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I am thinking about commuting to school on my bike and wanted some advice on it. I do live in a very bike friendly neighborhood, but the thought of turning left on a 40mph road (no stop lights nearby and people speed) does scare me a bit.

What are your recommendations for turning left? Thank you in advance!

  • You can make a left turn on a bicycle almost as quickly as in a car. I've found it's not often an issue. When it is, you can hook turn. – Michael Hampton Mar 18 '18 at 12:50
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    Could you clarify -- you're in a country that drives on the right? Also, are you asking about turning left onto the 40mph road, or off it? – David Richerby Mar 18 '18 at 12:51
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What you do strongly depends on the road layout:

There is a dedicate bike lane Stay on the bike lane and, if it also goes to the left where you want to go, follow it. Avoid cutting corners just to shorten your way and signal in time your intention (also other fellow cyclists prefer to know where you are going in advance). If the lane doesn't turn left where you would, follow next point.

You drive in the normal traffic The normal procedure to turn left (assuming you ride on the right) is to get to the center of the lane and then turn as soon as no vehicles are coming from the front. Therefore put your left hand out in advance and make clear you want to move left. Wait some time with the hand out, check that no vehicles are approaching at your left and slowly but steadily move to the left. Complete the turn as soon as possible.

Alternatively, cross at a pedestrian crossing (dismounting from your bike if necessary).

In all cases:

  • Be visible: wear high visibility gears. Bikes are small and easily slip past consciousness in traffic.
  • Be assertive with your movements and don't zig zag. You don't want the drivers to assume you are just erratic in your cycling.
  • Listen and read the traffic. Learn to understand the context around you: are the drivers calm? Do you see anybody who is distracted or plainly a jerk?
  • Don't wear headphones or fiddle with your smartphone while cycling
  • Be fit and avoid cycling if you are not in condition of doing it. You want to be sure you can react promptly on the road
  • last but not least Safety first
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  • The importance of your third point cannot be stressed enough. I've actually had a car overtake me after I already clearly showed my intent to turn left for several seconds. I have no clue what that car driver was thinking (whether he was thinking at all), but I'm sure glad I wasn't performing the turn the second he passed... Watch out for the braindead! – cmaster - reinstate monica Mar 18 '18 at 9:06
  • Remember that signalling a turn means "When the road is clear, I intend to turn" not, "Coming through! Make space or we'll crash!" So, honestly, I don't think your signalling advice makes a lot of sense. What's the point of waiting a while before moving? If there's a gap in the traffic, you can move; if there's no gap, it doesn't matter how long you've signalled for -- it's not safe to move. And I'd advise against "slowly" moving out into the lane. That looks like you're just drifting around and not paying attention. Don't swerve, but do move decisively, so people know what you're doing. – David Richerby Mar 18 '18 at 13:12
  • @DavidRicherby, if a driver is approaching a bike and see that the cyclist wants to move to the center of the lane will behave differently than if he perceives that the cyclist wants to go straight, may avoid giving gas to take over and postpone the maneuver. – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Mar 18 '18 at 19:11
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    @DavidRicherby Especially for bikers, an outstretched left arm should mean "Do not try to overtake now! I'll go left soon, and you don't want to crash with me" to any sane car driver. When I'm on a road with my bike, I expect to be overtaken anytime there is even the slightest sliver of a physical possibility. If I were not able to stop cars from overtaking me, I would not be able to turn left at all. It's just how car drivers seem to be wired. Just signaling when you are ready to take the space may work in a car-car situation, my experience with bike-car is, it doesn't work at all. – cmaster - reinstate monica Mar 18 '18 at 21:03
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Generally speaking, in the US, in light to moderate traffic, and where there are no bike lanes or other provisions for bikes:

  • Plan your turn in advance. "Dawdle" on the shoulder to let any burst of traffic pass.
  • Signal your turn with an outstretched left arm. Do this repeatedly, when you can safely take your arm from the handlebar.
  • If there is only a single traffic lane, move to the center of the lane. If there are multiple lanes, move, in steps, from the right lane until you are in the left lane. If the left lane is a turn-only lane, position in the right side of it (but not so far right that people will try to squeeze through on the left), otherwise in the center. Continue signalling.
  • Wait for an opening in the oncoming traffic. This may require some more "dawdling": It's' generally easier to make the turn if you "stall" by moving slowly rather than to getting right to the intersection and stopping.
  • Signal some more, then turn.
  • If all else fails, stop on the right shoulder, dismount, and walk across.

Where there are bike lane markings there may be different rules -- be aware of local rules.

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    I’d like to add: Look over your shoulder to make sure you are not being overtaken and that the next car is far enough away. There is no reason to “dawdle”; you are a road user like anyone else and you have a right to take that left turn, even if 10 cars behind you have to stop because there is no gap for you in the oncoming traffic (they’d have to stop for a car taking that turn as well). Just make sure you are visible and signal early enough to make your intentions clear. – Michael Mar 19 '18 at 14:40
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    @Michael - "Dawdling" is done to time your actions -- cars do the same thing, to a degree. And, oddly, this is often the courteous thing to do -- timing things to minimize the inconvenience to other drivers. As a cyclist in traffic you are an ambassador for other cyclists, and it's important to create a good, "professional" impression -- exercising your rights but not obnoxiously demanding them. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 19 '18 at 17:42
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When walking, the shortest route is normally the fastest.

When riding your bike, you have a lot more speed and can go 10-20% longer while still being faster than a direct route. So explore options... look for

  • A bridge
  • An underpass/tunnel
  • an intersection with traffic lights to break up the flow of the road to cross
  • a longer way around that has a better overall "feel"

https://www.strava.com/heatmap can show you where people ride in your area, so explore and see if there's something of which you're unaware.

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  • I've lived in my city for over 40 years, and it was only around 4 years ago I learned about a pedestrian tunnel under the railway lines. Things You Learn... – Criggie Mar 18 '18 at 6:17
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As long as you have decent visibility, turning across a road with fast-moving traffic shouldn't be too terrible once you get used to the idea. If you can safely move into the turn lane, great. If you can't cross lanes to get to the turn lane safely, then just stop on the shoulder and wait for a pause in traffic.

As you will soon learn if you do commute on your bike, safety is mostly about being visible to motorists, being aware of what's coming behind you, and taking the safest route. I highly recommend investing in a good helmet and a mirror, always wearing highly-visible clothes, and scouting out the best route beforehand.

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  • OP sounds like an american, and their road culture seems particularly adversarial and combative. – Criggie Mar 18 '18 at 19:40
  • @Criggie Depends where you are. In various places in the US, as a pedestrian I've found that motorists will randomly stop to let me cross the road if I look even remotely like I might want to do that. – David Richerby Mar 18 '18 at 21:34
  • @DavidRicherby Is that in avoidance of legal risks - better to be rear ended by a following car than to run into a pedestrian ? – Criggie Mar 19 '18 at 0:31
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    @Criggie I'm an American too, and having lived in several parts of the country I can tell you that attitudes vary quite a bit from place to place. Where I live now in a rural part of the West most people are very friendly to bicyclists, with the exception of a few rednecks, but many people drive too fast, especially around blind curves and rises. – rclocher3 Mar 19 '18 at 13:42

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