J.B. in Marina del Rey: While riding my bicycle southbound on Lincoln Boulevard in Marina del Rey and approaching a red light, I began passing cars on the right and very near to the sidewalk. Some of these cars were making a right at the intersection, but the lane allows cars to go straight or turn right. I passed two or three cars until one that did not have a turn signal on started moving closer to me. I said a loud “Hello … Bike over here!” and then I slapped the side of the car to get their attention.

It worked. The driver apologized for not seeing me, and we were both smiling when a guy behind us starts yelling at me for harassing the driver. “You can’t pass on the right!” he screamed.

The driver and I just looked at each other and parted ways, but the words of that irate witness have stayed with me and upset my riding mojo. I was passing cars on the right only because the light was red, but was it the right thing to do?

Bicycle Safety Expert Ron Durgin

Bicycle Safety Expert Ron Durgin

Bicycle Safety Expert Ron Durgin: J.B. presents a common situation in which cyclists drive themselves into high-risk situations for no good reason. Rather than get too caught up in a particular situation, I prefer to follow some basic traffic principles to guide my decisions when riding on public roadways. My end goal is to be predictable and visible to other roadway users with proper lane position and courteous behavior.

There are three basic principles that I follow every time I approach an intersection:

•    First, choose the rightmost lane that leads to your destination.

•    Second, get in line and take your turn based on first come, first served. In this case
the other motorists were in line at the light first, so budging toward the front creates unnecessary tension.

•    And third, pass on the left if traffic ahead is turning right. Filtering up on the right side
of a queue of cars waiting at a stop light puts a cyclist in the blind spot of motorists and invites the all-to-common “right hook” collision.

J.B. describes the rightmost lane as a “lane that allows cars to go straight or turn right,” otherwise known as a multi-destination lane. If we accept the three basic principles described above as best practices, we can analyze the situation further. If J.B. was using the rightmost lane to his destination, he would have been in the correct lane whether going straight or turning right. However, based on the first come, first served principle, J.B. was out of position in the rightmost lane as soon as he began filtering up the right side of the motor vehicles in the queue.

We all have a duty of care toward each other when using our public roadways, and adhering to basic traffic principles helps motorists and cyclists alike make safe and predictable movements. The good news is that no one got hurt and that J.B. is able to examine his contribution to the incident and avoid such problems in the future.

Ron Durgin is a managing partner of the Santa Monica Bike Center and executive director of Sustainable Streets, a bicycle education and advocacy group.

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