Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

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Bmblbzzz
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Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 22 Oct 2019, 5:21pm

I first came across the terms primary and secondary position fifteen or twenty years ago. Once they'd been explained to me, I found the terms were new to me but they corresponded more or less with my previous understanding of road positioning gained mostly from experience and a little from books such as Ballantyne's. But the more I think about them, the less I understand; as so often, knowing more leads to the realization of understanding less.

It's probably best to start with my positioning.I happened to be thinking about this on Sunday's ride and decided to actually take some measurements. I was riding on a reasonably wide road (I'd estimate between 5 and 6m) but without centre line. It was pretty quiet, one vehicle passing me every two or three minutes, and dead straight and flat. I stopped in my riding position and found that, as I'd reckoned, I could lay my bike down flat with its tyres in place and about 10-15cm to spare between bar tops and road edge. At home I measured the bike, the tops of my bars are 96cm above the ground so I'm riding just over a metre from the edge of the road (by which I mean, in this case, the edge of the tarmac;* if there were a kerb, edge line or yellow lines, it might be different. If there were parked cars it would certainly be different). I was approximately here: https://goo.gl/maps/uZpCUHn6aBx46A8S6

Where am I taking this position from? I think from a mixture of the road edge, centre line where present and centre of the lane, also probably from the l/h wheel tracks; but mostly from the road edge. On a narrower road, the typical "single lane plus" country road (where bike and car can pass with reasonable care in opposite directions but it's too narrow to overtake; here for example: https://goo.gl/maps/R8aUB9qHCx7aowhs5) I'll might be nearer the edge but also probably closer to the middle of the road. Mind you, I'll probably also be tacking according to where the fewest holes are! And on my street, which is definitely "single lane only" (it isn't physically possible to get car and bike together in the space between parked vehicles, even if one or both are stationary), I'll ride right in the middle. On a busy A-road I'm probably also a metre or so from the edge most of the time.

But then yesterday, road.cc published a piece about primary and secondary position which I'll try to link to later if I can find it again, in which they gave what is apparently British Cycling advice on this. It boiled down to the primary position for cycling being the centre of the relevant traffic lane but it's considerate to move to the left when safe to do so in order to let traffic pass. I remember they did say "never closer than 50cm to the kerb". This is where I lose track of the reasoning. I can only think of a few situations in which it makes sense to ride in the centre of a traffic lane:
- When queuing at lights or approaching a give way line, if you don't want to or don't think it's safe to filter
- If you're fast enough to maintain at least 20mph (I'm not!) you can probably ride like this in the vast majority of urban situations
- Positioning yourself prior to turning right, though I'd personally be further right
- When you really want to use the whole lane, maybe because of a dreadful road surface or to shield (give confidence to) a child, say

So that's actually more of a secondary position, for deliberate use in particular circumstances, according to my reasoning. And the default position would, for me, be somewhere to the left of that, maybe roughly in line with the l/h wheel tracks of most cars. A friend uses a phrase along the lines of "riding far enough out that you force drivers to take notice of and steer round you but far enough in that you don't look as if you're deliberately in their way (even though you are!)".

Anyway, my point in this post is not precisely to discuss actual positioning but get the "bikeability view", see how/if it differs from the BC view and understand the reasoning behind it all, including but not limited to the designation of primary and secondary. Thank you for your patience in reading this long post!

*Yes, this is really the edge of the carriageway not the edge of the road.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby mjr » 22 Oct 2019, 6:48pm

I will leave it to the trainers on primary/secondary, but the "never closer than 50cm" is reckless and irresponsible IMO. It should be 150 unless you like being skimmed because an awful lot of motorists will only give you as much room as you give yourself (symmetry hypothesis).
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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pedals2slowly » 22 Oct 2019, 7:29pm

What we tell the Bikeability students is 'Secondary tells vehicles behind you it is OK to overtake' and 'Primary tells vehicles behind you please don't overtake, wait behind it's not safe to pass me'
Possibly the best reference for you is the parents handbook which can be downloaded here:-
https://bikeability.org.uk/support/publications/

There is a good explanation of primary and secondary position.
The recent changes move towards pupils making their own decisions about which position to adopt and generally decide how to behave rather than learning 'rote fashion'

Hope that helps

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 22 Oct 2019, 9:25pm

Here's the road.cc article, for what it's worth. https://road.cc/content/feature/267623- ... -left-lane

I was mistaken when I said it was BC advice never to go closer to the edge than 50cm, it's actually John Franklin in Cyclecraft:
In his cycling skills manual Cyclecraft – which forms the foundation of Bikeability, the UK's national standard for cycle training – John Franklin talks about two main riding positions: the primary riding position and the secondary riding position.

He defines the primary riding position as being "in the centre of the leftmost moving traffic lane for the direction in which you wish to travel", and the secondary riding position as being "about 1 metre (3 feet) to the left of the moving traffic lane if the road is wide, but not closer than 0.5 metre (1.5 feet) to the edge of any road."


