It was a bright, sunny, warm day last Tuesday as I rode my bike home from work. Unusual for this year, with its never-ending cold and drizzle, and it was a quite enjoyable ride. I was coming down the Off-Broadway bike route, just past Trimble Park when the ride became much less enjoyable. A driver decided to pass me and then cut back in front of me with literally inches to spare.
There was no reason for him to pass me: I was going above the speed limit as it was. There was no need to cut me off: there was no oncoming traffic. There was no prior “history”: I didn’t have any interaction, or knowledge of this car and driver until nearly being knocked off my bike.
Fortunately I had my helmet-cam on at the time and recorded the incident. And the driver running the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. And the driver trying to pass another cyclist on the inside of a traffic roundabout. A real winner, this one.
When I got home, I took the video and posted it to YouTube with some commentary. I tweeted the video out and it got circulated around a bit. But some of the feedback I got surprised me: Two acquaintances asked what I was doing riding so far in the middle of the lane. I admit to being a bit shocked: I expected some commentary on the fact I was exceeding the 30 kph speed limit, but not about where I was riding.
Where I was riding (when the car passed me) was about 2/3rds of the way from the curb. Why I was riding there is pretty simple:
• I had just passed a parked car (3 seconds before the car nearly clipped me). I always pass parked cars with at least a door’s-width space between it and me to avoid being doored.
• The road typically has lots of parked cars on that side, and rather than weave my way in and out of them, I stay in one place. As it turns out, there were fewer that day, but you don’t know that until you go over the crest of the hill.
• The lane has a significant “seam” running down the middle of it, which will cause havoc with bike tires if you catch it wrong. You can see this seem 3 seconds after the car passes me, the black squiggle almost right in the middle of the right lane.
• When riding down the hill, out of reach of the parked cars, the lane is too narrow for a car to pass you, so I “take the lane” to try to prevent the sort of behaviour that just nearly sent me flying.
In short, I was riding where I felt safest. Watch the whole video (0:37) to judge for yourself.
183.2(c) “must, subject to paragraph (a), ride as near as practicable to the right side of the highway,”
The City of Vancouver Street and Traffic By-Law No. 2849 effectively says the same thing:
“59. The driver of every slow moving vehicle shall drive such vehicle as close as possible to the right hand edge or curb of any street unless it is impracticable to travel on such side. For the purpose of this section a bicycle shall be regarded at all times as a slow moving vehicle.”
The problem is the word “practicable”. It’s defined as:
Capable of being effected, done, or put into practice; feasible.
The “problem” is that it’s a very subjective word. In my mind, it’s the wrong word too. I think it should be “safe”, but that too is very subjective.
The City of Vancouver’s Riding Safely guidelines seem to agree:
“Lane position: If a lane is narrow or has no shoulder, ride near the middle of the lane for improved visibility and safety.”
All cycling advocacy and safety organizations talk about “taking the lane”. This is when a cyclist rides in the middle of the lane, asserting their presence and becoming more visible. In fact, BikeSense The British Columbia Bicycle Operator’s Manual (an excellent guide funded by many agencies including the provincial government and ICBC, published by the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition) says:
“If there is no shoulder or bike lane and the curb lane is narrow (i.e. when the right wheel track of most traffic is less than a metre from the curb), cyclists may choose to take the whole lane by riding in the centre of it. This can be safer than riding near the curb, which may encourage motorist to squeeze by where there isn’t sufficient room. You should also consider taking the lane when you are travelling at the same speed as other traffic. This will keep you out of motorists’ blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic.”
Of course the very next line is:
“Be prepared for the occasional frustrated driver who is not familiar with the safe and legal operation of a bicycle.”
So, I give you the following rules-of-thumb for cyclists to practice and motorists to be aware of:
• Ride at least 1 metre from the curb to avoid debris, storm grates, and the gutter lip.
• Ride at least 1 metre from parked cars to avoid being doored, and do not weave in and out of intermittent parked cars.
• If your safe riding position puts you so far into the lane that it is impractical for vehicles to safely pass you, “take the lane” to discourage vehicles from dangerously squeezing by.
Where do you ride? Do you “take the lane”?
Last modified: July 23, 2012