Crossing A Double Yellow Line

Co-author: Steven Goodridge.

crossing_double_yellow

What would you do?

You are driving your car along a narrow two-lane road when a cyclist comes into view up ahead. Of course, you are a lawful, responsible, and respectful driver. You recognize that the lane is not wide enough to pass safely within it, so you slow down. If your sight lines are limited, you follow behind the cyclist until sight lines open up. If you are approaching an intersection where you might have to stop, then you follow behind the cyclist until you are past that point as well. If there is oncoming traffic, you wait for it to clear. Then, you move into the oncoming lane, accelerate, and pass the cyclist, leaving them plenty of room for safety and comfort. When you are safely past the cyclist and their forward right-of-way, you move back into the proper lane and continue on your way. No problem, right? Just another everyday driving maneuver.

But what if a traffic engineer decided to have a solid double yellow line applied down the middle of that road? Wouldn’t your passing maneuver be a violation of traffic law? So what do you do? Do you call the police to complain about the cyclist? Do honk or yell at the cyclist to move over? Do you try to squeeze past the cyclist without moving into the oncoming lane? Of course not. You’re a lawful, responsible, respectful driver. Do you follow behind the cyclist until your route diverges from theirs or you reach a point where the design of the road changes? That’s certainly a safe and legal option, but it is inconvenient and it seems unnecessary, since you can see an opportunity to pass safely. Or do you just take the first opportunity to pass safely, legal or not?

If you are like most motorists, you take the first opportunity to pass the cyclist safely, regardless of the stripe. After all, the purpose of the solid yellow line is to indicate where it is unsafe to pass, and the purpose of prohibiting drivers from crossing a solid yellow line to pass another driver is to prevent unsafe passing. So if it is safe to pass, then why is the solid yellow line there in the first place?

How did we get here?

Our surface streets have carried a wide variety of low-speed vehicles – horse drawn carriages, bicycles, tractors – since long before the popularity of motoring. Our traffic laws protect the right to drive these slower vehicles while also defining the limited privileges of overtaking for drivers who want to travel faster. For instance, overtaking drivers are prohibited from moving into the path of oncoming traffic or moving left of center where short sight distances would make this unsafe. The traffic laws clearly state that a driver wishing to pass another driver must wait behind until conditions are safe for passing without interfering with other travelers.

Dead Man's Curve along the Marquette–Negaunee Road in Marquette County, Michigan, shown in 1917 with its hand-painted center line. Source: Wikipedia
Dead Man’s Curve along the Marquette–Negaunee Road in Marquette County, Michigan, shown in 1917 with its hand-painted center line. Source: Wikipedia

As motoring became increasingly popular over the last century, motor-vehicle crashes took a tremendous toll in human life. One of the most devastating crash types involves a high-speed motorist swerving or drifting left of center on a  two-way roadway and colliding head-on with oncoming traffic. Highway engineers discovered that marking a stripe down the center of such roadways reduced such collisions by helping drivers keep track of their position relative to the center of the roadway. Marking of stripes in the center of roads that carry traffic at high speeds or high volumes eventually became standard practice.  These markings are an early example of “traffic controls” that traffic engineers install with the intent to encourage safe operation in compliance with the traffic laws. Over the decades, traffic engineers have added more and more traffic controls to roadways, sometimes with good results and sometimes with unintended consequences. Because the traffic engineering profession is half hard science and half social experiment, the full effects of traffic controls sometimes take time to reveal themselves.

In response to motorist errors, traffic engineers began marking no-passing zones in areas where the sight distance was inadequate safely to pass a vehicle traveling just below the posted speed limit.

Some collisions on two-lane roads are caused by motorists attempting to pass other drivers when oncoming traffic is too close, but might be beyond the passing motorist’s sight distance when the maneuver begins. Although the passing law requires drivers to heed the sight distance required to pass safely, some drivers underestimate the needed sight distance, particularly when passing traffic moving at high speeds. (Other drivers choose to risk passing regardless of clearly inadequate sight distance.)  In response to this, traffic engineers began marking no-passing zones in areas where the sight distance was too short for passing a vehicle traveling just below the posted speed limit1. A solid stripe became the standard marking for no-passing zones, with dashed markings used elsewhere. Some states, such as Vermont and Missouri, adopted traffic laws that treated the solid centerline as a warning rather than a statutory prohibition against passing, but most states adopted laws that prohibited passing on a two-lane road wherever a solid centerline was present.

