Lane Control Questions Needing To Be Answered…

Background Reading


Shoaling‘ is a practice in which cyclists move to the right to reach a point in front of cars and or other cyclists. It is a practice that some consider ‘rude‘. And like a good number of things which are inconsequential beside the notion of enter an intersection to cross on a red light while traffic is actually present (not a empty intersection) ChainLinkers can get sorely exercised about them. I consider it a case of misplaced emphasis, but that is another topic for a different day.

The first point to be made about shoaling is that the practice is not illegal. Charlie Short writes:

Reply by Charlie Short 11.5 13 hours ago
From the most recent Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Ordinance
“9-52-040 (d) – Any bicyclist upon a roadway is permitted to pass on the right side of a slower-moving or standing vehicle or bicycle, but must exercise due care when doing so. When approaching a vehicle which has discharged passengers from its right side a bicyclist must either yield to these pedestrians or pass on the left.

What the law indicates is that you can in fact move forward while cars are stuck in traffic but must do so carefully. The second part of the law is rather interesting because it relates to the issue of how cabs are to be treated when discharging passengers. The cyclist is to exercise due care and then it says if needed he is allowed to pass on the left.

Now that is an interesting solution to the problem of a cab delivering its passengers because it begs the question of why this response from a ChainLinker discussing cabs:

Reply by KayCee Militante 36 minutes ago
Let me ask- what is the rule concerning parking in the bike lane? I saw two cabs parked on the Dearborn lane today, and three, maybe four large delivery trucks hogging most of the side of the road on Grand. It usually isn’t as bad as I saw it today, and I felt very unsafe passing these vehicles on the left and signaling my intention to do so to cars who had no qualms about blowing right by us… (especially on Grand!)

Her response is not uncommon amongst cyclists. There is a fairly widespread belief that being forced to move left makes them less safe. But keep in mind that this is exactly what is prescribed by none other than the SF Bicycle Coalition when dealing with right turns from the bike lane by automobiles:

SF Bicycle Coalition Right Turn Diagram

SF Bicycle Coalition Right Turn Diagram

California State law regarding cars turning right when there is a bike lane reads as follows:

Turning Across Bicycle Lanes

21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100 [general turning regulations].

What Are We To Make Of Cyclist Safety?

Clearly the laws in both states suggest that a remedy to having to wait upon a vehicle to either turn or discharge passengers is to ‘pass on the left‘. One of the problems with this approach is that for some reason cyclists have decided that bike lanes are clearly a refuge from traffic and as such they should not be ‘forced‘ out of them.

The SF Bicycle Coalition held a memorial service for a young woman recently during which a police officer refused to move out of a parked position in the bike lane until he was able to make his point. Part of his complaint was that the right hook that she suffered need never have occurred if their own protocol shown above had been followed. But again bicyclists have become increasingly loathe to venture into traffic lanes other than the bike lane believing that to do so is more dangerous.

I see a conflict in opinion and practice between what cyclists have been lead to believe is true about traffic lanes and what is really the case regarding them:

Valencia Dashed Bicycle Lane

Valencia Dashed Bicycle Lane

A right-turning car is supposed to move into the bike lane before the intersection, anywhere from 200 to 50 feet before, first signalling the lane merge, then merging right to the curb lane, then finally making the actual turn when safe.

The guiding principle is to always make a right turn from the right lane – or “Turn from the Curb.” Turning across lanes is a big no-no, since it can result in crashes and near-crashes, especially “right hook” collisions. According to 2011 data from SFPD, “Unsafe Turn without Signaling” was the top cause of injury crashes for SF bicycle riders.

A bike lane is a travel lane, like a standard travel lane — and you should always turn from the lane closest to the curb. To make a right turn, any vehicle (bike, car, truck, etc) is supposed to be in the right lane, so a motor vehicle needs to safely merge into the bike lane (yielding to any traffic already in that bike lane), before making the turn. That’s why bike lanes, like this Valencia Street photo shows, are dashed when approaching an intersection. Dashed lanes tells drivers they can merge before turning right.

In San Francisco, streets with bike lanes have the left sideline of the bike lane dashed (or sometimes dropped altogether) the last 50-200 feet before an intersection. Unfortunately, few people know what that means, but each month, our instructors are teaching all new taxi drivers and bicycle riders about this rule, and so much more!

