Why even take the lane?


Thanks to the many who participated in our “postcard petition,” it looks like we may start to see some “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” (BMUFL) signs replacing some of the existing “Share the Road.” signs pretty soon. For the sake of brevity, we won’t go into detail here about why BMUFL signs are better. If you’re curious, here is a good synopsis. Basically, BMUFL is less confusing and, rather than requiring new laws or ordinances, it simply states the current law, but in a way that’s easier for everyone to understand.

That being said, even with the new signs everywhere (which will take a while still) there will be drivers who don’t understand. Questions commonly posed by such drivers are:

“Isn’t it the law to ride as far to the right as possible?”

No - the law states a rider must ride “as far to the right as practicable (safe and reasonable).” On a street with lanes that cannot accommodate a vehicle, three feet of separation as required by law, and a bike rider, “practicable” means, in effect, taking the whole lane…or at least enough to require any passing vehicle to change lanes to pass.

“Why are you even taking the full lane? Isn’t it safer to ride all the way to the right?”

No - Riding all the way to the right is dangerous for a number of reasons:

  • It leaves a bike rider with no room to correct right to avoid roadway obstacles (pothole, debris, etc.) , leaving said bike rider with the options of NOT avoiding the obstacle, leaving the roadway entirely or correcting left in front of a vehicle. All three options carry the risk of crashing. Because vehicles “spray” debris - glass, gravel, vegetation, broken car parts, etc.- to the outside edges of travel lanes, the far right of a roadway is often full of such debris and needs to be avoided.

  • On roads with on-street parking, riding all the way to the right can get you “doored.” This is exactly what it sounds like: a car door being opened up directly in front of you, causing a crash. People in the U.S. haven’t adopted the “Dutch reach” yet, so when they exit their cars after parking on the street, more often than not, they don’t check for bike riders. This unfortunate reality requires bike riders to maintain a safe distance from parked cars.

  • You’re more visible to drivers if you’re taking the lane. Because of what they call in the art world “one point perspective,” if you’re all the way to the right, you blend in with the backdrop and scenery and are harder to see. This effect is greater in the U.S. where the driver’s seat is on the left. If you’re in the lane, to a driver, you are another user of the road, not part of the scenery.

  • Biking all the way to the right can, inadvertently, encourage drivers to try to pass you in the same lane. The vast majority of travel lanes are not wide enough (see first point), and this can lead to crashes or being run off the road. This can also make left turns more arduous, as it adds an additional step - merging left in front of vehicles - to the process. If you’re taking the lane, you’ve already taken this step; plus, the vehicle behind you has already adjusted speed accordingly.

    • Side note: If you find yourself unable to turn left while biking due to cars constantly passing you, consider utilizing the “box turn.” It requires some patience, but in the end is much safer in a high-traffic situation.

So to all the bike riders reading this, taking the lane is not only your right and in accordance with the law, it is often the safest place to ride.

And to all the drivers who find themselves frustrated or angry while being stuck behind someone on a bike who’s taking the lane, please remember:

  • WE DON’T WANT TO BE IN FRONT OF YOU ANY MORE THAN YOU WANT TO BE BEHIND US. We’d rather be in a bike lane or on a trail, but most times, we have no choice due to limited bike infrastructure. Call your elected representatives and tell them more bike lanes and trails are better for everyone.

  • We’re not being inconsiderate, entitled jerks, purposefully holding up traffic because, technically, the law says we can. We’re simply trying to be safe, so please…cut us some slack, be patient and change lanes to pass.