Over time, solid centerlines proliferated over a larger percentage of roadway miles. On many two-lane roads, solid centerlines continue for miles at a time, with no dashed sections at all.

florida_ave_340

Engineers marked solid centerlines extending out several hundred feet from intersections, in areas with driveways, and anywhere else that the engineers considered unsafe for passing, particularly at high speed. The formulas and tables used to determine where to place solid centerlines assumed that the vehicle being passed was traveling near the posted speed limit2, so that dashed centerlines, indicating permission to pass, became quite rare.  On many two-lane roads, solid centerlines continue for miles at a time, with no dashed sections at all. Passing of same-direction motorists on two-lane roads declined over time, partly because of the scarcity of legal passing zones, but also due to greater availability of multi-lane roads for longer route segments. Toward the end of the 20th century, traffic engineers saw passing zones to be less important as the amount of low-speed traffic declined (toward extinction, some may have presumed) and many of the motorists who did pass on two-lane roads were exceeding the speed limit.

The markings that traffic engineers placed on most miles of two-lane roads did not communicate a reasonably convenient process for passing low-speed vehicles.

Yet low-speed vehicles did not disappear from the roadways. Bicycles, thought by many in the mid-20th century to be obsolete, suitable only as children’s toys, later resurged as an economical, healthy, energy-efficient travel mode. Mopeds and scooters continued to be used as an affordable alternative to motorcycles. Horse-drawn carriages remained in use by traditionalist groups and equestrian tour operators. Farm tractors and construction vehicles were joined by new types of short-range electric utility vehicles. Laws throughout the country recognize a general right to travel on public roadways. Though we at I Am Traffic,are aware of some troubling infringements on this right, the law does generally recognize that the public’s right to the road is not dependent on speed capability. But the markings that traffic engineers placed on most miles of two-lane roads did not communicate a reasonably convenient process for passing low-speed vehicles. The system is broken.

In some places, highway engineers have attempted to make two-lane roads wider to accommodate passing of some types of slower vehicles, but most roads cannot be widened, due to economics. Instead, drivers of low-speed vehicles often become scapegoats for the dysfunctional road design and lane markings. Because traffic engineers have not considered the requirement to pass low-speed vehicles when designing the roads, many in government treat drivers of such vehicles as “unintended users” and marginalize their use of typically marked roadways.

What’s the problem?

pass-on-double-yellow

In most of the United States, a motorist is not clearly permitted to cross a solid centerline to pass a cyclist when safe. Yet practically all drivers do, rather than continue to follow the cyclist at reduced speed. Drivers recognize that current striping policies for no-passing zones are overly restrictive in the context of low-speed vehicles. Mathematical analysis bears this out. For instance, safely passing a motorist traveling at 35 mph on a 45 mph road requires a sight distance 600 feet longer than passing a 15 mph bicyclist on the same road 2.

There is a common provision permitting a driver to cross a solid centerline to pass an “obstruction”. Does a cyclist qualify as an obstruction? Some police departments take this interpretation while others do not. But police department policy is not law and for many reasons cannot take the place of law.

Moreover, considering cyclists to be obstructions is not necessarily good for cyclists, even if it seems to work in particular cases. Other drivers engaged in normal driving behavior are not referred to as obstructions, and referring to cyclists this way is degrading and can lead to further ill treatment in the future. It can even lead to bad outcomes in court proceedings, where the characterization of cyclists as obstructions might be carried into a different context.

The legal ambiguity about crossing a solid centerline is a source of conflict for cyclists, motorists, police officers, and driving instructors. Motorists can be unnecessarily inconvenienced because they believe that they are not allowed to pass a cyclist. Their frustration can lead to resentment and hostility toward cyclists. It can even lead to riskier behavior and crashes. A motorist might honk or yell at cyclists or might buzz them to avoid crossing a solid centerline. In the worst cases, motorists have attempted to squeeze past cyclists within the same lane and fatally struck the cyclists.

A cyclist can feel anxious about motorists following behind for too long, as can happen if a motorist believes that passing is prohibited. The cyclist can feel obligated to move to the edge and encourage motorists to squeeze past at an unsafe distance. There is a common belief that cyclists are legally obligated to enable passing regardless of the inconvenience or danger to themselves. This belief is completely false – cyclists’ obligation to facilitate passing is no greater than for other drivers – but the legal ambiguity about crossing a solid centerline exacerbates this belief. People are entitled to assume that the law and the design of roads make sense and will not lead to absurd situations. A motorist who is doing everything right, but can’t get around a cyclist, even if traffic is light, might understandably assume that the cyclist is doing something wrong. Police officers are vulnerable to the same confusion, and may stop or ticket cyclists for bogus infractions such as “impeding traffic” (which by law only applies to drivers traveling more slowly than they reasonably can).

