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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  • Invisible Visible Man December 7, 2012   Reply →

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

  • mansard December 8, 2012   Reply →

    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 December 16, 2012   Reply →

    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 December 17, 2012   Reply →

    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 January 2, 2013   Reply →

    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 January 3, 2013  

      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 January 3, 2013  

      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 January 4, 2013  

      @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 June 24, 2013  

      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.

  • Anthony Grubb January 7, 2013   Reply →

    Surprisingly, the locals here in rural Virginia give me pretty good space on the country roads. Worst I’ve encountered was Elizabeth City, NC, where the locals told me I’d better ride on the sidewalks because the traffic wouldn’t respect me–and they didn’t! That was over 20 years ago, but I still had flashbacks when viewing the above cartoons–no exaggeration for that town. I finally succumbed to the sidewalks (which is illegal in most places). In fact, I originally entered a Bible college in that town to co-op and take the majority of my classes through the local community college, but an administrator there flatly refused to assist me in registering when he discovered my mode of transportation. He told a story of a 17-year janitor everyone loved who got creamed on US-16 on his way biking home from work, and said, “No, I will not help you get registered for classes here, in fact, I will oppose you. It is too dangerous.”

  • Aaron February 13, 2013   Reply →

    In my town you got to be careful because cars don’t ever notice bikes and we don’t even have a bike lane. I usually end up riding on the sidewalks because it is safer there.

    -Aaron, recently watched leadville bike race

  • BEG October 16, 2013   Reply →

    My problem has never been with the ones in the middle of the road. My problem is always with the fucking bonkers ones going the WRONG WAY DOWN THE ROAD >.<

  • Lynn October 16, 2013   Reply →

    Here is my problem with bicyclists in the middle of the lane that is not addressed on your post. I live in a rural area where most streets have a 30 – 40mph+ speed limit and often go ½ mile or more without a stop sign and a mile or more between stop lights. Bikes riding in the middle of the lane can’t keep up with the speed limit and are more likely to cause an accident or be hit. Obviously there aren’t as many bikes on the road in my rural area as there are in metro areas, but I still see bikes on the road everyday, often in the middle of the road and completely ignoring stop signs. I understand momentum and not wanting to stop at stop signs, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for bicyclists to not even slow down and expect oncoming traffic that may or may not have a stop sign to see them and stop for them. I have had to slam on my brakes more than once because someone on a bike decided to cross an intersection without regard for oncoming traffic. I have no problem sharing the road with bikes that can keep up with the traffic when in the middle of a lane and follow the same traffic signs that those in cars do.

    • fred_dot_u October 17, 2013  

      Lynn, a cyclist riding in the middle of the LANE, not middle of the road is not more likely to be hit. That cyclist is not going to cause a crash, not an accident because drivers approaching from the rear will see the cyclist.

      The speed limit is not a goal to be achieved, it is a limit not to be exceeded. The roads are for the use of people, not just motor vehicles and speed differences for road users are allowed for by the rules of the road.

      I agree that cyclists should obey stop signs, traffic lights and other traffic control devices, and I’d expect other readers of this blog agree.

    • Paul Worden October 17, 2013  

      Here in Australia a bicycle is a legal vehicle. A lot of motorists don’t understand this. Sometimes it’s safer for a cyclist to ‘take the lane’ to prevent cars trying to squeeze past when it isn’t safe for the cyclist. This is particularly true at ’roundabouts’ where a cyclist is faced with trafic approaching from both right and left. If the cyclist takes the edge of the road, cars will squeeze through and may cut the cyclist off and will certainly mask the cyclist from other road users.

      Too may motorists drive as if the road ahead is clear. They drive faster than their abiltiy to stop in the distance they can see. On narrow country roads, there isn’t room for two cars and a cyclist to pass. I can be cycling a foot from the edge of the road around a corner and motorists approaching from the rear will have to swerve around me because they didn’t give themselves time to slow. When another vehicle is approaching the consequences can be fatal for the cyclist.

      As many others here have posted, the consequences for a cyclist hit by a car are always serious. The consequences for a car hit by a bicycle are no more than minor damage to the cars bodywork.

      That’s why cyclists get angry with incompetent, inconsiderate and stupid motorists. We may lose our life from a motorists bad behaviour but the worst that happens to a motorist is that they’re delayed by a few seconds.

  • Lynn October 18, 2013   Reply →

    If you honestly think a bike going 10mph down the middle of the lane where the speed limit is 40mph isn’t likely to cause an accident or get hit, then you are dilutional. Cars get backed up and want to pass, and if the person doing the passing isn’t at the front of the line they may not see the bike. Motorcyclists get hit all the time riding in the center of the lane because someone didn’t see them (thus the “start seeing motorcycles” adds), yet you think everyone will see people on bikes? I always keep an eye out because I have family that ride motorcycles, yet I’ve nearly hit people on bikes because they ride at night wearing dark clothes and nothing reflective. You and other cyclists where you live may be following the laws and not have any problems, but it isn’t like that everywhere. Bikes may have just as much right to the road, but if they come up against a car, the car will win every time.

    • dr2chase October 18, 2013  

      It’s not the bike that causes the accident, it’s people driving cars acting like impatient children. Anyone who passes a slow-moving or stopped vehicle without wondering *why* that vehicle is slow or stopped and taking care to account for the possibilities (bicycle, child, animal, giant hole, IED) is an irresponsible idiot.

      And riding a bike, in the dark, I spot people by the reflective bits on their shoes, the retroreflection of the dogs’ eyeballs, or the light of their cell phone. Almost every bicycle out there has pedal reflectors and/or front and rear reflectors, too, and I spot those. You car puts out far more light than my bicycle (two LEDs, perhaps 400 lumens on a good day), so you should be far more able to spot things in the road than I am. Perhaps you are driving too fast and not looking enough, and don’t particularly care to think about how you might be the person at fault here.

    • fred_dot_u October 19, 2013  

      There are no delusions involved when one can speak from experience and not from imagined misconceptions. The numbers I’ve experienced are a bit different from your imaginary ones, but I routinely ride on roadways with 55 mph speed limits and I travel at 16-18 mph on those roads, in the approximate center of the lane. If the roadway is not multi-lane, I will allow a number of drivers to collect behind me, then provide sufficient space for those drivers to safely overtake, then return to my position. It’s called “catch and release” and ensures that drivers are not delayed overmuch. In many cases, there is little oncoming traffic and those drivers are able to change lanes and pass safely.

      I don’t see motorcyclists get hit all the time. I’ve never seen a motorcyclist get hit but I’ve seen thousands of motorcyclists on the roads. Hyperbole does not represent accurate circumstances for cycling nor for motorcycling.

      Cyclists in dark clothing or not having reflective devices on the bikes are not relevant to this discussion.

      If you drive a motor vehicle, as it appears that you do, you must be terrified when a semi-trailer appears in your vision. If a motor vehicle operator comes up against a tractor-trailer, the tractor trailer will win every time.

      The answer to that bit of absurdity is that the rules of the road work, regardless of the weight of the vehicle being used.

  • Rebecca Doll October 18, 2013   Reply →

    Hey Bikeyface, I’d like to share this on our local newspaper if I may. We don’t have a budget but we have a circulation of 10,000 and are trying to encourage complete streets. Please let me know if I can pop it into our January issue.
    Thanks, Rebecca

  • Thom October 22, 2013   Reply →

    I’d love to see this posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Minneapolis is one of the bike-friendliest, and most biked, cities in the US. However, there are still auto and truck drivers who are ignorant of the law as it pertains to sharing the road. A little positive reinforcement would be beneficial to all bike commuters/riders.

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