Space Management Concepts

Four-wheel vehicles control the lane by default. So should you.

Drivers of four-wheeled vehicles don’t have to balance. They won’t crash if they run over a stick or a crack in the pavement. They have a steel cage defining a built-in buffer from the elements and other vehicles.

On the other hand, a bicyclist has to be mindful of pavement conditions and has to create a buffer by influencing the passing behavior of others.

Sound complicated? It’s actually not! It’s really quite simple.


Topic 1: Managing Space Concepts

Lesson Introduction

In this lesson we will dive into the detail of one of our most effective strategies for increasing our comfort and safety on the road. The epiphany that changes everything for most bicyclists is that we have the power to influence how motorists pass us.

Not only does this increase our confidence on the road, it demonstrates very clearly that the vast majority of close passing is NOT intentional.

Once I recognized that, I understood that my fellow road users were not as mean as I once assumed. They just needed better guidance from me.

Special Considerations for a Narrow Vehicle Driver

The considerations of a narrow vehicle driver are different from those of a car driver.

A car driver rarely has to think about lane width or position in the lane. His vehicle gives him a built-in buffer. The car controls the lane by default, so he doesn’t have to worry about other drivers encroaching on his lane. Other drivers never expect to share the lane, even when he’s moving slowly.

On the other hand, the narrow vehicle driver has no built-in buffer — no cage extending beyond her body. Her vehicle only occupies a fraction of the lane width. Because she is usually slower, other drivers expect to be able to share that lane width. Because they’ve never had to think about it, those drivers do not know when it is not safe to try to share the lane.

All of this means she must deliberately manage her lane space.

Objectives for Managing Space

There are three objectives for managing space:

  1. Avoid edge hazards.
  2. Manage sight lines to see and be seen by motorists at intersections and driveways.
  3. And finally, encourage safe passing behavior. If the usable lane is not wide enough to share, your position must communicate that. This is something many motorists simply cannot determine if the cyclist is on the edge of the lane.

Some motorists will always give a cyclist plenty of space, no matter what.

Some will give plenty of space if the adjacent lane is clear, but will squeeze by if it isn’t.

Some will squeeze by, seemingly oblivious to the cyclist, unless the cyclist is unavoidably relevant.

Of course, you have no idea what type of drivers are approaching from behind, so you have to ride as if all drivers are the last type. Riding on the edge and trusting others to always do the right thing is a recipe for perpetual victimhood.

Lane Position as Communication

When influencing passing behavior, lane position is your primary communication tool.

Your position can tell a driver:

  • It’s OK to pass me in the lane — and if the lane is too narrow go ahead a squeeze past me
  • Or: Change lanes to pass me
  • Or: Don’t pass me, because it’s not safe or I’m preparing to turn left

This communication comes from your distance from the lane line, not the curb. The space between you and the lane line is where the driver is taking the cue when deciding how to pass you.

There are different considerations for influencing behavior on a two-lane road vs. a multi-lane road. In the next topic video, we’ll discuss two-lane roads and the technique for balancing our safety concerns with the need to cooperate with faster traffic.


Lane Width & Space Interactive Graphic – see how vehicles fit in different lane widths.