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New commuter. Some questions.

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New commuter. Some questions.

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Old 08-27-01, 11:57 PM
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gedanken
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New commuter. Some questions.

I commute through relatively busy downtown streets laden with stoplights. Most of the stoplights are timed so that I don't have to lose momentum. Sometimes I'll come up to a long line of double-parked cars at a red light, or maybe a red light that has just turned green. Since, I like to be at the front of the pack when the light turns green else I will not be able to make it to the next light in time, as well as wanting to maintain momentum if the light has just turned green, I simply ride through the space between two cars. I can hold a line and am not in danger of hitting any mirrors, etc. Does anyone else do this? Is this considered illegal or bad cycling behavior?

Another thing I do on large (4 or 5 lane) one way boulevards is ride on the left side of the road on the dividing line between lanes. I do this because I need to make a left turn eventually and if I wait until I get too close to the turn it becomes congested with traffic and is difficult to cross. I don't ride right on the left side because it is reserved for left turns only. So what ends up happening is cars will pass me simultaneously on both sides. Like I said I can hold a line, and maintain about 18-20 mph on my mtb. I was wondering if this is considered safe?

Thanks for all replies. I'm new to commuting on busy streets and want to stay safe.
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Old 08-28-01, 12:53 AM
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Allister
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Originally posted by gedanken
I commute through relatively busy downtown streets laden with stoplights. Most of the stoplights are timed so that I don't have to lose momentum. Sometimes I'll come up to a long line of double-parked cars at a red light, or maybe a red light that has just turned green. Since, I like to be at the front of the pack when the light turns green else I will not be able to make it to the next light in time, as well as wanting to maintain momentum if the light has just turned green, I simply ride through the space between two cars. I can hold a line and am not in danger of hitting any mirrors, etc. Does anyone else do this? Is this considered illegal or bad cycling behavior?
I do it all the time, but I did make a thorough check of the road regs here to make sure it was legal. In the absence of a law specifically stating whether I can or can't I had to make a bit of an interpretation of other relevant regs and came to the conclusion that it is legal here in Queensland. Your location might be different.

My interpretaion is that if cars are allowed to pass me in the same lane, then I'm allowed to do likewise to them, and I can do this in whatever lane I deem appropriate, or 'practicable' as the regs put it. I've done it in plain view of police cars and never been brought to task over it - although that may be because they couldn't catch me in the traffic even if they wanted to

The name for this practice is 'lane-splitting' and can be a useful tool in the commuter's armoury. It's my experience that it is often much safer and quicker than taking the kerbside or the footpath if the lanes are narrow.

One thing to look out for, though, is cars leaving gaps in front of them. It usually means they're letting a car turn across the lane into or out of a side street. Slow down, keep your eyes open and be ready to stop for them.

<colourful anecdote>
There was a spot on a route I used to take where I'd get three lanes of traffic backed up at a light at the bottom of a smallish hill. If I timed it right I'd be able to scream past all the cars in the lane-split and hit the light just as it turned green. Sometimes it'd turn green a little eearlier so I'd be between the traffic as it was starting to move. It was a bit like the Death Star trench run except with moving walls (and no laser turrets shooting at me ), and spitting out of the traffic at the light would often prompt me to give a big Lando Calrissian holler a la Return of the Jedi. I would only get this rarely, maybe once a fortnight, but it was a little bonus thrill on an otherwise dull ride.
</colourful anecdote>


Originally posted by gedanken
Another thing I do on large (4 or 5 lane) one way boulevards is ride on the left side of the road on the dividing line between lanes. I do this because I need to make a left turn eventually and if I wait until I get too close to the turn it becomes congested with traffic and is difficult to cross. I don't ride right on the left side because it is reserved for left turns only. So what ends up happening is cars will pass me simultaneously on both sides. Like I said I can hold a line, and maintain about 18-20 mph on my mtb. I was wondering if this is considered safe?

Thanks for all replies. I'm new to commuting on busy streets and want to stay safe. [/B]
Only you know if this is safe, but from what I've read, you're fine.

