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Old 08-15-05, 09:35 PM   #1
stonooka
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How to handle left turn lanes with signal lights

I'm a newbie oldie road biker.

I find when I am in a left turn lane by myself (no other cars) the bike and I are not heavy or big enough to trip the left turn position or optical sensor and I never get the left turn arrow.

When there is little or no traffic, I usually run the red left turn arrow (for which I could get a ticket). I did this once when there was a cop car near by but he did'nt come after me. There is usually no danger of an accident, but it must unnerve the oncoming through traffic which have the green light.

If there is more traffic, I wait it out until a car pulls up behind me to trip the left turn sensor. I then stand up and peddle like mad to get to the right side bike lane. The cars behind me making left turns usually pass me but give me lots of space. Some times they wait for me to make it to the bike lane.

How do the more experienced road bikers and commuters handle this situation?

Problem number 2 is getting to the left turn lane, especially when there are 3 lanes: 2 lanes going straight through and the the third left turn lane. I will be pedalling down the bike lane on the right and will have to cross two lanes when I get close to the turn. I have a bike mirror on my helmet but it has blind spots. I look for a clear shot from the bike lane to the left turn lane as safely as I can with emphatic hand signals.
Will it be just a matter of time before I get hit?

If the traffic is heavy, I pull over to a stop on the bike lane well before the traffic light and wait for a break in the traffic to cross over to the left turn lane.

I can always wimp out and bike to the traffic light and then cross over to the left in the walking lane, which is what most of the kids do with their Huffy bikes and the less experienced bikers do, but I prefer to exercise my rights to the road.

I would appreciate any comments.
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Old 08-15-05, 10:17 PM   #2
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I don't think it would be "wimping out" to bike across the intersection, then stop and put yourself at the right of the lane perpendicular to the one you just came from and then cross when that side gets the light. In fact, when I took the LAB Road I course, they showed that very maneuver. You don't have to walk your bike in the crosswalk because you are always in the traffic lane.

If you are going to cross the three lanes to take a left in the left-turn lane, don't rely solely on your mirror but do a check over your shoulder as well. This lets you double check your blind spots and also lets the motorists know that you are going to do something.

By the way, I'm definitely NOT one of the more experienced cyclists or commuters but I've learned a lot by devouring this board daily.
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Old 08-15-05, 10:34 PM   #3
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One thing I learned in driver's ed: "The safest left turn is 3 right turns"
If you feel it is too risky to make a left turn by crossing multiple lanes of traffic: don't.

Keep going straight to the other side of the intersection. Pull off, turn your bike around, then aim at the direction you wanted to go and wait for the light. It's not worth putting yourself at risk to shave 1 minute off of your commute/ride. I do this very often as drivers in my area don't take kindly to bikes in the driving lanes (even when there is no shoulder). It's not worth having some idiot teenager riding with a bunch of his friends who 'dare' him to bump your wheel while your at a standstill waiting for the light to change. If you do make it to the lane, look back often, try to make some eye contact.

For some reason, it seems that once people realize that it's a human in front of them and not some blob on a bike, they relax a bit. It may make them want to blow by you as soon as they have a chance, but at least they recognize your presence and (even if it's a small amount) will give space to avoid hitting you
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Old 08-15-05, 11:15 PM   #4
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Safer is always better, so whatever you have to do to be safe is the best thing you can do.

No, to address part of the problem I need to drag out a little bit of education. The majority of turn signals work on the theory of inductance. The grooves you see in the road are where small diameter coils are laid into the road. They are basically shorted when a mass of metal is over them, triggering the light. So where you want to be is directly over one of those grooves in order to trigger the light. I find that this works most of the time. If one is reluctant to change, and traffic allows it, I'll do a circle back over the lines and come back, weaving slowly over one of the grooves. That'll usually do the trick.

