Where Can (Should) You Ride?

Here’s what Missouri law states (307.190):

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

Most states have similar laws known as Far to the Right (FTR) laws. The wording is quite often different state to state. For example, some states require bicyclists to ride as far right as “practicable” — whateverthehell that means. Although the word “safe” in Missouri law isn’t much better. What’s safe? Who gets to decide?

I drive my bicycle with the understanding that I am the one who gets to define “safe” because I am the one responsible for my own safety. What I think is safe is taking the lane, i.e. generally defaulting to a center to center-right position well in command of the lane and within the sight-line of other vehicle drivers in most traffic situations. (Nuance and detail will have to wait for the comments section.)

Is this a good law? Does it encourage safe bicycling?

No and no. Bob Shanteau has published an excellent history of the concept of traffic lanes and the role of FTR laws at I Am Traffic. It is well worth your time to learn how bicyclists came to be pushed to the edge of the road and what the consequences are. For example, riding far to the right increases your chances of these types of crashes:

  • Right hooks
  • Left crosses
  • Driveway and intersection pull-outs
  • Sideswipes and rear ends during overtaking maneuvers
  • Door zone crashes
  • Road edge hazards

This pushing to the edge has become so normal in our culture that far too many bicycle advocates actually believe edge riding is safe and preferred.

I have the opportunity to talk with lots of bicyclists. And I hear all kinds of tales about how awful it is to ride a bicycle in Springfield and how nasty and stupid motorists are here.

Poppycock!

Whenever I hear these stories I ask about driving habits. And it is always the same: The people who have bad experiences on Springfield streets and with Springfield motorists are edge riders. I never hear the same stories from people who know how/when/where to take the lane. I rarely experience anything other than a safe and cooperative environment on the streets of Springfield.

As I have said a gazillion times: If riding a bicycle for basic transportation were dangerous or difficult, I wouldn’t be doing it.

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Comments 20

  1. fred_dot_u wrote:

    Until I took the LAB course, followed by the instructor’s course (Cycling Savvy not in business at the time), I would possibly have agreed with the people who felt cycling was “risky” although not dangerous, per se. After taking the courses, my first experience was how much safer it was to ride. More relaxing, more enjoyable, just more fun overall.

    I’ve found it near impossible to explain to anyone, cyclist or otherwise, how a little bit of education turns the entire situation around.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 1:55 pm
  2. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I hate to disagree with you, as I believe strongly that taking the lane is safer. BUT my experience is that motorists (at least here in Silver Spring, Maryland) do not foster a safe and cooperative environment when I’m taking the lane. This last week my daughter and I were honked at on three separate occasions: on Monday for taking the lane when an elderly motorist felt we should have been riding far right or on the sidewalk; on Wednesday when a taxi driver felt we should be out of his way even though the oncoming lane was free of traffic and he could have easily passed us; and on Thursday when a school bus driver felt we should be operating far right even though we were turning left.

    I agree with Fred that a little education can turn things around, BUT who is going to give this education to the motorists? When I have tried to do so in the past (i.e. last September when a Post Office driver passed me with a few inches to spare) or a couple of years ago when a bus driver honked at me before passing me with inches to spare, I have been met with abuse or (as in the case of the postman) the angry insistence that I should not be on the road. When I have contacted authorities, as in the case of the postman and the bus drivers, I have had at best a 50% success rate. More often than not, the complaint fizzles out in what I can only assume to be an anti-cycling culture among those whose job it is to ensure bus and taxi drivers behave properly on the road. In terms of car drivers, who have no official oversight other than the police (who, let’s face it, just don’t care), what chance do we have?

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 2:48 pm
  3. fred_dot_u wrote:

    IBC, it doesn’t appear that you are in disagreement. I don’t disagree with you in the slightest that lane control is what makes cycling safer and more fun for me. I operate mostly consistently in one general area, and it’s possible that drivers are getting used to seeing my velomobile, but I don’t get many horn soundings as of late. The roads on which I ride are mostly four to ten lanes wide, and managing the lane permits overtaking traffic to KNOW that it’s lane change time, rather than to guess or try to squeeze past. That’s preaching to the choir, of course.

