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Lane Position (part 1) – The Squeeze

Thinking about LANE POSITION– The law says bicycles must ride near the right unless it is unsafe to do so. Well, aside from obvious obstructions like double parked cars and construction zones, what else might make it unsafe to ride all the way to the right? And if we must move away from the right edge, how do we handle the traffic coming from the rear? “Far-to-the-Right” or further into the travel lane; your position on the road is referred to as your Lane Position. Lane Position is one of the most powerful traffic integration tools available to us. You can think of Lane Position as a kind of cyclist’s body language; without saying a word, your Lane Position speaks volumes. And the conversation you need to have with passing cars is about sharing, or not sharing, the Lane. Let’s “listen in” on the conversation taking place in the following diagrams.

The Lanes in these diagrams are fairly NARROW, with close to zero elbow room when a car and a cyclist are side-by-side. The cyclist is doing his best to stay out of the way as the yellow car approaches from the rear. We can hear the cyclist speaking through his Lane Position, and this is what he’s saying; “I’m not really in your lane, so come and pass me in the lane!

“Lane Position Far to the Right”

His Lane Position says “Come and Pass me!”

There’s another, slightly more subtle subtext to the dialog. At the edge of the lane, the cyclist risks blending in with All Things Non-Traffic. On a NYC street, there’s tons of activity at the perimeter, and appropriately, the perimeter is not where the driver’s focus is. So the cyclist has added this comment to the dialog; “Maybe I’m not really on the road at all!” Notice how the cyclist’s icon just got a little dimmer?
Lane Position amidst the visual clutter Drivers constantly monitor the Lane Position (body language) of others to read their intentions, and the message our cyclist sent has ultimately been received. As the yellow car approaches, he estimates there’s enough room to get by. But he’s concerned that the bicycle might swerve, plus he’s got traffic on his left leaving no room to maneuver.

Attempting to share a narrow lane

“Hmmm. This is going to be tighter than I thought”

Now the cyclist is moving even further to the right, confirming that he wants cars to pass, and as the motorist feared, that the bike’s track is uneven and unpredictable. More than anything, the motorist wants to get past this cyclist before he hits him! The driver aims for the narrow space – NOW’S HIS CHANCE – with inches to spare, he guns it. VERROOM

And he might throw in a good sustained horn blast to make sure you know he’s there.

The classic Close-Pass

The classic Close-Pass; they come within inches and gun their engines.

Look familiar? You’d swear they were trying to run you off the road. “WHY MUST THEY COME SO CLOSE!?!!”

As a cyclists, we can anticipate these situations and take steps to prevent them from developing. Let’s reset and make an adjustment to the cyclist’s Lane Position.

Rather than trying to HIDE along the edge, the cyclist strives to ride where drivers are looking for traffic. Here, his Lane Position speaks loud and clear; “If you want to pass me, you must change lanes — this Lane is TOO NARROW to Share!”

Centered Lane Position - Taking the Lane

His Lane Position speaks clearly; “If you want to pass me, change lanes because this Lane is Too Narrow to Share!”

  • • In the best of circumstances, you establish this position through negotiation. (Your best friend is a car behind you who has seen you!) • Maintaining a good pace also helps as it reduces the relative speed of approaching cars, giving them more time to plan and react. • A look back, along with the “Keep Back” hand signal (Arm down, open palm facing back) helps establish a controlled and cooperative interaction. It informs the driver that you’re aware of his presence, and that you’re doing what you’re doing for a reason. • Try not to waiver; any drifting toward the right may be interpreted as an intention to pull over or to cede the lane. Holding your line will encourage him to do a “complete” lane change (all 4 of his wheels over the line). • Wearing bright or hi-vis clothing cuts through the visual clutter, and it communicates that you are intentional and aware of your position In the Lane.

Must Change Lanes

The yellow car sees you well in advance and understands that he’ll need to change lanes to pass you. NYC drivers change lanes to avoid obstacles a thousand times a day; cabs stopping for fares, cars parallel parking, turning traffic getting backed-up at every intersection, UPS, Con Ed, Fresh Direct… drivers cope. They flow around. It’s no big deal. Through your clear and purposeful position in the lane, you’ve eliminated the guesswork and helped avoid a tense and dangerous situation.

Changes Lanes to Pass

Passing a moving bicycle is no big deal

Visibility is improved to the next car in the lane as well. Experienced drivers tend to join the flow, following the car in front of them.

Take the Lane

More Visible, more Predictable, more Communicative, more Cooperative.
When the Lane is too narrow to share; TAKE THE LANE

doubleYellow In this post, I’ve introduced the idea of controlling a Narrow Lane through a centered Lane Position, a technique known as “Taking the Lane”. There are other factors that will influence your Lane Position choices. These include the width of the lane, the distance to the next intersection, your destination (turning or going straight), your speed relative to traffic speed, even surface condition, weather, and time of day. More reasons to Move away from the Edge At all times, Lane Position is a dynamic tool, a means of communication, of negotiation, a give and take. It is the language you use in the dialog you have with traffic. You Take the Lane so that you and drivers avoid the situation shown in the diagram. You Take the Lane with authority, but with a spirit of mutual benefit. Taking the Lane is not a conflict, it is conflict avoidance. NYC riding has features that distinguish it from other rural or suburban thoroughfares. Our distances between intersections are incredibly small. Constant repositioning by both cars and bikes are required as we flow around all manner of obstacles. Rather than needing to hold a lane position over a mile long stretch, our rides are segmented, with more stopping, more lane changing and more negotiating. For these reasons, our position in the lane should not be rigid, unresponsive, or unyielding. For me, Lane Position is fluid, it’s a currency that I exchange with other drivers. I use a centered position to prohibit close passing, to improve Visibility and Control, and to avoid hazards along the edge. But when a successful interaction has been completed and as soon as I possibly can, I wave them on and I say thank you. More often than you’d imagine, they thank me back! From WNYC Sound project Bike Advice


 

About the author

Lance Jacobs

A native New Yorker, biking has been part of my life from my paper route in 5th grade, through my international tours on 4 continents. Now, as a League Certified Instructor (LCI #3507), my focus is on studying and teaching the best way to ride in NYC's unique street environment. I love cycling and I love my city. I believe riding our streets can be stress free when approached with some solid skills, some basic knowledge, and the right frame of mind.

4 comments

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  1. Paul Weeks (@pfweeks)

    I 100% agree. Another thing not to do is duck in and out of the parallel parking lane when there are no vehicles. I maintain a steady line in the center of the lane unless I am signalling a single vehicle to pass me. I also look way down the block at the front tires of all parallel parked cars; none of them can turn into the lane until *after* their front wheels have been turned in that direction. So long as you are not in the door zone, any parallel parked car with front wheels pointed straight ahead will not be a problem.

  2. william

    GREAT GREAT GREAT ADVICE. I’ve always thought I was just being an aggressive jerk for taking the whole lane and making them go around me.. But now that you explain it so clearly I dont feel like such a bully..

  3. Robert Cooper

    Works there too, as this video shows:

    “Good, clear explanation that works if the cars aren’t doing 60 mph”

  4. Rosalie Fadem

    Good, clear explanation that works if the cars aren’t doing 60 mph

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