Thoughts on Taking The Lane

Updated 2013-11-11

As I am not an expert on cycling safety this post is not intended to be advice on how to safely take the lane but only my thoughts on the subject.

While I am not one of those “vehicular cyclists”, that oppose cycling infrastructure because they think that the best place for all cyclists is on the roads competing for space with car drivers, I do believe that cyclists have a right to be able to ride on the roads safely. I also agree with the City of Ottawa when they tell cyclists “never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist”.

One of the most important ways that cyclists can ensure their safety on the roads is by taking the lane (riding in the middle of the lane of traffic) when appropriate and necessary.

The Legal Right to Take The Lane

The legal right to do this is provided in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8.

Slow vehicles to travel on right side

147. (1) Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 147 (1).

The key phrase here is “where practicable” and while that is not defined in the Act it seems reasonable to assume that in legislation dealing with highway safety that “where practicable” would include where safe and that a right to take the lane would therefore exist where that is the only safe option.

Indeed the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Police Service and the Ministry of Transportation clearly agree with that interpretation.

The section of the City of Ottawa website: Cycling and the law states:

Rules of the road

Cyclists are required to ride as close as possible to the right curb of the roadway, except when:

●Travelling at the normal speed of traffic

●Avoiding hazardous conditions

●The roadway is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side-by-side

●Tiding alongside another cyclist in a manner that does not impede the normal movement of traffic

●Preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted)

The Share The Road section of the Ottawa Police Service website states:

Riding Tips for the Road

1. Ride predictably and defensively.

2. Ride in a straight line at least one metre from the curb or parked cars.

3. You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety just for the convenience of others.

And the Ontario Ministry of Transportation's Ontario's Guide to Safe Cycling states:

Taking a lane

In urban areas where a curb lane is too narrow to share safely with a motorist, it is legal to take the whole lane by riding in the centre of it. On high-speed roads, it is not safe to take the whole lane. To move left in a lane, should check, signal, left and shoulder check again then move to the centre of the lane when it is safe to do so.

It also states:

Accordingly, cyclists should ride one meter from the curb or close to the right hand edge of the road when there is no curb, unless they are turning left, going faster than other vehicles or if the lane is too narrow to share.

As well it states:

Around parked vehicles

Ride in a straight line at least one metre away from parked vehicles. Keep to this line even if the vehicles are far apart to avoid continuous swerving.

Cycle in a straight line past parked vehicles; do not swerve towards the curb when parked vehicles are far apart

When riding around parked vehicles, cyclists should watch for motorists and passengers who may open their car door into the cyclists' path.

And the Canadian Cycling Association CAN-BIKE Program: safety tips states:

Going…going, gone! When one lane disappears, use the other one

Highway Traffic Acts across Canada tell all vehicle users to occupy any part of a lane when safety warrants it. Bikes are vehicles too. In the event of parked vehicles, construction, snow banks, etc. If the lane is obstructed and there is not enough room to share the lane while passing the obstruction, take the whole lane to prevent vehicles from passing too close.

1. Look well ahead when you ride and pre-plan your position on the road.

2. Shoulder check first to make sure there is room and then signal before taking the lane.

3. Shoulder check again to make sure the drivers behind you respect your intention.

4. Take the centre of the lane and ride in a straight line.

5. Repeat 2 & 3 and return to the right most side of the lane when the obstruction is passed.

So we have established not only the legal right to take the lane but the fact that the authorities recommend it in appropriate situations.

Taking The Lane Safely

That of course does not change the fact that taking the lane can be intimidating, and even hazardous if not done carefully. After all, it is not wise to just pull out in front of bigger heavier vehicles going faster than you.

The first rule, and this applies to all cycling in traffic, is to be constantly aware of the traffic around you. No riding with headphones on or texting while cycling. Your life may depend on how aware you are.

You should also be aware of the road and driving conditions so that you can be prepared to ease into taking the lane safely, as you approach the conditions requiring it, and be able to do so without abruptly pulling in front of other traffic. And, of course only take the lane in urban traffic and not when the other traffic is travelling at highway speeds.

When To Take The Lane

The road conditions when I take the lane include:

● when the bike lane abruptly ends, which I interpret as the traffic engineer's way of telling me that there is not enough room alongside traffic and that I should take the lane,

● when the roadway alongside traffic is too dangerous to ride in due to pot holes or debris in the lane,

● in constructon or detour zones with lanes that are too narrow to ride alongside traffic

● alongside parked cars when simply staying out one metre risks getting forced into the dooring zone by passing motorists,

● and when the lane is simply too narrow to ride safely alongside traffic.

The bottom line on when to take the lane is when you believe that you cannot ride safely alongside traffic and that it is safe to take the lane. As the City of Ottawa states “never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist”.

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