Saddle-Up Column: Knowing when to take the lane

When I’m driving my car there’s one situation I find myself in on occasion that really scares me, and it turns out that exact same situation is my greatest fear when I’m riding my bike. Some motorists do the best they can to share the road with others, and some, in my own experience, really don’t try that hard at all. So, let’s talk about what scares me the most as a motorist, and a cyclist, and I wonder what your thoughts are on this?

From the perspective of a motorist: I’ve driving down a road and there is no bike lane. Up ahead I see someone on a bike in the lane. Instantly, I get a feeling of mass anxiety. The reason for this is that trying to pass a cyclist safely can be a real challenge. Some of the factors that come in to play are things like is there an empty lane to my left so I can safely go around? Is the cyclist riding in a steady line or kind of weaving around? Is the cyclist on the right hand side of the lane or in the middle of it? And what does the traffic behind me look like?

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For my example here, let’s assume the roads are very busy, and there is a single lane each direction. The cyclist is doing their best to stay to the right side of the road, but to get around them in my car is going to be really close, and I don’t have a big car. What’s worse, from experience is if I slow down to try and wait for a chance to get around them, often the traffic behind you aren’t even aware of the cyclist and will honk at you to speed up - becasue we all know that 65/kmh is the new 50. This is when I dread driving a car.  What would you do? Are you sure you can squeeze by safely and you just go for it? Or, do you wait, driving behind the bike and traffic behind be damned?

As a cyclist, I run into this scenario almost every single day in Richmond and Vancouver. And what I do is probably going to make some motorists upset, but, it’s legal, and honestly my priority is getting home alive to my family and not your getting to or from wherever you are going. If there’s alot of room on the road, or other lanes the cars can use to pass me I generally stay close to the right hand side of the road and it’s never an issue - although the thought of getting hit from behind is always there - and that’s the scariest part for me. However, if the lane is narrow, or traffic is heavy and cars cannot pass me safely then I’m sure you know what I do if you’ve been reading my column over the years: I take the lane. It’s legal when I deem riding on the right hand side of the road to be a danger to me and my safety. I become a vehicle on the road, and every other motorist must then treat me as one. That means no dangerous passing, no tailgating, and no road rage (well, one could hope right?).

I take the lane for the simple reason that I want to get home. You see, in my years of riding I have been hit by side-view mirrors from vehicles two times. Not enough to hurt, but they brushed my arm as a vehicle tried to squeeze past me. It’s frightening, the thought of what could have been. A few inches here or there and…

Three weeks ago I was riding with a group of friends in Vancouver. There was no bike lane on this road, however there were two lanes going our direction. We were all spaced about 100 metres apart from each other becasue it was a hill and going up caused us to split apart due to ability differences. Traffic wasn’t heavy, but it wasn’t light either. I took the entire right hand lane. My friend just up the road from me was on the right hand side of the lane. We all had rear flashing lights on our bikes. Four cars zoomed past me in the left lane, then one of them changed into our lane, and before I knew what happened my friend was rolling into a ditch, the side mirror of a van was flying into the air and within 15 minutes we had the road closed with police, ambulance and fire trucks all on site as my friend was taken away to the hospital. All becasue someone thought they could stay in the right lane and squeeze by a cyclist.

One minute he’s enjoying the day, the next he wakes up in the hospital with his wife by his side. These vehicles passed me just seconds earlier, but the difference in lane position made all the difference. I don’t give vehicles that chance to try and squeeze by me. And neither should you. Please just make sure you always have a light on the back of your bike any time of day, it does help.

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