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  1. #1
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    Left turns at a light onto a street with a bike lane

    Riding more on the street now that my normal bike path is closed for maintenance. I’m lucky that we have excellent bike lanes in my area.

    What is the preferred method of taking a single or double left turn at a light onto a street with a bike lane?

    What seems natural to me is to be on the right-most part of the outside lane, and move all the way up to the front of the line. When we get the green left arrow I can follow the left turn and end up in the bike lane. However, this may technically be lane splitting, since I’m basically on the lane line with enough room to have a turning car on my left and a going straight car on my right. This seems to be safer, though, than taking up one of the entire turn lanes because; 1) everybody at the intersection sees me and knows what my intentions are, and 2) none of the turning cars want to kill me for making them miss the turn arrow.

    Thoughts…? How do most people handle left turns at a light on four lane streets?

  2. #2
    These go to eleven kegoguinness's Avatar
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    If it's a double-lef turn bay, yes, be in the rightmost (center) of the left-turning lanes. You didn't say if it was a dedicated turn-lane only, but I assume it is. Take the whole lane, assuming the turn isn't some big uphill. I imagine even if you are somewhat slow like me, you can reasonably keep up with a backed-up turn lane full of cars and not slow anybody behind you and cause them to miss their turn. Don't get squeezed to the right as that puts you in additional danger. While making your left turn, you can drift to the right to enter the bike lane on the new street and be out of the way of motorists behind you. Safe for you, good for them.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    I agree. If it is a single left turn lane I take it. If it has double turn lanes, I take the #2 left turn lane. I usually have no problem keeping up with the cars ahead of me through the turn. I then drift out to the bike lane and cars behind me can continue on their way.

  4. #4
    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    Take the rightmost lane that allows turns to the same direction as you are going. Position yourself in the lane so you cars can't cut in front of you in the intersection in your lane whether they want to turn or pass.
    If the bike lane you're targeting is on the LH side of a one-way street, that's a different situation.

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    Wow, sounds like I've been doing it the complete wrong way. On a one-lane left turn only, I put myself at the right-most edge of the lane, and all the way to the front, with enough room for a car to be next to me. On a double-lane left turn only, I'm at the right-most edge of the outside lane, again all the way to the front.

    Either way, I move to the front right corner of the turn lane and basically allow a car to be next to me. When we get the left arrow, we make our turn at the same time, and I drift over to the bike lane. The only potential danger I see in this method is from cars coming from the opposite direction making their left turns. However, because I move to the very front of the turn lane, those opposite direction cars are able to see me, and I never have a problem with the car next to me squeezing me too far right.

    I guess another way to put it is that I'm essentially creating my own second or third turn lane on the outside leading me to the bike lane on the next street. Sounds crazy dangerous when I say it like that, but it just feels safer to me than taking the whole lane.

  6. #6
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    The problem I see with your way is that the car you are next to may, or may not, know you are there as you are in a spot they wouldn't normally expect anything to be. If they take the turn wide or decide they really wanted to go straight (I see this often enough to consider it a threat), you are now in the way and they may not even notice.

    If you are centered in front of a car, it is much more likely they will see you. Yes, they will probably be upset that they are behind a bike but at least that means they know a bike is in front of them. I can then pick the spot where I feel it is best to zip out to the bike lane giving the car behind me a clear shot at their lane.

  7. #7
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    Bear in mind that there is too much information on the roadways for drivers to process it all. Thus, they get used to taking mental short-cuts like only looking for traffic in the places they expect it. You already have one strike: you're not a car and therefore risk being "processed out" and not "seen". By putting yourself where people (and drivers) don't expect to see traffic you are much less visible than you think. Remember the gorilla films' lesson: People see what they are expecting to see. Stay in places they expect to see traffic and you will live longer.

  8. #8
    Allez means go. bengreen79's Avatar
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    I don't allow a car next to me until I am at least 1/2 through the turn and have a clear space (no parked cars for example) to share the lane. Usually I don't get passed until a bit after the turn anyway.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Thor29's Avatar
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    If you come up to an intersection and there are cars waiting in the left turn lane, there is nothing inherently unsafe about splitting the lane and turning from just right of the left turn lane. Just make sure you get to the front before the light changes and pull a little into the crosswalk (without impeding pedestrians of course). If you anticipate the light change and get into the intersecion quicker, the car driver turning left will see you and won't try to squeeze you out. Keep an eye on the cross traffic to insure that nobody runs the red light before proceeding.