    I’d like to see cycling education brought to the motoring public but the courts and other legislators have to be convinced that it would be a good thing and all the steps beyond that point.

    After thirty-eight traffic stops and seven traffic citations, all dismissed, the local law enforcement not only does not care, but will not cooperate in a normal manner when there is an incident. One cop turned a hit-and-run into a careless driving citation and another changed a vehicular assault charge into careless driving. Apathetic or antagonistic, we lose either way.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 2:59 pm
  4. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Just to clarify, I was disagreeing with Andy’s assertion that cyclists who take the lane get less hassle. That may be the case in Springfield, and it tends to become the case over time when we use a specific route for an extended period – people learn. But if new motorists appear, or if we start using a new route, the initial experience seems to be one in which motorists do not understand what is happening, and they react poorly.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 3:05 pm
  5. fred_dot_u wrote:

    That does clarify things a bit, thanks. I have also experienced that the level of hassle is less than it was when I was a curb-hugger/stripe rider. I suppose one possible solution is more trained cyclists, but that’s a very difficult challenge.

    I’d love to see even one other cyclist during any of my rides, even a lycra-clad “club cyclist” who understands and uses the road in a safe and controlling manner. Sometimes I see someone who appears to meet those qualifications, and then he’ll run a red traffic light or something similar.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 3:30 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian… Let’s say I’m confining my remarks to Springfield ;-) I’m sure there are other motoring cultures out there that differ greatly.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 3:55 pm
  7. Steve A wrote:

    Controlling one’s lane doesn’t result in more harassment around North Texas. Of course, occasional troglodytes exist even here. For those few, I recall Forester’s observation that the motorist who will commit murder in front of witnesses is very rare indeed.

    Posted 09 Jun 2013 at 8:20 pm
  8. Keri wrote:

    I rarely get harassed for controlling the lane in Orlando. I hear occasional honks out here in the suburbs, but still get 100% full lane change passing (that’s what matters most).

    Posted 10 Jun 2013 at 7:44 am
  9. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Close to 100% lane changing is my experience too, and this is indeed the most important thing. I have had only two dangerously close passes (around a foot each by the bus driver and the postman I mentioned earlier) in the past 3 years.

    However, I find the constant honking and yelling to be extremely intimidating. On Bike to Work Day my daughter and I were honked at for a good half-minute or more while we were on a signposted bike route! Then, as the guy was passing (and right beside the ‘Bikes Use Full Lane’ sign), he yelled at us to get off the road. It just gets too much at some points. The only reason I don’t cave in to the pressure is because I know my road position is safest – and that’s only because I’ve gone through LCI training. For those who haven’t, I imagine the pressure to ride FTR can be overwhelming.

    Posted 10 Jun 2013 at 8:06 am
  10. Michael wrote:

    I get more asshole-ish behavior when I ride out in the lane, but I get way less dangerous behavior. Since I don’t give a crap what drivers do or think as long as they don’t endanger me I ride out in the lane.

    The big thing I see around here are elderly drivers that can’t turn their necks far enough to the sides when entering streets to see a cyclist that’s hugging the white line. Ride out a couple of feet and they can see you just fine.

    Posted 10 Jun 2013 at 10:47 am
  11. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Where should one ride? I think Preston Tyree’s ever present answer is the correct one: “It depends”. One has to control the area around you in the context of where one is and what traffic is doing. In that sense, the usual FTR laws are not very helpful because they usually put the onus on the cyclist to defend not being FTR rather than recognizing that FTR is often a pretty lousy idea.

    At least the MO law says to ride as far right as is “safe” but again, its the hapless cyclist being honked at or second guessed by non cyclists that makes this so frustrating since we have to explain why what we are doing is safe. I get tired of “teaching moments”.

