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”

  • 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.”

  • 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

    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

    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

      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.

    • 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

    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

      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

      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.

  • 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

    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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