Taking the lane

Sometimes something amazingly significant happens in the course of a busy weekend and I worry about it getting lost in the shuffle.

Last weekend was huge: DRT on Friday (which entailed DRT prep ALLDAYLONG), Critical Lass/Fremont Fair/HONK! Fest West Saturday, and Family Bike Expo Sunday. But buried within were 5 minutes that rocked my world.

Saturday morning I set out alone on my cyclocross bike the ride the DRT course one last time, removing course markings–or decorations if you prefer a more accurate description. A Kidical Masser will mark a course with sidewalk chalk and birthday balloons, just so ya know.


Heading down towards Ravenna Park, I saw a guy and kid on a Brompton. Aw! A bit down the hill behind them I noticed another kid-carrying Brompton. What are the odds? I knew Katie was in town from Portland and had borrowed a second IT chair from Julian of Totcycle. Sure enough, it was them. I decided to finish balloon collecting later and rode back towards home with Katie and crew.

Portlanders in Seattle

They wanted to check out the Wallingford Greenway on their way to a residence near the zoo and had already mapped things out so I followed alongside as we pedaled south and turned right on 45th. Uh, big street!

I often wonder how my bicycling would differ had I lived in Seattle before kids. There are a lot of streets I opt to avoid all together, if possible, or more often, take to the sidewalk–especially if they’re slightly (or more than slightly) uphill with little or no shoulder. I’m not often out on a bike alone, but on those rare occasions, I stay off the sidewalk for the most part, but it’s such a habit on roads close to home that I ride the route of my slow-moving kid conveyor automatically. 45th through U-District is one of those streets.

It was enlightening to see Katie and Dave confidently take the lane without batting an eye. And it wasn’t because we were a group, but because that’s what one is supposed to do.

I hear the term taking the lane often, but with one right turn I realized I’ve been doing so much wrong! I should have realized this two weeks ago when I got buzzed by a Prius. I didn’t hear a thing and suddenly it was two inches to my right. I blamed the Prius. But that’s the thing–I made it appear there was room to pass so she did.

But back to today…we crossed I-5 in the right lane and I should have led our bikey group two lanes over, into the righthand left turning lane, but I was on autopilot and before I knew it, there wasn’t time to move left so I apologetically told them I usually head onto the sidewalk to push the walk button to make the left turn. Of course a car had pulled into the intersection and was blocking the curb cut so I apologized about that, too. I find myself apologizing a lot when riding around our city with others.

When the light turned I pointed out most cars are getting onto the freeway so we should have the right lane to ourselves. Dave didn’t hear me and rode up onto the sidewalk. Of course I felt apologetic about that, too. I’ve seen tons of people ride the sidewalk there, but still.

One block later we turned right onto Seattle’s first Neighborhood Greenway. Phew.

As we rode along, I shared my favorite zoo routes: “I usually ride the sidewalk of 46th because it’s the least steep” (Shut UP, Madi! Shut UP!) “…uh, but you’ll probably prefer 50th because there’s a bike lane, though you’ll have to use the crosswalks to make the left turn and they take forever.” Yes, yes, they’d gone on 50th yesterday, it was fine.

We parted ways a few blocks later and I swapped bikes to lead Critical Lass with the kids and our happy group took the lane on NW 58th St as we checked the progress of the Ballard Greenway and not until much later in the day–maybe when I navigated my way through cars in the Westlake parking lot or through naked painted people in Gas Works Park, I can’t remember which–the enormity of the ride with Katie hit me.

It’s going to be hard to change my bad habit of hugging the right of the lane too closely, but I’m going to work at it.

And there are classes! Cascade Bicycle Club offers Urban Cycling Techniques–tomorrow, even! I’d like to take a class alone, but there’s even an option for families–Family Biking Skills, with the next class on September 22nd.

3 thoughts on “Taking the lane

  1. I’m a big proponent of taking the lane, but I certainly understand why it is intimidating at first. The Cascade class will help a lot! But even then, there are things you can do to increase your safety. Although I no longer ride with my kids (they are grown and ride their own bikes!), I’m deaf so I also have a bit more of a need to protect myself than the average rider. I rely on mirrors so I know what’s going on behind me, and I also use a lot of flashing lights front and back to be sure I am seen. Some of the new LEDs are very bright, and really can help folks notice you when you’re on the road.

    Let us know how you are getting along with the Cascade class!

    • Thanks! I love the bright dynamo lights on my cargo bike. I recently got a set of USB-rechargable lights to share among my other bikes because those cheapie blinkies really don’t do the trick. Hope I can find a way to take a course soon!

  2. I’m fascinated. I’ve ridden non-Kidical Mass rides with the Proctors and they rode much closer to the parked cars on the right than I am comfortable. Of course, I learned to ride with 1 or 2 others by riding with Emily Finch, and we just act like a car or 2 motorcycles or something. There are lots of ways to take the lane, I guess. :-)

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