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When commuting with a bike I usually stick to the right lane (I am based in the USA). When approaching a right turn only lane while biking, should I stay in the turn lane and signal to the car behind me that you I'm going forward rather than turning right, or should I move to the center or left lane?

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How would you signal that you're going forward? –  Matt Jun 5 '13 at 0:28
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@Matt I look over my shoulder at the driver and point straight ahead. –  WW01 Jun 5 '13 at 4:16

7 Answers 7

If you continue straight from a right-turn only lane, what happens at the other side of the intersection? Either there's no lane for you, or else there's an area where cars will be pulling out to turn right onto your street. On the other hand, if you're out in the "go straight" lane, you're visible and predictable.

To me, the question is, "How early do I need to merge into the go-straight lane?" The more difficult the merge, the earlier I'll start looking for a gap in traffic.

You mention trying to "signal to the car behind you that you are going forward," but I'm not aware of a signal that wouldn't be misconstrued as "Pass me."

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When riding straight in the turn-right lane, I signal with the "turn-left" signal - a straight stretched arm to the left. –  Vorac Jun 10 '13 at 9:15

I've seen cyclists use a few different options in this case. Whether each option is appropriate depends on local laws, intersection layout, and traffic flow.

  1. Claim the right-most lane that goes straight (don't go into the turning lane). This is probably the safest option (at least for fast riders) because it makes the cyclist very predictable for drivers.
  2. Ride in and take the turning lane. This is usually pretty safe at intersections where the turning lane is empty and where there's a wide lane or bike lane on the other side of the intersection. From the perspective of drivers, the cyclist is just sticking to the right-hand side of the road. Note that this is legal in some states but not others.
  3. Ride in between the non-turning lane and the turning lane. This works pretty well when traffic is stopped, and you can stop on or near the lane line. Turning lanes are often wide enough to leave room for cars who are turning to pass. Note that this is legal in some states but not others.
  4. Go on the sidewalk and wait at the crosswalk. Uncomfortable and inexperienced riders seem to prefer this option, but weaving between the road and sidewalks seems very unsafe.

I use all of the first 3 options depending on the amount of traffic and the layout of the road and intersection. For example options 2 and 3 work pretty well when a bike lane opens up through the intersection, though they may not be legal in all jurisdictions. Look at local laws and pay attention to what other cyclists do. It's important to be visible and predictable.

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You are on the road, you follow the same rules of the road. A right-turn-only lane is for turning right, if you're going straight you don't belong there.

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The legality of "lane splitting" isn't quite as clearly illegal as you indicate. And if you're riding slowly and there is a long line of cars, claiming the non-turning lane can slow down a whole line of drivers behind you and make them much more aggressive. The safest action must be determined on a case-by-case basis. –  amcnabb Jun 4 '13 at 16:51
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@amcnabb actually the law is quite clear on the matter, lane splitting for cyclists is the same as motorcycles, its not allowed in the us. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lane_splitting –  Andy Jun 5 '13 at 0:03
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@Andy It is if you're in California, Utah, or Nebraska. (I happen to live in one of these states.) Even motorcyclists can do it in CA, and they do it all the time. –  Matt Jun 5 '13 at 0:26
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@matt no, read the link. Its not illegal, but not legal either in ca, and I'd bet a cop can give you a ticket for it even if its something else (reckless cycling perhaps?). I suggest you find explicit laws for the other states you mention, since many people think they know the law but don't. –  Andy Jun 5 '13 at 0:30
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Am I missing something then? "However, in some states such as Nebraska and Utah, lane splitting is prohibited specifically and only for motorcycles and is therefore legal for bicycles." -- having read the Utah bicycling laws myself too, I know that you are allowed to use the lane most appropriate for your intentions, safety, and the flow of traffic at that particular moment. –  Matt Jun 5 '13 at 0:32

The key thing, is that you never want to be to the right of cars that are turning right.

Depending on the exact lane setup and traffic amounts, I would do one of these:

  • Merge left into the go-straight (left) lane, so that anybody turning right is in a separate lane to the right of me.
  • Be in the center or left third of the right-turn lane, so that anybody turning right is blocked by me and has to wait for me to get into the intersection
  • Split the lane, riding in between the left and right lanes.

Exactly which I actually do depends on the traffic levels and what the far side of the intersection looks like. I would only do the 2nd or 3rd options if right-turning traffic is low and there's clearly space on the far side of the intersection for me to be to the right of the going-straight traffic (2 lanes, or 1 lane with a bike lane or wide shoulder).

To repeat: the main thing is to not be to the right of cars turning right. Get to their left or directly in front of them.

