Traffic Is Back: 3 Tips for Riding Safely This Summer

Traffic is on the rise, in some places nearly returning to pre-pandemic levels. Summer in Santa Cruz is always busy, and this season seems to be no exception. Tourist traffic means more people navigating unfamiliar streets, looking for parking, or getting caught up in the beauty of their surroundings. Bikes can be a great way to get around and avoid traffic. Here are three common traffic safety scenarios to pay attention to, especially during the busy summer months.

    1. Avoid the right hook. Right hooks happen when drivers make a right turn into or in front of a cyclist, cutting them off. As you approach an intersection, pay special attention to driver behavior. Look out for cars that rapidly pass you and then suddenly slow down—this could be a sign that they are planning to make a right turn, whether or not they are using their turn signal. Right hooks can also happen as you roll out from a stop at an intersection and drivers try to turn in front of you. One option is to position yourself in the middle of the travel lane while approaching an intersection to encourage drivers to wait until you are through before turning right.
    2. Look out for the left cross. One of the joys of cycling can be whizzing past cars waiting in traffic. Unfortunately, this scenario can set cyclists up for the left cross, where a driver turning left from the opposite direction fails to notice or properly judge the speed of an oncoming cyclist. If you are moving faster than traffic, pay attention at intersections and look out for gaps in queued traffic—drivers may be making space for someone to turn from the oncoming lane.
    3. Take the lane. California vehicle code allows cyclists to “take the lane” as needed. This refers to riding down the center of the travel lane. Many of us learn to ride our bikes as far to the right as we are able, hugging the curb or road shoulder, but this often sends the wrong message and encourages drivers to squeeze dangerously close to cyclists without changing lanes. Take the lane to avoid objects blocking the bike lane, pedestrians spilling out into the street, potholes, trash day, and other potential hazards, such as people exiting parked vehicles, AKA the “door zone.” Consider taking the lane when roads have no shoulder or bike lane, when traveling at the same speed as traffic, or when approaching an intersection. Drivers may occasionally express their feelings about you taking the lane, but at least you know they’ve seen you. Trust us—this gets easier the more you practice it.

Communication is key. In general, the more you are communicating with other road users, the better. Practice checking behind you while riding in a straight line. Use eye contact and hand signals to notify other road users of your intent. When preparing to take the lane, check behind you, signal, and check again before moving into the travel lane. While there is always more to learn, we’ve found that these tips will keep you safe in many road scenarios.