Dear Cyclist:

Why do cyclists ride 5’ away from parked cars?

-Frustrated motorist

Gentle motorist,

The door-swing zone next to parked cars is one of the most dangerous places cyclists can be.  People often open their doors without checking for or seeing cyclists.  The door can not only injure or maim the cyclist, but it can knock the cyclist into the path of you, the passing motorist, with tragic consequences.  I measured how far the door of my little Civic sticks out when open and it’s about four and a half feet, so that’s why I try to stay 5 ft away from parked cars. 

If you think about it, motorists instinctively avoid driving in the door-swing zone, even though their own lives are probably not at stake. 

Dear Cyclist,

Why do you ride out in the middle of a lane as if you were in a car?  Aren’t you supposed to keep to the right?

Gentle Motorist,

Cyclists are subject to the same rules of the road, the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.  Slower traffic should keep to the right to the degree safe and practical.  It is NOT safe to ride in the door-swing zone of parked cars, or to weave in and out between parked cars, or, for example, to turn left from the far right side of the road.   So, often the safe, and correct, place for a cyclist to be is out in the middle of a lane, where trying to share the lane would put the cyclist in danger. 

Another important exception to the keep right rule is when a cyclist is going straight through an intersection:  the cyclist should position herself so that cars turning right will not attempt to pass her on the left, or turn right into her without ever seeing her.  A well-designed intersection with a right turn lane will put a bike lane to the left of the right turn lane.  Where there is no right turn lane and I am first to arrive at a red light, I try to stay just far enough away from the curb to allow vehicles behind me to turn right, but not so far left that through traffic is tempted to pass me on the right.  If there’s not enough room to accomplish this, I stop in the middle of the lane, and when the light turns green and it’s safe to proceed, I head across the intersection aiming for the furthest right part of the road that will be safe to ride.