control-release-series
Click photo to enlarge

The ambiguity about crossing a solid centerline frustrates driving instructors who teach cyclists or motorists about safely interacting with the other. In a typical encounter between a cyclist and a motorist on a narrow two-lane road, the safe and effective technique for the motorist is to wait behind the bicyclist until it is safe to move into the oncoming lane to pass. The safe and effective behavior for the cyclist consists of controlling the lane (taking a position in the lane far enough leftward to discourage motorists from attempting to pass) while there is oncoming traffic or any other condition that would make passing unsafe, and at other times encouraging the motorist, through a more rightward position and/or gestures, to move into the oncoming lane to pass. This technique is known as Control and Release. However, discussion of these techniques is frequently derailed by arguments over whether it is legal for the motorist to cross a solid centerline to pass a cyclist and when it is legal for a cyclist travel on a road under any conditions in which motorists cannot legally pass.

Can we fix this thing?

The long-term solution is for traffic engineers to include low-speed vehicles as design vehicles on all ordinary surface roads and to provide appropriate passing facilities depending on context.  For instance, important through roads intended to support high speed traffic might warrant more convenient passing facilities than low-speed, low-volume, local streets. Such widespread engineering changes will not be achieved any time soon. In the meantime, an easier fix is needed. A prime candidate for such a fix is a provision in traffic codes that explicitly permits a driver to cross a solid centerline to pass under appropriate conditions. Some states have already implemented this fix.  Colorado3, Maine4, Massachusetts5, Mississippi6, Ohio7, Pennsylvania 8, Utah9 and Wisconsin10 for example have added provisions to their respective traffic codes explicitly allowing drivers to cross a solid centerline to pass a slow-moving vehicle, or a bicyclist specifically, under safe conditions.

The vast majority of motorists is already crossing solid centerlines to pass cyclists today. What isn’t happening is a substantive public discussion about how to do it safely.

We propose that prohibitions on crossing solid centerlines be relaxed by adding an exception for passing vehicles traveling at a sufficiently low speed. In Ohio, for example, this speed threshold is half the maximum posted speed limit. Such an exception would be applicable to passing tractors, construction vehicles and horse-drawn carriages, in addition to bicycles. Most motorists already cross solid centerlines to pass all of these vehicles when safe. However, Ohio’s exception is not entirely satisfactory. It is not uncommon for a cyclist’s speed to be greater than half the maximum posted speed limit, while still being unnecessarily slow for a following motorist. For example, it is well within the range of normal conditions for cyclist to be traveling at 20mph in 30mph zone or even 30mph in a 50mph zone (going down a hill, for example). If the road is straight, then sight distance would likely be adequate for a motorist to pass this cyclist safely and without exceeding the posted speed limit.

Model No-Passing-Zone Exception

When passing a pedestrian, bicycle, tractor, or other slow moving vehicle, the operator of a vehicle may drive on the left side of the center of a roadway in a no-passing zone when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with or endangering other traffic on the highway.

Alternatively, states could redefine the meaning of the solid centerline from a statutory prohibition on passing to a warning that passing may be unsafe. This is already the case in some states, such as Vermont (the Vermont statute requires signs, not solid striping alone, to define a no-passing zone). All of the other laws restricting passing due to oncoming traffic and limited sight distance would still apply.

We ask that legislators modernize their passing laws to reflect safe and practical passing practices, and that cycling advocates make a priority of lobbying them to do so.

The vast majority of motorists are already crossing solid centerlines to pass cyclists today. What isn’t happening is a substantive public discussion about how to do it safely. Changing the law to reflect prudent behavior will facilitate this discussion as well as better public education and more effective law enforcement. We at I Am Traffic believe that relaxing the solid centerline no-passing rule is essential to reducing sideswipes, unsafe close passing, and harassment of bicyclists on two-lane roads. We ask that legislators modernize their passing laws to reflect safe and practical passing practices, and that cycling advocates make a priority of lobbying them to do so.

