Sunday, March 30, 2008

What does share the road really mean?

The following comment was made on my last post:

"I agree that we all share the roads, etc. What I do not understand is cyclists who will steadfastly ride in the middle of a thoroughfare lane while cars back up for blocks behind them not being able to pass.

Sure, bikes have as much right as anyone else to be on the street, but what they do not have the right to do is block a lane or impede traffic.

Politeness and common sense dictate that they get out of the way and allow others to pass if they cannot keep up with the flow of traffic."

To many non-cyclists “Share the road” means, “Okay I accept that you have a right to be on the road, but just stay out of my way.” This comes through in the last sentence of the above comment.

Politeness and common sense need to prevail on both sides, otherwise it is not a true “Sharing” of the road. I would be happy to stay out of the way and ride to the extreme right, if in return other road users would have a little concern for my safety and not pass me at 50 or 60 mph, missing me by inches.

Most people drive in the middle of the lane leaving equal space to the edge of the lane on either side. Many will simply hold that line when passing a cyclist, when “Politeness and common sense” would suggest steering to the outside edge of the lane thereby leaving more space on the inside.

If it is a two-lane, divided highway, and there is no one along side or about to overtake, signal and move to the other lane, or at least put the car’s wheels over the line. The same on narrow rural roads, cross that center line if it can be done safely, if not, stay behind for a brief moment, and then pass. A cyclist is less than 7 feet long and 3 feet wide, it is not like passing an eighteen-wheeler.

Many states are bringing in new laws to give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet when passing. If politeness and common sense prevailed, these laws would be unnecessary. So in the mean time, I exercise my right to “take the lane,” in other words move to the center of the lane when it is unsafe to pass.

A good example of this would be where there are cars parked at the side of the road. I will not ride within 5 feet of a parked car because people will fling open car doors without warning. Five feet will usually put me in the middle of the lane, if I ride any closer cars will still continue to pass at their normal speed.

If someone opens a car door I have nowhere to go. I am not only injured by running into the edge of the door, I will most likely fall in the path of a passing car. It is unfortunate that city planners allow parking for long stretches of city roads, without understanding the real danger this imposes on cyclists.

Another situation where I would take the lane is if I want to make a left turn ahead. (Right turn in the UK.) On a multi-lane highway I may need to start the maneuver several blocks before I actually turn.

From the right lane I will wait for a gap in traffic, signal and move to the center of the lane, stopping any further traffic from passing. I cannot safely get into the second lane from the extreme right edge of the first lane.

Then when there is a gap in traffic in the second lane, I signal move over again. Sometimes an impatient driver will also see this gap and try to go around me. If this stops me from changing lanes then all the traffic behind me continues to be delayed because one selfish driver didn’t allow me to get over and move out of the way.

When I reach the left turn lane, I stay in the middle of that lane. If I move to the left of the lane, cars will pass me on the outside and after I complete the turn, I am now stuck in the middle, needing to get back over to the right.

If I move to the right side of the turn lane, now I have traffic passing at speed on both sides. If one should hit me, I would be knocked into the path of another vehicle.

This is often a left turn at a traffic light. Everyone is rushing to make the green light, no one is concerned for my safety except me, so forgive me if I appear a little “selfish” at this point.

More people would commute to work by bicycle but they see it as dangerous. As time goes by, economic reasons will force some to overcome this fear. Every bicycle on the road means one less car; people will become more aware of bicycles and drive slower and with caution. People will actually get to their destination quicker and safer because there will be less congestion.


The picture at the top is Savannah Hwy. (Rt. 17.) the main road south out of Charleston, South Carolina where I live. Traffic is heavy during the week, but moderate at weekends. Not the best place to ride, but necessary to get from where I live to some of the more rural areas on John’s Island, and Wadmalaw Island.

The road has a narrow shoulder and “Share the road” signs are posted. It is a divided highway with two wide traffic lanes in either direction. I ride on the shoulder and in spite of this drivers will pass me within inches at 50 to 60 mph as I described earlier, even though there is no traffic in the outside lane.

I use my “take the lane” right sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. If I delay other road users briefly, I am doing it in the interest of my own safety, not just to piss people off.


Anonymous said...

For too many auto-truck-SUV drivers, STR is their form of controlling a coin flip as they declare "heads I win, tails you lose". They take full advantage of their power and lack of politeness/respect. Add in ineffective law enforcement and you have the perfect storm.

