Portland, Maine Winter Cycling Guide

Portland ME Winter Cycling Guide

Does it snow where you live? Have you tried winter cycling? Do you want to?

Portland, Maine published its first-ever Winter Cycling Guide recently. It is on the city Web site as both an interactive document and a downloadable PDF. I was one of several people who advised on the content. CyclingSavvy got its logo included on the cover page (YAY!).

This Guide is the latest result of collaboration with the City of Portland I’ve been lucky enough to have from time to time. Two long-time city staff members are CyclingSavvy graduates. One of them recommended me to teach our classroom session to about a dozen of their city park rangers last summer.

The guide focuses on three major considerations of winter riding: Lighting Conditions, Preparing Your Bike, and Preparing Yourself. I summarize the first two topics here, with some commentary. I’ll cover the third in a second article, but I encourage you to read the entire guide for all the details.

Lighting Conditions

John Brooking riding in winter with lights
Riding with both of my headlights.

As I write this in late January, the sun is setting around 4:30 PM. A commuting cyclist in New England is typically riding in the dark from the fall time change to the spring time change, in the morning or the evening or both. Lights are crucial to safety for months.

With the popularity of fat-tire bikes, even fat tire e-bikes, winter recreational trail cycling is only increasing in popularity too. Lights are obviously essential not just to be seen, but to see on a dark trail through the woods!

Maine law requires a white front headlight, a red or amber light or reflector facing backwards, and reflective material around the feet. Obviously you can do more . I wear a yellow retro-reflective windbreaker most of the year, and my panniers and other gear usually have reflective bits. I am very satisfied with a front generator hub I had my bike shop install in 2022. It provides adequate lighting and never needs charging. I carry external lights as a backup, or for areas where it’s really dark and I want the extra brightness. But forgetting to charge them is no longer a deal-breaker!

A Bike for Winter Cycling

With all the slush, salt, and sand on the roads after a storm, many cyclists go with a sturdy bike that they care less about than their summer bike. The winter bike can have studded tires, without swapping them (or wheels).

Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal-gear hub with disc brake. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ from keanu4 on wkimedia.org
Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub with disc brake

In recent years, I have taken the opposite approach. I use my main commuter bike all year round. It’s a hybrid with an 8-speed internal gear hub and hydraulic disc brakes. Most of my daily route is on connector and arterial roads. They are clean and dry except during and just after a storm. The simple drive train and brakes keep maintenance to a minimum. Usually all I have to do in the spring is to replace the chain. (Every few years, I bring the bike to the bike shop to bleed and replace the hydraulic brake fluid and have the hub relubricated.)

There are also two schools of thought on tires for winter cycling. Fat tires are great for a surface of packed snow; studded tires need to be somewhat wide just to accommodate the studs. For roads with only a bit of snow, however, thinner tires cut down through to the road surface better; wider tires will tend to skate over it. I must admit that I have yet to find any tire, even studded, that doesn’t fishtail in greasy, brown 3-inch-thick tire-rutted slush! (Though I haven’t tried studded fat tires yet.)

Other Resources

Tons more online resources on winter cycling are just a search away. On this site, CyclingSavvy graduate Josh Stevens has written about his years of experience commuting year round in Michigan. Other articles focusing on road conditions may be found here and here. CS Instructor John Allen also maintains the Sheldon Brown cycling site. He provides another good overview there.

It is very possible to cycle all winter, regardless of your latitude, with a little bit of know-how and some experimentation. We hope that this helps to empower you in your effort. Please drop us a line with your winter cycling stories!

Credit for riding photo: Mary Brooking

Credit for hub photo: Keanu4, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, edited

conference logo images

CyclingSavvy at Conferences and Expos, Jan-Apr 2024

In 2024 the American Bicycling Education Association will be reaching out at several national and regional conferences and expos. Most of these attract bicyclists or bicycle dealers. We’ll be promoting the new PowerSavvy materials and making our presence known. And — you have an opportunity to offer comments on an important national policy document. Read on for details.

Coming soon!