Footnotes

  1. NCHRP Report 605, Passing Sight Distance Criteria, Transportation Research Board, 2008. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_605.pdf.
    ↩︎
  2. Consider a driver planning a pass on a 45 mph road. Observation of real-world behavior shows that drivers take an average of seven-seconds to pass a 15 mph bicyclist (with a speed differential of 10 mph), but an average of ten seconds to pass a 35 mph car. A seven second pass at 25 mph covers about 256 feet worst case (ignoring acceleration). By comparison, a ten second pass at 45 mph covers about 660 feet. An oncoming 45 mph driver travels 462 feet in seven seconds and 660 feet in 10 seconds. The required safe passing sight distance in the average bicyclist case is therefore about 600 feet shorter than in the average motorist case. Also, the slower passing speed is safer, should the passing driver misjudge; the oncoming driver will have more time and distance to reduce speed and “cooperate” with the pass as is often the case when passing a stationary obstruction. While the law prohibits a passing driver from interfering with an oncoming driver and requiring that driver to slow, this interference is much less dangerous  when passing a slow bicyclist than when passing a fast motorist. This is why there are so few crashes involving oncoming vehicles when drivers are passing cyclists on two-lane road.
    ↩︎
  3. Colorado No-Passing-Zone Exception

    42-4-1005. Limitations on overtaking on the left

    (1) No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless authorized by the provisions of this article and unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken. In every event the overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within two hundred feet of any approaching vehicle.

    (2) No vehicle shall be driven on the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:

    (a) When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction;

    (b) When approaching within one hundred feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing; or

    (c) When the view is obstructed upon approaching within one hundred feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.

    (3) The department of transportation and local authorities are authorized to determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving on the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway indicate the beginning and end of such zones. Where such signs or markings are in place to define a no-passing zone and such signs or markings are clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, no driver shall drive on the left side of the roadway within such no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark such no-passing zone throughout its length.

    (4) The provisions of this section shall not apply:

    (a) Upon a one-way roadway;

    (b) Under the conditions described in section 42-4-1001 (1) (b);

    (c) To the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway; or

    (d) To the driver of a vehicle passing a bicyclist moving the same direction and in the same lane when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway.e-way roadway;

    (b) Under the conditions described in section 42-4-1001 (1) (b);

    (c) To the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway; or

    (d) To the driver of a vehicle passing a bicyclist moving the same direction and in the same lane when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway.
    ↩︎
  4. Maine No-Passing-Zone Exception

    Title 29-A: MOTOR VEHICLES HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)

    Chapter 19: OPERATION HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)

    Subchapter 1: RULES OF THE ROAD HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)

    §2070. Passing another vehicle

    1. Passing on left. An operator of a vehicle passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at a safe distance and may not return to the right until safely clear of the passed vehicle. An operator may not overtake another vehicle by driving off the pavement or main traveled portion of the way.

    [ 1997, c. 653, §11 (AMD) .]

    1-A. Passing bicycle or roller skier. An operator of a motor vehicle that is passing a bicycle or roller skier proceeding in the same direction shall exercise due care by leaving a distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle or roller skier of not less than 3 feet while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle or roller skier. A motor vehicle operator may pass a bicycle or roller skier traveling in the same direction in a no-passing zone only when it is safe to do so.
    ↩︎
  5. Massachusetts No-Passing-Zone Exception

    [Note: there is nothing in Massachusetts traffic law or in the model law for cities and towns defining the meanings of different types of centerlines. For additional detail, see this.]

     https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter85/Section11B

    Bicyclists riding together shall not ride more than 2 abreast but, on a roadway with more than 1 lane in the direction of travel, bicyclists shall ride within a single lane. Nothing in this clause shall relieve a bicyclist of the duty to facilitate overtaking as required by section 2 of chapter 89.

    https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter89/Section2

    Except as herein otherwise provided, the driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction shall drive a safe distance to the left of such other vehicle and shall not return to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle; and, if the way is of sufficient width for the two vehicles to pass, the driver of the leading one shall not unnecessarily obstruct the other. If it is not possible to overtake a vulnerable user, as defined in section 1 of chapter 90, or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, when it is safe to do so and while adhering to the roadway speed limit. Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on visible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

    https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section1
    ‘Vulnerable user”, (i) a pedestrian, including a person engaged in work upon a way or upon utility facilities along a way or engaged in the provision of emergency services within the way; (ii) a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, non-motorized scooter, wheelchair, electric personal assistive mobility device, horse, horse-drawn carriage, motorized bicycle, motorized scooter, or other micromobility device, or a farm tractor or similar vehicle designed primarily for farm use; or (iii) other such categories that the registrar may designate by regulation.
    ↩︎
  6. Mississippi No-Passing-Zone Exception

    MS Code § 63-3-1309 (2013)

    (1) While passing a bicyclist on a roadway, a motorist shall leave a safe distance of not less than three (3) feet between his vehicle and the bicyclist and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the bicycle.