This excerpt was taken from an SF Bicycle Coalition article. And what is clear here is that best practices appear to warrant moving bicyclists into the traffic lane to the left of the bike lane (especially during right turns) but even more important is the assertion that “A bike lane is a travel lane, like a standard travel lane…” It signals to me that some elements that are deeply rooted in the Vehicular Cycling playbook are at play in the thinking of legislators and bicycle advocates alike.

Cyclists in essence need to be prepared to ‘take the lane‘ whenever conditions warrant it. And where right turns are concerned that means the ‘traffic lane‘.

The video illustrates how a cyclist should take the lane to the left of the bicycle lane to avoid waiting on right-turning car traffic. To me this means that cyclists should be as comfortable in the traffic lane as they believe themselves to be in the bike lane. But they should not take a fearful refuge in the bike lane that makes is unsafe for them to avoid ‘right hooks‘.

Training Is Needed

Earlier Charlie Short cited the Illinois law about yielding to passengers debarking from cabs. To my mind this is a clear indication that cabs and bicycles have to coexist in the one area that cyclists unfortunately believe to be sacrosanct, the bike lane. It means that cyclists should be prepared to have to either ‘take the lane‘ as they move left to pass a cab or be prepared to wait patiently while passengers get out, grab their luggage and otherwise prepare themselves to take their belongings.

The problem of course is that no one has done much ‘teaching‘ regarding these issues. We seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that the mere presence of bike lanes (and especially Protected Bike Lanes) is sufficient to allow cyclists to operate when bereft of formal training. I believe this is a dangerously naive position to take and will cost many cyclists their health or even their lives.

Cyclists in Europe get training from an early age that prepares them to understand the role they will play both as drivers of cars and drivers of bikes later in life. There is a very unfortunate tendency for American Urban Cyclists to address the presence of automobiles by somehow wishing them away. Nothing would please many cyclists more than to know that cars were banned from all city streets and bicycles were free to roam about as if it were a never-ending Open Streets holiday. This is not a rational response to the problem of dealing with the presence of automobiles.

What is more the location of bike lanes (as far to the right as practicable) is believed to be incorrect:

Where Motorists Are Looking

Where Motorists Are Looking

This graphic by Keri Caffrey is from the Florida Bicycle Association.

Bicyclists riding at the edge of the road, or in a bike lane, are only briefly in a motorist’s Primary Focus Area, while they are still far ahead. The motorist can subconsciously dismiss the “out of the way” bicyclist as irrelevant, and not really be aware of their presence. Subsequently choosing to attend to a distraction, and briefly drifting off course, can be deadly for the cyclist.

This is one of the reasons we practice and advocate using the full lane by default. This puts the cyclist in the motorist’s Primary Focus Area for a sustained period, making it very unlikely that they will overlook the cyclist, or dismiss the cyclist as being irrelevant.

Once noticed (motorist slows down, adjusts left), and it’s safe and reasonable to do so, moving over a few feet can be accommodating or at least will convey cooperation.

But riding by default where motorists pay little attention just doesn’t make sense to us, and results in too many close calls in our experience.

Bicyclists Belong in the Traffic Lane!

For more about this graphic:

What Protected Bike Lanes Actually Do

If you think about it a couple of things are true about bike lanes as currently envisioned by cycling advocates:

  1. The lanes we are building are in many cases long since discarded because the Dutch have found them to be antiquated.
  2. And while we point to the Dutch as having the experience to warrant our faith in the bike lane approach we eschew the notion that helmets can be foregone.

It is as if we believe one portion of their message about safe cycling while hedging our bets on another. We need to debate the notion of placement of bike lanes as well as their practicality in the first instance.

Protected Bike Lanes are in essence most helpful in getting cyclists to relax and take the plunge. But the hidden problem with them is that they forestall the dreaded interactions at the intersections. You simply cannot get away from the fact that cars and trucks and buses need to make right turns. And you simply cannot sugar coat the fact that a left hand turn from a Protected Bike Lane is as exciting as ‘kissing your sister‘. At best, bike boxes are clumsy.

Given the fact that most of the newbies coming into cycling are probably doing so on BikeShare rentals there is an urgent need to get this population informed about local laws regarding use of a bicycle as well as overarching issues regarding dangers. There simply is no time like the present to stop the charade that bike lanes alone are the answer to our safety issues. They are not and in fact make some safety issues worse.