First, a West-Coast event — soon, January 10-11 (Wednesday-Thursday), ABEA/CyclingSavvy will share a booth with CABO at the West Coast CABDA Expo, at the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California. CABDA (the Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers’ Association) has gone national with its Expos. Retailers attend them to examine and order products from suppliers. Check out our booth and be sure to attend Clint Sandusky’s presentations on ebikes and our PowerSavvy program.

The NCUTCD (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) winter meeting will be January 10-12. The NCUTCD advises the Federal Highway Administration on updates to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This resource, available online, standardizes traffic signals, signs and markings and their use in the USA. The MUTCD reflects some new developments in bicycling infrastructure. Four CyclingSavvy instructors are members of the NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee (NCUTCD BTC).

A new edition of the MUTCD is under review. Most of the NCUTCD winter meeting will be about it. The deadline for public comments is January 18. You may submit comments directly — instructions are here — or you may comment on this post, but if you do it that way, get your comments in by noon on Wednesday so we can review them!

More expos and conferences

The East Coast CABDA Expo will be he March 6 and 7 (Wednesday-Thursday) at Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, near New York City. Our plans are like those for the West Coast Expo, but are still at an early stage. Would you be interesting in helping to staff our booth, and with logistics? Please let me (John Allen) know.

Philadelphia Bicycle Expo

We’ll be back at the Philadelphia Bicycle Expo! This year it will be March 16 and 17. This event mostly attracts bicyclists, with booths from specialty bike builders, manufacturers of comonents and accessories, and advocates. We’ll be giving seminars and sharing a booth with the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Appropriate Transportation. We are pretty well set up for staffing. Please drop by our booth.

MassDOY Trnsportation Innovation Conference

The Massachusetts Transportation Innovation Conference will be March 30-April 1 in Worcester, 30 miles west of Boston. Lieutenant Jeff Watson of the Medway, Massachusetts Police, a police trainer and CyclingSavvy graduate, will give a presentation about ebikes in public-safety work and I’ll be giving one about PowerSavvy; we’ll have a booth. This conference is not to be missed if you want to be up to date on transportation issues in Massachusetts.

We’re here, online and in person…

And — be sure to check out our online course offerings, including the new PowerSavvy materials. We have at least one online class every month from February through December. Or sign up for an in-person course. You may qualify for our on-bike sessions with a Zoom session or online courses.

Cycling Law Enforcement: History and Overview

Kirby Beck is a retired police officer, instructor and trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association. In a series of videos embedded in this post and ones that follow, he gives a comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement. 

  • In part 1, here, Beck takes us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes. Early police officers stopped speeding horses. A bike-based rapid-response team kept anarchists from burning St. Paul during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Plus, we get an amusing look back at 1970s TV cop show Adam 12, in which the officers clock a neighborhood cyclist at 45 mph.
  • In Part 2, Beck describes what police mean when they describe something as a “problem”. (Hint: it’s different from how you or I might use the word). He also describes how to report incidents to 911 effectively and how to deal with police who cite you with cycling violations.
  • In Part 3, he explains what police need to learn about cycling law enforcement and how to get heard by your local police department.

Beck also gives an overview of the current state of enforcement of bicycle law – or lack thereof. Frustratingly for bike advocates, Beck says,

“Virtually no officers I have ever spoken with have had any kind of specialized training in bicycle laws or bicycle enforcement, anywhere in this country. The most they get is at rookie school where they are given the traffic code and [are told to] read it and memorize it…. “There is nothing in their background, except for the same biases that every other motorist on the road has. So that’s what you’re dealing with and it’s not intentional. It’s just they don’t know any better.”

revised from original post by Tamar Wilner

Police officers riding double file.

What Police Need to Learn about Cycling

These police know about cycling -- how to ride in a group.

Kirby Beck is a retired police officer and a trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association. In part 3 of his comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement, here, Beck explains:

  • What police need to learn about cycling
  • How to get heard by your local police department
  • Why changes in police departments need to come from the top
  • Plus: why you need the AAA on your side.
  • In Part 1 of this series, he took us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes, and gave an overview of the current state of enforcement of bicycle law – or lack thereof.
  • In Part 2, Beck explained how to deal with police citations and how to effectively report incidents to 911.

“You need to start reporting things,” Kirby urges cyclists. “They’re not going to know it’s a problem if they don’t hear from you and hear from your friends.

