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New commuter with traffic safety questions

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New commuter with traffic safety questions

Old 04-05-11, 08:17 PM
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yammay
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New commuter with traffic safety questions

I'm new here (hello!) and have just started commuting to work. My ride is 10 miles through suburban and semi-rural areas. I'm new at riding and my pace is pretty slow, just over 10 miles/hour. I have a few questions regarding safety in traffic:

1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?

2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?

Thank you!
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Old 04-05-11, 08:28 PM
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Hey there.

Originally Posted by yammay View Post

1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?
As you'll read a lot here, it's a judgment call. If it's a narrow lane and you're on flats, if you can keep a decent speed controlling the lane more in the middle is a good idea. Uphill, where your speed will significantly drop but a motorist will remain the same (and thus their perception not changing may endanger you), I personally would be furthur to the right (not inside any breakdown lane, but leaving more room). By being far enough off the right side, you suggest to them that they should occupy both lanes for passing. But you help them in doing so. Nothing is set in stone, however, and it will always be your judgement.
2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?
If it's busy and multi-laned, definitely take the full lane. Motorists may (certainly will) honk at you before passing, but it's a small price to pay for safety. Uphill, I would do the same I did in question 1. Unless for some reason it gets really bad, in which case I would control the lane again.

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?
If you can't trigger the light, I believe most states have a specific law saying you can ride through it. Even if they don't, you could consider the light defective and treat it as a stop sign (which you already will have, since you've stopped and waited for it to trigger).

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?
If it ever seems safer to take the lane - do it. You're the one whose life is endangered by collisions, not the motorists. In this case, I probably would.

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Old 04-05-11, 09:09 PM
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Originally Posted by yammay View Post
I'm new here (hello!) and have just started commuting to work. My ride is 10 miles through suburban and semi-rural areas. I'm new at riding and my pace is pretty slow, just over 10 miles/hour. I have a few questions regarding safety in traffic:

1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?

2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?

Thank you!
1. Just ride the lane. If you have cars behind and a spot to pull over, do it if you want to be nice, but you don't have to. Just remember that there's a little give and take and that if you were in a car you wouldn't like getting stuck behind, say, a pokey ol' farm tractor.

2. That's what I do.

3. See the haiku in my signature. Bear in mind that if you get ticketed for running a stop sign or red light, you have it coming to you.

4. All I will say is this: It seems like at least around here, a large percentage of fatal bike-car crashes happen on rural frontage roads. Proceed with caution, especially where the cars are exiting from the main part of the freeway.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 04-05-11, 10:14 PM
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Originally Posted by yammay View Post
1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?
Depending on the grade of the hill, I would say, yes. Because a motor vehicle speeding by you, while you are on the shoulder, could cause you to crash. By 'taking the lane', you would have more room to correct yourself, if the vehicle's physical momentum caused a gust of wind to temporarily cause you to lose your balance.

Originally Posted by yammay View Post
2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?
Center or left-center in the right-most lane.

Originally Posted by yammay View Post
3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?
It is a bad idea. Especially because cameras' may be installed in the traffic lights without your knowledge and you would run the risk of your picture being taken, when you run a red light.

Originally Posted by yammay View Post
4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?

Thank you!
Again 'take the lane'. Antagonistic motorists love to cut off cyclists.

On a multi-lane road, I will ride either, in the center or, almost all the way to the lines that run between the passing lane and the slow lane.
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Old 04-05-11, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
It is a bad idea. Especially because cameras' may be installed in the traffic lights without your knowledge and you would run the risk of your picture being taken, when you run a red light.
This is silly on so many levels. First of all, even if they take your picture, without a license plate, how will they know who you are? Secondly, EVERY red light camera intersection has signs as you approach announcing that there are red light cameras in the intersection. There have been times when I have been less than obedient to traffic control devices in front of cops and they never hassle me. Just make sure you're not violating another vehicle's right of way.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 04-06-11, 03:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Doohickie View Post
This is silly on so many levels. First of all, even if they take your picture, without a license plate, how will they know who you are? Secondly, EVERY red light camera intersection has signs as you approach announcing that there are red light cameras in the intersection. There have been times when I have been less than obedient to traffic control devices in front of cops and they never hassle me. Just make sure you're not violating another vehicle's right of way.
It is better to assume there are cameras' and just obey the law, instead of thinking there aren't cameras' and thinking one can just blow through the intersection.
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Old 04-06-11, 04:42 AM
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Originally Posted by yammay View Post
I'm new here (hello!) and have just started commuting to work. My ride is 10 miles through suburban and semi-rural areas. I'm new at riding and my pace is pretty slow, just over 10 miles/hour. I have a few questions regarding safety in traffic:

1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?

2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?

Thank you!
Welcome.

First thing I would suggest is to always ride with a mirror. After a while you should find that, as soon as a vehicle comes into your field of vision, you can determine whether the driver is an idiot.

