(United States road configuration and customs here. Sorry, those of you who drive on the left!)

On my trip home, I use a bike lane near the right side of a very busy one-way arterial street; there is a bus/right-turn lane between the bike lane and the curb. I need to turn left, crossing three lanes of traffic, at a T-intersection (no street to the right). My options are:

  1. Turn left directly from the bike lane.
  2. Keeping a weather eye on traffic, move into the left-hand lane and turn from there.
  3. Veer right onto the sidewalk (avoiding buses, obviously); wait for the pedestrian light to cross.

Which of these is the canonically correct way to manage, assuming heavy car traffic?

  • 2
    No need to worry about us left-siders. We know that the great majority of the world drives on the right, so we're used to translating in our heads. Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 14:08

11 Answers 11


By heavy I suppose you mean heavier than you'd like it to be, or heavier than you can live with comfortably.

It's probably possible, sometimes, to change lanes beforehand, going to the left one to do the left turn, if the traffic is not so heavy, but that would, I think, violate your pre-condition that the traffic IS heavy.

Then, the canonical way to do it would be getting to the margin of the flow (in this case, the sidewalk), and waiting for a comfortable opportunity (in this case, the pedestrian light).

Turn left directly is a very bad behaviour, as it adds a lot of unpredictability and leaves a small time window and a small margin of safety for you and for any other user of the public way. Besides, as it seems, it is illegal.

Hope this helps

  • Thank you. This is pretty much how I behave, but the other day I got yelled at by some yahoo in a pickup for being in the left lane at all (I was stopped at the light, waiting to turn, as far over to the left as I could be). This shook my confidence, so I thought I'd ask here!
    – D.Salo
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 1:35
  • 3
    You're right, some drivers' behaviours are awful. But bikers have a lot of rights, and also a lot of ways to interact with any kind of drivers. From any resource on that I've read so far, this link is by far the best (the html formatting is crappy, but the content is perfect): bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/index.htm . Hope you enjoy the (very adviseable) reading! Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 1:55
  • 4
    @dsalo You said you were "as far over to the left as I could be". I find its usually safer to be in the middle of the left most lane, particularly when waiting at a red light. That way, cars don't try to pass me in the intersection. Also, when you opt for #2, start signaling for the lane change well in advance of the turn, even if you don't see an opening in traffic yet. Often, one amongst the many drivers passing you will be courteous enough to slow down and to let you into the lane. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 14:59
  • 1
    @BigGeneral -- Yep, when making a left turn it's especially important to "claim your lane". You have to assess the situation and decide when to let other traffic pass and when to assert your "ownership" of the lane, but you want to be "owning" the lane when you're in the process of actually making the turn. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:12
  • Whenever there's a bike lane and you are on a bike and NOT on the bike lane, but on the road, 1 out of 10 drivers will patronise you , in varying degrees of non kindness. I've had shrieks of get in to your lane, shouted in such a manner as if the car driver was calling for his life. 9 out of 10 will at least think to themselves you are an ahole and could get the f out please. I do and I'm a cyclist, it's just driving a car in traffic makes everyone angry.
    – gaurwraith
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 6:44

The Oregon Bicyclists Manual explains this very well, and with good diagrams, so I'm going to pretty much copy them verbatim here:

There are several ways to make a left turn on a bicycle:

As a Vehicle

As you approach the intersection, look over your left shoulder for traffic and, when clear, signal your turn, move over to the left side of the lane on a two-lane road (1), or into the left lane or the center turn lane when available. You should be positioned so cars going straight through can’t pass you on the left. Yield to oncoming cars before turning. if you are riding in a bike lane, or on a road with several lanes, you need to look and signal each time you change lanes. Never make a left turn from the right side of the road, even if you’re in a bike lane.


Proceed straight through the intersection on the right. Then stop, and either cross as a pedestrian in the crosswalk (2), or make a 90 degree left turn and proceed as if you were coming from the right (3). If there is a signal, wait for the green or walk signal before crossing. Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk.

How to turn from the bike lane

In your particular case, I would suggest method 2. Cross the intersection, then pull off to the side and orient yourself to cross with the crosswalk. Then wait until there's a break in traffic, and head across that way. If you eventually become more comfortable biking in traffic, you may choose to use method 1. I find that cars almost always slow down and let me in if I clearly signal that I'm making a left turn, but it depends on how fast traffic is, how confident of a cyclist you are, and what the road conditions are like.