Attitudes must be changed, not just laws, which requires political-educational efforts. Too many motorized drivers make a coin flip on the well being of others when cyclists only want to STR.

Unknown said...

Roads will always be dangerous. Our bodies are not made to go faster than 30km/h so whether you're in another car, or even more threatening, a bike the road will remain dangerous. Everything is possible, cycle lanes and education, but all this takes money and government is never keen on spending money on anything. Like Mr. Mouton says, time will probably force people onto bicycles filling the roads with more cyclist's. This will also force the hand of the lawmakers in turn to protect the people. I also feel that the new global warming awareness will help get more people thinking about alternative forms of transport. We need to get to critical mass and that will then break the barriers down, so grab your bike and take a ride.

Ed W said...

Lane positioning communicates whether it's safe to pass or not. When a cyclist is in the middle, he's telling drivers behind him that there isn't sufficient space to share the lane side-by-side, and that they'll have to wait until opposing traffic is clear in order to overtake. When the cyclist moves to the right hand tire track, with two thirds of the lane to his left and one third to his right, he's saying it's safe to overtake. A cyclist should NEVER hug the fog line because it invites motorists to 'sgueeze by' in the lane regardless of on-coming traffic. It's a good way to get squeezed right off the road!

Rea Road Neighborhood Coalition said...


As with your other post you are totally correct.

But your photo speaks volumes about how you and many other cyclists view trucks, SUV and autos in general and your “right” to be on the road.

I understand the need to strike out on a day’s ride and coast back home several hours later feeling accomplished and satisfied as your last ounce of energy is spent pushing the hill to home followed by that long graceful gliding turn to your drive that completes the perfect day.

But I’d suggest a bike rack and staying off of Highway 17.

And please forget about that “Share the Road” sign. It means nothing to 99.9% of the motoring public. Every time you are passed on Highway 17 (which I’d guess is close to 200 times per mile) you’re pulling the leaver on the slot machine and one of these days you’ll get not triple cherries but 3 grim reapers in a row.

Drivers come in three forms, clueless, aggressive, and unaware. Stop a school bus on Highway 17 and watch what happens to traffic going in the opposite direction. Clueless in the Cadillac stops because that’s what he’s done since 1932, Aggressive lays on the horn of his SUV because he knows you don’t need to stop for the school bus and then bolts around to the right, narrowly missing Unaware in her minivan, who saw neither the school bus, or stopped Clueless. All she saw was now angry Mr. Aggressive because his massive SUV suddenly filled her windshield.

Step into a cross walk on the Peninsula and see how many drivers honk and gesture. That STR sign might as well say Deer Crossing.

But the reason drivers are passing you with inches is they really think it’s enough. So ya’ll cyclists need to get past the “everyone is out to get me” psychosis and get with the reality that everyone out there has the ability to instantly kill you. It’s not that they want to it just happens.

Let face it getting a driver’s license is not hard, my eye sight is not 20/20 like it was when I was 30 but at the DMV I’m nice so they coach me so I can pass the eye test without wearing my glasses and having that restriction on my license. Keep in mind there are 38,000 people driving without a license in the state of South Carolina.

“Lane positioning communicates whether it's safe to pass or not” – Ed W.

Ed has a great point, sadly that will be on his tombstone because again 99.9% of the people out there have not a clue as to what he is doing. Going back to the three drivers, Mr. Clueless doesn’t know what you are doing; Mr. Aggressive thinks you’re a jerk and poor Ms. Unaware she didn’t see you until you were under her minivan.

If I pass you on Highway 17 you’ll get a lane change signal and I’ll move over giving you the entire lane no matter how close you are to the gutter. I see a cyclist with an imagery box that is nearly ten feet wide and 20 feet long.

If you’re on a two lane you’ll see me fall in behind you until it’s safe to pass with my left turn signal on. When I do pass it back to the invisible box and you’ll have the whole lane.

But I’m a rare SUV driver who has made countless cross state treks and several “length” of the Blue Ridge Parkway trips. And I have been hit 3 times once that was nearly fatal.

Maybe you should consider a safer sport like unprotected shark diving?

More Commentary at

Ed W said...

I've seen numerous responses like those of Cedar Post. "You'll be right, but dead right" is one cliche he missed.

