Lane Position and the Sun

Hit from behind is the rarest of car-bicycle collisions in urban areas. The general rule of thumb is: The danger is in front of you at intersections.

This picture, however, illustrates, a situation where the danger is behind, and the proper choice of lane positioning is not intuitive for many people.

Another general rule of thumb: Your shadow points to danger. I live on the west side of my major destinations now, so mornings and afternoons often look like the picture above — riding into the sun. That means the sun is in the eyes of motorists behind me.

So I should scurry to the extreme right like a good little second-class street user, right?

Dead wrong.

The proper lane position is down the middle where bicyclists will be garishly silhouetted against the light reflecting off the street.

See how dark the right side is? See how you can be lost in the building shadows?

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Comments 7

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Let me think about this. Its a huge problem out here, too, where we often are riding on E-W roads with the sun as a major factor in gauging safety.

    What I also see above is that a motorist looking down the middle of the road will have the sun directly in his eyes, possibly making it hard to see a small vehicle like a cyclist until fairly late. A rider off to the side might actually be more visible. Its probably worth doing some video and examining it from the standpoint of glare vs. center of view.

    I had my own near-miss with this situation some time ago. No answers, just lots to consider.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 8:56 am
  2. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Great post, perfectly illustrating the issue. Many populist advocates claim that taking the lane doesn’t work – that it leads to rear-end collisions. The problem with their attitude is that the vast majority of rear-end collisions happen to cyclists who are riding far to the right.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 9:34 am
  3. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Khal, I think most motorists, faced with glare coming from straight ahead, will instinctively use their sun shade to block the sun so that the road ahead is visible. When they do that, there’s no problem.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 9:40 am
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Depends on how low the sun is on the horizon. With the sun below the visor line, I’ve been blinded to the point where it was hard to see a ped stepping into the street on Central Ave, in a well marked crosswalk. Took to the habit of putting my hand in front of the sun and peering around it.

    Add to that the possibility of aged people, fatigue, etc. I’d not generalize too much. The eye doctor killed outside Las Cruces was riding in the lane (65 mph lane, mind you) with the sun in his eyes and that of the following motorists. Splat. The shoulder there was impassible due to partial paving practice by the NMDOT. Mind you, that was a high speed road. On a city street, one has to contemplate the totality of circumstances.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 9:44 am
  5. RANTWICK wrote:

    Wrong or not, this is one of the very few situations where I get right if I can, but only where there is room to REALLY get right. In the absence of good n’ right positioning, I do as you suggest; I even sit up straighter in an effort to max out that shadow.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 10:12 am
  6. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Agree with Rantwick, I advise to get right if there is a SAFE way to do so. Oftentimes, there is not, so a cyclist is between a rock and a hard place.

    Recall that the one of the main reasons to “take the lane” is to maximize visibility and prevent motorists mistakes encouraged by poor lane positioning. If the underlying premise, i.e., maximizing visibility, is not valid, one has to ask whether the action itself is still justified. That’s why, as a semi-good scientist, I think one would have to do some experiments on visibility cues in a controlled environment.

    In my case, I’m astute enough a cyclist to have a good idea what the risks of riding to the right are vs. riding in the lane, balancing destination positioning vs. visibility. I’m not going to go out on a limb and tell people where to ride, but will tell them to make sure they ask all the right questions. Riding at dawn and dusk are tough times due to visibility problems. One could also ask cyclists riding at those times to mitigate hazard by taking extra precautions such as high-vis bikeware and possibly using a taillight strobe.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 10:27 am
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    All … I obviously feel very comfortable with this advice. Keri Caffrey has a really good photo (used in CyclingSavvy) showing just how lost a bicyclist can become riding to the edge in a situation such as this. But, in the end, we are all responsible for our own safety. I wouldn’t expect all of us here to agree about every situation.

    Posted 28 Aug 2013 at 1:40 pm