Commuter’s Conundrum #1



Commuter’s Conundrum #1

OK!  Now that we have the helmet issue settled (not), let’s move on to something increasingly germane as this part of the globe warms and more folks begin to ride.

Here’s a situation you may face as a cyclist…

Uphill light.  Right lane turns right only.  Left lane for going straight on or turning left.  Through the intersection there are cars parked along the right side of the road.  The left side is free from parked cars, however.

Uphill Stop. Right lane turns right.  Left lane straight and left.

As a cyclist going straight through (down Waterman) where would you position yourself at the light?  Would you ride down the right or left side of the road after you crossed the intersection?


  • Bill Lewis
    Mar 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I would get in the center of the left lane where any vehicle should be. This way I avoid getting hooked or squeezed. I always take my place in the lane at intersections and wait my turn. This also shows cagers I'm not going to pull any stupid moves like running the light.

  • Matt
    Mar 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Given that its an uphill and I might be doing about 8mph up that particular section of street, I'll stay in the right lane until nearly to the light, but will hold the entire right lane. This allows traffic to pass me safely on the left without being aggravated by a slow climbing bike, especially since they'd be able to watch the light change color in the time it takes to finish that climb and prevents unsafe passing on the right. Essentially, my goal would be to get into the left lane around the time that the white paint starts for dividing the two lanes. I mus admit, I've gone through that intersection in the right lane because of other traffic preventing merging into the through lane.

  • Bruce Masterson
    Mar 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Far left.

  • Bruce Masterson
    Mar 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    By far left I mean where Bill would be.

  • Mar 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    So this begs the question:

    Knowing that you'll climb it more slowly than a car (I sure do) and that congestion further down Waterman can stack this light up, what is the potential of climbing up the left side and taking the lane to go straight through once the paint starts.

    Does that strategy give you a better opportunity to communicate with the vehicles you are sharing the road with and make your traverse of the intersection safer for all?

  • bruce
    Mar 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Stay left. Take the lane at the top, as not to get crushed by left turners. A lot of the time when I have ridden it it has been "rush hour" and I'm at least as fast up the hill as the cars. It there is no car there I'll the lane sooner. More often I am one of very few vehicles on the hill. Must be a fluke of timing.

  • Mar 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    This is a tricky one! I would go with staying to the right hand side, moving into the left side of the right turn lane. Sure, I might be blocking right turners, but they are theoretically slowing down more than the drivers going straight through the intersection. I'm pretty sure that the law requires us to be in a right most lane unless that lane is right-turn only (or we are turning left). But in this case the law may not be the best thing to do.

    Alternately, I would get in the right 1/3rd of the left hand lane, and after the intersection, I would be on the right hand side of the street, just outside the door zone.

    Luckily, I don't have to go straight up the face of college hill too often. Most of my business allows me to go up the more gentle slope (and wider lanes) of Olney Street.

  • BB
    Mar 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm


    I will be merging to the left after the intersection to avoid the door zone.

    Speed limit should be really low here. (not 55mph)

    Here I would take the thru lane. One thing to keep in mind, Motorists are parked on a roadway. I have little sympathy for a group of people who takes up all my space.

  • Geoff
    Mar 2, 2010 at 6:07 am

    i hit that all the time and generally will stay right up the hill (lots of space on the right side leading up to the intersection).

    Once the road narrows I check for traffic. There is never a steady stream, the light below does a good job of pulsing the traffic. Once the wave of traffic is through i move over to the left lane, typically the left side of the left lane and proceed straight through.

    Always mindful of the car just behind or next to me who may want to turn.

    The left side of the road is open and clear and keeps you away from traffic. And the added bonus is the drivers can judge their distance from you much more effectively when you are riding on the driver's side of the car.

    Bike lanes on the passenger side of the car between parked cars and traffic are bad ideas, always have been, always will be.

  • Noman
    Mar 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Follow the law: I'd be smack dab on the white middle line. The same applies with highway entrances/exits.

    BTW: Love how Providence, in violation of fed/state law, has no marking for bikes or safety shoulders on this road actually on the Providence Bicycling Plan. Way to go! Guess when they are in the House, they'll join that ineffectual bicycling caucus, yak it up but do nothing.

  • Dennis
    Mar 3, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Although most seasoned riders will ask me to "take the lane", I'd ride to the right as I went up this hill. Closer to the light (30 ft?) I'd check traffic and move to that pretty white line in the center of the road.

  • Mar 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    So, having ridden and/or watched this intersection daily, what do you do if you have ridden up on the right and find you cannot move left to take that lane as has happened to me more than once? (I clearly don't climb like Geoff).

  • Geoff
    Mar 4, 2010 at 6:25 am

    You wait.

    Or you take the right hand lane, hold your left arm out and keep going straight.

