Is taking the Whole Lane Safer? Mythbusting- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Caution;  Merge;  Workers Ahead! Is taking the Whole Lane Safer? Mythbusting

    Riding on the shoulder may be more dangerous on a high-speed road...

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    Mythbusters on Highway 535
    Feb 5th, 2010
    by Keri.


    “Yer gonna get run over.” Says the average person (including many cyclists) in any discussion about riding in the lane on a high speed road.

    In honor of our favorite jailbirds, Mighk and I decided to head out on a little myth-busting excursion yesterday. Instead of the usual cyclist-chasing-cyclist, we did some motorist-view video. I mounted a 110° lens on the seat post of Mighk’s mountain bike and a 70° lens on my Jetta’s rear view mirror.

    Mighk went out ahead and I let a little bit of traffic go before me. Then I caught up and passed him. We did several passes of Highway 535 between Chase Rd. and Reams Rd. It’s a divided 4-lane highway with 12ft lanes and 8ft shoulders (sometimes with a few feet of grass incursion). The speed limit is 55mph. The 85th percentile is probably faster. In the video clip, Mighk was riding 17mph and I was approaching/passing at 55 mph. The 30 seconds between seeing him and passing him felt like an eternity. Mighk did the math for me:

    "55 mph minus 17 mph equals 38 mph equals 53 feet per second equals 1,600 feet at 30 seconds; that’s roughly 5 times the stopping sight distance."

    Motorist behavior


    In all of the video, when Mighk was driving in the right lane, motorists changed lanes. Only 2 didn’t make a complete lane change — they had their right wheels on the line as they passed. Considering Mighk was riding about 5 feet into a 12ft lane, that’s still a pretty good passing distance. A few times, the platoon behind him looked pretty thick, but they all managed to change lanes. I picked the most interesting continuous segment for this video, and added in 40 seconds of shoulder-riding. The difference is pretty obvious.

    Here’s the video:
    <object width="400" height="225"><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><param name="movie" value="https://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9232098&amp;server=vimeo.com &amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portr ait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1" /><embed src="https://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9232098&amp;server=vimeo.com &amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portr ait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="400" height="225"></embed></object><p><a href="https://vimeo.com/9232098">Mythbusting on Highway 535</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/kericaffrey">Keri Caffrey</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

    The cyclist experience vs the motorist experience

    The most striking thing about watching all this video is the difference in experience. Passing a cyclist is a single momentary event for a motorist. The motorist is in a sealed cockpit, can see the cyclist from a great distance, has plenty of time to change lanes, then can go on without another thought. Being passed is a continuous reality for the cyclist. The cyclist is exposed to the environment, the wind, the noise, and intimately feels the proximity of passing vehicles.

    The person who travels by bike every day knows what road position works best (or as Steve calls it, the “Line of Sweetness”) and should be given the freedom to do what works. Within the “narrow lane” exception to the FTR law, a cyclist does have the freedom to choose any position within a lane less than 14ft wide (but loses that freedom when in a lane of 14ft or more).

    To accuse a cyclist of being militant, selfish or rude for riding in the lane is nothing more than car-centric bias assuming the bicycle driver is of lesser status than the motor vehicle driver — especially in context of how easy it is to see and safely pass a cyclist. Sadly, the people who I’ve most often seen making such an accusation are other cyclists.

    Review

    Here are some stills from the camera on Mighk’s bike (the wide angle lens distorts the perspective because it’s on the left side of the bike. He was actually riding just right of center in the lane):

    Average passing distance while claiming the right lane


    Closest pass while claiming the right lane (truck's wheels are on the line)


    Average passing distance (right lane traffic) while riding in the shoulder


    Closest pass while riding in the shoulder

    While the closest pass is way too close for me, the over-all clearance in the shoulder is tolerable. This is partly because the shoulder is so wide (4 feet wider than is typical) and the right lane is also relatively wide. But much of the shoulder along this road was covered in small pebbles. Riding in the right lane would be more comfortable for me. Use of the shoulder is optional in Florida, as it is in all but 4 states (Alaska, Maryland, New York & Hawaii have mandatory shoulder use laws).

