I'm new at biking, and have seen many examples of left-turn situations, but none that quite match this one. Simply, what is the proper / best way to complete the turn pictured below, or is it smarter just to dismount and act like a pedestrian?

Major Intersection

I'm hoping for a catch-all answer, but if it matters, this is in the California bay area.

  • 4
    In theory you get into a left-turn lane, "claiming" the lane. In practice, at this intersection, I'd probably ride across, stop, and wait for the light in the other direction. Or just hoof it. Jun 3, 2013 at 0:16
  • 1
    Google street view shows lanes on S. Mathilda as follows from left to right: 1)Right turn lane 2,3,4) Straight Only 5,6)Left turn only.
    – Benzo
    Jun 3, 2013 at 13:01
  • 1
    You might consider looking for a route on more bike-friendly roads. The best roads for cars are not necessarily the best roads for bikes.
    – amcnabb
    Jun 3, 2013 at 20:34
  • may be similar question to this one ?
    – ha9u63a7
    Jun 6, 2013 at 14:05

6 Answers 6


I'm assuming here that, from left to right, S Mathilda Ave has a "right-turn" lane (Lane 1), three "straight on" lanes (Lanes 2, 3 and 4), then two "left turn" lanes (Lanes 5 and 6). (The white car second-from-right appears to be obscuring a left turn arrow painted on the road, correct?)

This being the case, my ideal position there would be sitting on that solid white line in between Lane 4 (second-rightmost blue car) and Lane 5 (rightmost white car). I'd want to be to the left of everyone going straight, such that when my light goes green, that position will naturally take me out wide of the cars turning left, putting you neatly onto your arrow on El Camino Real.

'course, as you'll most probably realise, the skill here will be getting into this start position in the first place, but nevertheless that is the ideal position.

Next time you take an aerial photo, would you mind waiting until all the cars there are different colours? It'd be far easier if I could say "between the red and the gold cars"!

  • 1
    Very detailed, thanks! I'll be sure to put my drones on a delay next time, or at least outfit them with paint cans.
    – Tanaki
    Jun 2, 2013 at 19:39
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    I would do the same except I would take the lane. I'd plant myself smack in the middle of lane 5 and make it clear I wasn't going to allow any cars to try and squeeze by me until we complete the turn. Once I'd made the turn, I'd head to the bike lane/shoulder and let them pass me. Jun 2, 2013 at 21:18
  • "Next time you take an aerial photo" - Tell that to Google. :D Jun 4, 2013 at 17:11
  • @NeilFein the weird thing is that when I look at this intersection through google maps in my local region (maps.google.co.uk) I see a slightly different image. Different angle and different car layout. It got me thinking about how exactly they do this. I can imagine they must have various server farms, but maybe they're not sync'd?
    – PeteH
    Jun 4, 2013 at 19:27
  • 1
    @Tanaki Or just photograph when all are sleeping.
    – gerrit
    Aug 21, 2013 at 11:56

At any intersection that has marked turn lanes, I position myself inside the outermost turn lane, inside the line enough that I can't be squeezed between a turning car and one going straight.

I then proceed through the intersection on a slightly wider path than the car will take so as not to impeded traffic any more than possible, and head for the bike lane.


The proper way is to signal and merge to the left turn lane. Alternatively you could stay in the right lane, cross the street and stop on the other side. Then wait for a green light and go straight.

  • 1
    The alternate is used in Melbourne, and cars must us it on some intersections. Its is commonly called a "Hook turn", and is by far the safest way for a cyclist to cross a busy intersection. (Note: Australia drive on the left side of the road, so the use a Hook turn when turning right.)
    – mattnz
    Jun 3, 2013 at 2:02
  • We call them "Jug Handles" out here (NE USA) and they're fairly common in New Jersey. I definitely agree that it's a safe alternative for busy streets.
    – Ben
    Jun 3, 2013 at 16:30

The only really safe way to do this is to get off your bike and be a pedestrian. Depending on the drivers where you live, the amount of traffic, and your skill and confidence, this might just be the safest option. It might take you an extra 2 minutes to get where you are going. It might differ day to day depending on how much traffic is on the road, and other conditions such as the amount of lighting. You can also do the "pseudo-pedestrian" where you ride your bike straight across as if you were going straight, and then dismount, get on the side walk, walk back to the other cross road, and head straight across in the east direction once the light changes. Can be almost as fast a taking the turn directly, and many times safer.


I up voted John P's answer. In addition I would split trafic and get a the front of the outer most lane. I would make eye contact with the driver of the car behind me, too. It'll take seconds to get across that intersection and in CA you can split lanes to get in front.


Echoing some thoughts from above, I would usually avoid these sorts of intersections if at all possible. Those roads are just too over-sized (and likely high speed) for a bike. However, given that sometimes an alternate route isn't available, I'd suggest being a pedestrian at such intersections.

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