“Now I know the cops will go, ‘Why did you tell them that? That’s all we need is more calls.’ Too bad! Too bad.

“See, I’m not going to be happy until we don’t have to have special programs to do bike enforcement because it’s part of what cops do every day, we don’t have to spend a lot of money on bike lanes and other facilities because we’ve got roads, and people can use those roads. They’re there for everybody, it’s a public right-of-way.”

revised from original post by Tamar Wilner

Kirby Baeck explains how to deal with a traffic stop.

Cyclist Issued a Traffic Ticket…Then What?

cycling law enforcement
  • In Part 1 of this series, a comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement, Kirby Beck took us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes, and gave an overview of the current state of enforcement for a cyclist issued a traffic ticket — or not.
  • In part 3, he will discuss what police need to learn about cycling law enforcement.

Here, in part 2, Beck explains:

  • What police mean when they describe something as a “problem” (hint: it’s different from how you or I might use the word)
  • How to effectively report incidents to 911
  • What a cyclist issued a traffic ticket should do (step one: stay calm!)

Beck is a retired police officer and a trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association.

revised from original post by Tamar Wilner

A roundabout

A modern roundabout, or is it a traffic circle?

In an earlier post on this blog, I described savvy strategies to navigate a small, single lane traffic circle. I’ll now take the discussion up a level and describe a modern roundabout. I shot the video below in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, while on a bicycle tour with a friend. The location in the video, FYI. Have a look at the video and then I’ll follow up with some comments.

Roundabout or traffic circle? Does it matter?

Articles about this intersection call it either a roundabout (rond-point) or a traffic circle (carrefour à circulation giratoire). One of the articles explains that entering traffic must yield to traffic in a roundabout; rules for a traffic circle are the opposite: antiquated French practice. At every circular intersection I have seen in the US or Canada, entering traffic yields, for a good reason which I’ll explain later. Here, signs tell drivers to yield at crosswalks and again when entering the circular roadway. So, I’ll call this a roundabout, though in some ways it doesn’t quite operate as one.

Signs indicating yielding rules at the Place du Commerce on nuns' Island in Montreal.
Signs indicate that drivers must yield when entering the roundabout

Modern roundabout advantages and disadvantages

Modern roundabouts have deflection – curved entrances and exits. Also, there is a truck apron — a ring of raised pavement inboard of the circular roadway. When a large truck is in the inner lane, its left rear wheel(s) go up onto the the truck apron. These features slow traffic down. There is more time for drivers to negotiate right of way, reducing crash severity. There are no head-on conflicts. And, because traffic in the circular roadway never stops, a roundabout can carry more traffic than an intersection with traffic signals.

Roundabout advocates like to stress these advantages, but there are also some real problems. Unless drivers reliably yield at crosswalks, pedestrians have a harder time at roundabouts than at signalized intersections. Because traffic flows continuously, gaps in traffic downstream of the roundabout are fewer. Drivers in side streets have a harder time entering or crossing downstream traffic.

In a two-lane modern roundabout, drivers are supposed to yield to traffic in both lanes and go directly to the inner lane except when taking the first exit. Drivers must cross the outer lane when exiting from the inner lane. These issues have led to quite a bit of confusion and to increases in crash rates. As noted in the video, one leg of this roundabout has been restriped from two lanes to one — probably reflecting this concern.

A mostly modern roundabout Quebec-style

In the satellite view below, the orange arrow at the left shows where I began my tour of the roundabout. The green and red arrows point to markings that tell drivers which lane to use at two-lane entrances. Lane use is different at these two entrances, reflecting the volume of traffic which takes different exits.

It is unusual for both lanes of a two-lane entry, like the one with the red arrow, to allow right turns. Though drivers are not supposed to change lanes or overtake inside a modern roundabout, a red car is doing that anyway. The yellow arrow points to an example why they shouldn’t overtake: the truck’s cab is in the outer lane, but the trailer is off-tracking into the inner lane. A driver who tried to overtake would get a big squeeze. If the truck had entered from the north, it would first have off-tracked to the right. You can actually see where trucks have gone up over the curb.

