Cyclist May Use Full Lane…But Should We?

10
Oct
2012

The “bicycle may use full lane” signs have started emerging all over, and one just recently popped up on a road that leads to several of my training routes.  But I’m not so sure about them.

The history of these signs (also known as R4-11) dates back to their origin in 2009, but have definitely become more popular over the past year.  They were introduced to be used for the following purpose:

BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE (R4-11) signs are intended for use where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side in the same lane.  However, the presence of a sign is not necessary for cyclists to use the full lane.  Rather, the sign serves as a reminder of the law in locations where the volume of cyclists, the roadway geometry, and other conditions suggest that motorists may frequently encounter cyclists occupying the center of the travel lane.

Okay, so as a cyclist who is passionate about our sport, of course I like seeing laws being made and changes that make roads better and safer for us to ride on…but I’m not totally convinced about the effectiveness of the “May Use Full Lane” signs.  At least not in all situations.

Let me take the sign over here on Bee Cave Parkway as an example.  The road doesn’t have a shoulder area to ride on, but it does have two lanes of traffic going each way with what I feel is more than enough room to ride along comfortably at the side of the road.  Since the sign went up a few months ago, I’ve  only seen one cyclist riding down the center of the lane….but I’m sure there have been a whole lot more.

That time where I did see a cyclist using the lane, I also witnessed a vehicle who appeared to be annoyed at the bike being there and quite aggressively swerved around him to get by.  I personally don’t feel like that cyclists need to ride down the center of this road, at least not at the time of day that I’m on it.  It’s not over crowded and there’s plenty of room for vehicles to pass by when riding at the side of the road.  Plus, with these signs being quite new…drivers don’t know how to use them or even pay attention to them being there.  All it takes is one distracted driver (yeah, remember to Drop the Phone) and a cyclist taking up the center of lane is toast.

But like I said, there are instances where these signs do make things better and can still keep cyclists safe.  In downtown San Antonio they have very narrow cobblestone like streets.  The traffic is super slow and whole downtown vibe is quite cool.  There’s also a lot of cyclists who ride these roads and being allowed to take up the full lane works perfectly fine.  In the times I’ve been there, I’ve never witnessed any frustrated drivers and the cohesiveness of vehicle and bicycle seems to flow quite nicely.

So that’s my opinion…what’s yours?  I thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of my cycling friend and Chicago bicycle accident lawyer, Jonathan Rosenfeld.  Here’s what Jonathan has to say about the May Use Full Lane issue:

“I frequently see bicyclists expose themselves to added dangers when they hug the shoulder of the roadway.  Even when cyclists remain on the roadway itself, the edge of the road is frequently littered with debris and uneven surfaces which can contribute to falls or rapid maneuvers to avoid the obstacle.

Particularly in cities where street parking may be allowed, riding along close to the side of the road may expose cyclists to situations involving ‘doorings’ where drivers open their car doors without looking.

Consequently, bicyclists need to remember that they have just as much of a right to use the roadway as vehicles– and by positioning themselves squarely within the lane of traffic they actually may be taking an important measure to improve their safety.”

There’s even been a Facebook page set up promoting the fact that cyclists belong in the traffic lane, and they recently came out with this little graphic explaining why we belong to be there.

It’s good reasoning, but I still personally feel that it may not be safe for a cyclist to take advantage of the full lane in many situations.  The signs continue to pop up and time will tell how effective they are, and if they improve conditions out on the road….and make life better for us cyclists.

Enjoy Your Ride

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  • Sealock713

    Just so you know, we here in Houston don’t have signs like this, although I wish we did. However, we did just pass a new ordinance like the ones in Austin and San Antonio (and 11 other Texas cities) that makes it an offense to pass a rider with less than 3 feet (6 feet for commercial vehicles). Our ordinance also states that on multilane roads like the example you mentioned, that the driver must vacate his lane while passing the rider.

    As an experienced rider, my number one goal while riding is to get where I’m going as safely as possible. That means being as visible as possible. The closer I ride to the side of the road, especially roads that wind to the right, the less visible I am to drivers.

    I choose roads that are multilane whenever possible. I position myself far enough in the middle of the lane that drivers must change lanes to pass me. It takes so little effort and a vast majority of drivers don’t mind. Anything less is inviting a driver to share the lane with me when passing, which is too dangerous.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for commenting on this one. You’ve got a great attitude…..and it’s great to hear about the new ordinance getting passed over there. I’m still not convinced that the 3 foot rule is the answer….but anything helps.

