San Francycle: So Are Bikes Allowed to Take the Lane or Not?

Categories: bikes

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​Can you believe how many commenters on last week's article took the position that because some cyclists break the law, it is okay for drivers to hit any cyclists they see? Crazy!

We racked up 178 comments, mostly expressing frustration at cyclists who ride through stop signs or red lights or get in other people's way.

Yup, those cyclists are out there. There are lots of them. But that's not what last week's article was about. It was about drivers who hit cyclists who are obeying the law.

But that seems to be where some of the confusion comes from: What exactly does "obeying the law" mean? Are bikes allowed on Franklin Street? Are they allowed to take the full lane?

The answer is kind of complicated. Yes and no, but mostly yes.

"Bicycles are allowed the full use of the lane," SFPD's Albie Esparza says. "However, if the person's riding a bike in the roadway and it's less than the speed of the normal traffic ... the bike shall move to the right."

Bikes have to stay as far right "as practicable," which is a confusing way of talking about things because "practicable" is not a word anyone ever uses.

Cyclists can move left if they're overtaking a slower bike or car, making a left turn, or if it's unsafe to ride all the way to the right.

And that's the gray area that makes it okay to take the lane, sometimes. If the rightmost pavement is too rough to safely ride in, or there's a row of parked cars with potentially opening doors, or the lane is too narrow for a car to pass a bike -- well, then, take as much of Franklin Street as you feel you need to.

"If it's narrow, it's common sense on both the driver and the cyclist," Esparza says.

We left messages with CHP to get its position, but nobody called back. Probably too busy making sure the right lane is safe for bicycles.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at what life is like when people are actually using the streets for doing people stuff rather than using them for speeding through neighborhoods and killing each other:

That's Sunday Streets in the Mission. Look at that, and then spend 10 minutes watching this footage of a traffic jam in Los Angeles. Which do you prefer owning the road? We'll take the bike every time.

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It is also important to note that even if a cyclist is all the way over ont he right-hand side of the right lane, cars still have to move all the way over into the left lane to overtake them.  Squeezing by halfway in one lane and halfway in another is illegal (and unsafe) whether you are overtaking a bike or another car.

This is why taking the whole lane is often the safest thing to do; it doesn't offer car drivers the temptation to squeeze by you with inches to spare.


Well you know what, when a car is not going the speed limit and is holding up traffic, they pull over when it is safe to do so and allow other vehicles to pass. That is not only what you are supposed to do but it is also the courteous and respectful thing to do when SHARING THE ROAD! Vehicles have to share the road, and if cyclists are ON the ROAD, they need to practice something taught in childhood called SHARING instead of expecting all traffic on the road to cater to them and wait patiently behind you while you pedal down the street at 5 miles per hour in a 25 or 30 mph zone. No it is not ok to mow down any kind of obstacle, whether it is a pedestrian, animal, or cyclist. But it is also not ok for cyclists to flaunt traffic laws or expect to be catered to while riding on a road occupied by vehicles made of steel weighing a few thousand pounds.

Do you know what the driving handbook from the DMV says? Or what is also stated in most vehicle owners manuals? the handbook, owners manuals, and driving instructors/friends/family will often tell you, as a driver, NEVER expect other drivers to be paying attention, drive defensively, and always assume that other drivers DO NOT see you and will NOT react appropriately to hazards and you will not only never be let down but you will develop the necessary skills to spot hazards and be a safe driver.


last time i clocked my speed as a cyclist in urban traffic it was about 12mph, and seemed to match the cars on the road.  biggest difference was in acceleration.  One of the big reasons i sometimes coast through a red or stop sign if there is no oncoming traffic is because getting back up to speed is the time when i am the most in the way of cars on the road.  once i get up to their speed i seem to fit right in.


What withak30 is referring to, however, has everything to do with courtesy and safety. Staying to the far right of the lane just encourages car drivers to discourteously pass at an unsafe distance, and actually decreases a cyclist's visibility to others, especially at intersections. You are right, if there are 5 or more cars stacked up behind a cyclist waiting to pass, and if it is a single lane road with no opportunity to pass safely on the left then the cyclist is legally obligated to pull over and let the traffic clear before proceeding. How often does this happen in the city, however, with multilane roads and lots of stoplights and intersections? My guess would be almost never, so the real gripe is that a cyclist is 'selfishly' taking up a whole lane and the car driver is too lazy to just signal and change lanes to get around them, and would prefer to compromise the cyclists safety just to shave a couple seconds off their commute.

In situations where there is no on-street parallel parking I will often stay to the right of the lane, except around intersections or where the pavement is bad or filled with debris, but when riding next to parked cars I will indeed ride quite close to the middle of the lane. However, some people still whiz past above the speed limit and just a couple feet from my handlebars, even though there is a completely empty lane immediately to the left. What else can one call this behavior, other than selfishness or stupidity?

ol' salty
ol' salty

Its just a sick sick world.  Some people want to run down their follow human beings.  They claim that a pedestrian who is crossing the street but not in the crosswalk does not take his or her safety serious and is fair game to be run down.  They will refer to footage that they've seen on the internet, where people in third world countries which have little enforced traffic laws, that shows pedestrians and bicyclists getting run down for merely crossing in the path of a vehicle.  People who would slow down and use accident avoidance driving skills to avoid running over a deer, would choose to do the opposite if a person were in their direct path on the roadway.  There are times when a pedestrian or bicyclist unsafely enter into the pathway of a moving vehicle.  Some accidents are difficult to avoid.  This comment is not about those incidents.  Its about the deliberate mowing down of another human being.  

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