Effective traffic riding - filtering in traffic

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Knowledge Level: Beginner

In the first effective traffic riding article we introduced the 'primary' and 'secondary' road positions, the fundamental principles of effective traffic riding. In this article we look at filtering in slower moving traffic. Following the advice in the first article is relevant whilst the rest of the traffic is more or less moving at a faster pace than we can, or want to ride, but what happens if it slows down and congestion occurs?

Quite logically, we could simply join the queue and wait patiently in the primary position with everyone else. However, this is where the bicycle really comes into its own in the urban environment. A cyclist is far more manoeuvrable, has far greater visibility and is more acutely aware of what’s going on around them than a driver. This enables she/he to move quickly through slow moving or stationary traffic and be on their way.

Let’s look at what an effective rider would do in a typical rush-hour commuting situation when the traffic ahead starts to slow.

The first consideration would be to ‘take the lane’ that they are already in. How soon they do this would depend on the volume and speed of the traffic and their own speed; sooner rather than later being the watchwords. We assume, of course, that appropriate observing and negotiating are going on throughout.

The next consideration will depend on a number of things. Is there a junction ahead? Is it traffic lights or a roundabout, or some other form of road layout? Is the rider going straight on or turning left or right? If necessary, moving to and ‘taking’ the appropriate lane comes next. Remember, up to this point, our rider is still thinking like a driver but, as the traffic ahead slows, the rider now has the advantage.

Assuming we’re on a multi-lane road, the next consideration is where do we filter? Is it to be down the left-hand side, between the lanes, or on the outside? There’s no right or wrong answer; every situation is different. Let’s look at each in turn.

Filtering on the left

Filtering on the left is what most untrained cyclists do. It intuitively feels ‘natural’ and it’s what most drivers will be expecting. Cyclists need to be as visible as possible to other road users all of the time. Let’s look for a moment at the average driver’s behaviour when wanting to know what’s going on behind them.

They will probably use their off-side mirror by default, but rarely – unless a professional – will they use their near-side mirror. Left-filtering riders are far less likely to be seen. Passengers, especially during commuting periods, will often make a sudden decision to exit a stationary car or van in the left hand lane.

Many a car door has been opened into a cycle lane – with painful consequences!

Filtering up the left hand side of high-sided vehicles is a complete NO. Several cyclists can be situated at the side of the vehicle without being seen by the driver.

Filtering between lanes

Filtering between lanes can be useful. There’s little likelihood of car doors opening and the rider is more visible. However, it does present some hazards. Drivers don’t always proceed in straight lines and the space between lanes can narrow quite quickly. The rider needs to be constantly aware of drivers who decide to change lanes, often without indicating and/or any use of mirrors.

Filtering on the outside

Filtering on the outside is probably the preferred option. As long as the road’s centre line is dotted and not continuous, the normal rules of overtaking apply. It presents similar hazards as between the lanes, insomuch as one may encounter drivers deciding to pull out and overtake without warning. Of course the rider, too, has to now deal with oncoming traffic but, whereas a driver needs the whole lane clear to overtake, the rider can ‘negotiate’ with oncoming drivers and occupy the other side of the road in a contra-flow situation whilst overtaking. This needs constant reading of the road ahead and a high level of anticipation.

What to do when congestion eases

What happens when congestion eases and the traffic reaches a speed faster than the cyclist wants to ride at? If in the left hand lane it’s easy, simply move over into the secondary riding position and allow other traffic to overtake when it’s safe to do so. Remember, though, you must be prepared to take the lane again if there is a likelihood of being obstructed by a central reservation or other road-narrowing infrastructure.

Whilst filtering between or on the outside of lines of traffic and, of course, anticipating the situation ahead, the rider should be constantly looking for refuges or stations as they are technically called; gaps in the traffic into which they can move as the line of vehicles ‘concertinas’ out. The untrained rider in this situation often slows down in order to slot back into the traffic queue. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is the opposite of what should be done.

The correct thing to do is speed up, whilst looking two, three, four or more vehicles ahead and choosing a suitable refuge to slot into. The secret is to ride purposefully, making eye contact with drivers around you so that your intention is clear to everyone. Practiced a few times, this manoeuvre can be carried out smoothly, without making any other vehicle change speed or direction. In this way, a cyclist can move from lane to lane in harmony with the rest of the traffic.

In the next article around effective traffic riding, we look at negotiating complex roundabouts.

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