Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Take the Lane—Bold but not Overbearing

Posted by BrianJ on May 27, 2009

This is the last post in my Bike to Work series. I hope you enjoyed it as much as you enjoyed riding your bike to work!

A common mistake many cyclists make when biking on the road is to be so afraid of cars that they stay as far from them as possible. It’s easy to understand why: a bike weighs nothing compared to a car so-be-careful-or-you’ll-get-squashed. How could staying away from cars possibly be unsafe?Let’s say I’m biking down a two-lane road (i.e., one lane in both directions). There’s no parking allowed along the curb, but there are a few driveways and side streets. The lanes are not divided by double yellow lines, so cars are allowed to pass in the oncoming lane. Traffic is light. There is a moderately sized shoulder—about 3 feet wide. Where do I ride?

  1. On the sidewalk—that shoulder is too narrow for comfort.
  2. Right up against the curb—sidewalk biking is dangerous (cars can’t see you) and illegal in many cities. Plus, this leaves plenty of room between me and cars in the lane.
  3. In the middle of the shoulder—it’s wider than my handlebars so there’s plenty of room on both sides and cars can pass me with ease.
  4. In the lane—I’ll block traffic behind me, but cars can pass on the left if they want, or I can pull to the curb to let them pass.
  5. Down the middle of the road—I was here first and if anyone hits me then I’ll sue!

I hope you see why rejected #1 and #5 right away. (If you didn’t, then we need to talk.) Many cyclists choose #2. It feels safe because the cars are “far away.” But it’s not safe. Motorists coming up behind me see me all the way over to the right and think they don’t need to give me any extra room as they pass. Riding up against the curb leaves me with only one option if and when I need to swerve (pothole, debris in the gutter, car pulling out of driveway): to the left, into traffic. The same is true if we widened the road a bit and allowed parking along the curb: if I’m hugging those parked cars, then my only escape route (pothole, car door opens) puts me suddenly in the path of cars coming from behind.

The debate is between #3 and #4. Many cyclists eschew #4 because they think it’s wrong to get in cars’ way. The problem with #3 is that I’ve given passing cars just enough room to pass me without going into the oncoming lane. If there is an oncoming car at the same time a driver tries to pass me, who knows if the passer will get a bit nervous about the oncoming car and slide to the right a bit, into the shoulder; I get clipped by the sideview mirror, sending me to the ground. It’s unlikely to be fatal, but depending on my speed it could be a very serious wreck.

That leaves #4 as the safest option in many circumstances. By riding in the car lane I:

  • give myself plenty of room on both sides for evasive maneuvers
  • force cars behind me to pass only when there is truly plenty of room (i.e., no oncoming traffic) because they will have the whole oncoming lane to do so
  • distance myself from driveways, where motorists often exit partway (i.e., over the sidewalk and into the shoulder) before looking for traffic
  • improve my visibility of cars exiting driveways by increasing my viewing angle.

In reality, both #3 and #4 are safest in different circumstances and which is safest for you much be determined by you (not me!). If I’m moving fast, I typically go for #4, whereas if I’m moving slowly (like going up a hill) I’ll practice #3—moving slowly means I have plenty of lead time to see potholes or just brake to a full stop. If there are two lanes going in my direction, then I pretty much always bike in the left side of the rightmost lane (biking to the left side of the lane makes it very clear to motorists that I have taken the lane and not just strayed from the shoulder.

Bold, but not overbearing

There’s an analogy to how we live the Gospel. Alma told his son Shiblon to “Use boldness, but not overbearance.” We don’t want to hide from others, fleeing to the sidewalk where it’s “safest.” As with cycling, the best course often requires positioning oneself where one can be seen. What are your values? Do your neighbors know them, or do you try to hide them out of site?

At the same time, we don’t want to charge into every situation like we’re the only person whose opinion matters—like barreling down the middle of the road ’cause I was there first. What are your neighbor’s values? Do you even care? Do they have the right to “pass you safely on the left,” or should you force them to submit to your speed and direction? (And if you think you should force them, remember the problems of the right of weigh.)

President Hinckley said it well:

“We can either subdue our divine nature and hide it or we can bring it to the front in all that we do,” he said. “We can improve ourselves.”

“We do not need to wear our religion on our sleeve,” he said. “We do not need to be arrogant in any way.”

The best course is a balance of the two: be bold, by making your beliefs visible and acting in a way that maximizes your safety even though it may cause some inconveniences to those around you, but avoid overbearance, by recognizing and adjusting to (when possible) the values of others even though it may cause some inconveniences to you. If others see you cycling politely and safely, they are more likely to join your bike to work than if you ride like a jerk or if they never see you at all.

Bike Lanes

Some of you might be thinking, “Silly BrianJ, all of these questions have already been solved for cyclists through the painting of designated bike lanes: cyclists stay in their lane and motorists stay in theirs.” I’ll show you a frequent problem with bike lanes:

2nd-street-bike-lane-12312007Danger! Danger! Can you spot the danger? City officials often paint bike lanes right next to parked cars. If you’re in that lane and a car door opens, you’re forced into the road—and since there’s a bike lane, motorists will never expect you. “Cyclists stay in their lane and motorists stay in theirs,” remember? Not all bike lanes are so poorly designed, but you need to always be the judge of whether the bike lane is actually safe. My advice on how to ride in the type of lane pictured here: find a different street.

There’s a Gospel correlation here as well. Many motorists detest cyclists. They think we have no business riding on the street, but they grudgingly accept the implementation of bike lanes because they “confine” cyclists to one area. Are there circumstances when you feel someone has tried to confine your beliefs/practices to “designated religious areas”?

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