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  1. #1
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    Looking for advice on turns please

    I know most of the people here are from the US so I'll change the road way around so it's easier for you to help me (aren't I considerate).

    Basically, I am looking for advice on how to make left turns, especially on multi lane roads. I am a bit unsure as to what is the safe and legal (may not be the same) way to do it which makes it even more dangerous.

    So you would normally travel on the right most lane but to make a left turn you would eventually need to be in the left most lane...so the options are...

    -Gradually make your way over to the left lane one lane at a time, taking care to signal each time and hoping you will get a break in traffic to move over in time for the turn. For this you may have a spend a little bit of time in each lane waiting for a gap.
    -Approach the turn slowly in the right lane whilst looking for a gap that will take you straight into the left-most lane.
    -Transfer onto the footpath before the turn and make use of the closest pedestrian crossing. At the moment I am leaning towards this option because I am thinking it is the safest but it is also the slowest because of the walking over the crossings. I'm not normally one to concern myself about what others think about me, but if I buy the road bike I have been dreaming of, I would feel a bit of a fool and a waste doing this too. But if it's the safest by far, then I'd still do it.

    This leads to another question too. If you do change lanes, how far ahead of the turn should you do it? I imagine it would be a toss up between getting in position in time to safety make the turn as well as trying to piss off the least amout of motorists as possible (even though technically you have a right to, a pissed of anyone, especially a motorist is not a good thing).

    I would also be interest in terms of what is the safest thing to do, and what is the best thing to do in a legal sense, especially if they differ.

    A lot of these options I presume would be similar if riding on a busier single lane road in terms of lane position approaching a turn eg. if you normally right on the right part of the lane, you will need to migrate over to the left side of the lane to make a left turn.

    Most of my riding is around streets that don't get a lot of traffic but I would like to get more comfortable riding with more cars. I think I would be right if I was just following the road, but I am a bit stumped about turning and changing lanes.

    Alternatively, if there are any other threads around that I didn't find on my search, feel free to direct me to them please.

    Thanks in advance for your help.
    I want to live.

  2. #2
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    1st and 3rd options are your choices. #2 is both illegal and dangerous.

    Which one you choose should depend on traffic conditions and your willingness and ability to negotiate traffic.

    I use the first option. I have yet to find a road where I'm comfortable riding where I'm NOT comfortable choosing this option.

    The other thing to look at is your local laws... there ARE places where making a vehicular turn MIGHT be against the law. Check what your laws say about the matter. (Laws vary so much that asking someone in another country for advice is nearly useless...)

    We probably DO have members that live in the same country as you, so if you tell us what it is, maybe someone has first hand knowledge of your local laws and can help you out?
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  3. #3
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    I agree with bmclaughlin807. It took some getting used to before I felt comfortable changing lanes to make a left turn but now it's no problem.

    On the question of when to start changing lanes, do start early enough that you have a reasonable chance finishing before you get to the intersection or, if there is a left turn lane, before you get to it. If traffic is light, you can start later. If traffic is heavy, start earlier. You'll have to practice and build some intuition about it.

    Also, you should either "take" which ever lane you're in by riding right in the middle of it, or you should treat the left and right halves of each lane as if they were separate lanes. In other words, shifting from the right half of the right lane to the left half of the left lane so as to prepare for a left turn would be treated as three lane changes, with a look behind you before each one.

    If you get close to the intersection without finding a suitable gap in traffic, continue to signal your turn while gently slowing down and coming to a stop about 30ft (i.e. about 10m) from the intersection (or left turn lane). Continue to signal and look for a gap until you find one.

    I hope this is helpful. Other people might have different ideas but this is what I do.

  4. #4
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    #3 all the way.
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

    Cyclists fare best when they recognize that there are times when acting vehicularly is not the best practice, and are flexible enough to do what is necessary as the situation warrants.--Me

  5. #5
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by damnable View Post
    ...
    1. Gradually make your way over to the left lane one lane at a time, taking care to signal each time and hoping you will get a break in traffic to move over in time for the turn. For this you may have a spend a little bit of time in each lane waiting for a gap.
    2. Approach the turn slowly in the right lane whilst looking for a gap that will take you straight into the left-most lane.
    3. Transfer onto the footpath before the turn and make use of the closest pedestrian crossing. At the moment I am leaning towards this option because I am thinking it is the safest but it is also the slowest because of the walking over the crossings. I'm not normally one to concern myself about what others think about me, but if I buy the road bike I have been dreaming of, I would feel a bit of a fool and a waste doing this too. But if it's the safest by far, then I'd still do it.
    ...
    (I numbered them for clear reference)

    First, there are many exceptions to the legal requirement for cyclists to keep right. Most notable for this discussion is that the requirement does not apply when the cyclist is preparing for a left turn.