  10. #10
    i'll probably break it 91MF's Avatar
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    for those of you concerned about safety riding along side a car turning left, you are NO SAFER by taking the whole lane. the car across the way wont go if you 'ride the side' of a car as they dont want to hit another motor vehicle. fact is a green is just as danger as a red, turn or no turn. do what you feel comfortable with but dont be confused that there is a safer method. when i cross a green i treat it like im blowing the light - high alert. [i am not condoning blowing reds here so dont go on that tangent...]
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thor29 View Post
    If you come up to an intersection and there are cars waiting in the left turn lane, there is nothing inherently unsafe about splitting the lane and turning from just right of the left turn lane. Just make sure you get to the front before the light changes and pull a little into the crosswalk (without impeding pedestrians of course). If you anticipate the light change and get into the intersecion quicker, the car driver turning left will see you and won't try to squeeze you out. Keep an eye on the cross traffic to insure that nobody runs the red light before proceeding.
    Yep, Thor, this is a good description of what I do. Perhaps I made it sound like was right next to the other turning vehicle, but I actually move way out into the crosswalk as much as I can with out blocking it. So even though I’m off to the right, I’m still way out ahead of the line of cars, and everybody can see me.

    I’m not saying this is the correct or safest method, but it definitely feels safer to me than taking the whole lane. I’ve tried that on single and double left turns, and the traffic behind me just doesn’t know what to make of the situation. It’s worse at double left turns because the cars want to change lanes to avoid being behind me. This results in confusion, and then honking from way back by people who can’t see what’s going on up there as they’re missing the light. Then if I myself don’t make it through the first light cycle, I am now surrounded by motorists who want me dead. They lurch forward much more aggressively when the arrow turns green again, and they really want to squeeze me out to prove a point, and to make sure they don’t miss the turn again.

    I realize conventional cycling wisdom would suggest I ignore the aggression, stay in the lane, and hold my position until I’m out of the turn and into my bike lane. But man, that’s a scary maneuver. When I move to the front of the line and stay to the right, I feel like I’m out of everybody’s way, and they don’t feel like they have to do anything tricky to make the light, like switching lanes at the last second, or squeezing me out.

    I’m open to opinions though, especially from cyclists who are more experienced than me. I’ll keep trying both methods and weigh the pros and cons of each….

  12. #12
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    But how do you get over into the turn lane?

    Left turns are a huge issue for me. If I am riding in the bike lane, that means I have to cross across a single lane, or sometimes 2 lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane.

    If there is a red light, then it isn't too bad. But riding 12-15 miles in a 30 or 35mph road and then having to come across those lanes with cars moving that fast is messed up. Thanks.

  13. #13
    Acts 2:38 rex_kramer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by diff View Post
    But how do you get over into the turn lane?

    Left turns are a huge issue for me. If I am riding in the bike lane, that means I have to cross across a single lane, or sometimes 2 lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane.

    If there is a red light, then it isn't too bad. But riding 12-15 miles in a 30 or 35mph road and then having to come across those lanes with cars moving that fast is messed up. Thanks.
    Like so?



    Takes a little getting used to. You have to be able to gauge the distance and speed of the cars coming up behind you quickly and then be prepared to sprint for a bit once you find a large enough gap. Of course, you can't go too early because the cars will catch you and you might impede traffic a bit before you get to the lane (usually not a big issue if you can do at least 20 and the cars are moving at 30-35 mph). It helps having a mirror so you don't have to constantly look back. Once it looks good in the mirror, I look back to verify it's clear, then signal and merge.
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  14. #14
    Bike ≠ Car ≠ Ped. BarracksSi's Avatar
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    Depends on the traffic. Sometimes I'll resort to a box turn to make a left.

  15. #15
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    If the light is red for both straight and left turn, I might filter to the front and wait on the right side of the first turning car. Sure this is lane splitting, but it's legal in California. But if the light is still green for straight traffic, I don't like sitting to the right of the first turning car because I'm worried about a car going straight hitting me from behind since they likely only stay far enough away to miss the car and not the invisible bicycle sitting next to the car straddling the lane line.