    Those of us who choose to ride in the lane vs the shoulder do not insist that others make the same choice if they are not comfortable with it. We simply provide information to allow others to make the choice based on something more than knee-jerk fear of the unknown. The only thing we insist upon, is protecting our right to ride in the part of the road where we feel safest and most comfortable.
    Honestly... ahh I give up

  2. #2
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    Interesting. thanks.

    I'm still too scared to take the lane by myself. A group, no problem. Safety in numbers / herding mentality.

  3. #3
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    My preference of places to ride are:

    1) Single Track
    2) Fire Road
    3) Paved Road with little/no traffic
    4) In shoulder of nice wide road with any speed limit
    5) In lane if shoulder does not exist
    6) MUP
    7) Sidewalk
    8) Indoor shopping mall

    The only time I really feel good about taking a lane is when I am moving close to the speed of traffic and it is for a relatively short distance. On a flat extended piece of roadway congested with cars, taking the lane may be safer than trying to let cars pass you in the lane, but still fraught with risk. On the other hand, if there is a downhill section with no shoulder for a period before you get a nice place to ride, I don't mind. Cars are coming up on you much more slowly.
    Last edited by EBrider; 03-25-2010 at 03:42 PM.

  4. #4
    One Colorful Rider
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    I'll take the lane if no shoulder.
    At Stop lights Take the Right lane if two lanes are present

    I am Traffic

  5. #5
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    While I don't ride on highways like the experiment shows, I do ride on narrower stretches of two lane roadways as part of my commute. Based on my experience, I would confirm their findings. If I take the lane, drivers almost always pass me with a much wider distance. When I hug the white line for some reason most drivers try to share the lane and pass by much closer to me, and sometimes at higher speeds too. An interesting experiment for sure.
    I ride at ludicrous speed

  6. #6
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    Readers of this thread might find this: http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2010...ike-lanes.html of interest.

    A thread discussing a new day for bicycle with repect to road planning is here:

    http://www.cpfgreen.com/vb/showthrea...=6788#post6788

    Nice work on the video. Matches my experience pretty well. Heavy, fast traffic, blind curves and hills can make a wide shoulder a godsend.

  7. #7
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    i dont have a problem with bicycle riding on the car lane if there is more than one lane going in that direction like in the video . i hate it when they take the lane and its the only one the only way around them is by getting on the wrong lane to pass them. when they could just get in the bike lane just to the right of them.

  8. #8
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    I like this and agree with this, but there's one simple fact that remains: The motorists are not under your control.

    All it takes is one inattentive, or slow, or sleepy, or nearly blind driver. I can't argue that my chances on the shoulder are any better or worse; the nearness of some of the passes can be frightful, and drivers often stray across the solid white "fog line."

    Case in point: today's horrific wreck in Phoenix. Garbage truck -- driver way up in the air with an incredible field of vision -- fails to note 9 or 10 motorcycles and some cars stopped for a red light at an intersection, and kills a bunch by plowing into them at high speed.

    If that garbage truck driver or Santa Clara County deputy sheriff from a couple years back represents even only 1 of 100,000 drivers on the road, in the long run, what are our chances? Does it really matter if we take the lane or ride on the shoulder?

    I'm with EB rider: I'll manage my risks to where I have more control.
    speedub.nate
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  9. #9
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    Not surprising, but very interresting. Also, they sure did a good job with the experiment and the video. Still I personally don`t have the nerve to take a lane on a full scale highway when there`s a good shoulder like in the test zone on the video. Maybe it just goes too far beyond my conditioning? I do find myself taking the lane around town more often than I used to (actually, I never even considered taking a lane until a couple years ago) and the more comfortable I get with that, the more situations find myself using that strategy..

    BMc, thanks for your links too. I hope I get a chance to check them out in depth before I forget and get distracted by someting else.
    Recalculating....

  10. #10
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    lanes are lanes

    Quote Originally Posted by clutch_08
    i dont have a problem with bicycle riding on the car lane if there is more than one lane going in that direction like in the video . i hate it when they take the lane and its the only one the only way around them is by getting on the wrong lane to pass them. when they could just get in the bike lane just to the right of them.
    Your mistake; a road is a road...there is no such thing as a car lane. Road's are for people to travel on.



