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Take the Lane: Safe Lane Positioning

As we discussed last week, one of the most important elements of being safe on a bike is being sure you are seen. While bright lights and colorful clothing can help with this, how you ride is also a factor. It can sometimes feel safer to stay out of the way of traffic by riding where traffic isn’t -- far to the right, on shoulders or in gutters, or even on sidewalks. If you do so, you’re still interacting with traffic, especially at intersections, but by placing yourself outside of the areas where cars normally drive you’re also placing yourself outside of the areas where drivers’ attention is typically focused.

Many of the most common and dangerous collisions that occur between cyclists and motorists can be effectively be avoided by riding further to the left and claiming space in a lane. This makes you more visible and forces drivers to switch lanes or wait rather than try to overtake you in your lane if there isn’t room. It will also help prevent drivers from turning into you or in front of you at intersections.

To learn about some of the most common situations that lead to collisions between motorists and cyclists, check out this website: Bicycle Safety: How Not to Get Hit By Cars.

Riding in the lane also keeps you out of the ‘door zone’, where you risk drivers unexpectedly opening their car doors in your path, and keeps you from having to unexpectedly enter the lane if you have to swerve to avoid debris or other obstacles on the shoulder.

If you’re making a left turn, move to the left half of the lane before turning. Signal your intent and check that you’re not pulling in front of drivers who aren’t aware of what you’re doing before changing lanes or lane position. If a road has designated turning lanes, use the correct lane just as you would in a car. You should not cut across lanes of traffic to make a left turn, nor should you remain in a right-turn-only lane if you are continuing straight through an intersection. This holds true even on roads with bike lanes, if you need to exit the bike lane in order to turn safely, do so.

While this may seem counter-intuitive (since many riders seem to feel that the best place to ride is as far to the right as possible and to stay out of the way of traffic), by claiming space on the road and riding with traffic you’re not only keeping yourself safer but helping set a precedent for how motorists expect cyclists to interact with drivers, making the roads safer for everyone.

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