Mythbusters on Highway 535
“Yer gonna get run over.” Says the average person (including many cyclists) in any discussion about riding in the lane on a high speed road.
In honor of our favorite jailbirds, Mighk and I decided to head out on a little myth-busting excursion yesterday. Instead of the usual cyclist-chasing-cyclist, we did some motorist-view video. I mounted a 110° lens on the seat post of Mighk’s mountain bike and a 70° lens on my Jetta’s rear view mirror.
Mighk went out ahead and I let a little bit of traffic go before me. Then I caught up and passed him. We did several passes of Highway 535 between Chase Rd. and Reams Rd. It’s a divided 4-lane highway with 12ft lanes and 8ft shoulders (sometimes with a few feet of grass incursion). The speed limit is 55mph. The 85th percentile is probably faster. In the video clip, Mighk was riding 17mph and I was approaching/passing at 55 mph. The 30 seconds between seeing him and passing him felt like an eternity. Mighk did the math for me:
55 mph minus 17 mph equals 38 mph equals 53 feet per second equals 1,600 feet at 30 seconds; that’s roughly 5 times the stopping sight distance.
In all of the video, when Mighk was driving in the right lane, motorists changed lanes. Only 2 didn’t make a complete lane change — they had their right wheels on the line as they passed. Considering Mighk was riding about 5 feet into a 12ft lane, that’s still a pretty good passing distance. A few times, the platoon behind him looked pretty thick, but they all managed to change lanes. I picked the most interesting continuous segment for this video, and added in 40 seconds of shoulder-riding. The difference is pretty obvious.
Here’s the video:
The cyclist experience vs the motorist experience
The most striking thing about watching all this video is the difference in experience. Passing a cyclist is a single momentary event for a motorist. The motorist is in a sealed cockpit, can see the cyclist from a great distance, has plenty of time to change lanes, then can go on without another thought. Being passed is a continuous reality for the cyclist. The cyclist is exposed to the environment, the wind, the noise, and intimately feels the proximity of passing vehicles.
The person who travels by bike every day knows what road position works best (or as Steve calls it, the “Line of Sweetness”) and should be given the freedom to do what works. Within the “narrow lane” exception to the FTR law, a cyclist does have the freedom to choose any position within a lane less than 14ft wide (but loses that freedom when in a lane of 14ft or more).
To accuse a cyclist of being militant, selfish or rude for riding in the lane is nothing more than car-centric bias assuming the bicycle driver is of lesser status than the motor vehicle driver — especially in context of how easy it is to see and safely pass a cyclist. Sadly, the people who I’ve most often seen making such an accusation are other cyclists.
Here are some stills from the camera on Mighk’s bike (the wide angle lens distorts the perspective because it’s on the left side of the bike. He was actually riding just right of center in the lane):
While the closest pass is way too close for me, the over-all clearance in the shoulder is tolerable. This is partly because the shoulder is so wide (4 feet wider than is typical) and the right lane is also relatively wide. But much of the shoulder along this road was covered in small pebbles. Riding in the right lane would be more comfortable for me. Use of the shoulder is optional in Florida, as it is in all but 4 states (Alaska, Maryland, New York & Hawaii have mandatory shoulder use laws).
Those of us who choose to ride in the lane vs the shoulder do not insist that others make the same choice if they are not comfortable with it. We simply provide information to allow others to make the choice based on something more than knee-jerk fear of the unknown. The only thing we insist upon, is protecting our right to ride in the part of the road where we feel safest and most comfortable.