I admit that I like the idea of breaking drivers down into three classes, all of them equally obtuse. And oddly enough, I'm not concerned about "99.9%" of the motoring public or whatever CP thinks my epitaph might be. Taking the lane is a clear indication that it's not safe to pass and motorists are very good at avoiding what is directly in front of them. It the cyclist off to the right, hugging the fog lane that's harder to judge.

Cedar Post, you're writing about fear, and I can only assume it's based on your own fear of riding a bicycle in similar conditions. Believe me, I'm not trying to tell you those fears are groundless, just that they're misplaced. Crashes that involve a cyclist getting hit from the rear comprise about 8% of all bicycle/motor vehicle crashes, and the majority of those happen at night to unlit cyclists. The real risk is at intersections were 85% of all crashes occur.

I suspect you haven't been on a bike in quite a while or if you have, you haven't ventured off a quiet trail or a sidestreet because traffic is frightening. Well, there's a way to address that, and it's through education, specifically the League of American Bicyclists BikeEd program. (And yes, I'm an instructor. I just can't avoid promoting the program!)

If you're ever in Tulsa, drop me a line via CycleDog and we'll go for a ride around the city. Sometimes a simple demonstration is all that's necessary.

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

The IL State Legislature passed the 3-foot Law this summer. It's a wonderful idea but here in The Windy City it can be impractical because of narrow space even on major streets.

Also, the Share the Road issue reminds me of a similar issue in Amish Country. After years of deadly accidents involving cars and the much slower buggies, cagers grudgingly accept the presence of the buggy-drivers. And for their part, the latter will pull over to let the former pass.

Anonymous said...

"cedar posts" is correct in presuming the majority of motorists are morons who won't give you enough space, but that doesn't mean we should just give up striving for our fair share of the road. Perhaps what is needed is a law like there is in Ontario now, where if there is an emergency vehicle stopped on the shoulder of a highway, cars must move over a lane before passing, or risk a $490 fine. This came about after a cop hot hit while issuing a ticket to a car he'd pulled over. I guess "one of their own" has to be hit before a law gets passed.

Hunter said...

"...I use my “take the lane” right sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. If I delay other road users briefly, I am doing it in the interest of my own safety, not just to piss people off...."
Unfortunately, I know several riders in my town that take the middle just for that purpose, to piss drivers off. That also explains most drivers response to the Critical Mass bike-ins during rush hour traffic. My town is all narrow, crowded, parallel-parked cars, with lousy, rutted, cracking asphalt streets. I'm just glad I'm 6-foot tall, 275 pounds, ride a steel bike, and make eye contact as much as possible.
Ketchikan, Alaska

mander said...

Yesterday on a little road in the Scottish Borders, a bus driver behind me was reluctant to pass me because the road was quite twisty. Traffic was building up behind him so I got off the road and let everyone by. All day I was well into the road (the shoulder was pretty scary in most places) and people were very courteous and geve lots of room when passing me. It felt like a good day for car-bike relations.

Grump said...

You said,"If it is a two-lane, divided highway, and there is no one along side or about to overtake, signal and move to the other lane, or at least put the car’s wheels over the line."

I'm happy if drivers just put their tires ON the line when going around.
As you also said, I find that when I ride on a two foot shoulder, cars feel that it's alright to buzz by you at 60 mph. I also find that if I am one foot to the left of the line, drivers will slow down somewhat before going around.

ScottH said...

I agree with everything you say. If you don't mind I will link this to my blog? The worst part for me is, sometimes doing what you need to do (i.e. take the lane) is just as scary as not doing it with some of the motorists I have encountered. Sev.

warthog said...

To quote Cedar Posts
" eye sight is not 20/20 like it was when I was 30 but at the DMV I’m nice so they coach me so I can pass the eye test without wearing my glasses and having that restriction on my license."
So, which category of drivers does that put you in?

Anonymous said...

'Sharing the Road' implies attempting to comply with DOT 'Rules of the Road' when individuals or vehicle operators do not.
Trying to stay uninjured while riding is indeed a test of ones survival instincts and whits.
Sadly, here at the Beach (Rt. 17 passes through here in S.C.) ALL manner of errant bicyclists greet drivers and walkers daily.
I surmise there is a connection with 'land of birth or rearing' while riding our local roads here in AMERICA.
TOO many bicyclists of various foreign nationalities are observed riding 'opposite' traffic direction at their peril!
PLEASE be mindful of ALL users on these roads (bicyclists, drivers, walkers) as we routinely 'share' public thoroughfares.

