Thursday, July 2, 2009

Difficult Left Turns






You are making a right turn from a side street onto a very busy, 40 mph speed limit road (with 50 more common). The road has three lanes of dense traffic in each direction, and about a quarter mile up you need to turn left.

Oh, and about a quarter mile up this busy road is a freeway service road interchange. There are occasional gaps in the traffic but always a chance of a right turn on yield coming off the freeway.

How do you approach such a scenario?


Our gentle reader who authors the excellent blog Beginning Bicycle Commuting has asked the above question.

I would like to see a Google map of the area, but I doubt it would change my advice.

My strategy would be to wait for a gap large enough to to turn directly to the left lane when I entered the street. The key to left turns on high-speed busy roads is to merge early. Way early!

I suppose I would also turn into the center lane and then merge left as soon as I could if there were no gaps big enough to reach the left lane at the start.

I also do not wait for a gap that is so long I will prevent a motorist from braking. I am not going to accelerate to their speed, so no matter how big the traffic gap, they will have to slow down or merge. I just look for a gap big enough that they have the space they need to slow down for me.

Riding in the left-most lane will be confusing to many motorists, but they will merge right to overtake you. It is perfectly within the law to take the left lane when you are preparing to turn left. On high-speed streets, you have to get left early, so early that until you get used to doing it, it seems insanely early. If you wait, you can get trapped in the right lanes and be unable to merge. Merging across early is far less stressful.

While it doesn't show an early merge across multiple lanes, this video does demonstrate merging early and shows the reaction of nearby traffic. And besides, who doesn't like watching Keri ride her bike?




Photos by Fred Oswald © Copyright 2005-2008 LAB Reform. Material may be copied with attribution.

12 comments:

  1. I'm only just doing this regularly. Getting out there early feels weird at first, but you're absolutely right, it's the onyl way to go.

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  2. An important factor is whether there's a left turn signal or not. I make a turn very much like ChipSeal describes, whereby I turn right onto NB Hwy 377 where I move over left, and then left onto WB FM 1709 with the help of a left turn signal.

    Because of the left turn signal, I get protection from FM 1709 (and SB Hwy 377) when I make my turn.

    It has turned out to be quite a pleasant part of the ride. Knowing the signal light scheme can make this simple. Now, if there are no lights, and the distance is further, the principle's exactly the same, you just have to watch for the different directions that traffic can move.

    I also hang my left arm out as I move left so the following motorists have the easiest time figuring out I plan to turn left up ahead. Most of them are more than willing to let a cyclist move over and they'll adjust course to make it clear to you.

    I'm still amazed at how even the 18 wheelers do this. I think they like to have the cyclist up front so they know exactly where he is, unless it's clear they'll be well past before he makes a maneuver.

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  3. I pass the test.

    For the record, here is the intersection I was talking about (link). I've been waiting until I could swing all the way into the left lane, or at least into the center lane and ride there until a car in the left lane goes by. Then I signal left early so the cars don't freak out, and make my turn.

    I've only recently started doing this. Previously, instead of turning right on Hulen I was going straight across the intersection into the shopping center, a maneuver that is only supposed to be done by pedestrians (vehicles must turn), then riding through the parking lot to the other end of the shopping center (which is about a half mile long).

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  4. If I were in a car that was stuck in first gear, how would I manage that maneuver? That could also be a way to unravel the riddle. Following the rules means driving a bike like a slow car, and for the most part, you can integrate into traffic because it makes sense to motorists as they maneuver around us.

    Boy, Doohickie,that is an extensive parking lot!

    Since you have gone both ways, which do you find faster, staying on the roads or traveling by parking lot?

    Are you more comfortable with your mirror, or is it too soon to tell? (Or will that be a future blog entry?)

    Tailwinds!