  • Chris B

    I’ll preface this with my bicycle has been my only form of transportation sense 2007. I ride year round back and forth to work even in the snow.
    I agree with the overall argument you have made but there is some missing information. I have a four lane (2 each way) road that I ride in the center of my lane. The lane is not wide enough to allow a vehicle and myself to share. There is another road that is a 2 lane road that I ride to the right because it is plenty wide enough for a car to stay in the lane and pass me. That being said it shows I’m practicing what you are “preaching” (just to use the saying). However, if the lanes on the four lane road where just as wide as the two lane road I would still take center position in the right lane. This road is the main artery through my town and has the most side street and business entrances on it. That being said even if I can ride at least 3 feet from the DEBRIS (not the curb) on the side of the road and someone can give me at least 3 feet clearance while passing and still stay in the lane, I’m still going to take my lane. Riding in the center of the right lane through this area helps prevent, right hooks, left crosses, and of course pull outs. I find riding at the edge in when there are this many side streets and driveways promotes these maneuvers. Where as when I take my lane more often than not I see people wait that extra 2 seconds for me to pass to make their movement.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your input on this one, Chris….I appreciate you giving your feedback. Have you had any negative issues from using the center of the road?

  • David Knapp

    If a bicycle is too close to the shoulder, motorists where I live will give no room when going by thinking that they can’t cross the center line, If I don’t take enough space in the lane they will pass within inches. Making motorists aware of the LAW is a great idea. I’ve had motorists tell me that they thought I would move over more, even with no oncoming traffic in sight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Brooking/100000446587617 John Brooking

    That road does not look like the lanes are shareable to me, at least not with traffic in both directions at once. Look at that white van. Now imagine a similarly-sized vehicle going the other way. Is there room for a cyclist at the side too? I don’t think so. You could do the math to show this if you knew the lane widths.

    As someone else said, it’s “may” use full lane, not “must”. You don’t necessarily have to use the full lane all the time, but there are times that it’s definitely advisable, the times that it’s not safe to be passed. When it is safe to pass, you can ride more to the right to facilitate passing.

    I find on 2-lane roads like this that motorists are entirely willing to cross the double-yellow line to give enough passing distance *if* there is no oncoming traffic. (I am in Maine, our 3-foot law says that motorists are allowed to cross the double-yellow, but OTOH, I don’t think very many of them know that; I think they just do it anyway.) The key is to be aware of the situation ahead that would prevent them from moving over, either oncoming traffic or blind spots such as curves or hill crests. When approaching these situations, it is best to move over to the center of the lane at an opportune time, giving any following traffic adequate time to react. I find it helpful to give a “stay back” signal (left hand out, pointing down, palm back) as I do this, and at frequent intervals while controlling the lane. Communicating this with the motorist behind you reinforces what you are expecting of them, and they very likely understand the reason. Once the oncoming traffic has passed, or you are past the blind spot, when the way ahead is clear for them, you can move back over slightly more to the side, like maybe 1/3 into the lane, and give them a friendly wave, communicating both that it is now safe to pass, and that you appreciate their patience. This actually works really well. Once I was even thanked by the motorist for helping him, when we happened to meet at the restaurant parking near the road where this happened. (Maybe he was a cyclist himself and understood what I was doing better than most.)

    BTW, there is an updated version of that Facebook graphic:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=306443252797468&set=a.283448488430278.59826.281417585300035&type=1&theater

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your input on this, John. We really appreciate hearing your point of view, your stories, and tips.

  • susan swope

    I live in suburban St. Louis directly located off of a five lane (4 traffic lanes plus a suicide lane) state highway so I have no other option than to be a part of the traffic. I have found it safer to ride in the center of the lane I am traveling in at all times. Motorist will generally move over earlier when they see me and realize that the lane is not wide enough to share. Those who don’t change lanes earlier may have to wait a minute or so to change lanes later. Some motorists have appeared irate but as of yet no one has run me down. Recently I have been using a recumbent tricycle due to a broken arm. When I have traveled the neighborhood highway using the center of the lane more motorists than usual changed lanes earlier and no one laid on the horn. My theory is that the drivers realized that it would be impossible to share the lane with a tricycle so they made no attempt to shove me into the three inches of glass that lies to the right of the white line. We don’t have May Use full Lane signs but I would welcome them. I think further explanation in the form of another sign that reads “Change Lanes To Pass Cyclists” would be appropriate too. Still loving the bike, even if it’s a trike right now!

