staying right vs sitting in a line of traffic
When I come up to a red light, I pretty much always take the lane and keep my place in traffic and try to stay there until I get through the intersection, instead of staying to the right where I might get squeezed.
So, today, I’m sitting on Penn, I think @ Evaline (on my way to bike-pgh!). I’ve been behind the same car for a long time, and we’re catching every red light. So, I’m sitting there minding my own business and I hear this godawful SCREEEEECH behind me. I thought “what the hell” and I must have instinctively cranked the pedal and shot off forward and to the right a bit.
Well, the girl in the car must have thought she hit me, because she jumped out of her car and was absolutely panicked, asking if I was alright. I don’t think it had really registered in my brain what happened – I saw everyone on the sidewalk staring at us, but I was absolutely calm and just said “it’s ok, you didn’t hit me”. Someone waiting to turn left @40th a few minutes later also asked if I was ok. I didn’t even really think it was that close, she still had a couple feet, although in retrospect, by the sound of the tires the real measure of closeness was probably a few tenths of a second. If only motorists were that concerned all the time, I think we’d be ok.
So, what do you think? I always thought I was better off sitting in line, but now I’m wondering if being to the right of a car doesn’t provide a certain margin of safety. I know one of the arguments motorcyclists in CA use is that lane splitting in stop-and-go traffic is safer than sitting there and accepting the possibility of getting rear-ended.
If traffic is slow I will sit in line, if it seems like the potential is pretty high to get nailed like you almost did I will filter up.
Also consider people getting jumpy at lights. I was almost hit because I shifted and the driver saw that as a cue to mash the gas. Thankfully I had some cushion, likely because she wanted to text sooner, and she stopped right after.
When there will be a long wait I will keep looking to the rear to ensure the driver will stop.
Wow, super scary! I’m glad you were not hurt. I’m not sure that there is a one size fits all answer here. Sometimes I’ll filter forward if I think there is time for me to get in front of the first car in line. But if I can’t get to the front safely, I’ll wait in the lane like you did, but you do risk being rear ended. My oldest brother, who drives a lot for work reasons, has been rear ended at least three times in the last fifteen years – bad enough to spend the night in the hospital type crashes. And with as many buildings that have been hit in the region lately, I think you are only safe from cars if you are in a hot air balloon.
First, I’m glad you were not hurt. This story could have had a bad ending, glad it did not.
I commute 3x a week from Mt Lebanon to the Strip, and my approach varies with conditions. If I am the last vehicle in line, I stay behind the car in front of me, but off to the right, and I watch for approaching cars. If I’m in between cars, and we’re all stopping at once, I stay where I am, close to the center of the lane. I also filter forward at certain intersections, depending on traffic, who’s turning, etc. No stock answer, just a lot of variability.
I also tend to be a bit paranoid, because I was hit (t-boned) three years ago, badly hurt, and I know that if it happens again my family will not let me ride…so I always assume that the driver is not looking (texting) or is mad at the world.
There was another thread about filtering through traffic particularly about the intersection of Forbes and Braddock. If you want to ride through there with me at 5:30 pm on a weekday, I’ll explain what I do there and why.
i’d like this explanation with nate videod with a helmet cam please.
it’s a conversation i’ve tried to have with more than one person.
I did think about the other thread on filtering but I don’t think filtering makes sense where I was – Penn is too narrow and i can’t stay ahead of traffic. So, either I’m going to pass a bunch of cars then take the lane (kind of an inconsiderate move imho) or the cars are going to have to squeeze by me as they re-pass me. I will filter forward sometimes where the road is wide enough (Liberty through Bloomfield is one example), but in general I keep my place. I used to do it a lot more, and I don’t really have an issue if other people want to do it.
But, regardless of your feelings on that, there are going to be times when you cannot or do not want to filter, and my main concern is what is the safest way to wait. I never really though twice about getting right up behind the car in front of me, until today. But, I guess all those cars you see with jacked up bumpers probably didn’t all come from backing into light poles… I usually get angry when I have a near miss but this one just has me feeling a bit scared. The worst part is, if not for the tire screech, I probably wouldn’t have known what happened… and if there were no tire screech, I still wouldn’t know what happened, but it would have hurt. Anger seems like a bit of a luxury – when I see something happen and save myself by reacting to it, then I can afford to be mad at the driver. This was different, the driver saved me from herself and I was a sitting duck. I don’t want to be that.