What BC are emphasising over Cyclecraft is speed, where Franklin seems to be more about position:
British Cycling says, "When riding in the primary position, [you] should travel at a reasonable speed, as part of the traffic flow. If, however, traffic is building up behind [you] and the road ahead is clear, [you] may wish to move to the secondary position to avoid obstructing other road-users unnecessarily.

I guess the emphasis on speed is fair enough for a racing organisation, but it does seem to rule out most people.

(I only skim read the road.cc before and hence conflated the similar but subtly different schools of thought. My mistake, sorry.)

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pjclinch » 23 Oct 2019, 8:25am

Average London traffic speed is, IIRC, on the order of 10 mph, so in heavy traffic where you don't fancy the filtering game it's entirely reasonable to assume most cyclists will be able to keep up. It's also the case that this sort of traffic is often a situation where you really don't want folk edging past you, because if you get edged to the left it can become a problem subsequently turning right.

As I noted in another thread, Cycling Scotland are currently reviewing how to teach positioning because the current model isn't working that well. I think there are various reasons for that, but particularly...
  • The Cyclecraft definitions need experience and knowledge of how traffic "works", which trainees won't typically have
  • Bikeability Level 2 (what most people would think of as "Bikeability") is taught on relatively quiet roads which tend to be narrow and the Franklin definition of "secondary" ceases to mean much

Note that how we teach positioning to schoolchildren over the duration of a progressive course and how an experienced rider would define their own positioning aren't quite the same thing.

I'm fairly on board with the effective invitation to come by or not, with the caveat that Primary isn't so much "no overtaking" as "no overtaking without using a whole other lane". I would be in Primary through a two lane roundabout and would expect to be overtaken in whichever lane I'm not in.

How far out from the kerb one rides is, as suggested above, very context dependent. Franklin's Secondary definition, taken very literally, rather breaks down where you have narrow roads (which is most roads in urban areas thanks to on-street parking). We do need to move on from what we have. I'll report back if the CS review comes up with changes
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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 23 Oct 2019, 8:54am

Average speed in urban congestion is misleading as the actual movement tends to be short bursts of 30+ interspersed with long periods of stationary. If drivers drove like cyclists, there would be a reduction in congestion, pollution, crashes and bad tempers, as well as more predictable journey times (even if no faster overall). But they don't, simply because they have power to accelerate and brake.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 23 Oct 2019, 9:19am

pjclinch wrote:As I noted in another thread, Cycling Scotland are currently reviewing how to teach positioning because the current model isn't working that well. I think there are various reasons for that, but particularly...
  • The Cyclecraft definitions need experience and knowledge of how traffic "works", which trainees won't typically have
  • Bikeability Level 2 (what most people would think of as "Bikeability") is taught on relatively quiet roads which tend to be narrow and the Franklin definition of "secondary" ceases to mean much

Note that how we teach positioning to schoolchildren over the duration of a progressive course and how an experienced rider would define their own positioning aren't quite the same thing.

This applies to walking too! As adults we're able to understand and predict what any particular driver is likely to do, including identifying the ones who are unpredictable or don't know themselves, from two types of experience: repeated observation, and (for many/most) having been in the same position ourselves when driving.

I think Franklin's ideas were originally aimed at / books written for adults?

I'm fairly on board with the effective invitation to come by or not, with the caveat that Primary isn't so much "no overtaking" as "no overtaking without using a whole other lane". I would be in Primary through a two lane roundabout and would expect to be overtaken in whichever lane I'm not in.

Yes... though it probably also depends on the psychology (if that isn't too grand a word) of the individual driver and the local 'culture' of driving, as well as the particular circumstances (rider speed, car speed, road width etc). As an aside, I find the circumstances in which I get the widest passes (I hesitate to say best as they're often on blind bends) is at night - the later the better - on quiet two-lane roads.

How far out from the kerb one rides is, as suggested above, very context dependent. Franklin's Secondary definition, taken very literally, rather breaks down where you have narrow roads (which is most roads in urban areas thanks to on-street parking). We do need to move on from what we have. I'll report back if the CS review comes up with changes

Yes. Thinking purely of riding, because it might not translate well into training, perhaps the whole idea of two separate positions should be done away with in favour of an elastic available width concept.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pjclinch » 23 Oct 2019, 9:24am

Bmblbzzz wrote:Average speed in urban congestion is misleading as the actual movement tends to be short bursts of 30+ interspersed with long periods of stationary.


That may be the modal average characteristic of traffic movement that you experience, but it's by no means universal, changing a lot with individual localities.

While it's not fair to assume a rider (even a relatively sporty one) can keep up with traffic continuously there are plenty of situations where it really isn't too hard. It's also the case that one can sometimes filter through when it's stopped and drop back in when it's merely not that quick (e.g., the catchup-phase when the next bit of the queue moves up to the set of traffic lights).

