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To Hug the Edge or Not Hug the Edge, That is the Question

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

                                            “To Hug the Edge or Not Hug the Edge, That is the Question”

                                               By Michael N Katz Esq. Safety and Legislation Coordinator

(Forgive the formatting errors, still learning the system!)

 

Ok, I admit it, I unashamedly plagiarized and bastardized Shakespeare. But now that I have your attention, let’s follow up on last month’s Message. Last month, I provided a summary of Pennsylvania law pertaining to cyclists on the road and their relationship to cars. I invited all of us to participate in a dialog aimed at exploring the issues and coming up with a Club policy that would be passed on to Ride Leaders in an effort to provide a uniform safe and enjoyable riding experience on our group rides. Along the way, hopefully we will all become better and safer road riders. So here goes. What follows are some not so hypothetical situations that we all encounter on the road with options on how to respond. What would you do in these situations as a Ride Leader or individual cyclist? I’ll tell you what I would do. Hopefully we can create a dialog where others will voice their views and provide their rationale.

 

  1. You are riding down a road with one lane in each direction and each lane is about 12 feet wide. The lanes are marked with a double center line. No shoulder. A car comes up behind you. There are no cars in the oncoming lane. You:

  1. Move to the right edge of your lane to allow the car to pass.

  2. Move to the left edge of the lane to make sure the car does not try to pass you in the lane.

  3. Ride just to the right of the middle of your lane.

My answer: C.   My answer is grounded in some simple arithmetic and behavioral cuing. Do the math. You need about 3 feet from the edge of the road as a safe buffer to maneuver around branches, road defect, grates and the like. You need about 2 feet width for your handle bars and body. Cars are required to give you 4 feet of clearance. That’s 9 feet. That leaves 3 feet left to the lane. The typical car is 8 feet wide. No way in hell that car can safely pass you in the lane. So you want to send a message to the car to pull into the oncoming lane to pass as Pennsylvania law provides. But by pulling over to the right, you send the opposite message and invite the car to pass while remaining in the lane. And then what happens when you suddenly see that grate or large branch in front of your wheel? What if the lane is 14 feet wide, any different? Nope, not in my view. The math still doesn’t work out. You want that car passing in the oncoming lane. Ok, but why ride just to the right of the middle? Two reasons. First, the center of the lane is more likely to have residue from oil and other debris because car tires don’t scrub it clean. Second, you want to promote the driver pulling into the oncoming lane and if you are over too far to the middle or left, you may inhibit the driver, who is already a bit anxious, from doing so.

 

  1. Same scenario as #1 but now there is oncoming traffic. Any different? Nope, not in my view. In fact, it’s even more important to control the lane to impede efforts of the car to pass you while remaining in the lane. Remember, when you move to the right, you are sending a message that you have created space for the car to pass and are encouraging the car to do so. But now the math makes it even more dangerous for you because the car may think it can squeeze by, doesn’t move into the oncoming lane because of the oncoming car and then realizes it has screwed up and swerves back towards you. It’s far safer to control the lane and require the car behind you to wait until the oncoming lane is clear or the road conditions change so that you can safely yield the lane.

 

  1. Here’s a more nuanced one. You’re riding down a road with a 3-4 foot wide improved shoulder. Normally, you would consider riding in this zone and freeing up the lane. But the road is going past a heavily commercialized area with a load of strip centers and stores to the right. It’s 12:00 PM and business is booming. Where should you ride?

     

  1. Squarely in the center of the shoulder

  2. Just to the left of the shoulder

  3. In the lane as if there were no shoulder.

My answer: C. Here’s why. There are two dynamics going on here. First, you have the behavior of drivers pulling out of the strip centers. As they go to enter the roadway, where are their eyes looking, down the shoulder or out into the lane? Are they looking for bikes in the shoulder or looking for cars. I think it’s the latter and in all likelihood a bike in the shoulder is invisible to them. They are more likely to see you if you are in the lane where they are looking for cars. Then you have the dynamic of cars coming down the lane from behind you. If you are hugging the shoulder marker line, it sets up the same passing dynamic as in scenarios 1 and 2 above. So in my view, the safest place to be is in the lane as if there were no shoulder.

 

So these are the scenarios for this month. Let the dialog begin. If you think I’m nuts, tell me so, but support your position based on reason, fact and logic. Let’s figure this out in a way that makes sense and promotes safe cycling for all of us.