I also found this link which may be helpful.
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Old 08-15-05, 11:20 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stonooka
...If the traffic is heavy, I pull over to a stop on the bike lane well before the traffic light and wait for a break in the traffic to cross over to the left turn lane.
I can always wimp out and bike to the traffic light and then cross over to the left in the walking lane, ... but I prefer to exercise my rights to the road.
I would appreciate any comments.
--- If traffic is light, I signal like crazy and make my way over to the right edge of the left turn lane and turn with the traffic. If traffic is heavy, I go straight through the intersection and then situate myself on the right edge of the (left going) lane at the light. As for exercising my rights to the road-- well I exercise my right to use whatever maneuver gets me to my destination legally & safely and enhances my life expectancy. By the way, the wimps are the ones unwilling to bike at all.
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Old 08-15-05, 11:30 PM   #6
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It sounds like you are handling Problem 1 correctly, by which I mean, handling it the same way I would. In my town, I don't think we have any left turn signals that are activated by traffic, although we have a lot of activated signals for through streets. If your bike doesn't activate them, you don't have much choice but to wait until you are clear to go through the red light. This should be safe if you look carefully, and I'm sure you are.

Problem 2 was a difficulty getting across multiple lanes of traffic to get into a left turn lane. It sounds like you're basically doing that right (i.e., doing it "my way" ). Maybe you could try going over a little sooner. Sometimes I get over to the left turn lane really before it even is a left turn lane, but nobody seems to mind. They can pretty much figure out what I'm trying to do. I think it's more dangerous to wait too long, because you might get all frantic to move over. In that case, I would probably just go past the intersection, then double back, like InfamousG suggested, if I couldn't safely get into the turn lane before the intersection.

Just keep it up. It sounds like you have a good handle on the basic concepts. I can't predict the future, but I don't think you're likely to get hit by anybody, based on your description of what you do. Just start those left turns a little sooner and see if that helps.

I thought Longhorn's advice was real good, but it sounds like you have a more assertive riding style. I gotta respect that!
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Old 08-16-05, 12:16 AM   #7
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Thanks for the many constructive responses. I will try to decide which is the safest method of making the left turn and act accordingly so I can continue to be an oldie. I plan my rides to avoid as many left turns in high traffic areas as possible, but am not always willing to ride an extra 2 miles to avoid a left turn to my destination.

We enjoy excellent road maintenance in our neighborhood and high traffic left turn areas are frequently repaved so I cannot tell exactly where the left turn sensors are located. They must be somewhere in the vicinity of where the first vehicle would be situated to make the left turn, probably in the middle of the left turn lane? I'll try to follow the advice given to locate and trip the left turn sensors. Even with my car, if I stop too far (1/2 a car length) from the crosswalk, the left turn sensor does not work in some locations.

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Old 08-16-05, 12:47 AM   #8
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Thanks for responding Roody,

Once or twice getting in to the left lane early, I would be pedaling down the white line separating the left lane and the leftmost through lane. Cars would be lightly honking and passing me on my right and left which is kinda scary if I should lose control (which I don't, but I have both feet out of the clips in this situation in case of an emergency stop and to avoid a spill). I did'nt want to hog and go down the middle of the left lane, because the traffic behind me is moving at a minimum of 30 mph and I am doing 15 mph, max. I guess this was a big mistake. I should not be in the left lane unless I can maintain a perfectly safe position in it without hindering traffic.

When there is this much traffic, I should wait for the traffic to lessen to get in the left lane or use the wimpout method.
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Old 08-16-05, 05:54 AM   #9
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First, twahl, thanks for the excellent article. I've been using the "park next to the corner of the loop" trick for years and it seem to work well.

As for the light not triggering...

If it's obvious that I haven't tripped the light, I will "run" the light when it's safe to do so. As far as I'm concerned, the traffic light is not working correctly so I'm within my rights to run it. Note...this usually happens in the time from 3:45 AM to 4:45 AM, so traffic is not a real issue.

Next problem - slightly off-topic - many lights in my commute will trip, but then quickly change back to red before I can make it completely across! These lights are not in compliance with the law. A letter to the city may help get them readjusted.

