If you’re riding your bike in Florida, you’re probably aware that most roads in our state are what are called “substandard.” That means they are measured at 14 feet or less, so it’s really difficult to ride safely by hugging the curb. Even though Florida law basically says we’re to ride as far to the right as practicable. The reason is that cars don’t have enough room on such roads to pass a cyclist safely when both are in the same lane. There’s always the potential of danger from oncoming traffic.
Can Cyclists Take the Lane on Florida Roads?
Granted, inexperienced cyclists are likely to feel more comfortable farther to the right, especially on roads that look or sound or feel busier than quiet residential streets. Riding around in your own low-traffic neighborhood isn’t the same as riding on a high-volume two-lane highway or a congested urban four-lane street. When a road is narrow or substandard, you can actually “take the lane.” What does that really mean to you, and why should you do it?
Reasons Why It’s More Safe for Cyclists to Take the Lane
First, by taking the lane, either in the right wheel position—four or five feet off the curb—or in the left wheel position just off the center line, you are more visible to drivers approaching from all directions. When you’re farther off the curb, you’re actually in a place where the driver is looking, whether you’re approaching a vehicle turning out from the side street or you see a vehicle coming up from behind you. So taking the lane on a substandard road puts you in a better position to be seen and avoided, especially if you do what I do and wear brightly colored neon clothing and a high-quality helmet. I also recommend that you check out on the internet the educational organization, CyclingSavvy, which has a great website with videos and information on this topic.
A second reason not to hug the curb is that when you are in the right or left wheel position of the road, drivers cannot squeeze by. The big danger of riding to the right is that drivers think they can squeeze between you and the adjacent car lane that may or may not be occupied by an oncoming vehicle. Rather than making the decision to wait 10, 15, or even 30 seconds many drivers will quickly and automatically swerve around cyclists. They feel justified doing this because they’re in a hurry, regardless of the potential danger of crossing into the opposing lane.
A third reason not to hug the curb is that when you’re riding close to the center of the lane, drivers are going to see you more clearly and in time to make the safest decision for you and for them. They will recognize, coming up from behind you, they can’t pass you and must change lanes and go around you. By spotting you early enough, they have time to get out of their lane and pass you. So the farther you ride off the curb towards the center, the sooner you’ll be seen and the more quickly and safely the driver can maneuver around you.
Why Cyclists Shouldn’t Hug the Curb
What you should avoid at all costs is a situation where you’re riding so close to the curb or edge of the road that drivers approaching from the rear cannot see you until they are right up on you. That’s when things can get dangerous. If that happens and a car is in the oncoming lane, the decision comes down for the driver to hit a “soft” or “hard” target and you, as the cyclist, are definitely out of luck—a lose-lose scenario you never want to find yourself in.
Our goal is always to keep you safe while cycling on Florida’s roads. It’s good to be reassured that “taking the lane” is the best alternative, particularly when riding on substandard roads.