Do you see inconsistencies with standard US roundabout rules? I see two! Explanations are below the picture.

Features of the Place du Commerce mosstly modern roundabout

The inconsistencies:

  • If the truck (or any other vehicle) entered from the east (red arrow), it would have to change lanes to get to the southbound exit.
  • The section with the dashed line at the head of the yellow arrow also extends back under the truck. It is long enough that drivers entering from the west (left side of the image) will be merging across this segment rather than yielding to traffic in both lanes at once.

And for bicyclists and pedestrians..

Something different, the video shows… Quebec is very intent on separating bicyclists from motor traffic. Bicyclists are directed to ride around the outside of this roundabout, using crosswalks along with pedestrians.

Motorists’ yielding to heavy bicycle and pedestrian traffic in crosswalks overturns the advantage of a roundabout in increasing capacity for motorists. And safety issues with the sidepath treatment are debatable, as most crashes occur at intersections and driveways, where bicyclists and motorists do not have a good view of each other. Motorists are supposed to yield to bicyclists, but for safety’s sake, bicyclists also most be prepared to yield. Mighk Wilson’s summary of his research, published in this blog, highlights such issues. His key finding was that bicyclists make the bikeways safer — by riding slower — rather than that the bikeways make the bicyclists safer. Safety at speed becomes an increasing concern with the advent of ebikes.

One side, two-way

A two-way sidepath runs along one side of each street that connects to this roundabout. The sidepath runs only 3/4 of the way around the roundabout — and so, to connect with the streets going in all four directions, the sidepath is two-way. The fourth quadrant has only a narrow sidewalk.

Mighk Wilson, among others, has shown that entering a crosswalk from the right is generally much more hazardous for a bicyclist than entering from the left: right-turning drivers will be looking left. In this modern roundabout, crosswalks are well back from the circular roadway. Motorists’ attention does not have to be directed toward roadway traffic when scanning for bicyclists. But still — bicyclists need to be prepared to yield.

I explore the roundabout

While my companion checked out a map, I first rode the sidepath. Fortunately, traffic was light. A motorist was approaching at only one crosswalk, and yielded to me.

The route around the outside of the roundabout on the sidepath is long, and slow. For purposes of comparison, I also rode around in the roadway.

The same strategies demonstrated in the earlier post about traffic circles apply in this modern roundabout. Except when preparing to exit, I kept to the inside, where there are no entrances or exits and motor traffic is slow. My strategy worked fine, and I decided to take a second tour around the roundabout. Riding the roadway is my usual choice, and at many circular intersections, it is the only option.

Bend the rules in a modern roundabout?

Really, the savvy approach to roadway riding is the same in an old-style traffic circle or a modern roundabout: use the correct lane, and especially, get away from the outside if you are going past the first exit. Be careful of entering traffic when you are exiting, especially at a two-lane exit. I sometimes do find it useful to bend the rules and merge toward the outside lane before I exit, to avoid conflict with traffic coming around in the outside lane — explanation here.

The video reveals that two quadrants of the roundabout were originally two-lane, and entering drivers would have to yield to traffic in both lanes. One quadrant still is two-lane, under the semi truck in the image above. Striping a gore (no-drive zone) next to the center island in the other quadrant reduced it to one lane, at least in theory – you’ll notice that the paint is worn. I rode over the gore myself. Bad me. But I avoided a potential conflict with an entering vehicle!

What do you think?

Expect another article soon, taking the exploration of circular intersections to yet another level…

Traveling with your bicycle

We want you to use your bicycle! CyclingSavvy strategies will get you around town in good form on your bicycle, but traveling with your bicycle by bus, rail or air can increase your range.

We traveled to Philadelphia with our bicycles

Last October, CyclingSavvy instructors gathered to give seminars and to staff a booth at the Philadelphia Bicycle Expo. (We’ll be back for the next Expo, March 16 and 17, 2024!) Pam Murray flew from Charlotte, North Carolina and back with her bicycle. I rode Amtrak from Boston with mine.