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  5. Doohickie. I bet you feel a minor sense of accomplishment when you're cleanly & safely in that left turn lane and just waiting for the green. I know I do. The only improvement I might suggest - study the finer points of the signal sequences at the Westdale/Hulen intersection & use that knowledge to minimize your stress level. Signals can be great friends, and the ability to use local knowledge is an overwhelming safety advantage for a commuter, compared to a recreational rider.

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  6. I have a mirror for Frankenbike. It fits with the bike's theme - I just haven't figured out how to mount it yet.

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  7. Last observation on this post. I bet not even Fred Oswald would dress like that in July in North Texas...

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  8. @ChipSeal
    "My strategy would be to wait for a gap large enough to to[sic] turn directly to the left lane when I entered the street."

    Can you explain this statement a bit more clearly? I'm not quite sure I follow the meaning. Are you suggesting a single movement from the outside lane to a designated turn lane in one move?

    Also, I am somewhat surprised to learn these images come from Fred Oswald. Those lane change signals are atrocious. The proper way to signal a turn or lane change is to raise one's arm at or near shoulder height and sit up as tall as possible in the saddle. From these images, it is difficult to determine whether the cyclist is indicating a lane change or pointing to something in the roadway.

    @Steve A
    "I also hang my left arm out as I move left so the following motorists have the easiest time figuring out I plan to turn left up ahead. Most of them are more than willing to let a cyclist move over and they'll adjust course to make it clear to you."

    This is an excellent point. Display your intent early and prominently. Those wimpy signals in the accompanying photos are nearly worthless.

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  9. Dear Velociped, I meant Tutu, not "to to"!

    Just kidding. Doohickie is stopped, waiting for a gap in traffic to turn right. If he were intending to proceed at length on that street, he would naturally enter the rightmost of three lanes.

    But he is intending to turn left at the next signal from the dedicated turn lane. He could take the right lane and merge across one lane at a time, but he said the traffic is fast and thick.

    I am suggesting that the cyclist wait for a gap in all three lanes sufficient that he turn directly across into the left-most lane, or failing that the middle lane, and merge left as traffic allows. This is less stressful. Did that answer your question?

    One thing that a cyclist wants to avoid is a merge at the last moment like that of the bus in front of Fred Oswald.

    Do you know how hard it is to find an image of a cyclist standing, waiting to turn left, with his arm extended? I couldn't find one and I gave up after nearly an hour.

    The signals are better and lovelier when done by Keri in the linked video.

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  10. I cleaned up my hand signals a lot after watching myself on video the first time :-)

    Nice tutorial, ChipSeal. That's exactly how I would handle it, too.

    General advice: Remember, when you are in a lane, traffic is flowing around you and increasing density in the other lane(s). That's why it's so important to merge early in a gap. I want the platoon to see me in the place I'm going to be as they approach. Especially on a high speed road. It's pretty easy to negotiate a merge though 30mph traffic. I've had a dozen cars blow past my extended left arm as I was trying to merge on a 50mph road.

    Another tip. If you miscalculate and get blocked by a platoon, don't panic. You can always do a jug-handle or box turn.

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  11. @ChipSeal
    "Dear Velociped"

    How quaint; thanks, Reed. (Herman is sufficient.)

    "If he were intending to proceed at length on that street, he would naturally enter the rightmost of three lanes...But he is intending to turn left at the next signal from the dedicated turn lane."

    Perhaps, but, according to the map to which he provides a link in the comments, that intersection is between 230 and 250 meters down the road. With over two football fields of distance within which to merge across two lanes, I think proper vehicular movement is more appropriate. I often have to negotiate this segment between Trammel and Lawther, across Northwest Highway. There in no panic or anxiety involved. Simply awaiting a break in the traffic; turning into the outside lane; looking, signaling an merging across the intervening two lanes and into the left turn lane is all that is required.

    This is not rocket science. It does not involve nerves of steel. The only requirement is patience, assertiveness and practice.

    Paul has frequently proven himself to be antagonistic toward competent vehicular cyclists. I don't see how this indulgence of his phobias will have any meaningful benefit.

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