I'm a little unclear on the situation though. If you're turning left, why not use the left turn only lane? The trick, as it seems you've already figured out, is to get into the lane you want early enough to make sure you have time to do it. If you leave it too late and have to slow down it only makes it all the more difficult and dangerous.

If you've got the nerve for it, having cars pass on both sides shouldn't be a problem.

If you're new to commuting on busy streets the only thing I'd advise you to really beware of is overconfidence. Keep your wits about you and don't take ANYTHING for granted. Personally I enjoy busy roads, and the busier the better, but we all have our own particular little perversions (I've never understood ChrisL's obsession with headwinds, for example )

Last edited by Allister; 08-28-01 at 12:58 AM.
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Old 08-28-01, 02:59 AM
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Hello Gedanken,

I do that kind of thing all the time, but with the proviso that you want to watch out for being doored, and also you want to go easy and slow, attempting NOT to pi*s the gentle drivers off.

Although I'll admit to taking some free right turns on red, you don't really want to go through red lights...it can make the car drivers mad at you, it provides grist to the "Get those toys off the road!" mill and you set a bad example.

You also want to excerise caution when drafting off of cars/vehicles.

Good luck, and remember, always act as if they are trying to kill you. You'll be gratified at the nice drivers, and prepared for the bad ones.

cheers,
tt
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Old 08-28-01, 07:11 AM
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Regarding passing cars waiting for a light, I would be careful. Depending on the road and the dispositions of drivers in your downtown, you will likely anger the drivers and foster badwill from them, if you pass them on the right only to make them need to pass you later. If they won't be able to pass you anyway, this shouldn't be as much of a problem. It may or may not be legal in your state/city. This you may be able to check online, especially for the state. If I'm going straight, I take the lane and wait in line with the cars. If I'm turning right and there are only a couple of cars in front of me, I signal, pass them, and turn.

As for getting to the left early to turn, I'd do it. In fact, I have to do this every day. I have a two block stretch where this happens to me. I turn right, go two blocks, then get over to the leftmost lane to turn left. If my first turn (right) is on a red, the traffic will usually clear for me within a block. If I turn right with the green light onto a clear street during rush hour, that means there is a mass of cars waiting to overtake me. They usually will catch me just before I need to get over, so I take the left lane as soon as possible. I believe this is, by far, the safest method. When I do this on a 3-5 lane one way downtown, I just make certain that whatever lane I'm in is mine. I take the whole lane, not riding the line. It is safer to make the cars behind wait. In downtown traffic, they are not going faster - or much faster - than I am anyway.

Jonathan
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Old 08-29-01, 08:49 AM
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Well, you guys stay alert and be careful. I prefer to take NO chances. I consider myself very lucky to have found routes that keep me out of traffic situations where I feel forced to do things like ride between two lines of cars. My afternoon commute is just over 13 miles vs 8.75 in the morning in order to circumvent traffic. As it turns out, it is also just a much nicer ride as well. I know that for some of you there is just no alternative to heavily-travelled arteries, and I feel for you.

Along these lines, I saw my first cyclist accident yesterday evening. Must have just happened. The guy was sitting up looking a little dazed, and people were talking to him so I didn't stop. I couldn't see any obvious damage to his bike. He was wearing a helmet. I hate to say it, but I would be willing to bet that the cyclist was at fault or at least has to accept partial blame. Based on the shopping bag he had, I envision that he had shopped at the pharmacy or restaurant on one side of the major street and was crossing that street via a left turn only in the wrong direction. The motorist stopped at the stop sign from the opposite side of the street, who could only turn right, was probably looking back to the left at the only direction traffic should be coming from. She probably pulled out into the path of the cyclist and either bumped him or he ran into her. Luckily the truck coming down the major street had plendy of time to stop and sat blocking the lane so the cyclist didn't get run over.

I would be willing to bet that 100% of the cyclists I see are doing something dangerous, illegal, or both. I seem to be the only one who actually stops for red lights just as though I were in a car. I am always willing to defer to motor vehicles, regardless of the situation, even if it means waiting for another light. If I were in that much of a hurry I wouldn't ride a bike. Maybe I'm just a big weenie, but I have 4 important reasons to make sure I get home safely every day.
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Old 08-29-01, 09:12 AM
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If you are going to play the lights and traffic, you have to take full responsibility for your actions, and the consequences to yourself and others. You have to know the lights and junctions, and be prepared for drivers who dont know them, or make a mistake.

