Cyclists may have a right to the road, but how that right translates into actual road riding is not inherently clear. And a theoretical right can become an actual wrong if you end up flattened by a car!
Ironically, in our experience the mistake that cyclists most often make is being too accommodating of motor vehicle traffic. Of course! Because cars are loud and fast and we can feel the danger on our skin! And it's rude hogging the road when motorists could be using it so much more efficiently! But when we ride too far to the right of the road—or worse, on the sidewalk—we become invisible and unpredictable to motorists. You can see why in this video we created (with funding from ODOT) for practitioners of youth bicycle programming statewide:
WHERE TO RIDE
Where we ride on the road is the single best tool we have for averting crashes with motor vehicles. Cyclists inadvertently encourage motorists' bad behavior by maintaining lane positions that invite them to squeeze their cars alongside us when there's really no room to spare. While it's true that bad driving causes most crashes, when cyclists position ourselves to be visible and predictable to motorists we have a safer and more peaceful experience.
Ride on the road.
Riding on the sidewalk is illegal in the City of Columbus, but more than that—it’s dangerous to ride on the sidewalk. Paradoxically, cyclists are more likely to be hit by a car riding on the sidewalk than they are riding on the road! This is because cyclists are most vulnerable at intersections, and every curb cut—4-way light-regulated stops with crosswalks, of course, but also alleys, driveways, garage entry/exit points, etc.—is an intersection. A motorist's view can be blocked by buildings, plants or other cars, and particularly those making a turn may not be able to stop in time when they do finally register your presence, because you're going faster than the pedestrians they expect to see. Riding in the street puts you within motorists' lines of sight and gives them time to react to you.
Ride at least 3’ from the curb.
Riding closer to the curb than 3' puts you at risk of having to swerve into traffic to maneuver around hazards like glass, trash, potholes, storm grates, etc. etc. etc. And depending on the width of the road, you could end up squeezed if a car happens to be passing while another is approaching from the opposite direction (i.e., the passing car has no room to cross the double yellow line). So even though sometimes there seems to be enough space to ride near the curb, it's safer for us to force drivers to slow down and maneuver safely around us.
Ride at least 6’ from parked cars.
Riding in "the door zone" is a sure way to get a car door flung into your path. If you're within 3–4’ of a car, you're in danger of ramming the door itself; if you're within within 4–6’ of a car, you're in danger of swerving into traffic to avoid ramming the door. Ride 6' from parked cars to have full clearance and room to maneuver—and maintain a straight line! Every time you retreat to the curb at a break in a line of parked cars you create an need to merge back into traffic—and weaving in and out of traffic is unpredictable behavior that puts you at risk.
Ride in the middle of a narrow lane.
Physics exists! Which means that narrow lanes simply can't accommodate both you and a motor vehicle at the same time. In this situation—regardless of your speed or traffic conditions—you simply must ride in the center of the lane to prevent cars from passing too closely.
Ride in a bike lane…or don’t.
Bike lanes can reduce crash rates, but they can also be poorly designed, littered or otherwise putting you at risk. Luckily we have no legal requirement to ride within bicycle facilities! If you feel unsafe riding in a bike lane, or need to leave the lane to make a left turn, that is a legitimate and lawful choice.
Ride to prepare for your destination.
Just as when you're driving a car, you always want to choose the rightmost lane that serves your destination. That lane might indeed be the far-right lane, if, for example, you're headed straight and there are no turn lanes or bus- or taxi-only lanes in your path. But it might just as well be the middle lane, if, for example, you're on a 3-lane road during rush hour and you're preparing to make a left turn in two blocks. It could even be the far-left lane, if you're approaching two left turn only lanes and the leftmost turn lane best positions you to turn left again immediately after the intersection. Always be preparing for your next move and choose your lane based on where you want to end up.
DECIDING WHERE TO RIDE
All of the above does not suggest you need to rock the middle lane of Sawmill Road at rush hour. Yes, you will want to follow the advice above regardless of the road or its traffic conditions (no, really!), but no doubt there are several routes to your destination. Read our advice on planning a route and be on your way!
HOW YAY BIKES! CAN HELP
This whole lane positioning thing is TOTALLY OUR JAM! This is what we do—we teach people where to ride on the roads. Let us help you. Come on a ride with us* and we'll teach you the ways of urban bike zen (oooommmmmmmm!). And you will be transformed!
*Our on-road educational rides are $300 for up to 5 people. Gather your friends for a fun 2-hour ride showcasing Downtown Columbus—any time that works for you! Contact Meredith to schedule a ride today!