When To Take the Lane?


So this morning I had my first very scary biking experience. To work I ride from First Hill to the University District along Lakeview Blvd and then over the University Bridge. You can see my route on Runkeeper

Where Lakeview Blvd crosses under I-5 (at my 2 mile point) sharrows disappear, the lane narrows, and the dividing line between the two lanes becomes a physical divider. When I first started commuting I rode on the sidewalk at this point. I was worried that cars would pass too closely and also too afraid to take the lane. 

After a few weeks, I realized that the lane wasn’t as narrow as I thought so I would take the lane around the corner (where I just didn’t think it was safe for cars to try and pass) and then move over after the corner to allow cars around. I try to always avoid sidewalk riding if possible, just because I feel that navigating through pedestrians sort of defeats the purpose of biking. I should also add that most of the time, I leave home around 9am so there aren’t really that many cars on the road at that point in my commute. It’s rare for cars to pass me there. 

Today, I rounded the corner as usual and then slid over to the right side. Because of the concrete “bump” that divides the lane cars that pass can only give a limited amount of space. For the average sized car, if I am 2-3 feet from the curb, they are still able to give me 3 feet of space when they pass. That’s generally pretty comfortable. In any case, the concrete divider disappears before the next light so if a car wanted to give me more space they don’t have to wait long to pass. 

After sliding over to the right, I could hear what sounded like a large truck of a bus coming up behind me. At that point, I probably should have taken the lane just to be safe. But most of the time big vehicles just wait until the concrete divider goes away before passing (that way, there is plenty of room for both of us). Also, if he didn’t see me taking the lane would have put me right in his path. 

As soon as I realized that he wasn’t going to wait, I slid closer to the curb than I’ve ever ridden before. Closer than I was comfortable riding. Seconds later I felt (not physically, thank goodness) the truck right by my side, grumbling in my ear. I tried to hold a steady line and hope that he would/could give me enough room. This wasn’t just a truck. It was a semi. Well, probably not a semi.. this road is too small for that. But it was definitely a large delivery truck of some kind. 

At this point I was only about 3-6 inches from the curb. It took far too long for that truck to pass. As the tail end of the trailer went by I sort of lost my balance and my tires scraped up against the curb. Luckily I didn’t fall. I somehow caught myself with my feet and kept my bike upright too. I took a deep breath and looked behind me. I waved to the driver of the bus that was behind the truck, indicating that I was going to take the lane. I rode up to the light, still a bit shaky from the experience. 

The truck also happened to be waiting at the light. They were in the left turn lane, I was going straight. If I was thinking I would have snapped a photo or gotten their license plate at least. I didn’t have time to do either before the light changed. 

I don’t know if the truck had seen me. If he hadn’t, taking the lane wouldn’t have saved me. It could have made it worse. On the other hand, if I had taken the lane the maybe he wouldn’t have passed me and I wouldn’t have been so scared. I also wonder… If I had been wearing a dress/skirt today would he have even tried? I have noticed that the more ladylike I look, the more space drivers seem to give me. The Mary Poppins Effect is apparently what it’s called.

Some other articles on “taking the lane”:
Bostonbiker.org: Taking the Lane
Cycling Unbound: “Taking the lane!” Considered Harmful

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