<edit> I've been trying to find the part of the CA code that addresses defective signals, and signal timing, but I'm coming up short. It will be my task for the day.

Last edited by eubi; 08-16-05 at 06:19 AM.
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Old 08-16-05, 06:34 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stonooka
I'm a newbie oldie road biker.

I find when I am in a left turn lane by myself (no other cars) the bike and I are not heavy or big enough to trip the left turn position or optical sensor and I never get the left turn arrow.

When there is little or no traffic, I usually run the red left turn arrow (for which I could get a ticket). I did this once when there was a cop car near by but he did'nt come after me. There is usually no danger of an accident, but it must unnerve the oncoming through traffic which have the green light.

If there is more traffic, I wait it out until a car pulls up behind me to trip the left turn sensor. I then stand up and peddle like mad to get to the right side bike lane. The cars behind me making left turns usually pass me but give me lots of space. Some times they wait for me to make it to the bike lane.

How do the more experienced road bikers and commuters handle this situation?

Problem number 2 is getting to the left turn lane, especially when there are 3 lanes: 2 lanes going straight through and the the third left turn lane. I will be pedalling down the bike lane on the right and will have to cross two lanes when I get close to the turn. I have a bike mirror on my helmet but it has blind spots. I look for a clear shot from the bike lane to the left turn lane as safely as I can with emphatic hand signals.
Will it be just a matter of time before I get hit?

If the traffic is heavy, I pull over to a stop on the bike lane well before the traffic light and wait for a break in the traffic to cross over to the left turn lane.

I can always wimp out and bike to the traffic light and then cross over to the left in the walking lane, which is what most of the kids do with their Huffy bikes and the less experienced bikers do, but I prefer to exercise my rights to the road.

I would appreciate any comments.
Just curious, where in SJ? (I'm on the west side near Winchester & Hamilton)

Anyway: I do almost the same thing you do on some roads (Bascom, DeAnza, some other mini-freeways which can have 4 lanes each way in places) . . . if traffic is light I just merge over and use the left turn lane as if I were a car. If it's really heavy and/or fast, I wait for a break (sometimes I actually "wimp out" and use the walk signal button as many lights in SJ do not have traffic loops to detect bikes -- YET).
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Old 08-16-05, 07:03 AM   #11
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Well, two things, on the left arrow business, if your bike does not trip the signal, you are not legally required anywhere to wait for the next ice age or a signal change whichever comes first before proceeding. Just treat it as a stop sign and go when the traffic is clear.

On getting over to the left lane, here is a suggestion. This works in FL because on divided roads (and most of the major ones are) a cyclist can ride either on the right side of the right most lane or on the left side of the left most lane. So when I am on a busy street, I just move over when I have a break in the traffic even if the signal might be .2 mile up ahead.

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Old 08-16-05, 07:22 AM   #12
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As far as getting to the left turn lane, I often find that if I signal, people will acknowledge me with a wave or what have you and let me over. If traffic is real heavy, I try to time it with the light changing so everyone is already slowing down, signal, and make my way over. When I'm there...I TAKE THE LANE. When the light changes, I quickly get over to the right. I don't like the idea of cars passing me that close on the right or a mishap while coming to a stop. So far I haven't had any problems with that and virtaully all the roads I ride are 5 lane. I think part of it is being clear, decisive, and body language. If you look nervous, people around you will be as well. If you're clear about your intentions and riding considerately, I find I usually get the same. This excludes the F*****S that feel they have to buzz you and the occasional idiot of course ALWAYS look over your shoulder though

Good luck and be safe,
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Old 08-16-05, 09:36 AM   #13
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Sounds like you handle it the same way I do.

Another tactic of min is to park my bike (I have a kick stand) and run across the lanes to the pedstrian button if I have to. I've had to do that on my motorscooter at a few intersections, too. At one of those intersections, the crossing guard has seen me do it enough times he pushes the button for me now !

