Friday, June 21, 2013

How to ride in traffic

I have been meaning to post for a while about how to ride in traffic. Since the last few weeks in Seattle have been amazing, more cyclists have taken to the roads. The problem is that many of them ride badly. This has nothing to do with their speed, type of bike, or clothing. Instead what scares me has to do with the strategy that other riders use to navigate the roads with traffic.

I was going to write a big step by step set of instructions for how to do this. But I found someone has already done that work for me. I think these instructions are really pretty good. There are two big points I want to emphasize, then I will make a third point of my own.

First, don't ride on sidewalks. Cyclists aren't visible there. At most cars are expecting a person walking at 4 miles an hour (if they even think about them at all). A cyclist going even 12 miles an hour is in serious danger of being hit. Sidewalks are death traps, don't ride on them.

Second, ride in the middle or even to the left side of the lane. It is cyclists who ride to the right side of the lane that really scare me. That is an invitation for cars to pass without moving over. Unless you think there is enough room to pass you, don't do it. I only ride to the right of the lane if it is actually safer. Usually this is on a main road with only one lane. There is one section of my commute like this, and it is the most dangerous thing I deal with. Even riding with big trucks is safer. If there are two lanes going your way, ride in the middle of the right lane. An added bonus is that you are more visible to cars going the other way as well. This is a good thing.

These two points are the opposite from what most people were taught. This article explains a lot of the history and politics behind pushing cyclists to the side of the road. Most drivers, and even police, think that cyclists have to ride as far to the right as possible. This video shows why that is a bad idea. Worse, it isn't factual from a legal basis. Cyclists only have to be to the right if they are slower than traffic. Even then, you only need to be as far over as is "safe". Remember, you determine what safe is. Also, you cannot be fined for "impeding traffic" if you making a good faith effort and are moving at your top speed. Learn the laws for you where you live. They are on your side.

The third thing I would like to say is: look out for turning cars. It doesn't get mentioned a lot, but that where the really bad accidents come from. Cyclists don't often get rear ended. A rider is more likely to be hit by a car making a turn. Learn to watch for them and assume they don't see you. Be aware that you can be "hidden" behind other vehicles. Also, look for common problem spots on your normal routes and be extra attentive. Watch out for drivers heading to a Starbucks early in the morning. They are tired and haven't had coffee. Their only thought is getting their latte, not the cyclists they are about to hit. Seeing the problem ahead of time is half the battle to avoiding it.

Finally I wanted to point out this video from my home town. It does a pretty good job of covering the basics of what you need to get out there.