Friday, April 15

Middle of the Traffic Lanes

Boulevards - I Don't Ride "Center Here"
or Do I?
 From Facebook came an inquiry from an individual that knows more about the whys and wherefors than most. He asked: "While bicycling in traffic, when do you ride in the middle of the traffic lane?"

Short Answer
Lane Splitting
Well, the short answer, one that is oversimplified is "I always ride in the middle of the traffic lane in traffic, unless the lane is so wide as to safely allow lane splitting with my motorists. Texas has conveniently defined that boundary as fourteen feet width." Mostly, situations where I allow my motorists to lane split can be considered as boulevards. It is ironic that the situation in which I do NOT ride in the middle of the lane is the one situation in which I'm technically breaking the "far to the right" laws.

Splitting Hairs

You'll Note That "The Center" is not Quite So Simple
 As for the more in-depth answer, I rarely actually ride in the middle of the traffic lane. Normally, I'll ride in "the line of sweetness," which is the smooth pavement that lies most directly in front of the eye line of a distracted motorist whose peripheral vision has gotten impaired. THAT tends to be (most often) the right hand edge of the left hand tire track. Those tire tracks are rarely centered on the marked lane.

What's more, when I come up on intersections, I'll move either left or right from my "in between" intersection lane position. I do this so I can CLEARLY indicate to overtaking traffic which way I intend to go. If I plan to turn left, I'll move even further left in the lane. If I plan to turn right, I may drift right. Whatever I do, the intention is to make it obvious to "the village idiot" where I'm going to be in the future so that same "idiot" can arrange to be at some other point.

Honest Truth

Here, I Actually Technically
was "Wrong Way" for a Moment
 Despite my own riding choices, I have to say that lane position is really NOT all that cycling advocates claim. In reality, there's not a lot of solid research besides individual opinion to support anything other than that you don't want to ride out of the motorist's zone of attention. Mostly, that means anywhere between the right tire track and the lane markers on the left hand side of the lane. The only real disadvantage to riding the right tire track is that minor swerves can send an unintended message to a following motorist that it's OK to pass without a lane change, and the dumber ones may not realize they have to actually make a lane chance to pass until they are closer than you'd want. Riding in "the line of sweetness" simply keeps thing simpler for everyone.

So, other than by sheer happenstance, do I EVER ride in the middle of a lane?

You'll Note that Tire Tracks are Not Centered in the Lane. I USUALLY Ride Relative to the Tire Tracks.
Most Often, That Means the RH Side of the LH Tire Track. That Puts Me Squarely
in the Center of Attention of any Following Motorist. Even a Distracted Motorist
IMO, it is Not Enough to Ride for the MOST Motorists. I Ride for the Extremes.Not Everyone LIKES That, But it is MY Life that is Most at Risk


John Romeo Alpha said...

I seem to recall that motorcyclists are also advised to ride in about this same position, the left tire track of the right lane, for similar reasons. My impression (and it's just an impression, I don't have data on it) is that this position also makes it easier to communicate with drivers both with hand signals and head movement. They always seem to notice.

Janice in GA said...

This is on 4-lane roads, yes?

Steve A said...

Janice, while the photos are four lane roads, the principles also apply in the case of two lane roads. In the honking project, I found motorists to be as polite and cooperative on two lane roads as on the larger roads where it was much easier to legally make a full lane change before passing. Two lane roads are more stressful for the cyclist that is trying to be polite, however.

Steve A said...

JRA is correct about motorcyclists, or so I have read. I have not yet taken a motorcycle safety course, though I plan to do so. When on the road, really, a cyclist is much the same as a motorcyclist with a seriously underpowered engine. Doing wheelies on the freeway wasn't a good idea anyway.

Chuck Davis said...

I am not so sure that comparing a cyclist with a motorcyclist with a seriously under powered engine is valid or of too much relevance, the only qualifier being how much "underpowered"

It doesn't take too much/that much power to clear intersections expeditiously/safely, enter and keep up with the traffic flow, after that it is just keeping out of harms way with the rest of the traffic

The sole common element is when something undesired/unexpected/accidentally occurs, is the two wheeler gets dinged more and the rider looses more skin or worse

Khal said...

Back in the Pleistocene when I was riding motorcycles, one was advised not to ride in the center of the lane because that's where most of the oils and greases were deposited from car chassis, making that part of the road pretty slippery, esp. when wet or hot. I think cars are generally cleaner than they used to be. Not sure that still applies.

I'm actually skeptical of whether all this emphasis of riding in the left third vs. right third vs. center has been tested, either with model drivers in computer simulations or actual accident reconstructions. How fast does peripheral vision drop off?

Certainly one wants to be far enough our to deter motorists from passing without changing lanes. That means staying out of the gutter and not riding the edge. I suggest taking enough of the lane so that motorists HAVE to change lanes to pass. Whether one's exact position is all that critical is something that someone ought to do a controlled experiment with. If someone has (and its been peer-reviewed and published in a reputable journal), sorry I missed it.

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