Those dicey right turn lanes

A fact of biking life is contending with right turn lanes that cross in front of your bike.  I cross such a lane frequently in my neighborhood.  It lets right-turning motorists bypass a stoplight, and merge quickly into cross-street traffic (which is usually heavy at this intersection).

Bikers are supposed to “take the lane”– that is, stay in their own lane, crossing over the right turn lane to continue onward. In theory, that works.  But when the right turn lane bypasses the stoplight, cars tend to hit it at higher speeds, and that can sometimes lead to a potentially dangerous confrontation between car and bike.

The other day, I approached such an intersection.  I could hear a car approaching from behind.  I pulled to the left edge of the bike lane, and kept going on to the stoplight, which had turned red.  Then I heard it.

The sound of a car engine, coming up behind me fast, on the left, but slowing.  He was obviously going to head into the right turn lane.  He pulled even with me.  It was a big SUV, a Ford Explorer.  He couldn’t let a lousy bicycle keep him from hitting his lane, but he was hesitant.  Should he punch it, and cut into the lane in front of me?  Or should he hit the brakes and wait until I’d passed across his front before he made his turn?  

Although he hesitated, I didn’t.  I kept ownership of the lane, and kept moving at a steady pace.  He realized he couldn’t cut me off (much as I’m sure he would have liked to).  He braked hard, and made his turn after I’d cleared the turn lane.

This afternoon, same intersection, same situation.  But this time the car was a BMW sedan, one of the bigger ones.  He gunned it as I eased over to the left edge of the bike lane, preparing to cross over the right turn lane.  No hesitation on his part. The black car shot ahead, crossed in front, and merged into the cross traffic from the right turn lane.

The League of American Bicyclists, whose Road I course I took last spring, says, If your lane turns into a right turn only lane, change lanes before the intersection.  But that’s if you’re riding in a traffic lane.  I was in a bike lane, a lane that ended when it turned into a right turn lane, then resumed before the stoplight.  So my course of action was to stay in my lane, which I did.  Again, the League: Avoid riding in lanes that position you on the right side of a right turn lane.  By hugging the left edge of the bike lane, I was ready to cross the right turn lane quickly and get out of the way of any turning vehicles.

It’s that move, getting out of the bike lane and crossing the right turn lane, that seems to cause drivers the most consternation.  Since they’re turning anyway, it seems to me the logical thing to do would be to slow, ease in behind me, and in the two to three seconds it takes me to get out of their way, they can finish their turn.  Biker’s logic, I suppose.  Once people get behind the wheel of their cars, another mindset kicks in.

Be careful out there.


  1. vcspinner says

    Merge to the left earlier, well before the right turn lane starts. It’s OK to leave the bike lane before it ends. When the right turn lane starts, it should be on your right, not your left.

  2. says

    I have a couple of these on my ride home, and what’s worse is that they are right turns onto freeway on-ramps. Like the earlier commenter said – move over early. That’s what I’ve taken to doing and it helps. I think part of the trouble that cyclists run into in those situations is that motorists are confused about whether they should zoom past or pull up and wait, and if they cyclists move over early it answers the question. The way I look at is that the less motorists have to guess about what we’re going to do the better off we’re going to be.

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