    Or you ride slower until the pulse passes you and move left then. OR, go down a block and ride up College or George street 😉

  • sarah
    Mar 4, 2010 at 7:30 am

    I'd like to know what people do when going the other direction, down Angell/Thomas Street and want to either turn left onto Memorial Blvd or continue straight onto Exchange terrace. I've had more trouble with traffic here than I ever have on Waterman St. Any suggestions? There are 4 lanes, with the two middle ones giving you the option of going straight or turning. I usually stay in the second lane over from the left, and if I go straight I end up on the left side of the one way street, which is where I usually want to be anyway. If I turn left, I end up in the right lane on Memorial blvd. However, I'm always worried about cars going straight when I want to turn left. Does anybody else find this intersection particularly daunting?

  • Mar 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm


    I go through that intersection every morning on my commute (after turning right from Canal onto Thomas/Steeple). I stay in the second lane from the right and then continue straight across Memorial Blvd. onto Exchange Terr. There can be quite a bit of merging going on, but people are generally going slow enough that I don't have too much trouble. I've also managed to time my commute so that rush hour is generally over by the time I get to this intersection (around 8:55) and it's not as crowded as it is at 8:30. When the intersection is crowded, you see a lot of cars blocking the intersection and not many cars getting through a light. This can make the drivers extra crabby and impatient so it can be a little dangerous to weave through them. I used to try to barrel through there weaving around traffic as much as possible. Then I realized that this strategy saves my 30 seconds or so – not really worth the risk. I still go around the cars that are stuck in traffic, but I do it more slowly so I can be more sure of what they are doing.

    I'm not sure who originally posted this – but I like the idea. I'm sure there are a few other interesting intersections around town that we could put to the same analysis. I had never really considered driving on the left side of a one-way street, but now that I've read peoples' reasons for doing that, I may use that as a riding strategy on occasion.

  • Noman
    Mar 5, 2010 at 6:06 am

    These examples are microcosms of what it's like to ride through the city. Fortunately for me, I seldom have to climb College Hill, and when I do, I take easy Brook Street to Williams, then use nicer side streets like Cooke to Wayland Square. Thus my concern with Point/Wickenden Street.

    You do have to design to the least common denominator: That's like saying make highways only for Formula 1 racers, and let everyone else, timid or not, follow their example. Wait, I'm forgetting the I-way, which is pretty much designed as a demolition derby track.

    But, yeah, Providence presents 2 fatal flaws in urban planning: bad (illegal) bike infrastructure, and worse signage. RIDOT supposedly helped them install a set of ludicrous signs directing cyclists to wrong destinations, to which they added a bunch of detours. I did offer a better solution, presented to planners, but was congratulated then ignored. Their fiasco sure instills confidence… not. They just want to wear you out so you'll be too exhausted to complain… or, better, give up entirely.

    In fairness, if you don't have the infrastructure, you can't mirror it with signage. The solution is to start with CORRIDORS that thread continuously through city from at least NESW; advanced riders can pick out safe routes NE, SE, SW, and NW and other connections. If Boston and NYC can find ways to do this, you must suspect Providence just doesn't want to. And it's a real shame, since it's a small fraction of the size and smack dab between some of the best bike accommodations in the country. RI should be a bicycling mecca already, given it's mostly flat and small enough to be crossed in any direction in less than a day.

  • Mar 5, 2010 at 6:14 am


    Perhaps one should continue down Benefit and head up Jenkes. Much less traffic!

  • Noman
    Mar 5, 2010 at 6:18 am

    Oh, I might add…

    Tried to ride up Waterman about 2 weeks ago, next to bus tunnel. There was so much sand in shoulder had to ride in center of right lane up entire hill just to keep traction… didn't even notice the turn arrow.

  • Mar 5, 2010 at 6:23 am


    Man may dream in the stars but, for better or worse, we live in microcosm.

  • Mar 5, 2010 at 8:57 am

    since I go much faster than cars I just stay right in the middle of the left lane

  • joe
    Mar 10, 2010 at 10:24 am

    On a one way street staying to the left is WRONG. When I am driving a car it makes me mad as hell when bicyclist don't follow the rules. It makes it harder when I am cycling because car drivers take out their anger at all of us. Stay to the right, give yourself distance to the parked cars, make sure you are looking ahead to see if any one is in their car pulling out or opening their door. Be careful and obey the rules.

  • Labann
    Mar 10, 2010 at 11:00 am


    The law says stay in right 1/3 of travel lane… unless conditions don't warrant staying there, it's otherwise occupied, or you're passing or turning left, which is to say, you have FULL use of the entire road at any given moment. You're already BANNED from half the roads: highways, limited access, and tacit bans. The same laws say that motorists must avoid running over pedestrians and YOU. Too bad what motorists think. Just because they pay thousands a year for the dubious privilege of waiting in gridlock is not your concern. I pay even more in the high cost of living that motoring inflicts on me: cancer, heart disease, insurances, trillion/year in fed/state revenues spent on roads. Motorists are the problem, period.

  • Mar 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm


    The law for intersections is to take the rightmost lane going in your direction. In this case, that would be the left lane.