Road Safety: Taking the Lane on Descents

Roman Beck

In previous issues we discussed controlling speed while descending past stopped vehicular traffic. Let’s now discuss riding downhill with the flow of traffic. Depending on the number of lanes, the speed limit, and the attainable downhill speed, a cyclist should consider taking the rightmost lane. This may require moving out of a bike lane or to the left of the edge stripe. Taking the lane has many advantages:

1. The cyclist’s sight lines are improved, for identifying potential hazards ahead

2. Conspicuity is improved. Motorists ahead are more likely to notice you and not cut in front of you; likewise the motorists behind will notice you and can adjust sooner, by slowing or changing lanes

3. The bigger safety buffer to the right means more maneuvering room for the motorist who fails to see you and pulls out in front of you

4. By controlling the lane, you won’t get squeezed in between a car passing you in your lane, or right next to you (if you’re in the bike lane) and the curb

5. The pavement is usually cleaner and may be in better shape Let’s consider a single lane road such as the winding sections of SR-67 east of Ramona. A cyclist will be most conspicuous by taking the lane; in straighter sections, such as near Santa Ysabel, a cyclist is better off riding near the edge stripe. The posted speed limit is fast, 55 mph. In a slower single lane road, such as westbound Nautilus Street in La Jolla, with a posted speed limit of 40 mph, on-street parking, and cross streets, a cyclist flowing with traffic may be better off taking the lane and disregarding the bike lane. On northbound Texas Street between Madison and Camino del Rio, a cyclist can easily travel with the flow of traffic, even though there is a bike lane. However, when the roadway has few cross-street conflicts and no on-street parking, a marked bike lane may be adequate, such as eastbound Leucadia Boulevard between Quail Gardens Drive and Calle Barcelona. The main hazards here are same-direction motorists, who often exceed the posted speed limit of 50 mph.

Keep in mind the cyclist should feel comfortable with taking the lane on a downhill. As a general rule, the more cross-conflicts (intersections, driveways, parked cars, etc.), the more you should consider taking the lane.

From Chain Guard Volume 21, Number 4, Page 6, August-September 2007