Glad you weren’t hurt.
If you’re off on the right, it seems you’d be more vulnerable to right-hooking and left-hooking (since you’re now hidden directly behind the car in front of you from traffic coming the opposite way). A different lane position that makes it harder for other drivers to see you might merely trade one accident type for another.
Did you have one of those obnoxiously bright rear blinkies? Being as visible as possible should help with at least some distracted-driver situations. (The way the driver wasn’t sure if she hit you makes me suspect that’s what this was.)
I almost always take the center of the lane no matter where I sit in traffic at a red light, and even to a degree at stop signs. I have had too many people get about within 6 inches of me trying to go sneak up beside me at a red, and I don’t like that. I also think it is confusing at 4 way stops when a car slightly in front of me or beside me rolls their stop sign. I only filter up if I know the light is long and I can get in front of the first car in line and I can immediately take my own lane and/or get moving down a hill quickly after the light goes green.
Super scary. Sounds like she was text book distracted to not see you or the cars you were stopped behind.
I think about this every time I am stopped at a light. I will sometimes position myself to the right front of a car so I am protected and then when the light turns let that car get ahead of me and I merge back in. Sometimes.
Penn Ave headed downtown was the LAST place I attempted to filter forward. Got squeezed into a parked van by an asshole who thought it was funny (he had plenty of room on the other side), so I took the lane after that and ever since. Pissed off a lot of people that day (traffic was slower than I could roll, so they were just pissed at the world).
At stop signs, especially out where I live, I don’t take the lane, I take the road. I’ve had so many people try to pass me IN intersections (with people coming the other way) that as I pull up to a stop sign, if there’s a car behind me, I start riding unpredictably and in the middle of the road to keep them back. I’ve actually (on two seperate occasions, two different vehicles, two different locations) had a motorist almost get into a head on collision trying to pass me at a stop sign, complete with screeching tires and the need to put their vehicle in reverse. Normally people out here are awesome about taking turns with me at stop signs, and it’s not like they’re not stopping at the signs, they’re just insistant that if I get the right lane, they get the left lane, despite the presence of other occupants. No idea why (they don’t race off once they pass either, really weird)
But most of the streets are missing the magic yellow sanity lines here. And curbs. The standard signs of transportation civilization.
I think in general taking your place in the traffic line is good, if safety is in question becoming a pedestrian on the other side of a curb is good, then there’s that fuzzy gray area in between that you are WAY more qualified to judge than I am.
salty, I struggle with the same issue all the time. I rarely filter, so I often take the lane behind a car. I try to keep an eye behind me, but I’m not convinced the perspective is great enough to recognize a car that is going to stop versus a car that is going to plow me over. I’ve seen enough cars get rammed waiting at lights or waiting to turn that I am fairly conscious of that possibility.
Even worse is waiting to turn left in a non-passable lane with higher speed traffic and no car waiting in front of or behind. I sometimes will turn my bicycle at close to a 45 degree angle to give a greater profile and hopefully a better chance of being seen.
dmtroyer – so THAT’s why… I’ve either seen you or seen others do the angling for a larger profile thing, and wondered. It works, keep it up.
I don’t like general rules for intersections.
Some places I take the lane. Some places I filter.
I trust my instincts – and I would trust the instincts of almost anyone here – more than I trust a rule.
Recenty someone posted a situation where it sounded like they did the very safest thing, followign agood general rule. They they diagramed it out and it seemd to me that they were, in reality, exposing themselves to serious risk (and slowing themselves down) just so they could be “doing the right thing.”
I tend to use my instincts or knowledge of how an intersection works/behaves.
I also think that the Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual sums it up pretty nicely (I know it’s been posted a million times):
WAYS TO DEAL WITH TOUGH SITUATIONS
Let’s face it — some traffic situations go beyond the normal rules. When the traffic system begins to break down because of overcrowding, poor planning and disrespect for the law, you may have to “bushwhack” your way through the mess.
You can emerge safe and maintain the respect of other road users if you’re careful. Here are some of the common situations where you have to take the initiative.
WHEN TRAFFIC LIGHTS DON’T TURN
Always stop and wait for red lights. You not only ensure your safety, but also increase respect for cyclists as law-abiding road users.