Anonymous said...

Dave - What's the solution? I find myself overwhelmed at a quick and easy response. Here are my evolving thoughts on the matter.
1. Articulate a vision of where we want to end up. I'm still working on my vision. In the best practical solution, cyclists won't be free of danger, and motorists will still face traffic. But I think we can all agree that slower driving, more courteous road use, and cyclists obeying traffic laws would make most of us reasonably happy.
2. Sharing the road would primarily take an attitude change, largely but not excusively on the car drivers' side of things. The best way of ensuring that - the media. Most people who drive cars also watch tv, listen to the radio, and read the papers. The message is simple: slow down and share.
3. Legislation: a necessary but not sufficient condition. In some cases special lanes, signs, and road markings may help.

Yokota Fritz said...

I like what we have in a couple of areas in California: Bikes allowed full use of lane CVC 21202." It's much less ambiguous than STR.

Anonymous said...

Dave, it looks like the problem here in the US is that most drivers don't anticipate problems. As cyclists - that is exactly what we do - otherwise we'd be dead much sooner!

I ride Mt Diablo - SF Bay Area - 2 times a week at the moment, there are many blind bends and cars rarely wait to pass after the bend, they frequently pass when there is no clear view of what is coming down the road.

If drivers were taught the one skill - anticipation - that isn't in the book then we'd all be much safer.

Ron George said...

Around here, many races are held out on secluded roads out of traffic, but often we meet at the bike shop and ride out to the course. While doing this, we do have to take a few main roads, and while its inevitable that there will be 30-40 riders out on the road blocking cars, I think a little 'politeness' could come on the cyclists' part just by riding in single file or perhaps even double, and not make a mess out there. However, when there are potholes or parked cars on the side of the street, you have to make an exception and ride out farther to the left, but I just wished motorists would stop honking like madmen and realize the situation better.

You pretty much honed it, politeness should come from both parties. No one is the ruler of the road.

brhino42 said...

The arguments usually break down into "safe," "legal," "courteous," and "enjoyable." Less experienced cyclists typically misunderstand the first three. Experience changes the last one.

Riding in traffic does not fall into category of tragically, radically unsafe. Quite the opposite. You're about 1,000 times more likely to die of an illness caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Yes, it's legal to take the lane, too. But courteous? That last one is a sticking point for many "good citizens" who need public approval for their actions, who disdain the radicals rocking the boat.

From them you'll hear the mantra of the ill-informed: "You'll be right, but you'll be dead right." Sounds like a threat, doesn't it? Attitude is really the issue here.

The truth? You may be dead right, but it's more likely you'll be dead wrong. Hugging the fog line isn't polite or safe. I watched a fellow do this one day in heavy traffic. Every last motorist raced right up on him before realizing there wasn't enough space to safely pass. So every last one came to a sudden halt, waited, and waited, and waited, and then went around. They were being polite.

I was about 2 blocks behind this mess and closing, taking the lane. In my rear view mirror, I watched as motorists made a decision to pass me...on average more than 2 blocks back. No line of cars stacked up behind me. They passed me easily because I was communicating my position and my right to be there.

Share the Road doesn't mean Share the Lane. Being polite doesn't mean diving out of the way. It means being visible, being predictable, taking the right of way when its yours, and yielding it when its not. All traffic impedes other traffic. Motorists need to get over themselves. Cyclists need to grow some backbones.

Anonymous said...

what does hugging the fog line mean? I'm a Brit

Dave Moulton said...

Fog line: A continuous white line painted at the extreme edge of the road so you can see where the road is in foggy conditions. Unlike Britain it is rare for rural roads to have curb stones.

Anonymous said...

i haven't taken any classes but i have thousands of miles under my belt in my very rural part of california. my experience is that taking the lane means nothing. i still get buzzed regularly while taking the lane. if they're not buzzing my while passing, they're usually cutting me off after passing me. nothing i do communicates anything to drivers. all i can do is watch out for myself and try to pick routes that are less confrontational, where i don't feel like i need to take lanes in order to be safe.

Groover said...

Couldn't agree more with you, Dave! We have the same discussions here in Oz.