    The most common error made with respect to #1 is waiting too long to make the move and ending up at #2. There are many situations where I start moving left over a block before I get to my left turn.

    The other thing most cyclists don't realize is how easy it is to create a gap when you don't have one. You don't have to wait passively until one makes itself available to you; you can be proactive about it. You can do this often simply by looking back over your left shoulder. I don't mean a quick glance, I mean a good long "Lance look back" of a second or two. Sometimes it helps to take your left hand off the bars to be able to twist your upper body around more. Of course, you have to be able to do this without veering off course, which should be practiced in an empty parking lot (car park) or on empty roads where you can follow a stripe, look backwards for a second or two, then look forward and make sure you're still on the stripe. It's easy to learn, but it does take a bit of practice. Don't try it for the first time in traffic! Anyway, a good/clear look back over the shoulder makes it quite obvious that you're looking to move left, and if the first driver does not yield, usually the 2nd or 3rd will.

    In some situations the look back alone is not enough to get motorists to yield to you, and so an explicit left arm signal is required. Make sure your arm is straight and parallel to the road (I often see half-arsed arm signals angled down towards the street - the meaning of these is not nearly as clear - a firm/assertive straight-out arm signal is hard to ignore and seems to compel motorists to yield to you). A clear left arm signal combined with a look back will almost certainly cause motorists in the adjacent lane to yield to you in almost any situation. Also, don't point, for that could be interpreted to mean you're pointing at something, rather than signaling an intent/desire to merge/turn left. Holding your hand as if you're saluting (palm down, four fingers parallel, thumb nestled under palm) seems to be quite effective. Be patient. Remember, they have the right of way and you are requesting that they yield it to you. If you really understand this, then your body language and facial expressions will convey it, and you are more likely to get cooperation sooner. When you naturally smile, wave and/or nod when someone chooses to yield to you because you are genuinely grateful, you know you've got it figured out.

    But yes, you need to do this one lane at a time, until you're all the way to the center of the road (or the left side of the road if it's one-way). If you get there too early, share the lane if it's wide enough to be safely shared (motorists can pass you with a safe distance without encroaching on the adjacent lane) by riding near the left side, or stay in a lane controlling position near the center if it's too narrow to be safely shared, until you reach the left turn lane or point where you make the left turn.

    Finally, it's much easier than it sounds. As with any technique, practice it on quieter/smaller streets, and move up to more busy ones as you build confidence. Much of this requires a "feel" that can only be acquired through experience.

    An excellent (British) book on traffic cycling is Cyclecraft by John Franklin. I cannot recommend it enough.
    Last edited by Helmet Head; 10-02-07 at 11:19 AM.

  6. #6
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    Good advice here.

    I would say that the success of option 1 is highly dependant on how fast the traffic is moving. It's is much easier to do if the traffic is moving slowly. And, as others have said, you learn how to do it.

  7. #7
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
    Good advice here.

    I would say that the success of option 1 is highly dependant on how fast the traffic is moving. It's is much easier to do if the traffic is moving slowly. And, as others have said, you learn how to do it.
    I regularly use the negotiation technique described above to turn left from a 6 lane arterial (+ turn lanes) with 45 mph posted speed limit (actual speeds usually 50+ when light ahead is green for through traffic, and it often is) onto a 4 lane road. On my way home, I have a left turn from a 4 lane road to a 2 lane road. The speeds are much lower in the second case (speed limit 35, but actual speeds often are lower), but I think both left turns are about as difficult. I'd say how busy traffic is makes it more difficult. If they're going faster than you, and it's busy, you're going to have to negotiate to create a gap, regardless of how much faster they are moving. Once someone yields to you, he is moving at your speed, and essentially "running interference" behind you, so the speed of other traffic doesn't matter. Then repeat for the next lane change.

  8. #8
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    My last commuting route, before I retired, required a right turn (UK) across the full width of two lanes on a 70mph dual carriageway, tho' traffic was rarely doing more than about 50mph in the usual evening rush hour.

    I followed method 1 and agree with HH that, if you signal your intention clearly, drivers (in general) will treat you in much the same way they treat any other road user, i.e. if they can ease off a little and let you in, they tend to do so.

    Can I suggest you get hold of a copy of Cycle Craft by John Franklin, pub. The Stationery Office, which covers riding safely in traffic (in the UK) in exhaustive and intelligent detail.

    Method 3 is perfectly acceptable if you are not yet confident enough to do (1). Avoid (2) like the plague, altho' there were occasions when a driver in the outside lane, seeing me start to move across the first lane, woul let me across the second lane in one movement.

    It always depends on the circumstances

  9. #9
    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by atbman View Post
    My last commuting route, before I retired, required a right turn (UK) across the full width of two lanes on a 70mph dual carriageway, tho' traffic was rarely doing more than about 50mph in the usual evening rush hour.