Here’s a video showing how Pam boxed her bicycle for the return trip. Boxing a bicycle does require some mechanical skill and experience. The highlight here is how Pam manages to carry three items to the ticket counter with only two hands…

Policies and prices differ, so you should check in advance each time you travel with your bicycle by bus, rail or air. You may or may not need to box your bicycle. Space is limited on some carriers, notably Amtrak’s Northeast Regional roll-on service.

traveling with my bicycle, Amtrak Regional roll-on service
My Raleigh Twenty bicycle on its way back to Boston on an Amtrak Northeast Regional car.

Make reservations by phone, talking with a real person, so you know about policies, and whether space is available, before buying a ticket! Pam suggests saving a screenshot of the baggage policy on your cell phone. We’ll have more details in another post.

Ebike options are more limited due to greater weight and the risk of a battery fire. On the other hand, a folding or take-apart bicycle which fits into a suitcase or bag is ordinary luggage, and can go on any train, intercity bus, or flight.

Local travel options

When traveling with your bicycle on local transportation, you can usually just ride to the bus stop or station. Most urban public transit systems transport bicycles. Check policies in advance. For example, there may be restrictions at peak hours. Local transit authorities have this information on their Web sites. You need to learn to use the bike rack on the front of a bus, and make sure your bicycle will fit. Sit near the front to keep your bicycle in view. Locking your bike to the rack would take too long, but you can lock a wheel to the frame while waiting at the bus stop.

Bon voyage!

Filtering Forward Past a Traffic Jam

Filtering forward in a traffic jam
Bicyclists often can keep moving when motorists are stuck in a traffic jam — but need to exercise extreme caution when filtering forward.

Traffic congestion on urban streets is a fact of life, and no bicyclist wants to be stuck in it, breathing exhaust. Fortunately, a bicyclist can usually manage to avoid being stuck. If you ride in the same area for a long time, you develop a repertory of alternate routes. You might duck into an alley or take a shortcut through a park. You might use the sidewalk — with caution. 

Many cyclists are unaware of the risks, or fatalistic, and take any option available. Savvy cyclists understand risks, avoid them and apply what might be described as a code of honor:

  • Respect pedestrian rules in pedestrian space.
  • Adhere as closely as possible to the rules of movement in driver space. 
  • Don’t make a motorist pass twice in a narrow lane if passing safely is difficult.

Filtering forward through a queue of traffic involves violating the rules of movement. Any time you violate the rules of movement, you increase your risk exposure. That doesn’t mean you should never do it, it just means you need to understand the risks and compensate for them. 

Filtering Forward With Caution

Filtering forward in stopped traffic requires special caution, whether you are in a bike lane, shoulder or riding the edge of a shared lane. While it is legal in all cases, often the obligation to avoid a crash is on you. Passing on the right places you where others don’t expect you and often can’t see you. Sometimes you can’t see them either. So you need to expect them.

Filtering forward with no bike lane

The video embedded above shows how I jumped the queue under highly challenging conditions. I was on a street with just enough room to pass stopped motor vehicles on the right (the location). There was no passing on the left, because the next lane carried opposite-direction traffic. I had to anticipate the many potential hazards. I moved forward cautiously and slowly only when I could avoid them.

What to watch for when filtering forward

Let’s recap what the video shows. Assume here that you are jumping the queue of stopped traffic on the right. (The same hazards are mirrored on the left side of a one-way street.) 

The hazards include:

  • Any vehicle moving forward, even very slowly, can merge or drift toward you. Pass only if the traffic is at a stop and you can tell that it is unable to restart. 
merge risk when filtering forward
  • A vehicle you are passing on the right can start up, turn right and right-hook you at any entry to a street or driveway. And so my rule is never to pass a vehicle on the right if there is a street or driveway ahead into which it might turn. 
right hook risk when filtering forward
  • Doorings and walk-outs can happen as usual from the curb side, but also from the street side — most common with taxis and other ride-share vehicles, but it can happen with any vehicle.
dooming risk from passenger side when filtering forward
  • Never pass a bus or large truck on the right. It may start to turn or merge while you are passing, trapping you. Off-tracking can sweep you underneath. Buses and trucks often have signs, “if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” That does not mean “if you can see my mirrors, I saw you.”
never filter forward past a bus or truck illustration
  • Vehicles you are passing hide you from cross traffic — motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians. You avoid the risk by slowly and cautiously approaching the front of a vehicle when there is a gap ahead of it, and looking before you proceed. A pedestrian needs only the narrow gap which every driver leaves in a queue.
left cross risk when filtering forward

Avoiding Passing Problems

Buzz pass in queue
Buzz pass in queue

Other bicyclists, and other riders of narrow vehicles, may not be as cautious as you are. They may buzz-pass you on either side, or hook you. You need to keep a straight line, and check for overtaking traffic even in a narrow space.

