If you ride occasionally and you'd like to start riding for transportation, these 3 skills for riding confidently in traffic will be a useful starting point.
Positioning. Hugging the curb means other vehicles might be tempted to pass you when they shouldn't and puts you in the path of potholes, drains, and all the nasty debris that ends up at the side of the road (bigger vehicles' tires push it out there). So don't skulk on the sidelines! It's usually best to ride about 3 feet from the edge of the road and whenever you are approaching an intersection, roundabout, line of traffic or potential hazard, you should adopt the 'primary position' or 'take the lane' by moving into the middle of it. This makes you more visible and means cars can't squeeze past you dangerously. You are not an obstacle to traffic, you are traffic: behave like it!
Be Aware. Be attentive to what's around you, as well as what's in front of you. Knowing what's behind you means you can make informed decisions to keep yourself safe and be courteous to other road users. Being attentive is extra valuable in case another road user isn't for some reason (say, they're distracted for a moment by something). Be proactive about your safety!
Signal safe. Make sure your intentions are crystal clear to other road users: signal early and decisively. Don't hold back from taking control of a situation if it means you will be safer. Remember that signaling with your hands is both a turn signal and a brake light for you, so it's extra important when riding in traffic. A quick hand out to the left or right will do wonders to help you effectively communicate your intentions and ride safely!
These three tips will also help you to ride for transportation confidently and comfortably:
Map smart. Plan your route: depending on where you live, a simple five minute detour each way may provide a route that makes your journey safer and more enjoyable. There are loads of great apps for this: e.g. the Google Maps cycling function. It's also well worth talking to regular riders to find out their tips and tricks to avoid busy sections of road.
Lock smart. If you're riding for transportation you'll need to make sure your bike is safe at the other end. Go for a U-lock that locks on both ends with a flex - a cord which allows you to secure your front wheel, panniers and helmet. It is recommended that you spend a tenth of the value of your bike on a lock. Try to get as much within the U as possible - e.g. the rear wheel, frame and bike parking stand - to minimise leverage room for any potential thief. Lock your bike up in a conspicuous location with lots of passersby. It's also worth photographing your bike and registering it with your local police department, city, or advocacy organisation.
Carrying stuff shouldn't be a pain in the neck. Some people like it, but for most riders carrying a backpack is uncomfortable and can restrict vision and movement (and may make you sweaty). If you want to ride to work or the store, get a rack and panniers: you can carry more than you think (some people move houses by bike!) and once you're used to it you'll wonder why you ever took the car to do your shopping.