There's one left turn I make that I suddenly realized (now why didn't I think of this before??) that if I turn right a block earlier then make my left from that street instead I don't have to deal with that light or all that traffic. But why do I forget that every day? I don't know.
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Old 08-16-05, 11:31 AM   #14
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Like others here, I get ready to move left early, usually well before the left turn only lane starts, unless it is a very long lane or there is light traffic. By preparing early, I have more opportunities to find adequate gaps to move all the way over in one safe move. If I get there early, I ride the left side of the leftmost (inside) through lane until the left-turn-only lane starts. This is probably even safer than riding on the right side of the right lane since drivers sit on the right side of their vehicles.

When I reach the LTO lane I ride somewhere between the center of the lane and the right tire track. I don't move out of the way until I have left the intersection on the other side.

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Old 08-16-05, 11:55 AM   #15
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Hi 'nother!

Thanks for responding. The two left turn intersections that I use often are on Saratoga Ave and Lawrence Expwy and approaching downtown Campbell going east on Campbell Ave. I am actually going straight through to downtown Campbell trying to stay to the left of the two right lanes that make a loop around downtown at that location.

On Saratoga and Lawrence, I am going west past El Paseo shopping center and turning left onto what becomes Quito Road. I am heading for the coffee shop on the southwest corner of Quito and Saratoga.

I also usually stop off in down town Campbell on the way to the Los Gatos Creek Park bike and pedestrian pathway and I bike up and back to Lexington Reservoir using the pathway from Campbell. I avoid the commuting rush hours for these intersections if possible.
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Old 08-16-05, 12:26 PM   #16
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Wow, sounds like we are pretty close. Or at least ride some of the same territory. I used to ride the LG Creek trail pretty regularly (from my house I go down Payne Ave, cross Winchester, left up to Hamann Park, and use the ped bridge over 880/17, then Downing over to Bascom and hit the trail right there near Southwest Expy . . . down to the Reservoir and do a couple of hill repeats (yeah!) and back is about 25 miles for me).

Anyway . . . some of those intersections are tough. Downtown Campbell seems to especially suck for some reason. Sometimes I put my kids in the bike trailer and head down to the park there . . . we come down Central, cross Hamilton (!!!!) and end up having to left-turn onto Campbell Ave to do that and it's no picnic even on weekends when there's theoretically less traffic. Saratoga and Lawrence is also pretty busy at all times of the day . . . lots of 280 traffic.

Hey if you see me out sometime, I'm on a blue Trek XO1, give me a shout and let me know who you are. Cheers, be safe out there . . .
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Old 08-16-05, 01:45 PM   #17
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The sensitivity of the detection loops shouldbe adjustable. If it is not responding to your presence, the local highways dept should be able to adjust it. Or they do in my localcity in UK.

If they can't do it, the technology is deficient/backward and should be replaced.
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Old 08-16-05, 01:56 PM   #18
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The sensitivity of the detection loops shouldbe adjustable. If it is not responding to your presence, the local highways dept should be able to adjust it. Or they do in my localcity in UK.

If they can't do it, the technology is deficient/backward and should be replaced.
This is true, many detector loops are adjustable, and many localities, mine included, will at least attempt to help you. I contacted the City of San Jose Dep't of Traffic and they adjusted one signal at my request, now I can trip it with my bike. They don't always do this, because if they adjust it to be too sensitive it can get tripped by traffic in the adjacent lane which they don't want. But a lot of times they can find a balance.

They also told me that as part of a "general plan" for bikes that is being worked on in San Jose over the next few years, they will be installing bike-specific detection loops for many intersections where there aren't any or where they are using older loops. Nearby cities (Cupertino, Los Altos, others) already have these, clearly marked with a little bike and lines where you are supposed to put your wheels. I think they're great.
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Old 08-16-05, 02:54 PM   #19
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This is a prob I've dealt with for years on a motorcycle. I usually make a right,then hook a U-turn and wait at the light to go straight. If the traffic is heavy,I'll pull up as far as is prudent and let a car behind me trigger it. I've also had hit-or-miss success shutting off my engine and restarting to get the electric starter to trigger the light. On a bicycle,I'd prolly cross the intersection,stop and turn the bike,and then ride straight with the light.

