A friend commented about one of my photos recently. He said, “You need to stay out of the door zone.” I had been riding on Crown Street in Surry Hills which was relatively quiet that morning. Fortunately, nothing happened to me but it was a point well made. I assumed that all of the parked cars were devoid of people.
Many people ask me, “How do I stay safe on the road in the city?” One of the most important skills that I learned during the course I took in 2011, called “Cycling With Confidence,” was safe positioning while on bicycle. Before the course, I was unsure of where I should ride on the road. It made sense not to swerve between parked cars. But where could I be seen? How should I negotiate with the traffic behind me for space? Being overtaken was often a scary proposition. Could I have any control over that situation?
During the course, I specifically chose to ride the Nihola cargo bike. Why? Because the Nihola is very wide in comparison to a bicycle. The instructor told me that my default position on the road would be primary position. I discovered that primary position is the equivalent of two open car doors away from a parked car. Where does this place you, the Bicyclist? In the middle of the lane, Darling. It’s also called “taking the lane.”
The bicyclist in primary position is very visible. It’s also optimal for turning, passing and changing lanes. “Taking the lane,” as it is also referred, makes it very difficult for drivers to overtake.
In 2008, I bicycled with my daughter, who was seated behind me, on Wentworth Avenue, crossed Oxford Street and continued onto College Street. The College Street Cycleway had not yet been built. I was in secondary position, just beyond the door zone, and the noise and sound of cars accelerating to overtake was frightening. What I didn’t know then was that adopting primary position makes it more difficult for drivers overtake. When there is an opportunity, they will take it, even if it means crossing the double line.
However, there are situations where adopting secondary position makes sense. If it’s congested or if I want to overtake, I will adopt secondary. It’s important to stay flexible and to negotiate the space with drivers. Eye contact and signaling intent help drivers understand your plans on the road. Also, I will position myself in secondary position if it’s safe and a driver has been patiently waiting to pass. In that situation, I have control and will graciously allow passing. However, if a driver has been aggressive and tooting behind me, and this has happened on a quiet road in Paddington, I have been known to stop, block the lane, get off the cargo bike and face the driver. I kept my language clean because my children were in the cabin.
Most importantly, it’s important to take as much control of your ride as you can. Communication is key as well as awareness. I rely on all of my senses to anticipate, negotiate the space with drivers and my voice to make my presence known. I bicycle with intent but even then there are issues.
Today, I bicycled home from Kingsford. I took Doncaster Avenue which has the older-style-door-zone bicycle lanes. I saw several drivers open their doors suddenly on the way to the studio. If I had been in the bike lane, I would have been doored three times this morning. Fortunately, I took primary position which places me in the lane. Cars were still passing me but they had to cross the centre line. I took my e-bike this morning because of the distance and because I was carrying two full pannier bags of supplies. Doncaster Avenue is very narrow. Between the door-zone-bicycle-lane and the road, there is no secondary position. Fortunately, no one tooted at me this morning.
Returning to the city in the early afternoon, a man with a grey beard driving a blue Jaguar tooted and pointed at the bicycle lane emphatically as he passed me. I was riding in primary position. Of course, I caught up with him at Anzac Parade. I turned to my right, faced him and smiled. His wife was in the seat next to him. I gestured that he should proceed first. He nodded. The lights turned green and I waited for him to pass me. My conclusion? I’m glad he’s not my husband.
For more information on developing your city riding and other bicycle skills, the City of Sydney’s courses for bicycling are invaluable.