    (2) A motor vehicle operator may pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction in a nonpassing zone with the duty to execute the pass only when it is safe to do so.

    (3) The operator of a vehicle that passes a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction may not make a right turn at any intersection or into any highway or driveway unless the turn can be made with reasonable safety.
    ↩︎
  7. Ohio No-Passing-Zone Exception

    4511.31. Hazardous zones

    (A) The department of transportation may determine those portions of any state highway where overtaking and passing other traffic or driving to the left of the center or center line of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may, by appropriate signs or markings on the highway, indicate the beginning and end of such zones. When such signs or markings are in place and clearly visible, every operator of a vehicle or trackless trolley shall obey the directions of the signs or markings, notwithstanding the distances set out in section 4511.30 of the Revised Code.

    (B) Division (A) of this section does not apply when all of the following apply:

    (1) The slower vehicle is proceeding at less than half the speed of the speed limit applicable to that location.

    (2) The faster vehicle is capable of overtaking and passing the slower vehicle without exceeding the speed limit.

    (3) There is sufficient clear sight distance to the left of the center or center line of the roadway to meet the overtaking and passing provisions of section 4511.29 of the Revised Code, considering the speed of the slower vehicle.
    ↩︎
  8. Pennsylvania No-Passing-Zone Exception

    § 3307. No-passing zones.

    (a) Establishment and marking.–The department and local authorities may determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving on the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and shall by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway indicate the beginning and end of such zones and when the signs or markings are in place and clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person every driver of a vehicle shall obey the directions of the signs or markings. Signs shall be placed to indicate the beginning and end of each no-passing zone.

    (b) Compliance by drivers.–Where signs and markings are in place to define a no-passing zone as set forth in subsection (a), no driver shall at any time drive on the left side of the roadway within the no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark a no-passing zone throughout its length.

    (b.1) Overtaking pedalcycles.–It is permissible to pass a pedalcycle, if done in accordance with sections 3303(a)(3) (relating to overtaking vehicle on the left) and 3305 (relating to limitations on overtaking on the left).

    (c) Application of section.–This section does not apply under the conditions described in section 3301(a)(2) and (5) (relating to driving on right side of roadway). ↩︎
  9. Utah No-Passing-Zone Exception

    41-6a-708. Signs and markings on roadway — No-passing zones — Exceptions.

    (1) (a) A highway authority may designate no-passing zones on any portion of a highway under its jurisdiction if the highway authority determines passing is especially hazardous.

    (b) A highway authority shall designate a no-passing zone under Subsection (1)(a) by placing appropriate traffic-control devices on the highway.

    (2) A person operating a vehicle may not drive on the left side of:

    (a) the roadway within the no-passing zone; or

    (b) any pavement striping designed to mark the no-passing zone.

    (3) Subsection (2) does not apply:

    (a) under the conditions described under Subsections 41-6a-701(1)(b) and (c); or

    (b) to a person operating a vehicle turning left onto or from an alley, private road, or driveway.

    41-6a-701. Duty to operate vehicle on right side of roadway — Exceptions.

    (1) On all roadways of sufficient width, a person operating a vehicle shall operate the vehicle on the right half of the roadway, except:



    (c) when overtaking and passing a bicycle or moped proceeding in the same direction at a speed less than the reasonable speed of traffic that is present requires operating the vehicle to the left of the center of the roadway subject to the provisions of Subsection (2).
    ↩︎
  10. Wisconsin No-Passing-Zone Exception

    346.09 Limitations on overtaking on left or driving on left side of roadway.

    (3)

    (a) Except as provided in par. (b), the operator of a vehicle shall not drive on the left side of the center of a roadway on any portion thereof which has been designated a no-passing zone, either by signs or by a yellow unbroken line on the pavement on the right-hand side of and adjacent to the center line of the roadway, provided such signs or lines would be clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person.

    (b) The operator of a vehicle may drive on the left side of the center of a roadway on any portion thereof which has been designated a no-passing zone, as described in par. (a), to overtake and pass, with care, any vehicle, except an implement of husbandry or agricultural commercial motor vehicle, traveling at a speed less than half of the applicable speed limit at the place of passing. ↩︎

Ask i am traffic: Shoulders as Bike Lanes

Nick Kasoff in Ferguson, Missouri asks:

Our local highway and traffic department has striped a “bike lane” on the shoulder of a busy road. Aside from the fact that it is a bike lane, there are two big problems – the concrete aprons from all the driveways extend across the bike lane (but not into the traffic lane), and much of the bike lane is split between “road grade” pavement and “shoulder grade” pavement by a meandering line. Needless to say, such pavement conditions are very unsafe for a cyclist.