Tactics for avoiding hazards:

  • Keep your speed slow enough that you can scan thoroughly and stop instantly. Keep your hands on the brake levers.
  • Stop in the gap between vehicles, where the vehicle ahead of you poses no threat and the driver in the next one can see you.
  • To change lanes to position yourself correctly for your destination, negotiate with the driver of the vehicle you have just passed. In these close quarters, you can actually establish face-to-face communication.
  • Don’t pass the first vehicle waiting at an intersection. You can’t know which way it will turn: people forget to use turn signals, or change their minds about which way to go. You might also check whether the front wheel is turned toward you. 
stop between the first and second car when filtering forward
  • As traffic starts moving, signal to the driver behind you and move into high-vantage position (where you can see past the left side of the vehicle ahead of you). As traffic gets moving faster, you may release lane control as appropriate. 
  • To the extent possible, be visible and communicate
  • Honor first come, first served. Before you pass a queue in a narrow lane, consider whether the traffic will be moving fast again after the light and how difficult it will be for those same drivers to pass you (again… because they may have passed you once already).
  • Enter an intersection only if you can get through it. 

Yes, it’s slow, but…

Complicated and slow? Yes, but even at 5 or 6 mph, you are going faster than the drivers stuck in their traffic jam.

First come, first served conundrum 

At the head of a long queue
I can pull into the bike lane ahead to let the long queue behind me pass.

What if you’re on a 2-lane road and come to the end of a long queue at a red light? You know you will not make the green light if you stay in the queue.

You might even sit through more than one cycle. Even worse, the light could change and the line of cars could pull away from you. And then you are the reason the ones behind don’t make the green light.

It makes sense to filter forward. But then what if you’re in front of everyone and the light changes, and now they can’t pass you easily?

What now? One strategy is to go through on the green, then pull over and wait for the platoon to pass. The light will change eventually, shutting down the traffic and allowing you to move forward on a nearly empty road for a while. Often, this could be as much time as you need to get to a wider stretch or your next turn.

Congested two-lane roads present the most challenging and unpleasant environment for bicyclists. Multi-lane roads seem more intimidating, but are less stressful.

Lead us not into temptation

People like to get ahead. Many bicyclists find it tempting to break rules to get somewhere faster. 

Congested traffic increases temptation, because of the need to slow and stop repeatedly. 

Sometimes strategies can actually increase delay. For example, while the sidewalk might seem faster, pedestrians are always shortchanged by signal timing at intersections. Riding as a bicycle driver, I have often passed bicyclists who attempted to get ahead on the sidewalk, but got stuck. The cyclist whizzes past me on the sidewalk while I am stopped in the queue. Then the traffic starts moving and I pass that bicyclist, who is waiting to cross in a crosswalk. While it’s tempting to violate a red light or “don’t walk” signal, you assume the liability if someone hits you while doing that.

Beware of manufactured temptations

A number of measures intended to make bicycling more attractive or safer can create a false sense of security, or make it easier to take risks, or both.

Bike lane…

A striped bike lane makes it much easier to pass on the right. The wider channel to the right of stopped traffic invites bicyclists to filter forward, and at higher speeds. But, contrary to popular belief, bike lanes do not increase motorist caution or awareness. A bike lane does not give you x-ray vision to see through stopped and parked vehicles, or clairvoyance to anticipate conflicts. The same cautions apply with or without a bike lane. Since I shot the video above, bike lanes have been striped at the location. They increase mobility, but not safety, when motor traffic is at a stop.

Bike box…

A bike box— also also called bicycle waiting area — invites bicyclists to filter forward in a bike lane, and then wait ahead of the queue. It takes the concept of jumping the queue to a higher level, lending official support to bicyclists’ getting ahead of the line. 