They make strong magnets that strap onto the frame or kickstand for motorcycles. I've heard various reports as to their effectiveness. Might want to look into trying one of these.
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Old 08-16-05, 06:31 PM   #20
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Hey Y'all!

Thanks for all the informative responses. The information on detection loops is also very good. According to 'nother, we live in a bike friendly area with bike sensitive loops in some nearby areas, bike racks on public transportation, and I know of one coffee shop nearby with indoor bike racks. Although I'm a newbie, I havn't encountered any discourteous or uncooperating car drivers so far.

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Old 08-17-05, 06:47 AM   #21
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I have to cross 3 lanes of moderate 35 mph (meaning driving at 40-45mph) traffic to turn left into work. I start about 1/4 mile away from the intersection by taking the right-most lane. I signal a left turn and keep looking back until someone yields. Someone always yields or there is a break in traffic. I then take the middle lane and signial a left turn...again, wait for someone to yield or a break in traffic. I then take the left lane, signaling the left turn. Often traffic backs up a bit for the turn. I have yet to be honked at during this manuver.

On the way home, I have to ride in the middle lane for a short distance because the right lane becomes an on-ramp to a freeway. For this I start by taking the right lane, signal and move to the middle lane, then I take the middle lane for about 200 yards before the right lane peels off, and then I move to the right side of the now rightmost lane. I often get honks during this manuver because drivers want to pass a bunch of cars in the right lane by swooping in after shooting up the middle lane. My bike prevents this and they get mad at me, but I've yet to have anyone try to hit me, just honk/yell. The tendancy of drivers to try this is why I ride in the middle of the lane. I'm afraid that if I rode on the right side of the middle lane I'd get "merged" into the road by an impatient driver.

It takes some time to get used to the idea that you are a vehicle and you have a right to change lanes/be on the road. Drivers, like dogs, can sense fear. If you are tentative or show fear they will NOT yield to you. If you are assertive (but not stupidly so) there are enough drivers out there that are polite and will let you in.

Happy trails!
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Old 08-17-05, 11:48 AM   #22
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Hi Dogboy!

Thanks for your input. This affirms to be intelligently assertive to stay boldly in the lane in this situation rather than to straddle the lanes where one can be accidentally or purposely "merged". I straddled lanes once with cars passing me on the right and left; never again!
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Old 08-26-05, 02:14 PM   #23
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Hi!

Thanks for all the input on traffic signal detection loops. Now when there are no other cars in the left turn lane or the lessor traffic sidestreet traffic-lighted intersection, I get off the bike and tilt the bike more horizontally in the areas where an auto would normally be and the light goes off immediately. I then have to hustle to get across or make the turn because the light does not stay green for very long (since it only sensed one vehicle). ... Anyway a lot safer than running the red.

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Old 08-26-05, 05:16 PM   #24
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I've even ridden with taxi drivers (i.e. professional drivers) who execute left turns in very dense fast traffic by making right turn then u-turn and go straight.

Point is that even in a car with an experienced driver it can be hard to cut across several lanes of dense fast moving traffic. Sometimes (as is the case with taxi driver example) you can't merge early for example when you get off a freeway heading right, then have a left turn you need to make in a few hundred yards after you get on this road.

Al
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Old 08-26-05, 11:36 PM   #25
stonooka
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Hi! More on detection loops:

On a ten mile ride today on local streets I discovered two light detection loops painted with a bike symbol on two bike lanes at busy intersections. The asphalt appeared to have cut or saw marks around the bike symbol where the detection loop is imbedded. One was on Prospect Ave at Lawrence Expressway heading west in West San Jose, CA. I was not able to fully test it since there were other cars in the intersection which would trigger their respective loops.

Hey, this is progress!

Sinchi
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