But some traffic lights don’t turn green until they receive a signal from a metal detector buried in the pavement. A bicycle doesn’t have enough metal to make many of them work.
Recognize the detector by a square or octagonal pattern of thin lines in the pavement, where slots were cut for the detecting wires. The detector is most sensitive if you ride along one of the wires.
If your bike doesn’t trip the detector, you have to wait for a car to do it, or else you have to go through the red light. Going through the red isn’t against the law, because the light is defective.
Detectors are made that work for bicycles, at little or no additional cost. Federal design guidelines exist for these detectors. If you put enough pressure on your local and state government, bicyclists can avoid the crashes and the city can avoid the lawsuits which may follow.
GETTING THROUGH TRAFFIC JAMS
Traffic jams don’t have to stop you — that’s one of the biggest advantages of bicycling in the city. But in the tight quarters of a tie-up, take extra care. Stopped cars in a traffic jam present the same hazards as parked cars: blindspots, doors and unpredictable starts and turns.
If there is an open passing lane, use it rather than thread between cars. If the street is completely plugged, pick your way forward slowly and with your hands on the brake levers. Remember, any car door could open!
If you’re in a traffic jam, you can be fairly sure that the cars will not move, since they have nowhere to go. But if there’s an open driveway or parking space into which a car could turn, you have to assume that it will. Look to see whether the car’s front wheels are turned. Move away from the side of the car as you pass, and try to get the driver’s attention as you approach the front of the car.
When cars are stopped, but not completely bumper to bumper, be very wary of cars from other lanes cutting across in the gaps. Stop and look before you move out into a gap. Be especially careful if the vehicle you’re passing, like many vans, doesn’t have a hood you can see over.
Don’t pass a long truck or bus in a traffic jam unless there’s a full, open lane next to it. If you ride close to the side of such a vehicle it may begin to merge toward you, leaving you no way to escape.
As you approach an intersection, change lanes to the same position as you would in normal traffic. Before you cross in front of a car to change lanes, make eye contact with the driver even if the car is stopped. When you reach an intersection, wait behind the first car at the traffic light. Don’t move up next to that car; drivers don’t always use their turn signals, so you don’t know for sure which way the car will turn when the light turns green.
These traffic-jam tactics are reasonably safe, but in some cities it may not be legal for a bicyclist to pass on the right or ride between lanes of traffic. On the other hand, it’s usually legal for you, or any driver, to cautiously disobey normal traffic rules when the road is “obstructed.”
@dmtroyer True enough.
The thing is, I do different things at the same intersection with different traffic conditions.
Erok: Great post, thanks.
I have one intersection that I cross on my way home where I run into the “are they turning right or not” scenario every day. I handle it a bit differently than you describe. If the first car’s turn signal is on, I assume a 90% chance that they are actually turning, and I position myself behind them, one foot on the curb, and make eye contact with the second car so they know that I’m there. If the first car turn signal is NOT on, I assume a 50/50 chance that they are turning anyway. So I go in front of them, one foot on the curb, and make eye contact. Sometimes that action causes them to put their signal on, sometimes not. In either case, I start as soon as the light changes and hammer through the intersection, knowing that they’ve seen me, whether they are going straight or turning.
Erok’s post is right on, and it should be somewhat reassuring to us as cyclists that someone in the gub’mint has thoughtfully approached the issues that are faced by cyclists on the road.
now if only people would READ those helpful and thoughtful brochures that the government puts out… (not just us cyclists, but everybody, rather than following their fathers/grandfathers/whoever taught them to drive’s “rule of thumb” that doesn’t allow for cyclists acceptably using the roads)
you know, when I did work for the government, and went to sites or vendors, they had this safety video that I physically had to watch before I was permitted to enter the site. I had to sit in front of a 15-45 minute video of cheesy people demonstrating what happens when you don’t watch for cranes or obey radiological signs to some thankfully forgetable casio sound track.
People getting drivers licenses, or renewing them, have to sit in that waiting area, and stare at walls or doodle around on cell phones (that could be easily banned – get caught looking/talking on one and lose your place in line), why not have monitors with road safety videos playing for their viewing pleasure? It’s passive, it could be rolled out slowly, and it could actually help.
it wouldn’t solve Salty’s problem, but it might heighten general public awareness of road safety rules and how to share the road safely, no?
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