Making Your Way on Narrow Roads
Narrow 2-lane roads can be more difficult than multi-lane arterial roads. No one likes making people wait behind them. It helps to be conscious of your actual impact on traffic. Sometimes 20 seconds feels like a lifetime, but does making motorists wait 20 seconds warrant pulling off the road or sacrificing your safety to let them squeeze by? Probably not.
The following video shows segments shot by Brian DeSousa of Cyclistview when he was here last October. I’ve edited together three of the narrow, 2-lane roads we filmed. These three roads come up in conversation fairly often as roads people find intimidating. In dense traffic times, I might be inclined to find an alternative route, but at most times of the day these roads are easy to use as long as you assert yourself. Even in peak traffic, cars come in platoons and there’s typically 3/4 of a minute between them. You can use that to your advantage, too.
This was shot around 3:30 PM on a weekday.
Some notes about the video:
It starts with a turn from Colonial to Bumby. There is no turn on red at that intersection, so we waited for green. The advantage to turning right on green is that the traffic on Bumby will be held by a red light—for a minute or so, we’ll have no one behind us.
In Smart Moves: Getting the Road to Yourself I described how I do this for Virginia Dr.
I learned, by accident, that if I took Nebraska (mile 6) to 17-92, turned left, then right on Virginia Dr., I could get 2-lane Virginia to myself for almost its entire length. I discovered this because I got fed up with the crappy washboard pavement on the 4-lane section of Virginia. But the 2-lane section used to be a point of frustration, too, as impatient motorists would occasionally pass me into oncoming traffic, scaring the bejesus out of all of us.
This technique is shown in the video. We didn’t have a car come up behind us until we reached the RR tracks. The light at Virginia and Mills is pretty long and the speed limit is low enough that traffic released from the light won’t catch a cyclist going ~15mph. (It’s also slightly down hill there.)
The following illustration appears in the video. Most of these lanes are probably less than 12 feet wide. A 12ft lane looks fairly wide to a cyclist who is used to riding on the edge. You might get away with sharing a 12ft lane with a small car, but larger vehicles will pass uncomfortably (or even dangerously) close.
The right two feet of pavement should generally be avoided. This is where debris collects and pavement cracks. Sand, sticks, rocks and other debris can cause a cyclist to crash. Curbs, the edge of pavement, or the seam between asphalt and the gutter can also cause a crash.
Leaving nine feet or so of space between your body and the centerline is enough to encourage motorists to squeeze through. Small cars are about six feet wide, SUVs can be over 7 feet wide, trucks and utility trailers are 8.5 feet wide and extended mirrors on trucks can increase that width even more. This is why a 12ft lane is considered substandard and the law specifically allows a cyclist the full use of it.
Every road has a slightly different character, but generally-speaking, you want to use enough lane that passing motorists can see (from a distance) they must change lanes to pass. On a 2-lane road I stay a little right of center. I want to facilitate visibility and the ability to pass efficiently while discouraging unsafe passing.
I remember once reading a listserve where people talked about riding this far into a lane and wondered what planet they lived on. “Yeah, maybe you can do that in your town,” I thought, “but Orlando motorists will never tolerate it.” But, having had my fill of close passes, being trapped between potholes and overtaking cars, having my right-of-way frequently violated by turning and crossing cars (and utility trailers), I decided to give it a try.
It felt weird at first, being so far into the lane. It just feels like such a provocative thing to do. At first. But the difference in motorist behavior was instantly recognized. Everyone got so smart and courteous all of a sudden. They changed lanes to pass. They didn’t cut me off anymore. It didn’t take long for me to become so accustomed to being there that I am uncomfortable riding father right.
Amazingly, there was no increase in harassment. They didn’t honk or yell, they just waited, moved over and went on their way. Sure, there are still neanderthals out there, but they honk and yell no matter where you ride. The overwhelming majority of motorists pass courteously, just like in the video. (BTW, the video has no sound because the chatter and wind noise is kinda annoying… and one of us 😉 was using a spare bike with screechy brakes. But there was no honking that day.)
Narrow, 2-lane roads are a fact of life around town. It is unlikely that many of them in the urban core will be made any wider. The good news is, the more you learn to be assertive in narrow lanes, the more you’ll come to like them… especially narrow lanes on 4-lane roads.
We cover this topic a lot on the site, in the blog and in our discussions, but looking around at where cyclists are riding, I think we can’t cover it enough. I’m trying to infuse it into the collective unconscious! The more of us who ride assertively, the sooner we’ll establish it as a norm. That’s how we create a community where bicycle drivers are an accepted, expected and respected part of traffic.