…this is something I’ve had percolating in my head for years, I’ve just never bothered to put it into words.
The California Vehicle Code states that anyone riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. It also states that a rider should ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, subject to a collection of exceptions (for things like passing slower traffic, making a left turn, where conditions make it unsafe, and so on). Further, it states that riders are required to ride in bicycle lanes where they exist, but that a rider can leave the bicycle lane for almost the exact same collection of exceptions.
Given that debris often collects in the gutter next to the bike lane (which includes parked cars, heh) many bicyclists advocate “taking the lane”, which means to ride in the center of the lane as if they were driving an automobile. The thought being that because of the debris (again, including parked cars), it is never safe to ride in the bike lane or along the shoulder, so the center of the lane is as close as practicable as one should ride.
I see two problems with this which are so very often overlooked by advocates:
- First, CVC 21202 states that when not riding as close to the right as practicable the rider is subject to the provisions of CVC 21656. CVC 21656 states that when slower moving traffic has a line of five of more vehicles behind it, the slower moving vehicle must pull off of the road and allow traffic to pass.
- Second, a car is a 2000 pound hunk-of-hurt usually driven by a seething conglomeration of anger personified, focused on the slow-moving bicyclist in front of it.
From my experience, bicyclists tend to pick and choose which parts of the law they are going to follow; I’ve neither heard of nor seen bicyclists pull over if they’ve “taken the lane” and are causing traffic to bunch up behind them (in fact, I can’t count the number of social media posts from non-cyclists I’ve read complaining about bicyclists who “took the lane” and didn’t pull over to let a long line of traffic pass. Truth be told, I suspect it’s a competition thing; pulling over would be akin to admitting you’re losing the race against traffic, and what self-respecting road cyclist would ever admit that they lost?)
So while the law may state (granted, if I may quote Obi-Wan, “from a certain point of view”) that “taking the lane” is acceptable, it also states that the rider should pull over to let faster-moving traffic pass. Doing the former without the latter is, in fact, unsafe and can often land a bicyclist right in the sights of a seething conglomeration of anger personified. Which is never good and happens quite frequently enough without cause or provocation.
I was once the victim of a seething conglomeration of anger personified. I was stopped at a red light in the center of the right-hand lane of a three-lane highway, next to a marked right-hand turn lane. The lady who pulled up behind me was angry that I dared to be in the lane even stopped to let the people turning right do so. After the light turned green, she sped up and slid by me so close that her passenger mirror clipped my shoulder and sent me sprawling to the ground. She later admitted that she did it to teach me a lesson because I shouldn’t have been in the street even after the police had relayed to her the relevant laws. So it happens; I wasn’t even riding or holding up traffic, I was just sitting there.
The bottom line? Don’t let entitlement get in the way of your safety; just because the law may say you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. Follow the laws while you’re cycling, but follow ALL of the laws and remember that a 2000 pound hunk-of-hurt driven by a seething conglomeration of anger personified can turn your 200 pound, lycra-clad, carbon-fiber riding self into a squishy smear on the ground in the blink of an eye. Is it really worth it to prove a point about “cyclists rights to the road”?