I brought this to the attention of the highways and traffic people, and this is how they responded:

“This Department considers the shoulder … suitable for a bike lane.”

I don’t use the bike lane anyway, but its existence makes motorists much more aggressive toward my presence in the traffic lane. So my question is this: Are there any standards at all for condition of the paved surface in a bike lane?

This crappy shoulder condition problem highlights the disconnect between how engineers and legislators define the roadway. The legislature typically defines the roadway as exclusive of the berm or shoulder and bike lanes as that portion of the roadway set aside for the exclusive or semi-exclusive use of bicycles. The engineers routinely include the shoulder in the definition of roadway and than refer to the legal roadway as the “traveled way”.

This nomenclature disconnect sets up the problem Nick is facing, since the engineers consider a bike lane NOT part of the traveled way, but as a part of the engineering roadway via the shoulder, and since shoulder standards are NOT bike compatible, they can tell Nick to suck it up and live with it. Yet if they followed the legal definitions, the shoulder would NOT qualify as roadway space, and could not be converted into a bike lane without upgrading the space to legal roadway (what the engineers call “traveled way”) standards.

This slide showing minimum edge bike lane widths from the classes I teach to professionals, shows the disconnect as it relates to shoulders and bike lanes. CVC = CA Vehicle Code, HDM = CA Highway Design Manual.

[singlepic id=398 w=320 h=240 float=center]

And a similar problem exists for door zone bike lanes:

[singlepic id=402 w=320 h=240 float=center]

 

Bicyclist Behaviors & Crash Risk

Successful bicyclist behavior is driven by knowledge of common crash types and the behaviors needed to successfully avoid those crash types.  Bicyclist behavior comes in a spectrum with three main behaviors, and in this article we aim to briefly describe the spectrum and show how those behaviors fare in common crossing conflict crash scenarios with diagrams and supportive video.

There are three types of bicyclist behavior:

Pedestrian behavior
Avoiding the roadway by using paths, sidewalks/crosswalks, often against traffic flow

Edge behavior
Operating at the roadway edge or close to parked cars, includes shoulder and edge bike lane use

Driver behavior
Following the rules of the road by using roadway through lanes and turn lanes as an equal driver

Cycling Behavior Spectrum

The behavior descriptions above meant to describe behavior at a particular place and time, not people, since a cyclist for example who prefers to engage in driver behavior on normal roads, may be required by law to engage in edge behavior in an edge bike lane.  When operating on a crowded shared use path that is away from roads, with high pedestrian volumes, that same cyclist who would prefer driver behavior, may have no choice but to use ped behavior to avoid crashes.  So it is not uncommon for cyclists to engage in multiple behaviors on a single trip.

This is why we don’t talk of edge cyclists, though a cyclist may be edge riding on a particular facility, and similar for driver and ped behavior.  It is also important to understand that unlike edge and ped behavior, driver behavior is a learned behavior that must be taught; it is not innate.  So just because a bicyclist who may at present prefer the more common edge or ped behaviors, does not mean that they will never learn driver skills and/or engage in driver behavior, so we recognize that behaviors are not in general fixed and can change over time and exposure to skills training.

The value in identifying behavior, instead of cyclists themselves, is its descriptive power in identifying how behavior influences crash likelihood and why some behaviors are more successful than others in an urban environment with driveways and intersections, the places where most cycling crashes occur.  The most common types of crashes are referred to as crossing crashes, where the paths of a turning motorist at a driveway or intersection and a straight through cyclist can potentially cross, creating conflicts and crashes.  Because of this, we often refer to driveways and intersections as crossing conflict areas.

Crash Risk vs BehaviorThe pie chart couplet (right) shows that even though car-bike crashes comprise the minority of cases where bicyclists hit the ground, when expanded to a full pie (at the right side), the crossing crashes comprise about 5/6 of the total number of crashes.  In examining these crossing crash types, we can learn a great deal about behavior and the facilities and laws that enable or restrict behaviors, influence how successful cyclists will be at negotiating urban roads.

Crossing Conflict Types

Let’s examine the three main crossing conflict types and the effect of bicyclist behavior. The three types are pullout, left cross and right hook. These conflicts occur at driveways and intersections. We’ll examine each individually.

