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Posted by on Feb 21, 2012 in Smart Moves | 19 comments

Vantage in the Queue

This is the intersection of Primrose and Colonial at rush hour. I pass through this intersection a lot. I snapped this image with my iPhone while waiting for a green light.

We talk about visibility a lot. Being visible to others—being in their primary focus area—is important, but it still relies on the other drivers to be paying attention. This time I want to talk about vantage — putting ourselves in control of recognizing and monitoring threats.

Threat Recognition

I’m planning to drive straight (headed for the connector trail at the north end of the street). All the cars in the lane beside me are turning left onto Colonial. The ones in front of me are turning right. Few cars continue straight because Primrose isn’t a thru road, it just serves the Coytown neighborhood. The cars facing us in the left lane on southbound Primrose are turning left onto Colonial.

Those oncoming drivers want to make the light, so they’re looking for the first opportunity to dash across — creating the potential for a left cross. The right-turning cars in front of me could give them that opportunity, if they think they can turn into the inside lane as these guys turn into the outside lane. A driver in a hurry will often place a higher priority on saving time than assessing risk.

From what I’ve seen, most cyclists cross this intersection by riding up the sidewalk and using the crosswalk. Doing that introduces an additional layer of conflict and crash potential. But mostly, it gets them stuck. Right-on-red is permitted here (unlike at many of the other intersections in this area). This puts pedestrians at a disadvantage because the right-turning motorists are looking left, watching the eastbound lanes. They will turn when those lanes are clear, regardless of the signal phase. As traffic slows for a yellow signal on Colonial, those drivers are getting a jump on the walk-signal for Primrose (I know, as if they’d notice or heed it anyway).

Monitoring

Aside from the right-turn issue, the cars in the queue will screen everything to their right from the view of the left-turning drivers, and block the view of the potential threat for anyone in that space. So at an intersection where a road has a wide lane or a bike lane, it’s important to move into the queue, and all the way to the left side of the lane. Moving only to the right tire track or middle still leaves you invisible and with poor vantage — screened by the cars in front of you.

By staying in the queue and positioning on the left side of the lane, I’ve eliminated the right-hook problem and set myself up to monitor the primary conflict area during my approach to the intersection. The left-turning drivers can see me, too.

Communication

The narrow lane and tight radius means turning cars move pretty slow. I can usually pass the car in front of me as it turns. When I get into the intersection, the left-turning car I encounter may not be the front car that had been stopped at the light. That one might have made the turn into the inside lane already. I can’t be certain the drivers of the cars behind have seen me yet. Because the left-turning drivers are not sure where the right-turning cars are going, they tend to be cautious. But before I cross the path of a left-turning car, I make sure I have the driver’s attention. Usually I can get a wave or nod of acknowledgement, sometimes I can tell the by the movement of the vehicle. In the dark, a bright headlight is great for stopping them in their tracks — I can see them hit the brakes.

After clearing the left-cross threat, I check to my right for a possible vehicle turning right-on-red from Colonial onto Primrose. Because of the width of the intersection and my vantage, I can monitor these threats easily in sequence.

General Rule of Vantage

The best vantage in your lane will generally be gotten from where a car driver sits. So, when stopped in traffic, moving the speed of traffic, crossing intersections or approaching a side street or driveway with poor sight lines go to the left tire track.

For other left cross scenarios, check out this animation.

19 Comments

  1. Great explanation, Keri!

  2. This is what Brian DeSousa and I teach, and why we prefer a left of center lane position when approaching intersections, both for the vantage Keri rightly notes, as well as the visibility to drivers in adjacent lanes, or those who may be turning from a driveway or on the far side of the intersection (as Keri also notes in her diagram). Excellent visual representation.

  3. Keri, can it be distilled even further to say “If at same speed (includes ‘stopped in’)as traffic or approaching areas of possible cross-traffic conflict, then get left (in left tire track)”?

    • Not everyone knows what “possible cross-traffic conflict” signifies. To a person who isn’t already familiar with common crash causes, that phrase may be meaningless because it’s a representation, not a description, of what s/he needs to look for.

      • Yes, I’m assuming familiarity with common crash causes (drive out, right hook and left cross). Get left applies mostly to the prevention of left crosses and drive outs to a right turn.

  4. I’ve been using this method for a couple of years and I can vouch for it’s validity.

  5. Great illustration Keri. CSIs should make note of this, as it depicts a lane positioning strategy we emphasize in the CS classroom session (particularly “left cross” prevention) and on the road tour.

  6. That position also facilitates courtesy by the cyclist at the front of the queue, allowing safe right turns by following motorists to the right of the cyclist. As noted in the website link which was the very first dfwptp post, and thanks again for Keri’s kind comment on it.

  7. Good observation, Steve. This is something we talk about in CyclingSavvy.

  8. By the way, it is a great illustration and analysis of a complex situation.

  9. I had used the term “sight line” before. I like “vantage” a lot better:

    Vantage: A place or position affording a good view of something.

  10. Interesting…you think drivers of motorized vehicles are seated on the left to better observe the traffic they need to see?
    I’m not sure I analyze situations to this detail, I’ve just gradually given up on riding right and bike lanes in preference for seeing and being seen as well as other considerations. Driving is visual.

    I might consider using the bike lane or space to the right when motorists are seated on the right – and even facing rear when passing a right turning vehicle on its right side.

    • Yes, that’s why British cars have the driver on the right. The closer you are to the center of the roadway, the better your line-of-sight to vehicles (and pedestrians) entering from the right (or left if you’re in Britain) from behind obstructions (parked cars, trees, buildings).

  11. I’m interested in this post because I not long ago started a blog – http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/ – about how, despite my substantial size, the best way for me to become invisible was to get on a bike and put on high-visibility clothing.
    Everything you say is sound advice – albeit that, because I live in London, all the lefts and rights need to be reversed.
    Invisible.

    • Plenty more here to read. This is just the tip.
      Here is even more. http://cyclingsavvy.org/

      I don’t wear any funny looking clothing, yet people see me just fine. How do I know? By watching the number of double-takes.

      I watch them scanning the road right past me, then their head snaps back when the reality that I am there dawns upon them. I ride like I drive my truck, so I get very few honks anymore the way I used to when I rode timidly near the edge of the pavement.

  12. Thank you for the clear and concise dissection!

  13. Great post Keri!

  14. A bit off topic, what did you use to produce the illustrations that accompany this article? Be perfect for anyone trying to teach and illustrate cycling techniques to be able to draw on a library or create their own intersections and situations…

  15. Matt, I use Adobe Illustrator. I drew all those vehicles years ago and I keep them in a file. I just draw new intersections and drop in the various cars, trucks and bikes. I use the same objects in the flash animations, too.

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  1. Vantage in the Queue | Cycling For Transport - [...] (via Vantage in the Queue | Commute Orlando) [...]
  2. Bike/Walk Central Florida Newsletter #55 — Feb. 24, 2012 - [...] Keri Caffrey has written this article providing helpful tips on how to see and be seen riding your bike …