    The point about cars changing their mind and wanting to pull back into the straight lane is a good one though. I see this all the time. So if you do filter up to the front, watch for cars pulling out and then when you get to the front make a point of waving to and making eye contact to the guy next to you so he doesn't pull that move on you.

  16. #16
    Senior Member dynodonn's Avatar
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    I have a similar predicament, since it's a single left turn lane for me, I just take the lane.

    This particular intersection is rather technical, with my left lane is on a one way arterial and it faces a two lane road on the other side of the intersection, and I am turning onto a two lane one way street with a right side bike lane.

    One block after my left turn, the one way street turns into a two way street , causing the turning two way street traffic at the first intersection wanting to cross over to the left lane( to get to another one way street) on the one way street that has the bike lane on the right side.

    To make matters worse the bike lane ends one block after my left turn, and the one way street funnels down at a roadway island when the one way bike lane street turns into a two way street, splitting traffic either straight or to the left.

    At the first intersection, there are no turning lights, pretty much a free for all when the traffic light turns green.
    Last edited by dynodonn; 10-10-10 at 02:04 PM. Reason: clarification

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justin J View Post
    Yep, Thor, this is a good description of what I do. Perhaps I made it sound like was right next to the other turning vehicle, but I actually move way out into the crosswalk as much as I can with out blocking it. So even though I’m off to the right, I’m still way out ahead of the line of cars, and everybody can see me.

    I’m not saying this is the correct or safest method, but it definitely feels safer to me than taking the whole lane. I’ve tried that on single and double left turns, and the traffic behind me just doesn’t know what to make of the situation. It’s worse at double left turns because the cars want to change lanes to avoid being behind me. This results in confusion, and then honking from way back by people who can’t see what’s going on up there as they’re missing the light. Then if I myself don’t make it through the first light cycle, I am now surrounded by motorists who want me dead. They lurch forward much more aggressively when the arrow turns green again, and they really want to squeeze me out to prove a point, and to make sure they don’t miss the turn again.

    I realize conventional cycling wisdom would suggest I ignore the aggression, stay in the lane, and hold my position until I’m out of the turn and into my bike lane. But man, that’s a scary maneuver. When I move to the front of the line and stay to the right, I feel like I’m out of everybody’s way, and they don’t feel like they have to do anything tricky to make the light, like switching lanes at the last second, or squeezing me out.

    I’m open to opinions though, especially from cyclists who are more experienced than me. I’ll keep trying both methods and weigh the pros and cons of each….
    You'll get over some of the fear of this over time if you start doing it. The fact is, the motorists who usually pose the most danger to you are the ones who don't notice you at all, not the ones who see you and are annoyed by you. I find that if I take the lane in a left turn lane, motorists are generally NOT road ragey, although a few of them will get impatient and try to pass you unsafely during the turn (which is 100% illegal, as far as I know). Getting squeezed out sucks, but it only rarely happens to me now that I'm confident about holding my line during turns and such. Most motorists who try it will back off when they see that you're not going to be intimidated into giving up your road space to them. That's not to say that you don't still need to watch them for the occasional oblivious or homicidal idiot, but those people are much fewer and farther between than you might guess. And holding your line cuts down on the oblivious factor a lot. The murderous ones are much less numerous than the spaced out/distracted drivers. Believe it or not, most drivers don't want to kill a cyclist: don't mistake annoyance for aggressive intent.

    Also, I've noticed that a lot of driver behavior is heavily influenced by how confidently the cyclist rides in traffic. I have some friends who don't ride nearly as much as I do, and claim to be very scared of cars and to get pushed around and bullied by drivers all the time. This doesn't happen to me nearly as often, though it does occasionally occur, so I wondered why there was this huge discrepancy in my experience and theirs. I found out why when I went on a ride with them: they ride slowly, near the curb, and submissively move out of the way in fright whenever a car comes near them. So drivers DO bully them, because they're giving off unconscious cues that it will work. They got a lot more close passes, near-right-hooks, etc than I ever do, and it was a thoroughly scary experience to ride with them at their pace. I suggested riding further left but they've been so terrified by their experiences that they would rather just stick to deserted roads and sounded afraid to consider it. They seemed skeptical of my claim that the aggression doesn't happen to me like that.