    Posted 11 Jun 2013 at 12:33 pm
  12. Steve A wrote:

    Interestingly, I notice there are bicycle outline (like you’d see in a bike lane) signs along I-20 in Colorado with a second one below each saying “Far to Right.” What does THAT FTR mean? Both are yellow which are normally advisory/warning.

    Posted 13 Jun 2013 at 7:32 am
  13. Angelo Dolce wrote:

    I’d agree with Michael,

    I get more harassment for using the lane (even on marked PA bicycle routes) than you indicate in FL or Springfield, but I’d rather have the occasional honks and regular profanity in the city (when stopped in the lane at red lights) than the right hooks and left crosses I hear about from the bike lane advocates (right hooked 3 times and wants more bike lanes?!)

    It’s a minority of drivers, but very vocal.

    Posted 14 Jun 2013 at 5:22 pm
  14. fred_dot_u wrote:

    I’m surprised this hasn’t come up in the comments yet, but it is a behavior I’ve found consistent since I’ve learned to manage my lane position. There’s a number of roadways on which I ride that are straight for as much as a mile. Drivers approaching from behind will see my four watt red strobe or steady tail light and will change lanes as much as a half mile prior to reaching me. Even in closer situations, drivers prepare for a lane change well in advance. Because these drivers are not faced with the increased demands of dealing with a stripe-riding cyclist on a sub-standard width lane. “Do I squeeze past at 40 mph, or do I hit the brakes quickly and trail behind him?”

    Posted 14 Jun 2013 at 5:35 pm
  15. Andy Cline wrote:

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going. I still do not have internet service at my new address, although AT&T swears I will have it by Monday.

    Posted 15 Jun 2013 at 2:27 pm
  16. Michael wrote:

    Andy, have you seen this?
    http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2013/06/a_spooked_cyclists_guide_to_dr.html
    Joseph Rose, The Oregonian’s commuting and transportation writer, is nearly hit by an SUV’s driver who doesn’t check her blind spot.

    What I see is a cyclist that doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. What I see is someone flying along in a door zone bike lane that comes across a car making right turn and tries to pass the turning car, in the intersection, while they’re both turning right. Very dumb move.

    The whole thing could have been avoided if the cyclist had been riding in the traffic lane with the cars and took the right turn when it was his turn. Or, the cyclist could have zipped up behind the SUV and gone through the intersection after the SUV.

    It seem completely obvious to me that an SUV that has its right turn signal on and is moving to the right is going to turn right, so I don’t know what the cyclist is so surprised about.

    Posted 17 Jun 2013 at 6:05 pm
  17. Andy Cline wrote:

    Michael… It was infrastructure such as this that scared the crap out of me in Amsterdam. The only difference is there’d be 47 bicyclists all around you oblivious to everything but themselves.

    Really. It’s just stunning the stupidity. Some people have just been so scared shitless by the idea of driving a bicycle around automobiles that they simply can’t see the real danger these terrible lanes cause.

    So they will continue to get hurt or die in right-hook crashes.

    Posted 18 Jun 2013 at 11:48 am
  18. Michael wrote:

    I’m still blown away that The Oregonian’s commuting and transportation writer was startled that a car that had its right turn signal on and was moving to the right was going to take a right turn. This guy wasn’t one of your students, I hope.

    Posted 18 Jun 2013 at 2:45 pm
  19. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I wonder what expertise in commuting and transportation a writer for The Oregonian has to have, other than being able to write about transportation and commuting. Certainly, one would hope Mr. Rose hasn’t been cycling that way for too long. If he has, it certainly shows how safe cycling is if one can cycle suicidally for however long he’s been doing it.

    Posted 18 Jun 2013 at 5:25 pm
  20. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Green lanes might be seen by a motorist, but to paraphrase John Allen, you cannot expect motorists to have eyes in the backs of their heads. I agree with Michael–its folly to be passing on the right in the manner shown in the video. John discusses this scenerio here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atMouGGXmmc

    Posted 19 Jun 2013 at 10:11 am