I live in Melbourne, Australia, a city famous for its compact, grid-like CBD (downtown area) and trams. Trams mean tram tracks and hook turns. And compulsory helmets. My daily ride is only 10 km but has 32 traffic lights and the second half is shared with trams. It's the second half that really concerns me because it's busy inner-city traffic with a lot going on. The grid is less than 100 m in Elizabeth St.

I'm getting good with tram tracks. Unweighting wheels as they cross the tracks seems to be the main technique (and I haven't fallen yet). I have reasonable situational awareness, and I don't listen to music while riding, but I still have motorists "come out of nowhere" at least once a week.

  1. What do others do about the "come out of nowhere" motorists? I'm already scanning and head-turning to look down side streets but obviously not well enough. Is there a technique I'm missing?

  2. What's the best approach when the light is already green and there are hook turning motorists waiting? Go up the left so they don't turn right on top of me, or the right so I have space to move and am not fighting pedestrians?

  3. How should I deal with "bicycle forward stop" boxes? They're contested by cars and I don't feel especially safe using them, and a lot of motorists seem offended that a cyclist would move over in front of them if they leave the box clear. So mostly I just use the bike lane part rather than the whole box.

  • 3
    I was going to answer until I followed your link for "hook turns" (wasn't what I expected)... Sounds like a hazardous environment to cycle in!
    – darkcanuck
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 at 5:25
  • Hook turns are challenging, but they beat having motorists stop in front of trams (I still see a crash from a car turning or stopping in front of a tram about once a month. Motorists apparently assume the tram will turn to avoid them).
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 at 21:26
  • Related meta thread here. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 3:13
  • Contest them back - you're an Aussie (even in Melbourne) treat the drivers like they are the England cricket team.
    – mgb
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 15:42
  • @mgb: you mean like the australian national sledging team does? (apparently they also play cricket but I've never seen that)
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 26, 2011 at 0:58

6 Answers 6


3- How should I deal with "bicycle forward stop" boxes?

I deal with a "bicycle forward stop" box by using it (and being grateful that the city planners have started to arrange things for bikes). For example if cars are stopped where they should be (out of the box) and the light's red, I move into the box. It's there for me.

[I'm in Toronto where people drive on the right.]

A bike-specific stop box only happens on the roads that are designated bike routes. On the right of the box I'm in the designated bike lane (so not in any car's way, except if the lead car is hoping to turn right across the bike lane, in which case that is one scenario that the stop box is intended for, and I don't mind if they wait two or three seconds while I move off, they'd have to wait for any pedestrians anyway), and on the left of the box it's because I'll be turning left across the traffic (like any other vehicle turning left, and sometimes in a lane for left-hand-turning only).

My being in the stop box doesn't slow people behind me (on the right I'm in a bike lane, and on the left it's the on-coming traffic that's preventing the left turn; and fwiw my acceleration from a stand-still is no slower than a typical car's). The point of the stop box is to make me visible to people starting off. I like to think that (me being visible) is better for all of us: that even drivers don't want to participate in an accident with me.

I don't rarely see cars contesting them. My reaction to such a car (same as e.g. a car that's stopped in my pedestrian crossing) is to look at and make brief eye contact with the driver, looking through their windscreen. I want to see what they they look like, what/who the person is. I'd like them to see me too, to know that there's another person, outside their car. Hopefully when they're aware that it's people and not just vehicles on the road, they'll be a bit careful about their driving.

No more than that: no rude gestures, I don't want to anger people. Also my seeing who they are helps to keep me calm (and not e.g. demonize the car).

Most of my route (18 km near downtown) is bike lane, or lightly-trafficked residential street. I have two intersections though, where I need to make a left turn (across traffic) that I'm not happy with. One I don't like because it's turning across tram lines; another because it's 'arterial' roads, one without a bike lane, where cars hustle each other across a wide intersection, and I find it difficult to move across the curb-side traffic into the other left-turning lane. For those two intersections, I get off and walk across as a pedestrian. If that's what it takes to feel safe, then why not.

  • Up here motorists are still adjusting to the forward stop boxes after a few years. It's hard to be sure since so few motorists stop behind the white line when there's no bike box, but I'd say 25%-50% of motorists stop in the bike box rather than behind it - I suspect most of them just stop more or less on top of the frontmost white line. Even the cops struggle to obey this one. I get beeped or have a motorist move forward after I arrive to be right behind me about every second day (maybe one time in ten).
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 at 21:30
  1. What do others do about the "come out of nowhere" motorists?

