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I'm new to commuting in traffic, and I realized immediately that the left turn (US traffic rules, right turn in UK) in an intersection with a traffic light is just dangerous. My basic questions are:

  1. Do I pretend I'm a car and get in line behind the last car waiting?
    Pros: I'm forcing people to think of cyclist 'as another car' which is half the battle as far as I'm concerned.
    Cons: I don't like sprinting against cars once green if the line is long.

  2. Cozy up next to the first car in line waiting for the light?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The proper and safest option is to 'claim' the lane and act as if you were a car by sitting in the turning lane. This ensures that you are visible to motorists and if you follow the road rules you are more likely to gain respect of those around you.

In a number of countries there are cyclist boxes in controlled intersections which offer even more security when sitting in front of traffic. In these instances you move to the front of the traffic during the red light phase.

There are some motorists who dislike this however and you need to be watchful (and mindful) of irrational drivers who may take offence.

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I don't like to "cozy up next to" cars: I want car drivers to look where they're going, but I don't expect them to look next to themselves out their side windows, when they 'know' that there isn't enough room next to them for another car to be in.

Instead I'd recommend getting in lane.

If it's too dangerous to get into the left-hand turning lane (e.g. because you're relatively slow, it's multiple lanes in both directions, and/or you're "new to commuting in traffic"), then get off the bike and push it across the pedestrian crossing, as a pedestrian.

When you're a more experienced/stronger rider, then you'll be better equipped for seemingly higher-risk manœuvers: but you need to live that long, so do whatever is safe for the present situation.

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I don't like to "cozy up next to" cars -- This applies especially to vehicles turning right. –  ChrisW Aug 29 '13 at 10:06
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I say it depends on the intersection, the traffic, and your abilities. The canonical approach is to "claim" the left-turn lane by positioning your bike in the center of it. But if there's any traffic at all I will generally "hang back" at a signal-controlled intersection to let cars go first and give me some "runway", choosing to "claim" the lane when it seems "proper" (which is a multi-factoral decision).

You can also do several variations of the "hook turn", the tamest being to ride across and stop at the far right corner, then dismount and cross as a pedestrian -- there is no shame in doing this if conditions warrant.

In relatively light traffic, though, (especially if there's a turn lane and no one else is turning) the proper way is definitely the canonical way -- move to the center of the left-most lane and proceed as a "vehicle".

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Another option is the "Hook Turn", under other names in different places. It is legal for cyclists in many places, but not all. I personally consider a far safer option then crossing lanes of heavy traffic and riding in the left hand lanes.

Essentially you remain in the right lane (US) and stop in front of the cars waiting to go across the intersection (in the direction you want to go). As soon as the lights turn green, you move off.

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