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I like this answer with the addition that you should do what minimizes the chance for a car to hit you (#1 priority) while trying to keep good car-bike relations going on (lower priority, but ultimately important). Be clear with your actions so cars know what you are doing. –  Ken Hiatt Jun 4 '13 at 17:57
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I would +1 this answer except for your second and third options. Bad, bad idea. If you have to get out into a lane, take the lane. Leave no doubt in anyone's mind that you occupy that lane and don't tempt drivers to try and share it with you. And if you're not turning right, blocking the right turn lane is not just illegal but rude. –  Carey Gregory Jun 4 '13 at 18:30
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@CareyGregory: 2nd option is taking a lane. It's definitely rude if there's actually cars behind you, but in many jurisdictions it's not illegal, because the law is written to allow bicycles to (dangerously) always hug the curb. –  freiheit Jun 4 '13 at 22:47
    
Only your first option is legal in the us en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lane_splitting –  Andy Jun 5 '13 at 0:09
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@freiheit But you're blocking a right turn lane when you're not turning right. I believe that to be illegal in almost all US jurisdictions, and it's definitely annoying as hell to drivers, not to mention confusing, which is the last thing you want to do. –  Carey Gregory Jun 5 '13 at 0:22

The typical case where where I encounter this is transitioning from a rideable shoulder to a right-turn lane. What I typically do, depending on the length of the turn lane and the amount of traffic, is stay on the right edge of the turn lane for that period of time where I can safely do so, to allow cars coming from behind to make a right turn.

Then, when I'm sufficiently near the intersection and I see an appropriate break in the traffic, I move left and ride just to the right of the dividing line between through lane and turn lane (effectively "claiming" the turn lane). From that position I continue across the intersection (assuming no traffic control to the contrary), being sure to keep an eye behind (with helmet mirror) to make sure no one tries to turn right around me.

However, on a road with no rideable shoulder I would instead stay in the through lane all the way, "claiming" the lane as I approach the intersection to discourage those who might try to turn right from the through lane.

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It's not the car behind you that matters. Whether you turn or go forward does not affect any decision which that car driver is going to make. You should rather ensure that the car which is behind you stays behind you, and does not try to take you over as it approaches the turn. You do that by checking over your shoulder and moving into the lane to fully occupy it.

By going forward out of a right turn lane, you are making a confusing move which can surprise the drivers approaching the intersection from other directions. For instance, a driver turning left from the opposite direction. Those are the cars that are more likely to hit you. Not only is it a confusing move, it is illegal: a "moving violation" of a traffic rule, like running a stop sign. A driver using a right-turn-only lane to pass on the right and go straight can receive a hefty fine.

You should move away from the curb to the left side of the right turning lane, just to the left of the stripe between that lane and the straight going lane so that you are technically in that lane. Or at least be on the stripe. Your move to the correct lane is an indication if your intent that you are going straight. Your other behavior should also have the unambiguous interpretation that you're going straight. Though it's not an official signal, extending your left arm forward and pointing with your index finger to indicate that you're going straight is not a bad idea, either.

That being said, right turn lanes sometimes have exceptions. Certain vehicles (for instance buses) can go straight. These are marked on the pavement and drivers have to know that. In my city there are right turning lanes which have an exception: bicycles can go straight. This is clearly shown with pavement markings. Streets where these occur have designated bicycle lanes clearly visible to drivers. When going straight through these turning lanes, cyclists should occupy the whole lane, and not allow right turning cars to pass them on the left.

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IF YOU ARE CYCLING ON A ROAD THAT HAS OMNI-DIRECTIONAL FLOW OF TRAFFIC You should simply signal to turn right if you need to or just carry on going forward. If the right-hand turn is into a road with bi-directional traffic flow, watch for any cars approaching from the right when you going straight forward.

IF YOU ARE CYCLING ON A ROAD THAT HAS BI-DIRECTIONAL TRAFFIC FLOW Same as before; signal right (if you want to turn right) or keep going forward. Also, keep an eye on the oncoming or waiting traffic at the junctions.

A common factor in both cases is watching behind your left-shoulder to check for any oncoming traffic before changing lanes or making turns. This is a good gesture and pays off.

What you must remember is that unless approaching a junction-turn to left, you should never position yourself unnecessarily in the left-hand lane as it may block heavy traffic flow from behind (car drivers may curse you and honk). Please stay on the rightmost side of your road (without hitting pedestrians yourself on the kerb) so that the cars can simply overtake you gently. This is exactly what we do in the UK (only on the LH-side).

I hope this helps. You can find lots of videos on YouTube that may help you envisage your actions more practically.

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Since the poster of the question is based in the USA and refers to right-turn lanes, it would probably be less confusing and more helpful to match this perspective (if the original poster were from the UK, then answers would be most helpful from the drive-on-the-left perspective). –  amcnabb Jun 4 '13 at 22:41

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