Gear Prudence: I’m tired of getting bullied by cars, so I’ve started “taking the lane” on roads without dedicated bike lanes much more than I used to. Taking common sense safety considerations that I can control into account, is this a good bicycling practice? —To Avoid Kerfuffles, Expecting Rationality
Dear TAKER: It sounds like an order at the Battle of Gettysburg or a nefarious plot Lex Luthor might undertake, but when you “take the lane,” you’re not actually taking anything. The lane is still there, for all to use. “Taking the lane” means riding your bicycle in such a way that a vehicle behind you could not readily pass you in the same lane. Typically, that means positioning yourself closer to the middle of the lane rather than off to the far-right side hugging the curb. The reasons for adopting this behavior are plentiful and variable. The more common reasons include avoiding obstructions or debris, trying to stay clear of vehicle doors that could be haphazardly flung open, wanting to prevent a dangerous pass where the road is too narrow or the visibility is poor, and preparing to make a left turn. Mostly, it’s a question of individual judgment. And that’s where things can get tricky.
Some cyclists are hesitant to do it and are willing to put themselves in positions of peril rather than risk inconveniencing or slowing the drivers behind them, even temporarily. However, to bicycle in and around D.C. means that at some point, you’re going to be in a situation in which taking the lane is not only a viable option but likely advisable. Don’t be a martyr.
There is an element of discretion involved. Riding down the middle of the right lane of high-speed New York Avenue, while conceivable, is likely not the best manner in which to approach your commute. Riding in such a way as to allow faster moving traffic to pass you (when it’s safe) isn’t necessarily bad. Be cognizant and conscientious, but remember that any compromise in your position on the road that puts you in danger isn’t one worth making. At the same time, there’s no need to be deliberately spiteful or antagonistic. If a faster moving vehicle comes up behind you and it’s safe to move over so the driver can pass, just move over. It’s not a contest and you don’t need to prove any points about the equality of bicycles and their rightful place on the road. Comity is OK. And in spite of the honks of a few inconsiderate assholes, for the most part, drivers get it. So don’t feel bad about it. Do what you gotta do. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.