    Learn some patient and learn how to safely pass. Most communities have slow vechicle passing rules, learn them and use them.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by clutch_08
    i dont have a problem with bicycle riding on the car lane if there is more than one lane going in that direction like in the video . i hate it when they take the lane and its the only one the only way around them is by getting on the wrong lane to pass them. when they could just get in the bike lane just to the right of them.
    I am a pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist (with close to a million miles). I don't like using the right lane of a four lane when traffic is heavy, as there is too much chance of a last minute move that leaves the next car unaware or the rapid right lane change from behind a truck in the left lane that killed a commutter in Lexington last year, PROVIDED that there is a good usable shoulder.

    Maybe you are referring to an area with true bike lanes and cyclists still using the road lane. If so, I agree except at intersections where being right hooked is a great threat or 'bike lanes' that are poor excuses for sidewalks and not safe to ride with anything but a MTB or 29r. I suggest a bit of tolerance there. The cyclist is trying to stay alive, though that may not be obvious. You must respect and accomodate that decision. Hate is inappropriate unless the cyclist cut in front of you or did some other idiotic thing as some will do. (There are idiots everywhere!). You can accept the cyclist's decision amicably or not, that's up to you.

    Refering to the shoulder (this thread) as a 'bike lane' will trigger some negative feelings in this forum. I assume that was not your intent.

    I may have misunderstood, but I infer a fear of using the passing lane. If you mean doing so across a double line with poor line of sight, you have very good reasons to hate it. Do I tense up approaching a cyclist on a two-lane with no clear site line. You bet! Especially the very young. You NEED that extra attention at that time. Slowing, checking, and passing safely. We owe that to each other. It is NOT a personal affront and not something to hate.
    Last edited by BrianMc; 03-26-2010 at 12:29 PM.

  12. #12
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    Interesting video, thanks for posting. Despite the results, I think I would be more nervous in that lane than on the shoulder, just because I would be hearing every car and thinking "Will they change lanes safely & go around?". It requires an active correction by the driver to avoid me, whereas if I'm on that shoulder I only have to rely on them continuing to drive between the lines. I think that is why it feels safer to me, assuming the shoulder is decently rideable on the bike I am on. Another consideration is it would be more dangerous if the sun were in their eyes.

    Most of my riding is on narrow roads, 1 lane each direction. Some have shoulders, some don't. I don't routinely take the lane but do to avoid squish zones like if I see a truck parked on the side of the road ahead, or to avoid bad pavement, roadkill, big puddles, etc. Also to get into the correct turning or not-turning lane, or to telegraph, "no I am not taking that right fork ahead that you and 50% of the traffic takes, so please don't squish me"

    p.s. The road noise seemed quiet for a 55mph road, but maybe it's hard to capture.

  13. #13
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    If a safe shoulder exists then IMHO that is where you should ride. Only take the lane when required. I believe that I am safer riding out of traffic, and let's face it, if it is safe to ride on the shoulder and not hold up traffic, then that is the most courteous thing to do. We do remember common courtesy, right?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodway
    If a safe shoulder exists then IMHO that is where you should ride. Only take the lane when required. I believe that I am safer riding out of traffic, and let's face it, if it is safe to ride on the shoulder and not hold up traffic, then that is the most courteous thing to do. We do remember common courtesy, right?
    Absolutely.
    I think some people's (DOT included) definition of what a bike LANE is is off.
    A shoulder is not a "lane" IMO
    Honestly... ahh I give up

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodway
    If a safe shoulder exists then IMHO that is where you should ride. Only take the lane when required. I believe that I am safer riding out of traffic, and let's face it, if it is safe to ride on the shoulder and not hold up traffic, then that is the most courteous thing to do. We do remember common courtesy, right?
    You are less visible on the shoulder than in the lane. They will come closer. But it seems to me the dolts who can't see my fairly upright form at 6' 8" to the top of my helmet light in the saddle, and my ANSI vest when I am just to the right of the rumble strip are the very same dolts likely to run right over me when the truck in front moves and uncovers me.

    So in general, I agree, and do use the shoulder where I think it is feasible. Although it is illegal here for vehicles to use the shoulder as a lane and human powered conveyances are to follow vehicle rules.

