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For cyclists’ the safest path on our arterial streets is often the ‘Primary Position’

About a year after the Ford Administration started taking out bike lanes, I came upon a style of bicycle riding called, ‘taking the primary position in the traffic lane’; taking the middle-left of the right lane of a major arterial street — *whenever it does not hinder the speed of traffic at that time and place* (Ontario Highway Traffic Act – S.147[1]).

(Primary Position is, far enough from the curb that a car must change lanes to make a 1 metre (legal) pass on my left – and close enough to the curb that a car cannot pass safely to my right [amazing to me, this overtake on the right is a legal move! Ontario Highway Traffic Act - S.150.1 allows the driver of a motor vehicle to "pass to the right of another vehicle only where the movement can be made in safety..."])

In practice riding in the primary position such that it “..does not hinder the speed of traffic at that time and place…” – means – when there is enough space between cars and the speed of traffic is such that a driver behind me can: come to the realization that I’m taking the lane; look behind them to see if is safe to make a lane change; make the lane change; and pass me – without appreciably slowing their speed.

So there is a metric that every cyclist who wishes to ride like this will have to come to understand through experience. That metric pivots around traffic volumes (which determines average traffic speed) – combined with that individual cyclists’ normal average speed.

I’ve found that only during a brief period at the beginning and at the end of the rush hours is there a combination of too much volume and too high an average car speed that a cyclist cannot safely – and legally – take the primary position.

For example: In the morning rush (7am-8am) along Queen Street East – between Leslie Street and Jimmy Simpson Park (the CN train tracks overpass) cars usually maintain speeds of around 40km/h and traffic volumes are almost bumper to bumper (drivers aren’t leaving a safe distance between themselves and the car ahead). With conditions like this you CANNOT take the primary position – you will slow traffic and likely end up either getting hit, or getting into a raging fist-fight with a motorist at a stop light.

But at a certain point in the morning rush the volume of cars on Queen reaches a point where average speeds plummet – it’s stop and go – waves of slow moving traffic ‘pulse’ down the street towards the core – in these conditions it is advisable to take the primary position. It’s the safeest way to ride in this kind of congested traffic.

To be clear, I’m not doing this to spite anyone – or to ‘war against the car’ — I’m simply trying to keep myself as safe as possible within the law. I’m sharing the road in a way that is safe for me and also at the same time not producing an intolerable hindrance to other road users progress..

Once you try it you’ll realize it’s just logical, it is a natural form – it ‘feels’ right.

One problem with it is that many drivers have neurotic knee jerk reaction as part of their driving style that can lead to horn blasting – that if they simply changed lanes – they wouldn’t have time for. I began to ride like this in the spring of 2012 – my first horn from behind came four weeks later! It worked very well. I felt very safe out there in the middle-left of the lane – and surprisingly to me, the vast majority of drivers understood the metric right away – they saw me as a slower moving vehicle and did the natural thing – they simply changed lanes and passed me.

Early adopters of this style will bear a brunt of ignorance as motorists get used to seeing us in the middle of the lane (your welcome). That means those amoung us who are dark and negative to begin with, with use the inovative cyclists’ aberrant behaviour as a medium to get the twisted blackness out of themselves – and try to ruin your day with lots of horn blasting and animated rage (let it flow off your back – it is of no concern to you).

So now two years in, I’ve come up with just one ‘best practice’ for this style of riding – beyond what I’ve described above:

Now that you are a vehicle – just like any other vehicle driving in your lane – you must Que up at stop-lights behind the last car in the right lane. Stay in the primary position and put your foot down. Sneaking up the side of stopped cars defeats everything you’ve accomplished by taking the primary position – and it causes a great deal of confusion when you try to merge with the traffic flow after the light changes to green.

By the deafening silence at the Facebook thread where I published a version of this yesterday – I assume that most cycling advocates think I’m absolutely nuts … and that if they just ignore the post I’ll realize that I was in error – out on the radical edges of transportation theory – and recant my position.

But as I wrote above – once you start this style of riding you’ll realize it is the most natural form. It’s logical – and it ‘feels’ right.

I know I’m right on this and will continue to practice this form and advocate for it’s adoption by others.

If we continue to allow ourselves to be cowed over to the edge of the road we will never get the safe, separated infrastructure we need – especially for the less aplomb riders who are the vast majority of commuters too afraid to commute by bike on our streets.

Take your lane! And perhaps this will lead to separated infrastructure.

——

Sighted sections of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act via Andrew Cap in a Facebook thread about an overtake and cut-off incident that left a cyclist on the pavement a week ago (https://www.facebook.com/groups/140997182582942/permalink/652666638082658/?comment_id=655410921141563&offset=0&total_comments=34)

Thread on Facebook at “City of Toronto Cycling” by Jessica Kelly “Last Tuesday morning…”: https://www.facebook.com/groups/140997182582942/permalink/652666638082658/

mh



Posted: May 15th, 2013
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