I’ve written a couple of articles so far about “taking the lane.” I’ve looked at the importance of taking the lane on a skinny bridge where there is quite literally not enough room for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to share a single lane side by side. I’ve also talked about how taking the lane is a good way to avoid the door zone. And in yet another article, I talked about taking the lane as a means of avoiding common types of car-on-bicycle accidents.
But bicyclist behavior that I’ve observed recently has prompted me to write about yet one more scenario in which bicyclists should be taking the lane. I’ve seen bicyclists heading eastbound on Laporte Avenue try to stay to the far right when crossing the intersection at N. Shields. It works great until they reach the long line of parked cars directly in front of them.
It should be noted that getting right hooked when traveling east on Laporte at Shields isn’t really an issue. There’s a right hand turn lane and bicyclists generally either queue up with cars while waiting for the light, or they pull to the right of cars but to the left of the turn lane.
When there’s a long line of cars waiting for the light at Shields, the first two or three may be able to pass you comfortably while you pedal across the intersection. But there’s almost always a parked car just past that point that blocks the cyclists path. I’ve seen bicyclists handle this two ways:
Sometimes the bicyclist will travel through the intersection to the far right, and remain far right up until about 10 feet before they reach the parked car. Then, assuming that they still have the right to continue moving forward, they dart left in front of cars in the thru lane. Though some motorists may anticipate this and slow down to accommodate, not all do (especially when the bicyclist doesn’t signal). Those that don’t see it coming may suddenly swerve left to avoid the bicyclist… directly into oncoming traffic.
Imagine that you’re in a car and as you’re moving forward you find that your way is blocked. (This is happening frequently on College and Shields these days as construction detours are up in Midtown and by CSU.) The appropriate response is to signal a merge, check to make sure the way is clear, and then merge when it is safe to do so. The behavior of a bicyclist should be exactly the same. Always look first to make sure the lane is clear. Always signal. And always merge only when there’s room to do so.
The other thing I see bicyclists do is cross the intersection, then wait behind the parked car until the thru lane is clear. Then they follow behind the last car. This is the appropriate way to behave when you find your way blocked, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’re approaching an intersection, or a construction zone, and you see that your way will be blocked, then merge early, just like you would if you were driving a car. Queue up with the cars and remain in your position in the queue as you travel through the intersection. Don’t hug the right side of the lane because that only tempts motorists to try to squeeze by you and when you reach those parked cars, you’ll end up in a pinch.
It isn’t always comfortable to take the lane. And sometimes motorists yell at you. But they’re in the wrong and you’re in the right when you do it. And in a situation like the one described above, it’s far safer that darting in front of traffic or getting caught in a pinch.