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?
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.
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."
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
I try to ride my bike as I drive my car. I prefer to stay out of the right hand turning lane if I am going straight and stay to the right side of the furthers right lane proceeding straight. I do my best to not impede traffic and be visible.
Today, I did just that, and still had a car honking like crazy at me as I transitioned into the straight lane from the lane that was disappearing into a right turn only lane. There was only one car in the shared straight/left lane and only one car...which was behind me wanting to turn right. I felt that my intentions were clear and I am a very skilled and courteous rider. Some drivers will be unfriendly and hostile to cyclists no matter how right and legally you do things.
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.