Second, since you are not in a race, or having an emergency, it is best to stop for stop signs and red lights. This way you reduce your chances of irritating other road users.

Frequently your bike will not trigger a red light but if you wait for a sufficient gap in traffic that you can cross safely, you probably won't get harassed by the cops.

I hope this will help you.
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Old 04-06-11, 05:05 AM
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Originally Posted by yammay View Post
1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?
Unfortunately, there is no 100% right answer here. There are legal as well as practical questions that change the situation.

Myself, if there is an available shoulder that is in reasonable condition to ride and gives me reasonable space for passing cars (as well as maneuvering room to my right) I'll ride in the shoulder. If your options are only to hug the side of the lane or center, center is generally better; you need maneuvering room to your right, and that's one rule I never break.

I'd highly recommend getting a mirror (in my experience, helmet/glasses mounted mirrors work best). This way you can keep tabs on traffic approaching, and move right to give yourself more space if it appears they will be passing too closely. This has saved my butt before. Just my opinion, of course.

2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?
See above caveats. Otherwise, yes. Be sure to merge left into the left turn lane when making left turns. For the most part, you can consider how you would drive in a slow car and do that (again, just as a rule of thumb). Generally, most consider it good practice to share a lane if it is wide enough to safely share with a car. If a car can pass you in the same lane while leaving safety room on either side, nothing wrong with sharing a lane.

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?
Legally speaking, it depends on your local laws. If you proceed safely, I don't see anything wrong with it. A jerk cop may ticket you, but I very much doubt a judge would uphold it... it would be unreasonable to do anything else. But you are proceeding at your own risk. If you hit someone or someone hits you, you'll probably be at fault.

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?
A good rule of thumb is if the lane you are in is not big enough to share safely, do not ride to the right of the lane as this encourages a driver to share the lane anyway, unsafely. If you don't feel you can share the lane safely, take it.
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Old 04-06-11, 06:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
It is better to assume there are cameras' and just obey the law, instead of thinking there aren't cameras' and thinking one can just blow through the intersection.
So if a sensor won't pick your bike up and the light remains on red then you're going to stay there until a car comes along to change it for you? For 10 minutes? 20? An hour? Forever???
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Old 04-06-11, 06:35 AM
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Re. that busy intersection: an awful lot of serious collisions - maybe as high as 50% in urban areas - happen at these. The hits are almost always from the side or ahead. Rather than adopting a fixed lane position you need to obey several rules -

- Never ride alongside a truck or bus. Or even a car if you can help it, but ESPECIALLY a big guy. (So, yes, take the lane.) Otherwise you risk being turned into.

- Never ride so close behind a truck that you're hidden from hassled oncoming drivers. Some of them will assume that because they'd see a car's trunk sticking out of the blindspot it must be empty and attempt to use it to make their turn.

Also:

Be careful about moving through jammed traffic. Doors can fly open, peds can run out of cover without looking, and worst of all a gap can suddenly open up for a driver to make a turn that will block you, leaving you flying through the air at speed if you were unwise enough to sprint down the middle of the road. Move, but cautiously - eyes scanning for potential hazards, hands over brakes, etc.

Learn how to do an emergency stop:

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html

(Actually the above isn't quite right - you can use the rear brake more than Brown thinks, but the main thing is that you have to practice using the FRONT brake aggressively.)

And perhaps the best online safety guide:
How to Not Get Hit by Cars

http://bicyclesafe.com/
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Old 04-06-11, 07:19 AM
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Share the road and be courteous to other users, but not obsequious. Interpret the law sensibly and realize that those who enforce it might not. Only you can assess risk and decide if it's worth it.

Assuming you drive, as a motorist, how would you want bicyclists to ride? Ride that way.
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Old 04-06-11, 07:28 AM
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always only ride as far to the right as is safe to fairly share the road with faster vehicles wanting to overtake. Cyclists in Texas have the right to claim narrow lanes for your safety, but also cannot knowingly disregard the safety of other road users by impeding traffic without cause. This was a recent appelate court decision regarding bicycling in texas that should regulate your riding somewhat.

Everyones positioning advice is sound, the mirror advice is what i give cyclists getting started with commuting. I'd also recommend a bright front array, a high powered LED for daytime visibility.
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Old 04-06-11, 07:35 AM
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Originally Posted by yammay View Post
I'm new here (hello!) and have just started commuting to work. My ride is 10 miles through suburban and semi-rural areas. I'm new at riding and my pace is pretty slow, just over 10 miles/hour. I have a few questions regarding safety in traffic:
The Dallas area has a pretty active bike education program, so I would strongly suggest that you check around and take one of their Smart Cycling or Traffic Skills 101 classes. Each of your questions would be answered there. Or get a good book: John Forester's Effective Cycling, Robert Hurst's The Art of Urban Cycling, John Allen's Bicycling Street Smarts (available on-line), or maybe the LAB's new book, Smart Cycling.