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your comments, Susan. I hope your recovery goes quick but it’s great to see you still out there on the recumbent.
      I think you’re right about better signs and education. It’s not the signs I’m not sure about…it’s about the drivers not knowing what to do or how to use them.

  • Janice in GA

    I kinda disagree. There are a few routes I travel where there are 4 lane streets (2 lanes in each direction.) If I DON’T move into the lane, I get more close, dangerous passes. It actually makes me anxious to do this, because I hate worrying about whether I’m pissing some car driver off. :( And you get the occasional jerk who will come up behind you and honk their horn EVEN WHEN THERE ARE NO CARS IN THE LEFT LANE. IOW, just a creep who thinks he/she needs to make a point. O.o

    We don’t have lots of bike riders in my area, and I can really tell when I go on a road where they’re not used to seeing cyclists. People pass much less safely on those roads, and that’s when I move into the lane.

    It goes without saying that I avoid roads like this as much as possible, because I hate feeling stressed over this stuff. But in some places, there just aren’t alternate routes. Having to cross an interstate highway is like having to cross a river: all the routes are busy, and there aren’t many of them.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Janice. Yeah, it all depends on the situation and in some places it does make sense to be in the lane. Most important is that a cyclist does what they feel is most safe…and that drivers understand what’s going on and keep them safe.

  • BicycleHSV

    Not “must”. Key word is “may”. Which means it may depend on conditions.Debris, lane control approaching intersections, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002207449991 Charles Lewis

    Nice topic. I like the signs they make motorists realize
    that the bike is entitled to the road and the lane. This should make them more
    accepting. I think the reason for the sign is it is cheaper than building safe
    bike lanes. They give cities all the glory of being bike friendly with none of
    the cost especially when so few bikes may even use them. An alternate sign
    could read “Bikes Welcome.”

    As to taking the lane I like the 2/3 rule. I would be an
    idiot and an asshole to take up the entire lane but sometimes you need to.
    Maybe a third of the time I will take up more of the lane to close the door on
    motorists passing me in the lane. An example is I know the two lanes get narrow
    up ahead and there are potholes near the curb. If I stay far right the cars trying
    to use the lane may choke me out of room when I need it and it is so tight
    anyway they will be real close so I hog enough of the lane to make them take a
    lane to get around. When the road widens I swing back to the right so they know
    I am not riding the lane just getting space.

    Other times I will take dead center of the lane is traffic
    under 30mph. If I can hold the bumper of the car ahead of me the car behind
    can’t try to squeeze by and then slow down to make the next turn.

    When I get within about 5 car lengths from a stopped car at
    a light I take the lane. Other wise while I am almost there someone will try to
    cut in so I close the door. When traffic starts moving I pull over after the
    light. Many of the cars trying to beat you to the light want to turn anyway so
    I don’t have to get squeezed by them and then cut off.

    The last place I take the entire lane is in a “Gutter Fuck”
    position. Gutter fucking is when a car that wants to get in the left lane will
    travel the right lane until the last chance then cut in. They go too fast and
    then stop blocking the lane trying to merge. I take their spot forcing them to
    merge sooner behind me. On a good day I can gutter fuck 50 cars before the
    light.

    In closing it is good that driver know the law allows you to
    use as much of the lane you may need and it is good to know you are allowed to
    take it if you feel you need too. But don’t do it like me.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your comments, Charles….and for letting us know your game plan out on the road.

  • Krissy

    As far as riding down the center of the lane, I don’t think that’s ever a great idea due to the several reasons you stated, Darryl. I personally think that it’s our responsibility as cyclists to be ambassadors for the sport. Anytime I’m riding on a road I right to the right as far over as I can do so SAFELY. Most of the time this means I’m about 2-3′ from the edge of the road so that I’m not riding in broken glass, chunks of cement, or other debris that commonly finds it’s home in that area. This also ensures that I don’t drop a wheel off the side of the road, possibly overcorrect, and go down in front of a car. I don’t aim to hold up traffic and do my best to allow others to get around me with ease. While I know we have the right to the roads too, I feel that if a driver has a “good experience” in sharing the road with a me, they may be more likely to show patience and understanding in future encounters with other cyclists on the road.