    I followed method 1 and agree with HH that, if you signal your intention clearly, drivers (in general) will treat you in much the same way they treat any other road user, i.e. if they can ease off a little and let you in, they tend to do so.

    Can I suggest you get hold of a copy of Cycle Craft by John Franklin, pub. The Stationery Office, which covers riding safely in traffic (in the UK) in exhaustive and intelligent detail.

    Method 3 is perfectly acceptable if you are not yet confident enough to do (1). Avoid (2) like the plague, altho' there were occasions when a driver in the outside lane, seeing me start to move across the first lane, woul let me across the second lane in one movement.

    It always depends on the circumstances
    I'm going to be the one who speaks up for 2. Or perhaps it is 2 prime. There are some streets where the traffic comes in waves. For a while all 3 or 4 lanes full of cars going 45 plus. Then huge gaps. Many of these streets have on street parking. In that instance pulling over to the right and STOPPING until there is a break in traffic is a reasonable alternative. Note there has to be a safe place on the right. I use this rarely, last time I remeber was where a route turns right onto a major street a very short block before a desired left turn. However when doing this you still check each lane. In a way you are still doing 1, just waiting until it is easy. The technique of slowing down in hte hope that a break will come will sooner or later lead to finding you are too close to the intersection, and if at that point you decide on a dash across multiple lanes you are asking for disaster.

    One other thing. It is now rare in my part of the U.S. but there are still places where there is no designated left turn lane. In those cases option 3 becomes much more attractive.

  10. #10
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith99 View Post
    I'm going to be the one who speaks up for 2. Or perhaps it is 2 prime. There are some streets where the traffic comes in waves. For a while all 3 or 4 lanes full of cars going 45 plus. Then huge gaps. Many of these streets have on street parking. In that instance pulling over to the right and STOPPING until there is a break in traffic is a reasonable alternative. Note there has to be a safe place on the right. I use this rarely, last time I remeber was where a route turns right onto a major street a very short block before a desired left turn. However when doing this you still check each lane. In a way you are still doing 1, just waiting until it is easy. The technique of slowing down in hte hope that a break will come will sooner or later lead to finding you are too close to the intersection, and if at that point you decide on a dash across multiple lanes you are asking for disaster.

    One other thing. It is now rare in my part of the U.S. but there are still places where there is no designated left turn lane. In those cases option 3 becomes much more attractive.
    In cases where you're opting to use the 'dash across the road in a gap' method... what's the difference between that and just crossing to the far corner and waiting THERE for the gap that will be provided when the light changes???? That would be both safer AND legal.

    Also... if you choose to wait till it's safe to cross to the left turn lane and find yourself getting too close to the intersection, again, it's easier, safer, and legal to transition to a pedestrian style crossing by waiting at the far corner for the light to change.
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmclaughlin807 View Post
    In cases where you're opting to use the 'dash across the road in a gap' method... what's the difference between that and just crossing to the far corner and waiting THERE for the gap that will be provided when the light changes???? That would be both safer AND legal.

    Also... if you choose to wait till it's safe to cross to the left turn lane and find yourself getting too close to the intersection, again, it's easier, safer, and legal to transition to a pedestrian style crossing by waiting at the far corner for the light to change.
    Yes, the "walking it" tactic is always an option.

    Another problem with the approach 2 is that it leaves maybe too little margin for error.

    I think, also, that approach 2 will tend to convey a "wacky cyclist" impression.

  12. #12
    Senior Member c_m_shooter's Avatar
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    I usually use option 1, but if you don't see any gaps forming, it's easy enough to resort to option 3.

  13. #13
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    Hmmm thankyou everyone.

    I'm actually in Australia and I know there aren't as many Aussies floating around here compared to other countries. I have had a read around here and look at our rules and they are very similar to most in the US (with the exception of lane direction of course). Here we are allowed to cycle on footpaths while giving way to pedestrians and must dismount to cross roads using pedestrian crossings. Most cyclists don't but I would feel a hyporcrite to do it myself since it annoys me otherwise.

    One thing I wasn't sure of is if it is legal to 'jump curb' in the middle of a road, which would be handy. I didn't read mention of it in the laws but I know I bike cop I think I can ask.

    Thanks Helmet Head for adding in the numbers and I might even add in a fourth that I just though of.

    4 - Ride past the intersection you want to turn at keeping in the right hand lane. Turn right at the next available intersection with lights which is a less busy road and do a U-turn (provided it's safe to do so). Wait for the light to turn green and ride back the way you came except now you have an easy right hand turn with no lanes to worry about. Of course this won't work if it's a freeway or there are many intersections with lights around but it's still valid, especially once you are in a position to make the turn you have to cross heavy traffic.
    I want to live.

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