1. Narrow country roads with one lane in each direction: From what I've read it's best to ride in the center of the lane. Does this still apply if the road is a steep uphill and I'm going very slowly, or is there some other etiquette or safety rule?
A narrow lane is defined as one where there isn't room for a car and cyclist to be side-by-side with at least three fet between them (typically 10 to 12 feet wide). This seems to be the default for most travel lanes in the MidSouth. Ride about where the right wheel track would be for motor vehicles, far enough out from the curb that automobiles have to shift lanes to pass you, as if you were another vehicle.

On uphills, you're going to be slow. Ride as far to the right as you feel safe, and once you crest the hill, shift as far right as you feel safe in order to keep some motorist from booming up (they can't see on the other side of the crest), getting surprised, and rear-ending you.


2. Busy suburban intersection, several lanes in each direction: What is the best lane position when I'm going straight? Center of the right-most straight lane? Again, does that apply when there's an uphill?
Always ride in the right-most lane that's going to your destination. In this case that would be the right-most lane that offers a straight-through arrow.

3. Red light or stop sign at an empty intersection: Many of the intersections I ride through are completely deserted, especially at 5:30 in the morning. My question applies especially at lights where I'm unable to trigger the green light. It's probably not legal to ride through these red lights or stop signs, but speaking practically, is it a bad idea?
If you make a habit of running stop signs and red lights, you're eventually gonna get hit. So cultivate good habits. Both signals require you to stop and yield to any crossing traffic, a red light actually requires you to stay stopped until the light changes back to green.

Check your state laws. Some states will allow drivers to proceed past a "dead red" after they have stopped for a couple of minutes, yielded to any crossing traffic, and there's no other traffic coming.

As for changing the light... Are you sure there's a detector there in the first place? Look for a camera, or cuts in the road surface where the detector wires were laid.

4. Frontage/access roads of highways, not much traffic (rural area), three lanes going in the same direction: What's the best lane position here? I've been riding on the right side of the right lane, but some of the few cars I do encounter seem to love to cut me off in front. Would it be better to take the lane, especially since there are two other lanes?

Thank you!
Ride the right-most lane that goes where you want to go. Lane control is going to depend on lane width and your speed relative to the other traffic.
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Old 04-06-11, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
always only ride as far to the right as is safe to fairly share the road with faster vehicles wanting to overtake. Cyclists in Texas have the right to claim narrow lanes for your safety, but also cannot knowingly disregard the safety of other road users by impeding traffic without cause. This was a recent appelate court decision regarding bicycling in texas that should regulate your riding somewhat.

Everyones positioning advice is sound, the mirror advice is what i give cyclists getting started with commuting. I'd also recommend a bright front array, a high powered LED for daytime visibility.
Good advice. Especially about the mirror - but do work out the blindspots and limitations of the mirror you buy and treat as an addition to looking around, not a replacement. And on the subject of hardware -

- Upgrade your brake pads to Kool Stop Salmon/Pink if you'll be riding in the rain

- Bikes usually come with cheap tyres that handle poorly. Browse Schwalbe's site and they'll explain what sort of upgrades in grip, speed and puncture resistance are available.
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Old 04-06-11, 12:01 PM
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Ride with traffic, don't go too fast for conditions. Ride for pedestrians and cars. Stay off narrow roads and leave plenty of room. Seems to have worked for me all these years ? Even there, no guarantees, but if you give yourself the best chance of survival in every situation, chances are you won't be injured or die because of your own negligence, that's 99.9% of it there, the other 0.1 % either don't matter or they were gonna get you anyway.
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Old 04-06-11, 12:07 PM
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The mirror is a good suggestion, but realize, just like a car, there are going to be blind spots, cars that travel varying speeds that won't ever be seen. Realize that there is no substitute for turning your neck & head, but also be aware that at a certain speed, some will not be able to turn and look without swerving and creating a potential hazardous situation that way. Again, slow down enough and ride as if everyone else on the road don't see you or are out to hit you.
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Old 04-06-11, 02:05 PM
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In most situations I ride to the right as practical. At lights or places where traffic will slow or stop I usually will take the lane and don't filter (unless there is a designated bike lane). After crossing the intersection or whatever I proceed to the right when it is safe for me and for other drivers to pass me.

If traffic control devices do not sense my presence then usually after the 2nd cycle I will proceed through cautiously.
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Old 04-06-11, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
It is better to assume there are cameras' and just obey the law, instead of thinking there aren't cameras' and thinking one can just blow through the intersection.
I never just blow through an intersection. But if the area is devoid of vehicles....

And whether there are cameras there or not, who cares? They can't give you a ticket unless you sport a license plate.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 04-06-11, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by limeylew View Post
Frequently your bike will not trigger a red light but if you wait for a sufficient gap in traffic that you can cross safely, you probably won't get harassed by the cops.
This.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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