    I like the signs because they serve as a good reminder. Like those deer crossing signs that are put up in certain areas, they help to remind us that those are areas where you may be more likely to encounter a deer, but we all know that you can have a run-in with a deer out of those zones as well. It’s the same concept really. Those signs are nice to have in heavier bike traffic areas, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the same rule don’t apply once you distance yourself from that spot.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for jumping in on this one, Krissy. Yeah, having the signs up are definitely a good warning sign to watch out for us for sure. Maybe they should change them to “bike crossing” signs….hahahaha.

  • Ed

    I just saw the first of these in my city last week. I’ve yet to form an opinion of them or whether I will make use of the full lane. The comments from this article are very interesting.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Feel free to come back and comment once you’ve had a chance to try it out and tell us what you think.

  • F James

    Yes we do deserve to use the full lane but I must admit that I’m often too scared to take advantage of it. I actually haven’t seen any cyclists using the full lane in the areas around here that have them.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your input.

  • Peter

    I prefer to stay out of the direct line of traffic. I know the sign might say we may use the full lane, but I honestly don’t trust the drivers to read and obey those signs. I feel safer at the side of the road where I cycle.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Peter, riding where you feel is safe is generally good advice. Keep on riding.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Brooking/100000446587617 John Brooking

      The point of riding in the middle of the lane is to prevent unsafe passing. That way it doesn’t matter if the motorists have read and obey the signs, if you’re in front of them and they don’t have room to move over, they can’t pass. They don’t *want* to hit you, if for no other reason than they don’t want the hassle. My hope is that the signs will educate motorists that we have the right to be there, but regardless of what they think or even whether they see the signs, they won’t hit if they can see you, and they are more likely to see you in the middle of the the lane than off to the side.

  • GroupW

    I generally stay as far right as I feel is safe (usually the right tire groove) to allow motorists to see and get by, yet not be able to crowd me off the shoulder. I try to take more lightly travelled routes so I don’t impede motorists on busier streets, but sometimes there is no option. If I take one highway East out of the city, the first few miles have a curb. Since it is a 5-lane road (2 lanes each direction and center turn lane), I take the lane because motorists will force you to the curb if you don’t and there is room to go around. As a previous poster indicated, the delay to pass a bicycle is typically just seconds. Unless they have a badge or flashing lights and a siren, a few seconds should not be an issue.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      We appreciate your input on this one. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  • Adam J

    I’d say it depends on the road and how experience the drivers are with driving around cyclists. On a winding road it may be hard to see a cyclist ahead when you are driving so a cyclist really needs to access the situation and determine if riding in the lane is the best place to be.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Yes, the situation and experience is definitely an issue. I think you’ve got the right idea on all of this…thanks for your comments.

  • http://mghollis.blogspot.com/ Melinda

    I think I like the idea of the signs paired with good driver education. I don’t think simply one approach will work better than another. As a teacher/mom, I’ve noticed that I often have to teach things two or three ways before it starts to sink in.

    On a side note: our homeschool group is going to be having a “bicycle workshop” at some point within the next year. What information do you think would be valuable considering our age range is anywhere from 5 years old to 55 years, and I only have about 2 hours to get it all in? I’m considering asking someone from the local bike shop, but is there one piece of info I need to make sure they have?

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Melinda…seems like driver education is something all of us agree on. There are laws and signs that tell drivers to share the road or give us 3 feet….but that doesn’t always happen. I guess that’s why I feel a sign telling drivers that bicycles are allowed full use of the lane could easily be ignored as well.
      Your workshop sounds awesome. I like the Cyclist VIP program that the Be Kind to Cyclists organization promotes. It is a source of additional information for cyclists to stay safe on the road in addition to the basic laws. You can find more information on this at http://www.bekindtocyclists.org/vip-cyclist.html.

  • Ben

    I just noticed one of these signs in my city recently as well. I’ve rode my bike on it but have not yet taken up more than the shoulder that I have always used. I don’t feel it necessary to take up any more space and have never felt squeezed out by vehicles or anything like that. I do agree that on some roads the signs would help bikes and vehicles coexist better. Great article, Darryl.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your comments, Ben. I do hope that we all begin to coexist better in the near future.

