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Posted by on Sep 8, 2008 in General, Safety, Smart Moves | 6 comments

Queue-Jumping

I believe cycling is better governed by principles and by social contract than by laws, but of course that’s just wishful thinking. Cyclists and motorists will inevitably violate both, so we need the law (and law enforcers) to protect us.

Take queue-jumping; the practice of passing stopped traffic (motorists). In most situations it’s probably a bad idea, but there are some in which it can be done both safely and ethically.

The two things you want to avoid when considering queue-jumping are getting right-hooked or squeezed, and making motorists pass you a second time in a narrow lane. But before I get into the specifics of those, let’s be clear; passing on the right is permitted by law.

FS 316.084:  When overtaking on the right is permitted
The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle … When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn … Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving traffic in each direction … Upon a one-way street …. The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle on the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. In no event shall such movement be made by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

While safety should always be your first concern, whether or not to queue-jump, courtesy carries at least as much weight. If my queue-jumping is going to cause a motorist to pass me a second time and in a narrow lane I won’t do it. I queue-jump on US 17/92 between Rollins Street in Orlando and Gay Street in Winter Park because the curb lane is 15-feet wide (wide enough for an 11-foot general use lane and a 4-foot bike lane) and motorists can pass me with ease.  During morning commutes I queue-jump on South Street approaching Rosalind Avenue because I turn right at Rosalind, which has a bike lane.

My more “controversial” queue-jump is on Summerlin Avenue between Central Boulevard and South Street. Most of the south-bound traffic is turning left onto Anderson; maybe 10% continue south on Summerlin. I’m only on Summerlin for a single block south of Anderson.

During evening rush hour, traffic often backs up on Summerlin from Anderson all the way up to Central. Were I to adhere strictly to the “first come, first served” principle, it would add about 10 minutes to my trip, nearly doubling it. So I squeeze through down to the signal at South Street. (I’ll address the safety aspect in a bit.)

As Keri noted in her “Smart Moves” post, learning the signals and traffic flow can show you some opportunities. If I can, I try to make the Anderson light just before it turns red. That way, I don’t impede anyone, as I turn left off of Summerlin one block later. If I don’t manage to do that, I might impede one or two motorists for a block; about 10 seconds. I justify it this way; the average driver is going to be sitting at another half-dozen traffic signals, and any delay I cause him is really just lost in the normal variation of red lights and green lights, while I saved myself 10 minutes.  (And those drivers could just as easily get stuck behind a motorist turning left onto one of the cross streets.)

It is possible to queue-jump safely. You have to constantly ask yourself two questions. First: “Is it possible that that car can turn across my path or squeeze towards the curb?” A stopped vehicle cannot do either. A moving vehicle won’t turn right unless there’s a driveway or cross-street, but could squeeze you into the curb. I prefer to cue-jump on the roadway. Being on the sidewalk reduces your view of potential conflicts. When the cars around me start moving I stop and merge back in with a gap if possible; when they stop I continue passing.  South Street presents very few opportunities for right hooks; Summerlin presents a few more.

Second: “Could an on-coming vehicle turn left across my path?” This could be a problem on any two-way street, including those with bike lanes and wide curb lanes. South Street is one-way, so no problem there. Keep an eye out for gaps on-coming motorists could turn into and assume somebody will.   (The one time you don’t, somebody will surprise you!)

Other vehicular cyclists will probably disagree with my tactics, but I’m comfortable with them. Yes, I’ve had a few close calls (each one a learning experience!), but no crashes. I am not running red lights or stop signs. I am merely taking advantage of being on a narrow, highly maneuverable vehicle and improving my mobility to the full extent allowable by law.

6 Comments

  1. Could an on-coming vehicle turn left across my path?

    I was hit by a car this way. He was not turning left, but crossing Edgewater at a weird angle. I was passing the queue in the bike lane. The majority of my really close calls have also been while passing slow or stopped traffic on Edgewater.

    I usually try to find alternate routes to avoid situations where I’d be stuck behind traffic in a narrow lane. And I’m very cautious about passing them in a bike lane or wide lane.

  2. I try to stay away from Edgewater. I drove it the other day and was surprised how confusing the northbound pavement markings are for motorists.

  3. I normally route my commute from areas like this. However, I understand this is not always the option. Being relatively new to commuting, I have not gained the “inner strength” or skills to employ this method.

    I have been riding with friends that do and several “near misses” involving them had occurred. Quite scary to me, best of luck!

  4. I can’t be certain of everything, since the media provided its usual lack of valid information, but today’s television brought news of the death of a bicycle rider in a collision with a bus. According to published reports, the rider passed the bus (probably on the right) and then was passed by the bus.

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/orl-bk-votran-121608,0,6173212.story?track=rss

    That intersection, westbound, goes from four lanes to two lanes, with the right most lane changing to a right-turn only lane. I would not be surprised to learn that the bike rider veered into the bus in the middle of the passing.

    It’s not queue-jumping, but the consequences were just as severe for this one rider. I feel sadness for the driver, because it’s unlikely that he could have done much more than he did.

  5. Yeah, that one came up in my feed today. It’s hard to get a straight story from a news report, but my guess would be he tried to pass while the bus was moving slow approaching the intersection, then the bus sped up. At that point he would have been in the driver’s blind spot.

    Never, ever pass large vehicles on the right. You have no control over your safety once you are alongside them. You have total control when you are behind them with enough distance to react to anything they might do.

    And I’m with Rodney. Finding another route or waiting in the line of traffic vs passing a queue eliminates a lot of unnecessary risk from a cyclist’s travels. There are situations where it is safe, but most of the time I just prefer not to do it.

  6. Have you considered passing on the left?

    There is no way to squeeze you, motorists shy from the oncoming lane and tend to position themselves about two feet away. Oncoming traffic will yield to the right side of their lane and they see you clearly. On-comers also prevent cars in the queue from turning left into a driveway on you. (In that event, if they surprise you, you have space to swerve.)

    You avoid the cars turning left into a driveway problem completely, and folks turning left from a driveway will be creeping their nose out into the lane watching for oncoming traffic.

    It can feel breathtakingly bold at first, but it is less risky and faster than passing on the right with narrow lanes.

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