Pullout

(shown in the diagram at a driveway)

Pullout Risk vs Positioning

A pullout occurs when a motorist leaves a driveway or turns right at an intersection and approaches a cyclist from the right side, perpendicular to the cyclist’s through line of travel, resulting in a side impact to the cyclist, or causing the cyclist to hit the side or rear of the vehicle if it turns sooner in front of the cyclist.
Look at the driver of the silver SUV approaching the driveway, prior to making a right turn into the street.  The driver is mainly looking to the left for road traffic, such as cars and trucks, so a bicyclist using driver behavior is more easily seen (visibility) by the SUV driver because they are operating where drivers pulling out of driveways are expecting approaching traffic to be located in the roadway.  In addition, that same bicyclist can see further down the driveway (vantage) and determine when a motorist is preparing to make a right turn.  Visibility and vantage go hand in hand when a bicyclists is further leftward in the roadway.

A bicyclist using edge behavior is not where motorists expect cyclists to be, and may be visually shielded by fixed sight line obstructions such as foliage, and street furniture, or even dynamic obstructions such as peds.  Thus a motorist may not see a bicyclist at the edge and turn in front of them.  An even more difficult dynamic occurs when bicyclists are on the sidewalk engaging in ped behavior.  Here they not where motorists are expecting them to be (in the road), and are even more susceptible to visual screening by fixed and dynamic obstructions, so they have minimal visibility and vantage; the opposite of the driver behavior case.

Now we need to consider that motorists about to exit a driveway or turn at intersections also look to their right.  They use this alternate scan to look for slow moving, about 2-3 mph peds on the sidewalk.  They are not expecting or looking for much faster bicyclists facing traffic on the sidewalk, or the illegal bicyclists riding facing traffic at the road edge.  So these “backwards” edge and ped behaviors have even poorer visibility and vantage than their normal flow counterparts.  Notice also that there is no “reversed” driver behavior, driver behavior skills classes teach cyclist to never operate this way.

It should come as no surprise that bicyclists are more frequently injured by pullouts when operating on the sidewalk or at the road edge.  These behaviors are less successful than driver behavior in negotiating driveways and intersection pullouts.

In the tabs below are video clips showing pullout scenarios.

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Video Example 1[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 2[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 3[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]

An edge rider passes stopped traffic on the right to pass a motorist about to leave a driveway.

[/tab] [tab]

This clip shows a driveway pullout hazard from a blind underground driveway. In this video it was clear that poor vantage and visibility from ped behavior can increase bicyclist exposure to pullouts.[/tab] [tab]

In this clip, we have one more example of a bicyclist trying to ride at normal traffic speed on the sidewalk to pass slower traffic in the road, and still dodge cars waiting to pull out as well as street furniture like a newspaper box.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

Left Cross

Happens where a cyclist is making a through movement and an oppositely directed motorist makes a left turn in front of and across the bicyclists’ line of travel.

Left Cross/Hook Risk vs Position

Again we see that a motorist waiting to make a left turn at an uncontrolled crossing, has a clear view of a bicyclist using driver behavior, and a progressively more difficult time seeing bicyclists using edge or ped behavior in the direction of traffic, since they can be lost in visual chatter at the road edge, including street furniture, foliage or even peds.  Here again we find that driver behavior gives the best visibility and vantage to cyclists approaching a crossing conflict area.  For cyclist on the sidewalk, or even in the road, they are approaching from a direction behind the left turning motorist, and in their blind spot, so neither the bicyclist nor the motorist in such a “left hook” (the mirror image of the “right hook”, the next crash we cover) crash see each other until just before contact since the visibility and vantage are both very poor.

The tabs below contain video examples of left cross and left hook conflicts.

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Video Example 1[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 2[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 3[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]

Even a left turning bicyclist using driver behavior may left cross another bicyclist who is engaging in ped behavior on the sidewalk, since the visibility of the sidewalk bicyclist approaching the crosswalk is very poor.[/tab] [tab]

And here is another case where a fit female cyclist is screened by stopped traffic in the travel lanes, and because of this neither she nor the motorist turning left could see each other approaching.  While the motorist is legally at fault for not yielding, the cyclist could not see far enough ahead at her speed to stop in case motorist did make an ill-advised turn across her path.

In the above video the lesson is that facilities that enforce edge behavior often create poor visibility/vantage crossing conflicts, compared to encouraging driver behavior.[/tab] [tab]

And finally we show a video of a cyclist riding facing traffic to demonstrate the difficulties when cyclist ride facing traffic, on either the sidewalk or in the roadway.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

Right Hook

The last crossing crash type we will examine in terms of behavior is the right hook, which is the most frequent cause of car-bike crashes, and leads to many bicyclist fatalities.

