It’s a safety device, not a get-out-of-my-way-device. You can brake your car faster than the sequence of you honking, them hearing, interpreting, and reacting to your horn. (I know you think “I am not a bad driver”, but had you thought about this? If not, then you could be a better driver.) Therefore, you should focus on braking, because it does a better job of avoiding the accident. And once the accident is avoided, there is no need to honk. Read the driver’s manual — it is a safety device, and someone riding slowly in front of you is not a safety issue, it is an impatient driver issue.

    • Daniel

      Regarding CMS’s comments on riders leaving the bike lane, I certainly find need to do it (as so accurately depicted in the drawing). But I signal my intention before leaving my lane and after checking that I have room to do so. Horns are great tools to let an errant driver or rider know that you are there, since sometimes they just don’t look before jumping in the next lane. My understanding of traffic laws in Massachusetts is that I have to signal my intentions. A soft tap on the horn seems reasonable if the rider didn’t signal his or her intention, as required by law, and you want to draw their attention to the fact that there is a vehicle that they do need to pay attention to. This doesn’t sound like bad driving to me.

      I see bikes and cars jumping lanes without signaling in Cambridge all of the time. I’m surprised that dr2chase has never seen it.

    • dr2chase

      @Daniel – people change lanes without signaling often in Cambridge, but I expect it. I’ve never had to “brake hard” for a bicycle, and only rarely for an auto. If you assume such things will happen and prepare for them, they’re much easier to manage (it makes you a better driver, and a better cyclist).

      And your recommended use of a horn is not actually a legally recommended use of a horn. It may be popular to think that a horn serves some educational purpose, but that’s not what they are for. Read the law, read the driver’s manual. It varies by state, but in some states non-hazard use of a horn is actually a ticketable offense, and in rare cases tickets are even issued. An actually good driver would pay attention to these finer details of the law.

      It is also usual case that a bicyclist hears you, so the horn is redundant. Because the cyclist usually hears your car already and because the horn is so loud, the message received is also not the one that you intend (actually, it probably is, you just don’t want to admit it), which is why a cyclist often reacts badly — if someone stuck an air horn into an open car window and blasted it off, would you regard that as a friendly reminder? No? Why not?

    • Island Dave

      CMS wrote “I am in favor of sharing the road with cyclists and have myself been the victim of having a parked car’s door open/hit me as I was riding my bike properly so I am sensitive to the plight of cyclists.”

      Riding in the door zone is not the proper place to be riding a bike.

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