A bike box invites bicyclists to swerve out in front of motor vehicles.
A bike box invites bicyclists to move in front of motor vehicles.

Sounds great, right?

Do you know when the light is going to change? Right on red is prohibited where there is a bike box…Everyone must turn right on green. If you arrive just after the light has turned red and the first vehicle has stopped, it’s safe to move into the box in front of it. But what if the light has been red for a while? It could turn green just as you get there. It’s not just a risk to move in front of cars that are about to move, some of those cars may be waiting to turn right. Arriving at the intersection just as the light turns green puts you at risk of being right hooked, or cut off by a line of right-turning cars. Slipping into the queue before you reach the intersection can keep you clear of this risk.

Barrier separation…

A barrier-separated bikeway does not remove crossing and turning conflicts, and can make them worse if the barrier is opaque — vegetation or a wall of parked cars. It presents the same crash risks as when riding on a sidewalk. Oh, and while safety is increased by separate signal phases at intersections, so is delay. Always, always, the “cars” will get the lion’s share of the green time.

Rely on yourself, no one else is looking out for you

Several measures attempt to make motorists more attentive to bicyclists. These measures include green paint in the bike lane, a “yield to bicyclists” sign, a “watch for bicyclists” sticker for a driver’s side mirror. All of these measures depend on the motorist’s remembering to look… which relies on their paying attention and being present. Good luck with that. 

Summary

Many of us are proponents of the principle of same roads, same rules, same rights. As with any ideology, it’s senseless to take this to the extreme. This is one more reminder that the biggest cause of significant delay in the road system is cars. Traffic congestion adds hours to car trips. One of the advantages of driving a narrow vehicle is that you can slip past all that delay. While filtering forward is risky, you can avoid trouble by understanding the risk areas and being mindful and cautious.

The Quarter Mile Stroad Hack

In my initial “Stroad Hack” article, I described a hack involving two intersections. I referred briefly to the quarter mile on a different stroad, but I didn’t go into detail on that.

This post will focus on the quarter mile, on Gorham Road. It stretches from left to right in the image below. I use it quite often to go to my dentist’s office.

The quarter mile on four-lane Gorham Road, from Clark's Road to Western Avenue

Use Online Maps…and Work Backwards!

Route planning has of course always used maps, initially on paper. I rely heavily on online maps in these articles, and particularly on Google’s ground-level Street View. Zooming in on Google’s satellite view lets you plan your lane choice. That is especially useful on multi-lane roads that you may be apprehensive about.

Always Use Maps?

So, is it necessary to plan every stroad route with mapping? No, I don’t think so. One of my favorite ways of riding is to explore a new area when I go on vacation. Serendipity is an important aspect of those rides for me. “Hey, that road looks interesting, let’s see what’s down there.” Cycling by the rules of the road is generally safe, even on an unfamiliar road. But you may want to choose mapping, especially when you know you will be on uncomfortable roads. It can allow you to make more informed decisions so the journey is more comfortable.

Mapping is also useful for illustration in these articles. I am using Google Earth for these images, although Google Maps works too. Custom maps are a great teaching tool!

Why work backwards?

When planning a route, it is often useful to start from the destination and work backwards. That way, you’ll see what works as you approach it — and at each step as you work backwards to the start. For that reason, I am numbering the following hacks in reverse order, going back from from the turn into the dentist’s office, to the quarter-mile segment, to the start.

Hack 3 – Lane Choice onto Western Avenue

Western Avenue, center turn lane to turn left to the dentist's office

My dentist’s office is on the left side of Western Avenue. Conveniently, Western Avenue has a two-way center turn lane where I can wait for oncoming traffic to clear, before turning left into the driveway. If I’m already controlling the leftmost through lane, moving into the center turn lane as soon as it opens up is trivial.

Left turn onto Western Avenue

Following the rules of the road for drivers, you must use the left-turn lane to turn onto Western Avenue from Gorham Road. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can dismount and use the crosswalks. But we won’t go into that here.

What lane on Western Avenue do you turn into? Bicyclists who feel like they must always stay to the right might be tempted to turn into the rightmost lane, because “bikes stay to the right”.

