Cycling C101: Controlling the lane - and letting cars pass

Mighk Wilson has written an excellent and interesting article about lane position for bicyclists--controlling the lane vs hugging the curb, and what strategies work best in real life:

[M]any cyclists (and motorists who seem to revel in hanging out in cycling-related comment boards) seem to think lane control (aka “Taking the Lane,” aka “Commanding the Lane,” aka “Riding in the Middle of the Road,” aka “Impeding Traffic,” aka “Getting in the Way of the Important People in Cars”) is an all-or-nothing proposition.  As though lane control proponents do nothing but ride in the middle of every lane.

Of course that’s not the case.  We control the lane when it’s prudent; when keeping right will invite motorists to squeeze by dangerously close, when intersection conflicts are an issue, when pavement is bad, when we’re going as fast as other traffic, and in a variety of other situations.

I and others describe a lane that is too narrow to share as less than 14 feet wide.  (By the way, it’s not just us arrogant lane control advocates who say this; FDOT does, too.  See Florida Green Book, page 211.)  But there are situations in which a narrower lane might be shareable; particularly when motorist speeds are low.  One of the many benefits of lane control is that it slows motorists down so that they can pass safely.  While many cyclists like to tout Florida’s 3-foot law (motorists are required to give at least three feet of space when passing a bicyclist), many of us are comfortable with closer passes when motorists are going only a few miles per hour faster than we are (but want more than 3 feet when speeds are high!).  I’m happy with 2 feet when cars are doing 20 mph and the pavement is good.

Here are the factors I take into consideration:

Two-lane road

Lane not less than 12 feet

I’m not turning

On-coming traffic makes it difficult and dangerous to move into the on-coming lane to pass

Just one or two cars behind me

No debris or bad pavement ahead of me

The vehicles trying to pass are not very wide (no trailers, large trucks)

No intersection conflict issues

With those conditions I will move over towards the curb, but only after the following vehicle has slowed to my speed.  Then when it passes it will only be going a few miles per hour faster than I am.

Might has much more--including some very helpful diagrams--in the full article.