London

When can cyclists take the lane? Police and city offer conflicting advice

Late last month, Joy Cameron was cycling down Wortley Road after buying some groceries. As usual, Cameron was taking up the whole lane. That move prompted the driver behind her to lay on the horn for an entire block down Wortley and then onto Tecumseh.

Officer warned cyclist to stick to the curb after she was followed by a driver repeatedly honking the horn

Joy Cameron cycles down Wortley Rd. keeping a safe distance from the parked cars by taking up the full lane. (Submitted by Joy Cameron)

On roads where London, Ont., cyclist Joy Cameron worries drivers will pass her unsafely, she rides her bike down the middle of the lane.

It's known as "taking the lane." 

"Drivers regularly try to pass dangerously where there is not enough space," Cameron said. Taking the full lane only allows vehicles to pass when the opposing lane is free, said Cameron who was hit by a driver while cycling in 2013. 

So that's what Cameron was doing on Wortley Rd. on a Friday afternoon late last month, after a trip to the grocery store.

"A driver behind me started to honk their horn."

The honking didn't stop as the driver followed Cameron down Wortley Rd. and continued tailing her after she turned onto Tecumseh Ave.

"Neighbours came out of their houses to look and see what was going on. People were yelling at them and it was frankly absolutely terrifying," said Cameron.

"I immediately hollered to the vehicle to stop, and of course, they didn't hear me," said Melissa Page Nichols who lives on Tecumseh Ave. and watched as the driver followed Cameron closely. 

Nichols called the police and escorted a shaken Cameron home. "That kind of driving is unacceptable," said Page Nichols, also an avid cyclist. 

Melissa Page Nichols was standing near her home on Tecumseh Ave., when she saw a driver closely following a cyclist, while incessantly honking the horn. (Submitted by Melissa Page Nichols)

"First of all, the vehicle is being used as a weapon to a cyclist. And second of all, there are lots of us with children in the neighborhood and it felt like a direct threat to all of us," she said.

When an officer called Cameron the next day, he gave her a warning, said Cameron, to stick to the right of the lane, near the curb. London Police said it also warned the driver about 'improper/excessive use of her horn.'

People on bikes should take the lane when the vehicle lane is too narrow for vehicles to pass with a 1m safe passing space.- Daniel Hall, city of London active transportation program manager

So what does the law say about taking the lane?

Ontario's highway traffic act is somewhat ambiguous. It requires bikes (and cars) that are travelling slower than the normal speed of traffic to travel close to the right hand curb "where practicable".

Daniel Hall, the city of London's active transportation program manager, agrees the legislation is somewhat ambiguous, but said, "People on bikes should take the lane when the vehicle lane is too narrow for vehicles to pass with a 1m safe passing space."

"We would encourage cyclists to take the lane, or ride further away from the curb to communicate to drivers to wait behind cyclists."

Joy Cameron poses with her bicycle outside the library on Wortley Rd. (Submitted by Joy Cameron)

Calls for more protected bike lanes

Despite the London Police officer's warning, Cameron will continue taking the lane where she feels it's necessary, she said.

"It's dangerous to ride the way the officer was suggesting that I ride."

It's not okay that the officer is not fully aware of why people on bikes often do take the lane," she said.

"We can talk until the cows come home about driver behaviour and police responses, but ultimately, the only way to prevent life threatening situations like this and to increase the safety for people riding bicycles or walking on the street is through infrastructure changes," said Cameron. 

"We need to focus on creating protected bike lanes quickly." 

London Morning tries to get a straight answer on when cyclists should use an entire lane on the road. 7:18

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 15 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.

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