Then Why Turn into the Left Lane?

There are (at least) two reasons to choose the left lane. For one, it’s more common when turning onto a multi-lane road to turn into the closest lane, Maine laws do not actually require that, though some states do, and it makes sense here regardless.

There’s an important operational reason here too: It’s only about 225 feet from the intersection to the center turn lane. It’s only about 100 feet more to the driveway. That’s only 25 seconds at 10 MPH. It makes no sense to turn into the right lane, then immediately have to change to the left lane to get to the center turn lane. If you do that, any traffic behind you will turn into the left lane to pass you, and will block your lane change. Why not just turn immediately into the left lane? Any traffic behind you will pass you in the right lane, which is exactly what you want anyway!

So there’s one hack: Turn from Gorham Road into the left lane of Western Avenue.

Hack 2 – Lane Choice onto the Quarter Mile

Continuing backwards, what about the lane choice onto Gorham Road?

Choosing the left lane when entering the quarter mile on Gorham Road

This decision is like the last one. You’re going to spend less than 1/4 mile on Gorham Road (just over a minute at 10 MPH) before you turn left onto Western. So why turn into the right lane and have to change immediately?

Objections?

Granted, that’s a bit longer time spent in a leftmost lane than on Western Avenue. And that might bring up another objection, that motorists don’t expect bicyclists to travel in the left lane for an “extended” time. In”motorist time,” that may be about 10 seconds. 😉 But in our experience, visibility to people approaching from behind more than makes up for any surprise they may have. They still have plenty of time to see you and react.

If you are in a left through lane because you will be turning left shortly, try making occasional left turn signals. I think people are more patient if they understand why you are doing what you are doing. It may also be that they respect you more if they feel like you know what you’re doing. (And as a Savvy Cyclist, you do!)

Evaluating Convenience

I sometimes would still have had time to change lanes if I turned into the right lane here. But I don’t know that when I make the turn. And, whichever lane I choose, motorists behind me in that lane will have to change lanes. So it comes down to a balance of convenience: how convenient is which lane for me, and how many motorists will have to change lanes? Results vary by location, by time of day, and by what the traffic happens to be at that moment. But in this place, I don’t try to overthink it, and simply choose the left lane. The next and final hack makes that even easier.

Hack 1 – When to Turn Right onto the Quarter Mile

Here’s one I never learned until I took CyclingSavvy, even after I had been become a certified instructor with another national cycling program. I’ll frame it as a question:

Q: When would you not want to take a right turn on red?

Everyone makes right turns on red, right? Why wouldn’t you? Bicyclists don’t like delay any more than motorists do. (Consider how many cyclists don’t bother stopping at lights if they think they can make it through. And how many pass even a short line of stopped cars on the way there.)

Red Lights Create Gaps

The answer never occurs to most motorists, including me before I started bike commuting. But you may have noticed it if you’ve cycled in traffic for very long: traffic travels in packs.

And why does this happen? In urban and suburban areas, it’s because of red lights. A red light collects a line of traffic while it’s red. Then it turns green and the whole pack surges forward.

The flip side to this is that red lights also create gaps. While that light is red, the only traffic entering the intersection is turning into it from the left or right (as we are in this case). This is nearly always much less traffic. Therefore, there are gaps for as long as the light is red. And effectively longer, because you’ll have traveled away from the intersection!

We have videos in our Truths & Techniques and CyclingSavvy Mastery courses showing gaps of more than a minute in length created by long light cycles, even at rush hour. You can also see it in this Smart Moves video about riding across a high-speed interchange.

Waiting for the Green when Turning Right…

So, a very basic hack that you can use at every signalized right turn is: Don’t turn right on red. Even if you are allowed to turn right on red, you may wish to wait. Waiting for your green guarantees that you will have a gap with very little or no traffic behind you (except the few that turn onto the road during that time).

Of course, if traffic is light, it may be fine to turn right on red once the initial pack is clear of the intersection. This is especially so if you have the sight distance to see that there is no more oncoming traffic for quite a while. That’s fine. This is a tool, not a hard and fast rule.

As I turn right from Clark’s Road onto the quarter mile segment on Gorham Road, though, the traffic from the left is coming