Biking, Walking, and Blogging: What? Bicyclists May Use Full Lane?Biking, Walking, and Blogging: What?  Bicyclists May Use Full Lane?


What?  Bicyclists May Use Full Lane?

By Steve Clark

The first "bicyclists may use full lane"  signs have been installed in Minnesota - as part of a Saint Paul "livable streets" project on Marshall Avenue funded by Bike Walk Twin Cities.

The first thing one needs to know about these signs (there are three of them), is that they exist merely to reinforce what state law already allows and what safety experts have been teaching for over 30 years.

If it's not safe to ride to the right of motorized traffic, you don't have to - even if that traffic is moving faster than you.  The law gives several examples of when it's not safe "to ride as far to the right as is practicable" including narrow lane widths (defined by Mn/DOT as less than 14' wide) and unsafe surface conditions.

In the case of Marshall Ave., the signs have been installed on a downhill stretch from Cretin Ave. to the bridge over the Mississippi, where the travel lane is less than 14' wide and there is no bike lane. As cyclists approach speeds of 30 mph on such descents, 'taking the lane' is certainly the prudent thing to do. The faster one travels, the more room one needs to maneuver (to avoid obstacles) and the farther out from the curb one needs to be to be seen by motorists pulling out from side streets.

And now these signs are in the newly revised Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). One thing to remember, however, just as their installation does not require bicyclists to ride in the middle of a lane, the absence of any such sign does not mean you cannot take the lane.  In fact, in cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul a good rule of thumb is this:  if there isn't sufficient space for a bike lane to be striped, taking the full lane may be the best option. Below are some FAQs you may find helpful as you talk with others about this new sign in Saint Paul.

Q:  What does it mean to use the full lane?

A:  Using the full lane (sometimes known as taking the lane) generally means riding in the center of a travel lane, or no further to the right than in the right motor vehicle tire track. 

Q. That seems like it would be inherently dangerous - why would I ever want to take the lane?

A: There are a number of reasons and they are fully supported by state law.  1) You ensure that you are visible to motorists pulling out from side streets; 2) you're better able to prevent unsafe passing;  3) you're able to stay outside of the door zone of parked cars; and 4) you decrease your chances of being struck  by a right turning motorist (the right hook) or a left turning motorist coming at you.  You can also always take the full lane when you are "not impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic."

Q. So if there is traffic behind me, I have to head for the curb?

A. No, not at all.  If you are taking the lane because it is necessary for your safety, you don't have to worry about slowing down traffic behind you. One of the oldest traffic principles in existence is "first come, first served."  If you were there first, and you need to stay there to avoid roadway hazards, parked cars, etc., you have every right to stay there.

Q. But won't that anger motorists?

A. It can. That's one reason the signs are useful.  They educate motorists about the rights of cyclists.

Q. Yes, but where there aren't signs ....

A.  True. There are thousands of locations where cyclists need to exercise their right to use the full lane in order to be safe, yet, as of right now, there is only one small stretch where signs have been placed. We have a long ways to go.

Q. Are there other tips on how we can reduce hostilities and make sharing of the road a bit more palatable?

A. First and foremost, be consistent! If you have deemed it necessary to take the full lane, don't try to pass cars under the same situation. When you arrive at a stop sign or signalized intersection, wait behind the car in front of you, and follow all of the laws.  And if there is an area where you can get over without compromising your safety to let cars pass, feel free to do so.  Remember, courtesy is contagious!