Thursday, May 8, 2008

Taking the Lane

About a month ago I was discussing a difficult traffic situation with Hal Ballard. I was concerned about how closely people passed me when there really wasn't any room to share the lane safely another vehicle. He asked about my lane position, and said that was the problem.

"You need to take the lane."

Note that Hal is a League of American Bicyclists LCI (League Certified Instructor). The LAB is fairly far over in the Vehicular Cycling camp, which doesn't bother me, but this advice was somewhat more aggressive than I had been willing to practice.

Over the last month I've been trying to apply his advice, trying to learn the appropriate application of circumstances, caution, and courtesy. It's been a learning experience for me, but overall I've concluded he's right. Motorists are occasionally surprised, but it seems to me that they seem to understand what I'm doing. I want to share some of the things I've learned.

Westbound Barnes Road to Southbound Cedar Hills Boulevard

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This intersection is important to me because of the shopping center southeast of the light. For the last several months, I've made my left turn by proceeding in the right-most turn lane (of course), and then hugging the right side of the through lane until I could enter the shoulder. I've had a number of scary moments, including one where a motorist cut me off trying to get around me to get onto US-26.

For the last month I've started staying fully 75% over from the right hand side of the lane, requiring motorists to either stay behind me or to move over into the next lane. This actually allows motorists to get onto the US-26 ramp earlier though it requires southbound through traffic to wait for me. In practice, I've been surprised at how well it works. Southbound motorists either wait behind me until I'm on the shoulder or find an opportunity to move into the left lane.

Blind Corner on Butner Road

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This is a blind turn with no shoulders. I've found that if I drift out into the lane well before the turn, I can prevent people from taking their lives (and mine) into their hands as they swing around the corner. Eastbound in the evenings, I find a lot of heavy westbound traffic, so I often stay in the lane all the way to SW 130th Avenue.

Narrow Two Lane Bridge

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There is a creek that parallels 126th Ave and empties into Lake Commonwealth. The road as it passes over the bridge is so narrow that pedestrians are instructed to take the walkway (visible on the south side of the street). There is a lot of traffic in both directions. When I take the lane before the bridge, I keep people trying to pass me on the bridge itself with oncoming traffic.

Cedar Hills Boulevard Between Hall and Walker

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This is a really difficult stretch of road. I can usually avoid this length (either by taking SW Hocken or SW 123rd), but sometimes it is downright necessary, especially if I'm coming in from Old Beaverton. The challenge here is that there is absolutely no bike lane. However, there are two traffic lanes. Traffic is very fast (35 mph). By taking the lane here, I prevent people from buzzing me so close I feel the wind as they go by.

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