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There is an intersection in my city in Germany where the lights and signs puzzle me.

enter image description here

(click through for a larger image)

I usually want to turn left there. What I suppose should be relevant for me is the sign marked with the red arrow (the text reads: Those turning left should position themselves like that) and the traffic light marked with the green arrow. It is impossible to see at my phone camera's resolution, but from up close, it shows a bicycle and an arrow to the left, like this one:

enter image description here

At first I thought that I am supposed to start ahead when that light turns green, cross the street in front of the viewpoint (FS), then turn as shown on the sign and wait there until I can cross the street to the left of the viewpoint (LS). But the light only turns green for a very short time, maybe 10 to 15 seconds. And during this time, the signal is green for cars coming from the left on the FS, so it is impossible to cross.

Then I thought that I maybe should cross first while the cars' traffic light on the LS is green, then position myself as shown on the sign. But as soon as I have crossed, the angle is all wrong and it is impossible to see the bicycle traffic light any more. If I am directly in front of it, I have to angle my neck up to see it, and that way cannot see much of the rest of the situation on the crossing. If I turn left and go a little bit back, as shown on the sign, the viewing angle is so shallow that I can see the surface of all three colors from the side, and all seem equally lighted, so it is impossible to tell which one is on.

So I now completely disregard that light, cross with the cars' light the FS, then turn left and use the pedestrian's light to cross the LS.

What is the actual meaning of the traffic light, and how is it supposed to be read?

  • That's a hideously bad light design. Its 80% obscured, so the light output is reduced a lot, plus the arrow is tiny by comparison. On the plus side, the bike outline faces the same direction as the arrow. – Criggie Apr 4 '18 at 19:57
  • In Victoria, Australia, the turn is known as "Hook Turn" (Keep in mind they drive on the left so left/right are opposite) – mattnz Apr 4 '18 at 22:39
  • I'd ask a police person, or a city official. – Max Apr 6 '18 at 14:40
  • I know this intersection, and it is awful from every direction. Sometimes you have to wait at three lights to make a left turn. – mkrieger1 Oct 17 '18 at 10:13
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You're meant to cross the crossing in two steps (you'll need two traffic light cycles to turn left, not like cars who manage in one cycle).

I took the road names from here, which is, I think, the crossing you were photographing.

Starting from Jahnstraße, you go straight (on the right of the lane) along with the cars coming from Jahnstraße. Arrive at the holding line I marked in red altered photo. (And see all the cars with the same destination as you, cruise off over the river while you wait). Now you're standing in front of the cars going along Berliner Straße facing south.

For the second step, the small traffic light you highlighted is relevant (and the way these crossings are meant to be used, from this position it should be visible, but they are commonly misadjusted, don't know why, but it seems they see less maintenance). It's purpose is to give you a small head start ahead of the traffic queueing up behind you in Berliner Straße. This is why it's so short green, it's only for the few people getting packed in this short term "parking spot", it is not meant to be caught by flowing traffic. In addition to the headstart, it's meant to tell you when Berliner Straße has green - there's no way you can see the main signal.

EDIT: as top view (image from google maps)

  • you arrive on the black line

  • wait until the green traffic light turns green

  • continue on the green line

  • wait until the red traffic light turns green

  • continue on the red line

enter image description here

EDIT: for the benefit of those who want to take another look at the concept: similar bike-left-turn solutions exist in other towns, here in geneva, with streetview

with two of these small wait-spaces to wait for green on the next leg:

enter image description here

EDIT (adding some points raised in the comments):

This way of turning left is typically a safe and easy way to turn left on crowded crossings, even if you're not very familiar with roads. The biggest danger is cars turning right and running over you when you go straight on the first leg - that's the same as when you go straight and unfortunately omnipresent in Germany, not only on crossings like these. If you're confident to do it, you can probably also turn left on the car lane - it might be a bit of a hazzle to reach that lane, I'm not sure how legally evil that is, but it's probably not too problematic if you know the crossing. I cannot judge how much of an obstacle you'll become for cars turning left - I think it's two lanes turning left in parallel.

In my experience you're meant to do the 90° turn before coming to a stop in Germany, and after the stop in Switzerland; such that in your case you just accelerate straight once the second traffic light turns green, that's the position for which the traffic light should be adjust.

PS: on the top view you can also see similar waiting places for coming from the south on Berliner Straße and turning left into Im Neuenheimer Feld; and with lane marking, the way to go from the north into Jahnstraße to the east.

  • So turning right and doing a U-turn in front across the traffic is supposed to be safer than just turning left across the traffic? *boggle* At least if I'm turning left, I can give a clear signal, well in advance. For the U-turn version, there's no possibility of signalling in advance, since you can't signal left (the best approximation to "I'm about to do a U-turn right in front of you") until you've completed the right turn. – David Richerby Apr 6 '18 at 10:10
  • i don't think i follow. one is meant to go straight, on the very right of the lane all the way accross the road coming from the left, across the tram, across most of the road coming from the right, all that as if going straight, leave the lane to the right (all traffic really going right, is long gone), leaving the lane to the right into the space between the pedestrian crossing and the traffic going straight - there is practically nothing going on in that part of the road, nobody uses it when Jahnstraße has green, and then in this void space turn left 90°, not a full U-turn – pseyfert Apr 6 '18 at 12:49
  • (but … I can't stay objective on the road planning in that town … I find it rather discriminating than regulating) – pseyfert Apr 6 '18 at 12:51
  • Oh, I see. Your edit makes it much clearer. I'm actually supposed to go straight on while the traffic to my left is trying to turn right across me, then wait for a light that I can't see and turn 90 degrees in the width of a bike lane. I'd still rather just turn left! (Or get off the bike and cross as a pedestrian.) – David Richerby Apr 6 '18 at 13:19
  • SPOT ON! of cause the planner intends that: right turning cars pay attention (the same way they need to pay attention for pedestrians), and the traffic light (the one I drew red) is meant to be visible, and 'turn 90° in the width of a bike lane' happens at next-to-standing speed or you re-adjust the position while waiting for green. … but in practise you're right. (warning: just turning left might be - don't know - a traffic violation and the police in heidelberg has experience in setting hidden watchers at common violated crossings and then catch you one block further in a blocked road) – pseyfert Apr 6 '18 at 13:42
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Your first interpretation seems correct: you get special bike only green which allows you to position yourself at the front of traffic coming from the right on the cross street, effectively making a two stage left turn whilst staying on the right of other traffic.

However, you say that when the bike only light is green, traffic coming from the left on the cross street also has a green, so that obviously does not work.

It's not inconceivable that the light timing is set up incorrectly. You should contact whichever local authority deals with traffic lights and ask them investigate if the lights are functioning correctly - the situation you describe sounds like it could get a cyclist killed very easily.

You can also ask them to clarify how the junction works, and perhaps request extra signage.

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If you want to go left you'll have to position yourself at the right edge of the road. When you get a green (cycle only) light you'll cross the street that come from the right at the pedestrian crossing and you'll wait at the red traffic lights on that street. When they switch to green you go straight ahead.

In fact it's a two steps left turn with the advantage that you don't cross the path of in-coming cars. The downside is that you'll have to wait twice at red lights on that crossing.

The additional white panel tells you what to do: Wait at the traffic lights for the cars coming form the right. A red cycle lane that you see in the picture lies ahead of you.

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