The Left Turn. (Or The Right Turn in some countries!)
You’d think it’s is pretty simple, but did you know bicycles have at least 3 options on how to safely and efficiently make a left turn? Here’s a quick rundown of your options and why you’d use one over another.
Left Turn Option 1: “Cross, Stop & Pivot”
This is the easiest and safest way to make a left turn. Say you’re rolling along in your lane and you want to make a left turn at the coming stoplight. The light is green and you’re already on the right side of the lane, so you roll through the intersection and stop at the other side, turning your bike to now face left and you’re ready to go! You may now be with a horde of cyclists waiting at the light or in front of the cars waiting.
This is super easy and works well, but make sure to watch out for pedestrians! If the crosswalk is full just stop in front of it instead of cutting through. Some intersections will have a “Bike Box” specifically designed for you to stop in when doing this maneuver.
Now you know the easiest and most common left turn! But what if the light is green and there are barely any cars around? Or what if the light is red? You have other options to speed up your trip!
Left Turn Option 2: Turn Like a Car
This type of turn is great when the light is green and there are no cars or pedestrians around. It’s exactly what cars would do, so most people should understand this turn. If there’s a bike lane, you merge into traffic, take the car lane, and turn left when there’s no oncoming traffic. Watch for pedestrians!
Even though this is the simplest of all the turns, there are many situations that make this uncomfortable. If there are 3 lanes of traffic next to a bike lane, it may be harder to merge all the way over whilst making sure there really are no cars behind you. If you’re in a protected bike lane, it may be impossible to merge into car traffic. Just remember you can always fall back to the Cross, Stop & Pivot!
Left Turn Option 3: Red Light Pedestrian
This option is great when the light is red. If you attempt option 1 or 2 when the light is red, you’ll have to wait for the entire cycle of the next light before you can continue your journey. Part of the reason you’re biking is so you don’t have to wait like everyone in the cars right? You should rarely have to wait more than 1 cycle at any light. To achieve this goal, cross on the crosswalk to the other side of the intersection while the light is red. Wait on the edge of the street or on the sidewalk if you feel unsafe. Once the light turns green, you can continue straight along the other cross walk and turn left onto the bike lane with few conflicts.
You will have to watch out for cars turning right in front of you, but most will let you go through first as you’re acting as a pedestrian in the crosswalk. If there are lots of pedestrians, get off and walk your bike of course! But if there are only a few people no one cares if you ride through the crosswalks. Even if you walk your bike here you’ll come out ahead compared to waiting for 2 lights!
Stop signs don’t have the complexities of stoplights. As you might assume, option 2 to turn like a car is the best option in most cases. I won’t say much else about stop signs here, I’ll save that for another post.