Cycling 101: Lane position and cars that pass too close

Robert Johnson of PedNet has an excellent weekly column in the Columbia Daily Tribune as the "Spokes Man."  As a League Certified Instructor who has taught many classes for PedNet over the years, Robert has some real insight into best practices for bicycling.

This week's column is a Q&A about best practices for bicycling on the road.  Take a few minutes to read the entire column--but here is just one of the questions Robert addresses:

Question 1: You are bicycling down a street, staying approximately 3 feet from the right curb. Cars are passing you too close to your left side for you to feel safe. Should you:
 
A. Move closer to the curb, even though you think you might hit the curb and crash?
 
B. Maintain your position and hope drivers will begin to use more common sense and give you a wider clearance as they pass?
 
C. Look behind you, signal and move left to the center of the lane when there is a gap, forcing drivers to look ahead for oncoming traffic, waiting for a clearing and then passing you in the other lane?
This is probably the most counter-intuitive thing for new bicyclists to learn--but when they do, it transforms the experience of riding on the road.  Road riding becomes far safer as motorists give you far more room.  At the same time, this technique is actually kinder and more consider of motorists who must pass you. 
 
So what is the technique--answer A, B, or C?
 
It's C--move to the center of the lane.
 
This works for at least two reasons.  First, motorists instictively give you as much space when passing as you give yourself.  If you are only giving yourself six inches clearance on the right, motorists assume it is OK to pass you with that same clearance.  And if a motorist does pass too close for comfort, you have all the space you need to maneuver to safety.
 
Second, clearly positioning yourself in the middle of the lane clearly communicates to motorists, which they can easily see, even at a long distance back, that they will need to plan ahead and move over to pass.  Motorists do this dozens of times a day and have no problem doing it--as long as they have plenty of warning.
 
Now contrast this with the message you send by hugging the edge of the road.  The motorist approaches with the assumption of passing fast, close, and within the lane with no problem.  As the motorist approaches, though, it becomes apparent that is wrong.  Now the motorist is too close, too fast, and with only two options: 1. Pass fast and close within the lane or 2. Jam on the brakes and wait until it is safe to move over and pass safely.
 
By hugging the edge of the road, bicyclists force motorists into the position of making a split second decision between two bad choices.  Nobody is happy when that happens.
 
By clearly positioning yourself in the center of the lane, you communicate early and clearly to motorists what they need to do.  Motorists have no problem doing and traffic actually proceeds more smoothly as a result.