A reader recently asked me for real-life examples of sharing the road or sharing the lane with cars. So, here goes.
Most adult, experienced cyclists choose to turn left from the left lane, especially if there is a dedicated left-turn lane.
Probably my worst experience with this came a few years ago when making a left turn from Magdalena Avenue onto Foothill Expressway in Los Altos. It was during the morning commute, and I carefully matched the speed of traffic starting up from the red light, signaled and merged left (it is a shared left-turn/straight-across-Foothill lane). But as soon as I did, the car behind me sped up, pulled alongside me on the left and began to move back to the right, forcing me back into the right lane, which was bumper-to-bumper.
I ended up going straight and turning left through the Rancho Shopping Center parking lot, where I re-encountered the driver who had forced me out of the lane. Against my better judgment, I stopped and asked her what she had been thinking. She screamed at me that she had read an article that said bicyclists should make left turns from the right-hand side of the lane and she wanted to teach me the right way to ride. This was either really bad advice or she misread the article, especially for a lane that was not exclusively for left turns. Fortunately, this left me speechless, so I was not able to continue the argument.
Cyclists can behave just as cluelessly. My evening commute from Palo Alto required me to turn left onto Foothill from Arastradero Road near Gunn High School, where there are two dedicated left-turn lanes. I was following the car in front of me closely as we accelerated with the green light when the car suddenly slammed to a halt. At first I didn’t understand why, but then I saw the cyclist turning left from the leftmost side of the inside turn lane, then moving back to the right through two lanes of traffic to get to the Foothill shoulder. He was traveling slowly, and when I passed him I asked him if he realized he had nearly caused an accident. He yelled at me that this was what he always did, and I should mind my own business.
Moral of these stories: Always remain vigilant and don’t assume that the other person knows what he or she is doing. And if you are the cyclist, always signal your intentions.
For example, it is easy to modify your left-turn signal to remove ambiguity – are you really turning 90 degrees to make a left turn across traffic, or are you simply merging into the next lane by moving over 2 feet? And look for signs that nearby drivers recognize and respect those intentions; don’t just assume that they will do the right thing.
It is possible to make a legal left-turn signal and still leave the following driver in the dark as to your intentions, but it is more courteous and safer to signal the turn and then point to exactly where you are going.
Also, know your capabilities. At 72, I am slowing down and there are times when it is more prudent to cross to the other side and stop to wait for the light in the other direction to turn green; don’t try to merge if you are going at half the speed of the traffic you are trying to merge with.
The 3-foot rule
I have written about this before – California law requires that an overtaking vehicle leave at least a 3-foot berth when passing a cyclist.
There are two situations where this can be difficult.
The first is when the width of adjacent traffic lanes and bike lanes do not allow this if both the vehicle and the cyclist are in the center of their lanes. This is an example of poor road design, but it is something we have to live with all the time. As a driver, it won’t hurt you to slow down when passing and look for an opportunity to move over a little; as a cyclist, it is important to hold your line and to have a Plan B when, for example, coming to a driveway where someone could pull out in front of you.
The second is on rural roads where the centerline is a double yellow line and it is not reasonable to simply follow a slow-moving cyclist forever. A driver once brushed my arm while passing me on a rural road. I yelped in surprise, prompting the driver to slow down and pull alongside me to explain that he had no choice, because it would have been against the law to cross the double yellow line to give me room. This was another time where I was left speechless.
Moral of this story: Yes, it is important to follow the law, but traffic laws cannot anticipate every situation. When confronted with a situation in which simply following a law doesn’t resolve a dangerous situation, courtesy and safety are the more important principles to abide by. The people you are sharing the road with will thank you.