As often the case, contexts change, and the rules you have need to flexible enough to deal with that. In this case, if you find you can keep up, it's generally best to do it in primary rather than off to one side.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pjclinch » 23 Oct 2019, 9:48am

Bmblbzzz wrote:
pjclinch wrote:
How far out from the kerb one rides is, as suggested above, very context dependent. Franklin's Secondary definition, taken very literally, rather breaks down where you have narrow roads (which is most roads in urban areas thanks to on-street parking). We do need to move on from what we have. I'll report back if the CS review comes up with changes

Yes. Thinking purely of riding, because it might not translate well into training, perhaps the whole idea of two separate positions should be done away with in favour of an elastic available width concept.


Though Secondary is, of course, an elastic concept rather than a place.

I'm wondering that since Primary is relatively easy to define that Primary and non-Primary might be a good way to think of things. Primary is the spot taking maximum influence, and non-Primary can be any number of other places, with relatively less influence but relatively more ease of passing (which tends to translate to rider comfort: I don't like holding folk up even when a driver behind is being the model of restraint, safety and politeness... perhaps even particularly when they're driving like that...)

According to quite which way you're looking at the Secondary definition there may be a bit of a no-rider's-land between P and S, but you may want to occupy such a place to e.g. avoid a road surface seam, line of potholes, wet drain covers etc., or give a little more view around a curve. That's one reason I prefer the idea of "non-Primary" which is (at least to my mind) inherently flexible. I only thought of it last week though, so it isn't what you'd call a mature idea!

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pjclinch » 23 Oct 2019, 10:00am

And while I say Primary is reasonably easy to define... in practice reality tends to intrude on such assumptions even in fairly routine road environments, so take the image at...

https://goo.gl/maps/eUELCeZxxJqKsB7F9

If you're coming towards the camera Primary is right in the middle of the lane, simples... but going in the direction of the shot pretty much every car coming that way goes over the marked centre line (there are always cars parked there). So where is the centre of of the lane? Is that the marked lane (well, no, I'd say, and that would be int he Door Zone anyway), or the effective lane as used? And, hang on... if that means the real lane as used by most traffic is off to the right of the line, does that affect the "centre of the lane" in the direction towards the camera?

While normally a centre line is to mark the, errr, centre, here it is effectively a means of determining who has priority when you have tow large vehicles passing. Which you'd think might be better served with a clear priority order sign, but that's not what we have.

These questions tend to find pragmatic "on the go" answers but they rely on experience and small changes of context can change the answers.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 23 Oct 2019, 11:05am

pjclinch wrote:I'm wondering that since Primary is relatively easy to define that Primary and non-Primary might be a good way to think of things. Primary is the spot taking maximum influence, and non-Primary can be any number of other places, with relatively less influence but relatively more ease of passing (which tends to translate to rider comfort: I don't like holding folk up even when a driver behind is being the model of restraint, safety and politeness... perhaps even particularly when they're driving like that...)

Thank you. This gives quite a satisfactory reason why primary is called primary.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby Bmblbzzz » 23 Oct 2019, 11:07am

pjclinch wrote:As often the case, contexts change, and the rules you have need to flexible enough to deal with that. In this case, if you find you can keep up, it's generally best to do it in primary rather than off to one side.

Pete.

pjclinch wrote:These questions tend to find pragmatic "on the go" answers but they rely on experience and small changes of context can change the answers.

Pete.

And I agree with both of these (which are, I'd say, really the same thing but in two different contexts).

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby mattheus » 23 Oct 2019, 12:44pm

Bmblbzzz wrote:
pjclinch wrote:I'm wondering that since Primary is relatively easy to define that Primary and non-Primary might be a good way to think of things. Primary is the spot taking maximum influence, and non-Primary can be any number of other places, with relatively less influence but relatively more ease of passing (which tends to translate to rider comfort: I don't like holding folk up even when a driver behind is being the model of restraint, safety and politeness... perhaps even particularly when they're driving like that...)

Thank you. This gives quite a satisfactory reason why primary is called primary.


I take the view that Primary puts you in control; you can then *choose* to move over into a non-primary/secondary/whatever position, but it is very often harder to move the other way. So the name seems suitable.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby pjclinch » 23 Oct 2019, 1:21pm

mattheus wrote:I take the view that Primary puts you in control; you can then *choose* to move over into a non-primary/secondary/whatever position, but it is very often harder to move the other way. So the name seems suitable.


Aye, I like that way of putting it, and you're quite right about the relative "friction" of moving one way or the other.

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Re: Primary and secondary position: reasoning?

Postby mjr » 23 Oct 2019, 1:44pm

pjclinch wrote:https://goo.gl/maps/eUELCeZxxJqKsB7F9

If you're coming towards the camera Primary is right in the middle of the lane, simples... but going in the direction of the shot pretty much every car coming that way goes over the marked centre line (there are always cars parked there). So where is the centre of of the lane? Is that the marked lane (well, no, I'd say, and that would be int he Door Zone anyway), or the effective lane as used? And, hang on... if that means the real lane as used by most traffic is off to the right of the line, does that affect the "centre of the lane" in the direction towards the camera?

Centre of the effective lane - I think Franklin is quite clear about this but I don't have time to type it out right now - and yes, it affects the direction towards the camera.
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