  • Brian Hall

    I’m 100% with you on this one. I think that when we as cyclist force the issue it can do more harm than good. My wife runs a traffic school and whenever the subject of cyclists comes up there are some pretty contentious feelings towards them in almost all of the cases. I think it should be a combination of education, better infrastructure, and just plain old common courtesy. After all, depending on the road, we are disrupting normal flows of traffic and it can be very frustrating when there might be opportunities to pass but the cyclist is trying to prove a point by taking up the whole lane. We as cyclists might be “right” on the issue, but we might end up being “dead right”.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Great comments, Brian. It is a subject that needs continued improvement and the implementation of good ideas and education. Unfortunately there are a lot of drivers out there that do not care about us cyclists and is the cause for a lot of problems.
      Yes, common courtesy is really a great thing and let’s keep on being good examples and watching others follow our lead.

    • tulio de roso

      cyclists are NOT “disrupting the normal flows of traffic.” First off, cyclists are traffic, and normal flows of traffic to boot. Second any minor delays of motor vehicles due to cyclists in urban or suburban areas are quickly regained before the next stoplight/sign. It is a myth that cyclists slow traffic. We may slow individual motor vehicles momentarily, but we do not disturb the smooth flow of traffic.

  • Roaster_boy

    Your reasoning seems that allowing a cyclist the full lane will only raise the ire of motorists, and therefore is not a good idea. As for the distracted drive, they occur whether you’re taking the lane or not. It’s is a safety issue that cannot be addressed only by a sign, but one that needs to be based around driver education.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your comments. You are totally right that driver (and cyclist) education is really the key. I have talked to a few non-riding drivers out there who absolutely do not like seeing a cyclist in the lane. In their opinion they’ve told me that the law is that they can only be there if they can keep up with the speed of traffic. Yes, totally wrong…but that is how they feel (again, education will help). Because of this, there is the issue of irate drivers getting annoyed at cyclists riding in the lane even if they are allowed to be there.

      • http://profiles.google.com/davidfletcher David Fletcher

        If they’re irate it means they see you! :)
        Actually, courtesy on the road is also important to safety. When taking the lane I generally stay to the right of center (in the track of the car’s right wheels where there is generally less debris).
        When stopping at a light I usually pull to the center of the lane so that cars don’t try to squeeze by while I’m stopped. (as soon as they get by me they forget I’m there and are likely to sideswipe me when the light changes.)

        • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

          You’re right, David….being seen is definitely a good thing.

        • Chris B

          I’m stealing this “If they’re irate it means they see you!” Awesome!

  • Pedro Martinez

    There’s a sign on Pleasant Valley when it crosses Towne Lake at the Longhorn Dam. There are two traffic lanes each way with no shoulder. If I were to ride close to the side which is a concrete barrier I feel like I would be alot LESS safe. So, I follow the advice of the sign and take the entire lane. Drivers can easily pass me in the other lane and everyone is safer for it all.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Hi Pedro, good to hear from you. There are definitely situations where I feel they make more sense and are more justified. My personal opinion is that in areas like the one found on Bee Cave Parkway, it just might cause more problems. Keep on riding and loving the bike.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Starry/100000742238449 Tim Starry

    respectfully disagree, especially on Bee Cave Parkway. the travel lanes are not wide enough to allow both a vehicle and a bicycle to “share” the lane unless you accept the premise that it’s ok to pass so close as to pose a not insignificant risk to the rider. there are two lanes and very rarely is traffic so busy on that road that waiting to move over to the left lane imposes an unreasonable delay on the motorist. in fact, I would be willing to bet that the “delay” is barely 15 seconds…motorists need to get a grip on their hurry up

    cars do not have priority over public streets and roads…regardless of speed or size…the sooner we educate people on that principle the better

    and there are hundreds of spots in this city where use of full lane is both appropriate and much safer than hugging the curb. I could show you more than you would care to see, if you would extend your cycling outside the narrow focus of road fitness riding

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Hey Tim, great to see your comments on this one. I totally agree that education is the best thing that can be done for everyone. I also agree that on some roads it’s better and safer to take the lane than hug the shoulder. I’m still not so sure about the signs in some areas and there’s something about them that really scares me. We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out.

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