To improve your chances for safe riding in cities, you need to ride where motorists can see you and know what you plan to do. If you ride on sidewalks and then dart out into traffic, if you weave in and out of parked cars, if you ride to the right of stopped or slower cars in their blind spots, or if you ride on the wrong side of the road, you are asking for trouble.
The photo above is of my mates on Day 1 of our ride across the country in 2007. We were still in Southern California, and notice how we are all taking up the right lane at the signal. This was the correct thing to do, as much as many motorists might think we should all be to the far right in a straight line-up. The critical thing about this intersection and roadway is that there is only a tiny amount of room on the right. If a cyclist were over there, 1) it is a potentially dangerous situation due to right-turning cars; or 2) you’re just blocking right-turning cars needlessly.
1) If we’re waiting at the far right when the car arrives for a right turn, he looks left for approaching cars in case he can turn right on red. The light turns green, we go, and the car turns right and hits us (because they rarely look back to the right before starting their turns). Or, if cars are already waiting at the intersection and the cyclist rides up on the right and stops in a driver’s blind spot, the driver never will see him and can turn right into him.
2) If the right lane is wide enough (and it usually is), a cyclist waiting in the middle of the lane instead of the far right allows cars to pull up on his right and make their turns on a red, when traffic allows. This is a good example of “sharing the road”, and I’ve had numerous drivers thank me for being in a spot that allows them to make a right-on-red (when there’s no cross traffic) instead of sitting behind me waiting.
In the photo above, if there had been fewer of us, it would have been better for us to have stopped more to the left to allow right-turning cars to proceed on up. However, with that many riders in the group, it was fine to fill the lane as we did and not stretch too far back trying to be considerate to one or two potential right turners.
What about a marked shoulder?
If there is a wide marked-off shoulder or bike lane, then it may be safe to ride up to the intersection to the right of lined-up cars as long as you never stop in a car’s blind spot. And if the light turns green and you have not yet arrived at the front of the intersection, you must pay extra-close attention to whether a car is turning right or not since they do not know you’re over there. Be prepared to stop! If your locale allows for riding on a sidewalk, you must treat every intersection as if you are a pedestrian. Can you imagine how hard it is for cars to see you riding into an intersection if you’re on the sidewalk?
Getting back to the photo of us taking up the entire right lane at a stop light, this is proper because the shoulder is too small for bikes. Certainly a group of cyclists, but even a single biker, should remain out where he can be seen. Importantly, this means getting into the line behind other cars, and probably in front of cars who arrive after you. Once traffic begins to move and you are past the intersection, you can move to the right so that vehicles can pass you assuming you are riding slower than the traffic. If you are riding at the same speed as the traffic or wishing you could ride even faster, remain in the full lane so that cars can see you. Never pass cars on the right!! This is a common mistake that results in numerous accidents because the cars cannot see you coming in their blind spots and they turn or move to the right for whatever reasons.
The first time you line up in the lane in front of other cars, it will probably seem strange. A bike lining up with the cars? But don’t forget you are legally a vehicle too, and being visible and predictable is the most important factor in bike-car safety. You will soon be out of their way when the normal flow of traffic gets going again and they can see you and pass you safely. I have never had a car honk at me or otherwise treat me badly when I have ridden this way in traffic and at intersections.
What about a right-turn-only lane?
Unless you are turning right, do NOT remain to the far right in a right-turn-only lane. If you are going straight, it’s best to ride up to the intersection (and wait if it’s red) directly on the white line separating you from the right-turn lane. In this case, you are in a safe spot where cars can pass you on both your right and left.
Next topic: Riding with parked cars.