Motorists know most of the rules when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists, but sometimes drivers are faced with a less common situation they’re unsure how to navigate. These situations are doubly dangerous for cyclists caught in the middle. Here are some tips on sharing the road with our pedal-powered friends:
On- and Off-Ramps
A potentially dangerous situation can arise when there’s a bicycle on the highway riding past an on-ramp. Motorists on the on-ramp must be extra cautious when merging, because cyclists are easier to miss when the driver is looking over their shoulder at oncoming traffic before merging. The bicycle has right-of-way in this situation – motorists should never force their way onto the highway if a cyclist is riding by.
As for off-ramps, if a cyclist is not taking the ramp, they will stay on the highway. That means drivers about to exit the highway must check their right for any bicycles continuing onward. Even if you’re driving your car in the rightmost lane, remember there’s always another “lane” to your right for cyclists!
And bikers: don’t ride onto the ramp and then cut across it to get back on the highway. Keep riding straight unless you’re using the off-ramp to get off the highway.
“Ellen’s Law”, in effect in New Brunswick since 2017, states that “a driver of a motor vehicle shall not pass a bicycle travelling in the same direction unless there is sufficient space to do so safely and the driver leaves at least one metre of open space between the vehicle and the bicycle.”
That law has particular relevance for traffic circles, a type of intersection that’s notoriously difficult to navigate for cyclists, especially when they have two lanes as pictured here.
The simplest – and safest – way for drivers to leave that one-metre distance around cyclists and avoid crowding them between lanes is to treat the cyclist like a motorcycle. Let the bicycle occupy the entire lane and leave them plenty of space to switch lanes and merge in and out of the traffic circle. Cyclists can also use the inside lane if they choose, so don’t be surprised if you see a cyclist switching between both lanes.
With that said not every cyclist will ride in the middle of the lane – some will keep to the right as they would on a typical road. Motorists should therefore still keep an eye out over their shoulder and look carefully for bicycles nearby before changing lanes.
Cyclists, keep in mind that traffic circles are always particularly tricky on a bicycle. Some newer traffic circle designs incorporate features to make them more bike-friendly, but even in those cases, be hyper-vigilant.
Turning left out of a bike lane
Bike lanes are easy to use when turning right, but they make left turns a bit more complicated because they would involve a big, sweeping turn across several street lanes. That’s why many cyclists will instead use the left turn lane. Using the left turn lane also avoids the potential issue of vehicles in the right turn lane cutting the cyclist off as they both try to turn in opposite directions.
So, drivers – don’t be confused if you see a bicycle in the left-turn lane. As with the traffic circle, a good rule of thumb if you see a bicycle in the left-turn lane is to simply treat it as if it were a motorcycle. Leave the cyclist ample room and don’t crowd them or try to squeeze past them. Let the cyclist complete their turn and go back to the shoulder once the turn is complete.
Keep in mind that these are only guidelines. Each situation (and intersection) is different. The most important thing is to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings so that you can react accordingly.
With growing concern for the environment as well as health and fitness, the number of cyclists will only increase. Until it becomes second nature for drivers, it’s important that while driving we don’t only look for large vehicles – keep an eye out for bicycles too!