The snow has come and gone, and the plows have come and gone, oh winter you are so lovely. You might notice that the streets have shrunk a bit. With giant piles of dirty ice blocking a foot or more of each side of the street everything has squeezed inwards towards the center. I thought now would be a great time to go over taking the lane.
Before I get into the how, when, why of taking the lane I want to explain what I mean. “Taking the lane” is the act of a cyclists riding in the middle of the lane (not the middle of the street). It is totally legal, and as we will see later is not only legal but sometimes a very good idea.
Taking the lane is an act of control. You are controlling what other vehicles do on the road. By taking the lane you allow vehicles to pass when you want them to pass. You can also prevent vehicles from turning until you are ready for them to turn. This might seem rude or impolite, but if you think about other vehicles on the road do this all the time. Motor vehicles do this by using the size of their vehicles, they are wide enough that they physically prevent people behind them from passing them in their lane, or from turning around them, thus they “take the lane” by default.
Taking the lane is not for everyone. Its kind of scary, can cause some motorists to get angry, and in general is a more advanced riding tactic. But once mastered it can dramatically increase your safety, and when done properly, calm motorists down. Its also a very important skill for the winter time when the available road surface for cyclists shrinks as the snow piles grow.
So lets get into some of the details about taking the lane.
How To Take The Lane:
Taking the lane is a physical act, you place yourself in the middle of the lane you are traveling in and thus you prevent vehicles from using that lane. Its also a mental one, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this you probably are not ready for this cycling tactic. How you take the lane safely is a lot like how you make a left hand turn.
These steps assume you are traveling on the right hand side of the right hand lane.
1. Look over your left shoulder to see if anyone is in your lane.
2. Once the lane is clear signal that you are moving left, you can do this by pointing with your left hand at the center of the lane (that’s what I do).
3. Move to the center of the lane.
4. Stay in the center of the lane until you are done taking the lane.
5. Be sure to look over your other shoulder before moving back onto the right, don’t want to cut off another cyclist.
If you want to control the left hand lane, repeat the above steps one more time to get into the middle of the left hand lane.
If you are taking the lane while making a right or left hand turn, stay in the center of the lane until you have completed your turn.
If you are taking the lane and passing through an intersection, control the lane until you make it all the way through the intersection.
Why To Take The Lane:
Taking the lane is not a complicated maneuver, you plonk yourself in the middle of the lane and use your body as a shield to keep people in cars from using your space. You might be asking yourself, “why in the world would I ever want to do something like that?” Here are just a couple of the many reasons why you might want to take the lane.
- There is debris/cars/slower cyclists/snow/etc in the bike lane.
- You are on a narrow road, and it would be unsafe for a car to pass you.
- You are approaching a red light and don’t want to have to deal with cars squeezing you as they try to turn right on red.
- You are making a left/right hand turn and don’t want cars squeezing you as you make the turn.
- There is no shoulder to ride on.
- You want to make sure you are seen by motorists.
- You want to pass another cyclist.
- There is a right turn lane that leads into a parking lot, and you are going straight.
- There is a bunch of snow piles up on the side of the road making it too narrow to safely ride on the right hand side.
- You are making your way through an intersection and don’t want anyone passing you until you make it all the way through
Things To Keep In Mind:
Just because taking the lane is both legal and useful doesn’t mean that everyone knows that. You will get honked at, its going to happen. Hell I get honked at when I am in a bike lane, people in Boston just love to honk, I suggest you just wave smile and keep on pedaling.
Also just because you can take the lane, doesn’t mean you should. If there is plenty of room on the right, and you are not making a turn, and no one is in danger of squeezing you, get over and let the cars fly by. Just because you can legally do something doesn’t mean that its always the best idea.
Can you think of other reasons to take the lane? Have questions about taking the lane? Hit the comments below.
Tags: skills, taking the lane, winter riding
Posted in advocacy, education | 8 Comments »