You may have seen or heard the little news item this week; aggressive drivers are more likely to have bumper stickers on their vehicles.
Why is that? The theory is that these people are more territorial than average (or possessive about their private spaces). By putting stickers on their car, they proclaim it as Mine Mine Mine! Regardless, those with bumper stickers blew their horns an average of two seconds faster than those without such claims of ownership. (To get them to honk, researchers put a driver in a turn lane who stayed stopped after the light turned.)
What does this mean for cyclists? Well, it's useful for us to have a clue about who might be more aggressive. But we can assume all drivers can be aggressive, and position ourselves accordingly.
I passed two cyclists going to work one morning. (I was returning a car to work after a trip – my bike was in the back.)
The first was a Curbhugger, riding as close to the curb as possible. The lane was about 12 feet wide, and when I felt that I could pass safely, I did, without changing lanes. But it bothered me after I did it.
The second was 2-3 feet from the curb. To get past, I changed lanes (or at least half the lane). I felt better after passing this cyclist, because even though I had been slowed down slightly, we had both been safer because I passed wider.
And this, of course, is why I ride 2 to 3 feet from the curb ordinarily. I ride in the middle of the lane when approaching a traffic light (to encourage any drivers behind me to stay behind me, and not try to pass me) and when I'm going the speed of traffic (which happens a fair amount in downtown Atlanta). Also, I tend to ride further from the curb the faster I'm traveling, just to give myself more reaction time and more room, in case of an emergency situation. (Remember the advice, “Leave Yourself an Out”, from Driver's Ed? It applied to cyclists, too.)
I also favor roads with fewer intersections. A road along a railroad, besides being flat, will typically have few places where motorists can make a turn across my path. Since most crashes are due to turning and crossing, this makes me feel much safer.