I sometimes pass red, or ride on the inside, but Im very careful not to interrupt the flow of traffic or endanger anyone (esp me) when I do that. On standard US-style cross junctions, its not something I would do, but on some of the weird UK layouts, you have to think your way through them.

In some states even crossing a green in heavy/stationary traffic you don't have automatic right of way. If a car turns across a gap in the waiting traffic and takes you out, you are at fault !!!
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Old 08-29-01, 09:21 AM
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I stay in the queue of traffic, just as if I were a car.

I think it somewhat risky to ride down the middle of two lanes of cars! Way too easy to get doored, or caught in between lanes if the light changes to green.

If I'm turning left, I signal and move into the left lane early and again queue in, seizing the lane just as if I were a car.

To me, the issue is safety. I ride in alot of traffic on my 12 mile commute each day.

Sometimes the cars will pass me and shift back into the lane cutting me off before a stop sign, and I don't mind riding past them while we are waiting on the light or stop sign. If they look particularly psychotic, I might not try that, but it is a quiet way of saying: "Yo fool, you cut me off!" So I guess I'm willing to takes some risks, or I wouldn't be on the road in the first place.
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Old 08-29-01, 05:17 PM
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I think the risks associated with lane-splitting are often overstated and are rarely founded in actual experience. I can understand this, it does seem like it'd be very dangerous being so close to all those cars.

I would like to dispell some of the myths involved here - and this is based on extensive experience of the practice. If you have taken the time to give the practice a good try (at least more than once), and have come to a different conclusion, I can respect that.

1. Getting doored is extremely unlikely. It's a much more likely eventuality if your passing cars on the kerbside than in the lanesplit. It's never happened to me. Not even once.

2. Riding between moving cars is not really much different that riding between stationary cars. In fact if they're moving they have the opportunity to give you a little more room if they see you coming. In my expereince this happens remarkably often. Conversely I have only ever had one person deliberatly attempt to block me. He didn't.

3. Cars and their drivers are NOT out to kill all cyclists. The road is often typified as a battleground, but I've found this to be patently false - it's actually quite civilised out there if you care to notice it, especially in regular commuter traffic. There is no need for irrational fear. Don't let the occasional bastard distract you from the truth that the vast majority of drivers are reasonable people.

4. Contact with a car does not automatically result in instant death. This seems like an obvious statement, but the impression I get is that many hold the fear that so much as a light brushing from a car will end in peramnent disability or death. I am living proof that this is not the case - I did actually go down recently whilst lane-splitting. It wasn't fun, but I'm still here and still riding. Contact with a car doesn't even necessarily mean a fall - I don't recommend you try it, but I have even on occasion deliberately leant against a truck or bus to fit through a marginal gap in traffic. It's important that your relative velocity is very small or zero.

5. Lanesplitting is no more hazardous, perhaps less so, than hurtling down a narrow single-track on a mountain bike. You certainly have a less twisty route, and the surface is usually very smooth (watch out for cats eyes) allowing you to focus more intently on where you are going. I've certainly crashed less lane-splitting than I have mountainbiking.

6. Don't worry too much about angering motorists. Anyone that prone to anger will find a reason whatever you do. The only person's attitude you should concern yourself with is your own. If lane-splitting offends your conscience, don't do it, but don't avoid it over some misplaced concern about the attitudes of the irrational. I have never encountered an adverse reaction to my lane-splitting - to be fair, from the motorist's perspective I've come and gone to quickly for any reaction to form, and since no-one is put at risk or inconvenienced, why should there be a problem? It's my secret belief that there is some small amount of awe in what I'm doing, mainly due to them making a mistaken assesment of the risk I am taking.

7. At least you don't have to worry about getting rear ended

Of course, YMMV.

The most important thing, as always, is to stay aware and alert and don't assume anything. But we all do this all the time anyway, don't we?

Allister

Last edited by Allister; 08-29-01 at 05:31 PM.
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