    I also have a theory that once you're traveling over a certain critical speed, that driver aggression is also reduced. I think that you move from being subconsciously categorized as a stationary object (like a pedestrian) in the eyes of the motorists to being categorized as a moving object that they have to pay attention to. And additionally, when you're moving fast it's harder for them to pull a quick aggressive pass or turn on you, so they have to plan their actions a little more.

  18. #18
    In the right lane gerv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BarracksSi View Post
    Depends on the traffic. Sometimes I'll resort to a box turn to make a left.
    Yes... if you have a ton of cars preventing the left turn, pull through the intersection and do what is essentially a U-turn where you end up waiting for the next light.

    From my extensive experience with Dutch bicycle YouTubes, I observe this to be the preferred means of making a left turn on the busy streets of Amersterdam.

    I especially use it if my mirror is obstructed with a rising or setting sun, making lane changes iffy.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by diff View Post
    But how do you get over into the turn lane?...


    Good point diff…. if the traffic is such that I can’t make it over there in the first place, then I just go to the corner and wait through the two cross signals. The one intersection I have in mind is a little unique though… there’s a double left turn onto a busy street (with a bike lane), and the straight lane goes through to a shopping center parking lot. So 99% of the traffic is all shifting over to the turn lanes, and a good line builds up every cycle. This is the one particular intersection when it seems like my only option is to filter through to the front, and be on the outer edge of the outside turn lane.

    I’ll see if I can get some pics of this intersection posted for some perspective.

    Quote Originally Posted by mnemia View Post
    I also have a theory that once you're traveling over a certain critical speed, that driver aggression is also reduced….


    MN – this is absolutely true. My experience with timid riders mirrors yours exactly. I’ve actually seen riders who are riding along a crosswalk with the walk signal and as they almost get to the other side, if there is a line of cars in the right turn lane, the rider hesitates. Well then there goes the right turning car and all his friends behind him – they ain’t waitin’ if you ain’t crossin’. Now the rider is stuck in the intersection waiting for the line of right turns to end before finishing their cross… LOL. An example of where being too defensive is actually more dangerous…

  20. #20
    Senior Member SactoDoug's Avatar
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    I split the lane between the right most left turn lane and the lane that goes straight. When I start out with the left turn, I go straight forward for a bit and make a very wide left turn to give cars more than enough room to make their turn well aware from me.

    When I pull up to the left turn lane, I make sure to be pull all the way up in clear view of the first car. When I see the lights in the other lanes change to yellow, I get on my bike and do a 1 mph start into the cross walk so that when it changes green I am already mounted and ready to move.

  21. #21
    Senior Member SactoDoug's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by diff View Post
    But how do you get over into the turn lane?

    Left turns are a huge issue for me. If I am riding in the bike lane, that means I have to cross across a single lane, or sometimes 2 lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane.

    If there is a red light, then it isn't too bad. But riding 12-15 miles in a 30 or 35mph road and then having to come across those lanes with cars moving that fast is messed up. Thanks.

    Frankly, a lot of the times I don't make it into the left turn lane on a busy road. If the light is green, then I cross to the other side and hit the cross walk button. When the light changes for traffic in the other direction, then I go.

    I would rather do that then risk someone on a cell phone putting me in the hospital for a few months.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Pinyon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SactoDoug View Post
    Frankly, a lot of the times I don't make it into the left turn lane on a busy road. If the light is green, then I cross to the other side and hit the cross walk button. When the light changes for traffic in the other direction, then I go.

    I would rather do that then risk someone on a cell phone putting me in the hospital for a few months.
    This is what I do at a busy intersection as well. I only take the turning lane if it is really quiet behind me, and then I double-check for electric cars before I pull over (hybrids are popular here). The bike lanes have too many potholes and are full of debris for me to bother turning around around otherwise.
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  23. #23
    Acts 2:38 rex_kramer's Avatar
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    This is the only left I have to deal with that 9/10 times I can't get to because it's four lanes across and the traffic is moving 45-60 mph. Today was especially odd since I got here much later in the day than usual.



    There are actually four cyclists on my side waiting for the light. Myself, the cool guy who wades into the red to sit in the median, a guy facing the wrong direction who also limps it to the median and another dude sitting on the island I just rode through. When the light turns, he's actually waving me ahead of him for some reason.

    Must look like utter chaos to motorists.
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