  • 2
    In Melbourne, Australia those (2) are called "hook turns" and cars do them because we have trams in the middle of the road a lot. They're apparently always legal for cyclists, but to be safe you do need motorists to be aware that you're doing them. Otherwise you need to cross as a pedestrian. The more-legal way to stay on your bike is #3.
    – Kohi
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 4:44
  • 2
    Amazing answer. The diagram explains it very clearly. I liked the (2) & (3) approach. This was the only doubt I had. I am going to start my first bike ride in the US tomorrow. :)
    – deppfx
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 20:56
  • Great diagram! Where did you get it? I don't understand the difference between #2 and #3 though. Why would you get in the cross walk when you can just get in the lane? You're going to have to merge back in anyway. Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:52
  • @teradyl I believe it's from the Oregon Driver's Manual. The difference between 2 and 3 are that you use the crosswalk. Which is easier/safer depends on the intersection and the situation. #3 may not work if there's nowhere safe to put your bike, e.g. if there's already cars all the way up to the stop line. #2 is also helpful if there's e.g. a road-side MUP.
    – nhinkle
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 21:55
  • @nhinkle I wouldn't call it an entirely different method, I would think of it as one method with a slight variation, but I see the point. What's a road-side MUP? Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 22:50

I wrote a left turn blog post about this. I've included a snippet below explaining the 3 options I lay out. To summarize, I would follow these rules in your situation:

  1. If there is no traffic either way, Option 2: Turn Like a Car is easy and quick.
  2. If there is a green light with heavy traffic, Option 1: Cross, Stop & Pivot is the way to go. It's safe and easy. (In your case with the bus lane it seems a bit harder, but buses are usually nice to bicycles.)
  3. If there is a red light with heavy traffic, Option 3: Red Light Pedestrian is your best bet. Depending on your location, it may not be legal unless you dismount, but if you're one of the only bicycles at the intersection it gets you through the intersection quickly and safely.

There are 3 ways to make a left turn.

Left Turn Option 1: “Cross, Stop & Pivot”

This is the easiest and safest way to make a left turn. Say you’re rolling along in your lane and you want to make a left turn at the coming stoplight. The light is green and you’re already on the right side of the lane, so you roll through the intersection and stop at the other side, turning your bike to now face left and you’re ready to go! You may now be with a horde of cyclists waiting at the light or in front of the cars waiting.

Left turn on a bicycle. Cross, stop, & Pivot

This is super easy and works well. Some intersections will have a “Bike Box” specifically designed for you to stop in when doing this maneuver. However, what if the light is green and there are barely any cars around? Or What if the light is red? You have other options to speed up your trip!

Left Turn option 2: Turn Like a Car

This type of turn is great when the light is green and there are no cars or pedestrians around. It’s exactly what cars would do, so most people should understand this turn. If there’s a bike lane, you merge into traffic, take the car lane, and turn left in front of oncoming traffic. Watch for pedestrians!

Left turn on a bicycle. Turn Like a Car

Even though this is the simplest of all the turns, there are many situations that make this uncomfortable. If there are 3 lanes of traffic next to a bike lane, it may be harder to merge all the way over whilst making sure there really are no cars behind you. If you’re in a protected bike lane, it may be impossible to merge into car traffic. Just remember you can always fall back to the Cross, Stop & Pivot!

Left Turn option 3: Red Light Pedestrian

This option is great when the light is red. If you attempt option 1 or 2 when the light is red, you’ll have to wait for the entire cycle of the next light before you can continue your journey. Part of the reason you’re biking is so you don’t have to wait like everyone in the cars right? You should rarely have to wait more than 1 cycle at any light. To achieve this goal, cross on the crosswalk to the other side of the intersection while the light is red. Wait on the edge of the street or on the sidewalk if you feel unsafe. Once the light turns green, you can continue straight along the other cross walk and turn left onto the bike lane with few conflicts.

Left turn on a bicycle. Red Light Pedestrian

You will have to watch out for cars turning right in front of you, but most will let you go through first as you’re acting as a pedestrian in the crosswalk. If there are lots of pedestrians, get off and walk your bike of course! But if there are only a few people no one cares if you ride through the crosswalks. Even if you walk your bike here you’ll come out ahead compared to waiting for 2 lights!

Happy biking!


Definitely not 1, unless there is a special signal to permit this. Either 2 or 3, depending on traffic and your confidence level. I've done both.