    One section of road has a wide shoulder with a rough surface as in pitch back and forth, up and down and rougher anti-ice striations. Tubulars would be eaten alive. There is almost no traffic. No rumble strips either. Takes too much chamois cream and you lose at least 1 mph on the shoulder. I have only had to get over for simultaneous overtaking and approaching vehicles once in almost 3 years of riding this new road. So forget the shoulder as much as possible in this case. Overtaking vehicles have long clear sight lines as do I so it is safe to ride the lane and healthier

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodway
    If a safe shoulder exists then IMHO that is where you should ride. Only take the lane when required. I believe that I am safer riding out of traffic, and let's face it, if it is safe to ride on the shoulder and not hold up traffic, then that is the most courteous thing to do. We do remember common courtesy, right?
    I think the key word is "safe." When I feel I have a feasible option, I always try to be courteous, whether I'm riding my bike, driving my pickup, or driving a 24' box truck. If the shoulder starts and stops, has cars parked in it, has holes in it, has debris all over it, etc. etc., it's not really safe and I'm a lot more inclined to take the lane.

    I'm in a bike-ranting mood right now. Just rode with Critical Mass.

    But really, I think that if we let safety and courtesy be our guides, in that order, it's relatively easy to make good choices. There are a few places in my city where that puts me right in the middle of the lane even with a bike lane striped right next to me. There are other places where I'll ride on the side of the road without any striping.

    The thing that really gets me is when people hug the curb and then wander into traffic to get around a parked car, and then go back, or ride their bikes on the sidewalk and shoot out into traffic at intersections.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  17. #17
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    Most cyclists highly over estimate the risk of "taking the lane". Especially when combined with hi-vis clothes and flashing blinkies, the benefits greatly out weigh the risks. You not only get more respect from overtaking traffic, but cross traffic as well. (think less pull outs that violate your right of way) Plus, you'll have better sight lines to see cars, and be seen by drivers sooner.

    I often default to a centered lane position and only move right if faster traffic comes up behind me, and it is safe and reasonable to do so. If it is not, then they will have to slow down and wait behind me until there is a safe chance to pass. (or I make my turn)

    If there is any question in my mind that a motorist behind may not be slowing, I'll issue a slow/stop signal to help them out with the decision. Once it is safe to allow them past I'll drift right and sometimes wave as they go by. I find a mirror indispensable to help execute and monitor this.
    Last edited by AlmostQuick; 03-26-2010 at 11:12 PM.

  18. #18
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    Interesting. As a new commuter (started in January), I wondered about this very thing; taking a lane when needed vs shoulder. My commute is blessed/cursed? with a marked/lined 'bike lane' on the right for about half, and just a signed 'bike lane' for the other half (just a wider are for parked cars, leaving about 4.5' between the average car and the line of the #2 lane). In a few spots, this 'bile lane' is very narrow and is no more than a gutter + an extra foot, mostly overgrown with weeds, and just 'not there' under the freeway overpass. In those places and at any time I am not comfortable off at the far right, I take the lane. At stops and lights where there is no lined 'bike lane' I take the lane.

    Being visible is the key. When I am driving in the dark, nothing irks me more than having to quick move or brake for a cyclist who is wearing dark clothing, has no reflectors and has no lights. I call them 'suicide riders' because they must want to be hit, going out like that. So I kept this in mind when I started commuting, by decking out my bike with lots of lights.

    In back: Viewpoint Flashpoint, Blackburn Mars 3, Sefras Seatstay light.
    Sides: Reflective tape: downtube, chainstay, seatstay and fork.
    Blue BikeGlow (Yes works great- you will be visible from the sides I can't recommend this enough.)
    Nite Ize and Planet Bike clip on glowsticks- headtube/seattube.
    Nite Ize Glowstick on rear pak.
    Stella 150 on high and Sefras headlight blinking in front.
    Orange reflective vest and reflective bands on my legs.

    I hope to give drivers plenty of time to react as they should be seeing me from quite a distance in the dark (I must look like a UFO LOL). I know when I approach a rider while in my truck and they are well lit and I had time to move, I am grateful that they thought enough to do so and move over gladly. I do not feel this way with suicide riders.

    Daylight, going home is another matter. I leave the Mars on, as it is brightest, and the Sefras blinking headlight and take the lane when the road design or conditions leave me feeling crowded on the shoulder. In one spot, approaching a major freeway and people are at their worst cutting each other off in trying to get into the onramp (real zoo) I popup onto the sidewalk as no lane is safe.

    In the end, conditions at the time, and visibility, should influence your decision as to where you should be.

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