Traffic Filtering on a Bicycle

One of the great advantages of riding a bike is its size. Often in traffic that’s a stand-still for automobiles, we can coast right through. By Davenport, I typically pass a good 30 cars every morning and every evening as they wait for lights to change. When faced with a situation like this, what’s the proper move?

Traffic in Vancouver
What can you do when faced with a long wait that you don’t really need to be a part of

I’m sure some folks would chime in that I should wait my turn like the other ‘vehicles’. But hey, this mess is the whole reason I gave up driving my car to work. So nuts to that. Bikes are small, and should be able to take advantage of that as long as it’s safe.

I’m not sure what’s the ‘approved’ way to handle these situations. To my knowledge, filtering isn’t illegal in Ontario. I think it’s even legal to move between lanes of traffic in a move called ‘lane splitting’. I don’t have the courage to lane split that’s for sure. But I will ride up the right hand gutter as far as I can if there’s room. I’ll even get up on a lawn or two to get around a car that’s pulled over too far right.

That is, until I reach the 2 or 3 cars at the front of the line. That’s when I have to make a decision. Some possible scenarios:

  • A car pulled far right near the front is probably getting ready to make a right. I’ll wait. If he’s way over and way back then he probably just doesn’t want me to pass. That’s too bad for him.
  • Front car has a right turn blinker on – I wait behind him and in front of the 2nd car in line. That 2nd guy will see me, but maybe the first guy is concentrating on finding an opening to make the right turn and won’t.
  • No blinker on front car – He might still be turning, so I’m cautious. I might go out in front if there’s generous space in front of him for me to stand so he’ll notice me. If I would have to stop along side, then I’ll wait to the right, but behind.
  • I won’t pass the stopped front car at all unless I know that the light won’t change while I’m along side. That means, I’ve seen it change red and it wasn’t too long ago.
  • If I have to bike past a cross street, I slow down and look for cars that are being ‘let in’ or ‘let across’ by the cars to my left. I almost got bounced by this once. Probably my closest call as a commuter.

Did I miss something? Are there other ways to be flattened that I’m not thinking of? How else can you handle traffic queues? Does anyone actually wait their turn at the back of a long line?

10 thoughts on “Traffic Filtering on a Bicycle

  1. I think that your approach is quite reasonable. I would add that I would never pass a bus, tractor-trailer, or other large vehicle on the curb side.

    I do think it is a bit of a jerk move to play leapfrog with other traffic, unless there is room to comfortably share the lane. I’m not sure whether I am lucky or unlucky, but I almost never end up in situations where I could filter past cars when they wouldn’t just pass me again 30 seconds later. So I usually just wait.

    Sometimes I worry that filtering in close quarters encourages unsafe passing later, when the speed differential is greater.

  2. it all sounded correct to me… I line up and wait when there is a good chance they will just pass me again soon. When there are bigger gains to be made like in that picture, I would go for it following very similar rules.

  3. One thing that I learned as a driver, that is maybe not understood by most drivers, and many cyclists…
    When a bike lane exists on a road, it turns to a dashed line about 1-2 car lengths before the intersection. When dashed, cars/bikes should merge, so passing at this point by a bike should not happen.

  4. General agreement on the points, though personally I’m conservative about filtering up the right. I’ll do it if I have a lane, or if there’s no sensible reason for me to hang back, but always carefully and at low speed. If it’s a matter of just a few vehicles and a roadway that has no dedicated bike space, I’ll usually hang back and try to take the lane until I am through the intersection.

  5. I’m always analyzing the situation when approaching a red light. If there is a bike lane I’ll always move ahead — unless I notice a car closer to the intersection with it’s blinker flashing right *AND* I can see that the traffic light is about to change.

    Similar to what Adam said, unless there is enough space to share the road I seldom pass when no bike lane exists.
    On wider roads I often find people move further to the left allowing me to pass. The only time I won’t pass even with plenty of space is when I notice the traffic light about to change. Then I just take my place ‘in line’.

    One road I take often (four lanes) is ridiculously narrow and impossible to pass, unless I were to mount the sidewalk.

    An absolute never for myself is passing larger trucks (whether delivery vans or 18-wheelers). Even when a bike lane exists I won’t risk it in case they end up turning.

    Of course another reason I seldom pass is my front basket :p It’s fairly wide and I don’t want to risk nicking a car.

  6. I had the opposite problem last week. The driver of the white automobile squeezed by me while I was waiting for a red traffic light, in a left turn lane, behind other vehicles. I thought for a left lane the right tire track was an appropriate, effective blocking position.

  7. I rarely go down the right anymore… mostly because I’m lucky enough to avoid those places nowadays. I used to do it cautiously but I’m worried about getting doored from unsuspecting passengers exiting… I’ve seen a close call or two on King Street. I

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