To me it would depend on the speed of traffic. If the traffic is moving slow enough such that you can ride at about the same speed, then it should be possible to take option 2, and make your way over to the left lane. Try to move over to the left lane ahead of time, so you aren't cutting across the road too quickly, because this will slow your forward speed. If the traffic is moving much faster than you are, it's most likely safer to just take option 3 and cross as a pedestrian. This may include dismounting and actually walk your bike across the pedestrian walk. Technically it is probably illegal to use the pedestrian light to cross while riding, although I do this all the time, and I've never heard of anybody in my area getting a fine for doing this. Option 1 is probably something that you should never do. It's dangerous and illegal to make a left hand from a bike lane when you have to cross over a lane that goes straight though.

  • I think (hope) you've got your left and right confused or some such. 1 is the option you should never do, 2 is reasonable to do if the traffic is light enough, 3 is the option to take if traffic is too heavy. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 0:41
  • Fixed that. Sorry, somehow I got options mixed up. Did the option numbers change at some point? Maybe I'm just going crazy. Anyway, I've corrected the option numbers in my answer.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 0:50
  • I think some demon comes in and switches things around after you read a post. I know it's happened to me. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 11:24
  • There's a 5 minute (I think 5 minutes anyhow) window, in which you can edit your question, but it won't record in the edit history. So it's definitely possible that the question could have changed.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:21
  • I think the window closes if someone else comments on your post. Though I've never experimented with it, or read anything about it. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:46

I usually prefer to get in the left lane when possible. One thing to consider though, is turning left onto a multi-lane street. You have to turn into the left-most lane when opposing traffic is turning right (pretend you're the blue car and the white car is turning right.

left turn illustration

If there's a steady stream of cars turning right, it can be hard to get over to the far right after you've made your left turn.

In this case I'll usually opt for the crosswalk.

Also, as others have pointed out, option 1 isn't a good idea.

  • If you want to take the safest option, wait for the pedestrian light.
  • If you feel confident that you can switch through all 3 lanes of traffic safely, do that early and take the left lane.
  • Dont turn directly from the bike lane if you value your life.

It sounds like you should be waiting for the pedestrian light most, if not all of the time, but use your own best judgment.


Another option is the "three rights make a left" maneuver.

There are intersections on my commute where drivers will just not yield, so turn right into a parking lot, ride along the edge of the parking lot, and then make another right turn and exit the parking lot into the street.

It may not be elegant, but it helps keep me from becoming a human hood ornament.

  • Welcome to Bicycles @ray. As with all new members we recommend that you take the tour to make best use of the site; it's different to a typical chat or discussion site. Good to see you here
    – andy256
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 1:44
  • A variant of this is to turn right, then make a left turn at the first opportunity, if that is easier than a straight left turn, then move forward on the initial intersection.
    – ZzZombo
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 4:51

I adopt one of two approaches, depending on how anxious I am, in similar situations in the UK (typically when I am cycling in London).

1) Be a car (as Dean suggests above). Well in advance of the junction signal and join the traffic, signal again and join the turning lane, and then turn. This one's faster and scarier than (2).

2) Be a pedestrian. Slow down in advance of the junction and dismount. Stand with the bike and wait for the crossing light. Walk the bike to the other side of the one or two streets and then mount it again and cycle off. There's no shame in walking: Ecclesiastes 9:4


I agree with your observation of step #3, from the bike lane, move across to the other side of the street and wait for the green traffic signal to proceed across the stopped traffic to get to your intended lane of travel. If the traffic is light and you can safely move to the left hand turn lane, that is the "normal" way a vehicle would execute the left turn. Either way is fine, it just depends on your "gut feelings" and the amount of traffic at the time. You just have to watch for those turning right on a red traffic signal if that's permitted at this intersection, when using step #3.


You become a car. Act like a car. Indicate and merge. Just like at traffic lights don't just stick to the cycle way else you will eventually be shunned to the curb and forced to use the pedestrian route, and walk across the road. Indicate for the mandatory three seconds and go for it. If you look behind you while doing this you will see the cars slow down behind you: they don't want your insurance company chasing them up.

  • 1
    While you're correct, this answer is a bit short - consider using Edit to expand it. Perhaps include why this is a good idea, and any potential downsides.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 12:32
  • "Indicate for the mandatory three seconds" mandatory in what jurisdiction? This answer is extremely dangerous. You are using signalling to mean "Get out of my way! I'm about to turn!" and it does not mean that. Signalling means "When there's space, I'm going to turn." Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 14:14
  • What;s a jurisdiction? Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 21:05
  • This is the New Zealand Road Code. Maybe our roads are a bit different. Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 21:06

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