Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Cyclists Take the Lane, Why Motorists Shouldn't Object

Toronto's Metro News generally has fair and positive coverage of cyclists, but they have the odd lapse, as this article demonstrates:
As a driver, I’ve also seen the kind of bike behaviour that gives all of us cyclists a bad name — weaving in and out of traffic, riding on the sidewalk, hogging an entire lane when there’s no need, failing to signal before turning or coming to a sudden stop, cutting off other cyclists or startling them by passing on the inside. One of the worst offences is riding a bike at night without a light, then having the gall to become indignant when cars almost run them over.
In the immortal words of Sesame  Street, one of these things is not like the others. Cutting other road users off, failing to signal, riding on the sidewalk: all these endanger other road users. Taking the lane, which the writer describes, wrongly, as "hogging an entire lane when there’s no need" doesn't endanger anyone. At worst, it annoys other drivers who would like to press their accelerators a bit harder. Drivers who resent cyclists for holding them up should ask if they ever fume about other drivers taking unnecessary trips alone in their cars, which cause far more traffic jams and waste far more time.

Cyclists ride in the middle of the lane for good reasons. For one thing, most lanes in Toronto can't safely and legally accommodate a car and a bicycle side by side. A bicycle needs at least half a meter clearance from the kerb to operate safely. Add to that the cyclist and handlebars, and that takes up a full meter. A car measures about two and a quarter to two and a half half meters in width. Add to that the meter the law requires between the cyclist and a passing car or truck, and  it adds up to four and a half meters. Most road lanes in Toronto have a width of no more than four meters, some even less. Too many motorists want to pass when their vehicles simply won't fit.

Peripheral vision chart showing 5 degree zone of maximum acuity, By Zyxwv99 via Wikimedia commons
Taking the lane has another advantage: it makes cyclists easier to see. The maximum daylight resolution of the human eye occurs in an arc only five degrees wide at the centre of vision. This means a driver going fifty kilometres an hour, the standard urban speed limit, needs to see an object and decide to step on the brake at 24 metres distance. At that point, the zone of maximum visual acuity measures a little over two metres across, covering the centre of the lane and not much else. Motorists thus have the best chance of seeing a cyclist riding centre lane.

If you ever feel tempted to wonder why the cyclist in front of you won't pull over to let you go by, the cyclist may well have no room to pull over in safety. Pulling over when we don't have room on the road simply invites a dangerous close pass. Even when we can pull to the side, that puts us out of the drivers' vision, which means we can't safely rejoin the traffic flow until all the cars have gone by. The same reasons apply with even more force to lanes which, as often happens in Toronto, look wide enough to share but narrow abruptly. If a cyclist moves over to let the car behind pass, the driver will do so. The the driver behind them, who may not even see the cyclist, will do the same, and so on until the lane narrows and the cyclist runs out of room. In practice, a cyclist who pulls over to let motor traffic go by has no safe alternative to waiting until all the motor vehicles have passed. Many cyclists do this as a matter of courtesy, particularly when in front of buses and trucks, but we don't have an obligation to accept the risk or the delay of stopping to let all the motor vehicles behind pass simply because they want to.

From a driver's perspective, a cyclist taking the lane may provoke frustration, but cyclists don't actually delay individual motorists much, if at all. It takes very little time to wait and pass a cyclist safely, particularly in comparison to the time drivers spend waiting at traffic lights, or behind other drivers turning left, or behind passenger cars dropping off people and trucks unloading freight.  At most times of day, an urban motor vehicle will make no better time than  fit cyclist through traffic. Fuming at cyclists who take the lane or even worse, sounding the horn, simply wastes energy and adds to the stress of urban transportation.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I have had far fewer problems since I started controlling the lane instead of even just riding in the "right tire track" area. I like to word it as controlling the lane, as the verb "taking" is often used to mean making use of something that you are not welcome to use. I'm just controlling the traffic lane on a public road, riding safely, legally.


max said...