The classic right hook crash comes in two varieties; a bicyclist riding near the edge (edge behavior) is passed close to the intersection by a motorist traveling in the same direction,  who then proceeds to turn right in front of the cyclist, cutting her off and causing a crash.  In the other the bicyclist approaches a motorist stopped at the intersection waiting to turn right and tries to pass on the right (edge behavior again) as the motorist starts their turn.  In the first case the motorist is at fault for turning in front of another moving vehicle, in the second, the cyclist is at fault for passing a right turning driver on the right, though drivers often “help” the cyclist make the mistake by not driving close enough to the edge to preclude passing by cyclists on the right.  These scenarios can be seen in the lower right of the image below:

Right Hook Risk vs Positioning

In a similar way, a bicyclist on the sidewalk can be hooked by a motorist, or ride into the path of a right turning motorist.  In contrast a bicyclist engaging in driver behavior, by riding in the center of the travel lane, discourages motorists from passing on the intersection approach, thus precluding the first type of right hook where the motorist passes close to the intersection.  Driver behavior also avoids the second type by allowing the cyclist to either wait behind the motorist stopped to make a turn, or to pass the stopped motorist on the left, thus successfully staying away from the crossing conflict.  Engaging in edge or ped behavior is much like driving a motor vehicle, such as a sedan, inside the turn of a large truck, which is why the yellow sticker at the top is often placed on the rear of large trucks.  The same issue, scaled down, is also true for bicyclists engaging in edge behavior, riding inside the turn of a much larger motor vehicle, so we ask cyclists to imagine that the lower sticker was on the back of every car.

Right Hook and Bike LanesLook to the left side of the diagram, which is the case for bike lanes.  Bicyclists often edge ride and stay in the bike lane on the intersection or driveway approach, even though the law allows them to exit bike lanes to avoid crossing conflicts by using the more successful driver behavior, and right turning motorists often stay to the left of the bike lane instead of merging into it as is required by law (bike lane is part of the roadway and right turns are to be mad from as close as practicable to the curb or edge of the roadway).  Taken together, these behaviors tend to manufacture crossing conflicts where motorists are allowed to make right turns on roads with typical minimum standard bike lanes.  The image to the right is a California example photo showing that motorists and bicyclists often cooperate to create intersection conflicts when bike lanes are present.

And now we give some video examples in the tabs below.

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Video Example 1[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 2[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]

This video shows an edge behaving bicyclist passing on the right in a faded bike lane and luckily the motorists, who didn’t merge into the bike lane to prevent such right side passing, didn’t turn into her.  The bicyclists using driver behavior had nothing to fear, since they were not in the conflict zone.[/tab] [tab]

This video shows a ped behaving bicyclist entering the crosswalk in front of a driver turning right.  The bicyclist didn’t look to the left, where the threat originated.  Shows that ped behavior can be problematic at intersections, especially when the threats are ignored.
[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

Avoiding Conflicts: Driver Behavior

Next we show how driver behavior allows bicyclists to successfully avoid crossing conflicts.

Crossing Crash Avoidance

 

 

The tabs below show video examples of conflict-avoidance through driver behavior.

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Video Example 1[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 2[/tabtext] [tabtext]Video Example 3[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]

In this example, the bicyclists are approaching a complicated intersection with preceding driveways, and transition from lane sharing (more like edge behavior) to lane control (driver behavior) near the intersection to discourage pullouts and right hook turns:[/tab] [tab]

Here we show how a merge from edge to driver behavior avoids a pullout conflict.[/tab] [tab]

Here we compare a manufactured engineering conflict of combined edge/ped behavior versus driver behavior in side-by-side fashion.

In the right side video, the designers try to force the cyclists to engage in ped behavior, and this puts them at a severe disadvantage at the uncontrolled ped crossing (crosswalk).  Compare how long it took for the cyclists on the right to reach the same place the cyclists on the left reached by using the more successful driver behavior.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

In summary bicyclists are more successful when they understand driver behavior, since it is often the only successful way to negotiate intersections and driveways, by ensuring that they are seen by traffic and can see traffic (visibility/vantage).  Special facilities that force ped behavior prevent the types of leftward merges that allow bicyclists to transition from edge to driver behavior on approaches to crossing conflict areas.

Crash Risk vs Positioning Summary

In our next article we will describe how road and bikeway facilities interplay with the behaviors and crossing conflicts, as well as some of the parallel movement hazards.  We will show how engineering designs and traffic controls can support successful behaviors, and not discourage or prevent bicyclists from employing them.