There are a few possible reasons for this.


You may need to develop your peripheral vision. Unless you have problematic eyesight, you can detect movement in your peripheral vision. This doesn't replace glancing around thoroughly, but it does give you a guide to unexpected movement.

(Just a guess, but do you wear a balaclava? I have a loose one that I don't wear much because it cuts off my peripheral vision.)


Also, I find that an eyeglass mirror enables me to be quicker to spot things, because I don't have to turn my head to glance all the way behind me, just tilt my head a touch and refocus, without looking away from the road in front of me.

Night vision

If this is happening more at night, it could mean you need better lighting. It could also mean that you're having problems with night vision, or simply need glasses or a new prescription!


Much about staying alert in traffic comes down to practice. If it's the case that you need practice at this, be extremely careful and conservative, until you become more confident.

  • I do have new glasses, so it shouldn't be that. And I am a clumsy sort so when I tried a mirror on my glasses I knocked the mirror and broke both glasses and mirror. I use bike-mounted mirrors on my recumbents, I haven't found I need them on the upright commuter. The "out of nowhere" motorists seem mostly to appear out of parking spaces and side streets in front of me rather than behind me. But I should get a mirror, because they are useful.
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 3:30
  • 1
    Keeping an eye out for parking spaces and side streets would seem to be in order, than. Oh, and helmet-mounted mirrors -- if you're the helmeted sort -- are quite amazing; I only got rid of mine because I had to replace my helmet, and it was an especially-made mirror that fit on the visor. I used to have big ol' bar-mounted mirrors, and those are quite good as well. (The size more than makes up for the need to look down at them.) Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 4:39

You can guard somewhat against "out of nowhere" motorists entering from your side of the road (ie. from left in Aus) by scanning ahead and keeping a keen eye on possible entry points (streets, driveways, alleys). But traffic coming from the other side of the road -- like those hook turns -- is much harder to scan for. They fall outside of your peripheral vision and actively scanning oncoming traffic for turning cars takes attention away from closer traffic when riding on busy roads.

In the end, being highly visible and in a place where traffic is expected is really your best defense. (I would keep that in mind when coming up for a solution to your 2nd & 3rd points)

  • I have dyno lights that are always on but they're quite low down (mounted over 406 wheels). Perhaps I should move those higher up. There's a trend in Melbourne of having superflash lights on the back of your helmet, but that's really, really irritating for cyclists behind you in low light. So I don't want to do that, but moving the dyno lights to handlebars/ underseat is an option I should consider.
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 4:36

I assume people do this but maybe not everyone does - look for an alternate route. I will take a route that is slightly longer and slower if it means I feel like I am welcome on the road and in less danger. e.g. side streets, local streets, where cars can't travel as fast. Also, roads that are more commonly taken by cyclists. The more cyclists on the road, the more "normal" you are, and the more that motorists will be aware they need to look out for you.

So, in Melbourne, maybe you can take a detour which doesn't have a tram? I would favour riding up Swanston over Elizabeth - less car traffic, no parked cars, more cyclists.

  • I'd favour Russell over Swanston. Too many trams and careless pedestrians on Swanston.
    – Karl
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 6:05
  • @Karl mm, but parked cars. Depends on what you consider more annoying/dangerous. Also it's further away from Elizabeth :) Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 5:31

What's the best approach when the light is already green and there are hook turning motorists waiting? Go up the left so they don't turn right on top of me, or the right so I have space to move and am not fighting pedestrians?

I will do either, depending on the situation. If there is still lots of car traffic streaming straight ahead, go with them on the right. If you are concerned the green might end soon and don't want to get trapped, go on the left.

But generally if the light is green, I would go on the right. Hook turn drivers need to check that the traffic has stopped before they actually go, so they would normally wait until your light is red and their light is green. They're not going to check because they're thinking of cyclists, but they are thinking of cars side-swiping them. :)


[I cycle in Montreal where cars drive on the right hand side]

I find a good way of keeping safe(er) when approaching an intersection is to always prepare for an emergency right-turn. Basically, if something unexpected pops up on me, I already know what my plan B is: turn right. Often, what I'll do when approaching an intersection where visibility of the crossing road is a problem, is to actually start turning right until I'm actually ON the cross street. From there, I have a clear view of on-coming traffic and I can turn back on my original road. Note that I don't turn completely right, I just follow some kind of curve getting me further from cars which could arrive on my left and preparing me for an emergency right turn if necessary.

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