What, the left lane isn't good enough for you?

This morning while I was biking to work, a car pulled up behind me in the right lane and started honking.  Harrison St in downtown Oakland has parked cars all along the right side and the lanes are narrow, so I normally "take the lane" to be safe - plus the cars usually aren't going much faster than I am on my bike.

This driver was different.

For two blocks, I was serenaded by loud honking while this person drove slowly behind me.  Meanwhile, the left lane was entirely clear.  Several times, I gestured to the left but the driver didn't seem to get it.

Finally, at the corner of Harrison and 14th, I took a right turn and the driver continued straight.  I was a little surprised that s/he didn't follow me right onto 14th, because otherwise the sensible thing to do would have been to pass me using the left lane.  I can only chalk this one up to an ideological belief that I was supposed to "get out of the way."

Lately I've been taking the lane more, which makes me more visible and keeps me out of the way of parked car doors.  I have the law on my side: California Vehicle Code 21202 allows bicycles full use of a lane. 

Unfortunately, many drivers don't know the law, and choose to harrass cyclists rather than pass us like they're supposed to.  I think I'm pretty realistic about when I should and should not take the lane - for example, biking up Telegraph Ave for a 4:30pm doctor's appointment, I'd be foolish to try to take the lane in front of people speeding towards the Hwy 24 onramp.  (The speed of cars on Telegraph Ave, "Speed Limit 25," is another blog entry altogether.)

But when the traffic is within reasonable speeds and the lane is narrow, I feel pretty good about my decision to use the full lane.  And even though I'm annoyed at the driver from this morning, I actually felt less threatened by the honking than I do when someone "passes" me at 40 mph without fully changing lanes.

Absent a revision of driver education (which Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Wednesday on NPR he'd consider), there's not a lot I can do to change this situation right now.  The opportunity I have, is when someone passes me too close or honks or otherwise demonstrates his/her impatience with my decision to use two wheels instead of four, and then ends up stopped beside me at the next intersection because of a red light.  (Whoa!  You just used a lot of gas revving your engine to get to the exact same place as me, at the same time.  That's real smart.)

I actually had this situation happen at Lakeshore and Lake Park last weekend, and the guy was in a convertible so we had a chance to chat.  I can't say I was the most well-spoken bike advocate at that moment, with my heart thumping after his little red sportscar nearly touched my handlebars.  But my final comment in response to "You are supposed to get out of my way," was "I'm concerned that you don't know the law.  I really hope you don't hurt anyone."  Because when it comes down to it, that's a driver's first responsibility - to know the law and not hurt anyone.  For real, is it ever worth an extra thirty seconds of your time to put someone's life in danger?

I'd love to know what you would say to a driver who buzzed you if you had 5 seconds at the intersection before the light changes.  I'm trying to think of something better - help me out!


Shannon - I think your

Shannon - I think your response was excellent and well considered.  While it might not be the pithy response you were looking for, it actually shows concern and intelligence, which is probably the best in such a situation.  It was much better than I could have come up with!

Um, yeah, your response was a

Um, yeah, your response was a lot calmer and more reasonable than mine would've been. You let the driver know the facts in a respectful way.

Until Driver's Ed catches up

Until Driver's Ed catches up with reality and common sense, cyclists are in danger. It's not fair to be guinea pigs in motorists' consciousness raising. There's a feeling of entitlement that comes with so much horsepower and tons of steel. Drivers don't want to give up any of that to share the road.