Whether you’re a pedestrian, motorist, or cyclist, intersections are the most dangerous places to travel through. So it was no surprise when Katie de la Rosa of the Coloradoan focused on intersections in her April 9, 2015 article entitled, “Fort Collins’ College Avenue sees most crashes.”
There’s all sorts of things every motorist and cyclist should know about traveling through intersections, but today I’m only going to focus on one seemingly simple thing — turning right. …or going straight when someone else is turning right.
While looking for examples of various types of right hand turn lanes throughout the city, I hit upon the intersection of Harmony and Ziegler Roads, which has four types of right hand turn lanes all at one intersection. I’m going to address them one at a time, from (in my opinion) best to worst.
I should add that the following images were all taken from Google Earth, which captured them in June 2014. So the intersections may look a bit different today. But the lessons remain the same.
West Bound Approach – The Long Draw
I call this approach the “Long Draw” because of its length. Motorists and cyclists have ample time and space to see each other. And the motorist is encouraged to get right early for a turn, rather than waiting until the last minute and possibly colliding with a cyclist that’s queuing up at the light to go straight.
This kind of approach is hard to build because it requires a long stretch of right-of-way in order to create the opulent right turn lane. But when the space is there, this is definitely a great way to design the approach. It gives everyone ample time to make their maneuvers, and it’s very easy to “read” where everyone is expected to be.
South Bound Approach – One Shot
This approach is along the same lines as the previous one, but it doesn’t allow much time or space for a car to cross over the bike lane to get into the right turn lane. This puts more pressure on both parties to either speed up or slow down to time the crossover safely. Motorists should know, though, that bicyclists have the right of way here. If the car and bicycle are at about the same spot in the road, the motorist should slow down and pull behind the cyclist in order to make the turn. Speeding up, then darting in front of the cyclist, puts the cyclist at risk and makes the driver look like a turd. So don’t do that.
North Bound Approach – Dot Dot Dot
This approach is a bit hard to see due to the tree covering, but it looks like there’s a solid white line for the bike lane, until the lane gets fairly close to the intersection. Then there’s a short series of dashed lines. This is one of those situations where the lines hint at the right thing to do, but they don’t spell it out particularly well.
In this situation, a motorist turning right should cross over those dashed lines and take up a position in the bike lane. In fact, failing to do so is illegal. Here’s the code:
Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-901
Required position and method of turning. (1) The driver of a motor vehicle intending to turn shall do so as follows: (a) Right turns. Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
That means that the car should be hugging the right shoulder when queuing up to turn and when turning.
Obviously, is there’s a cyclist queued up to go straight in that bike lane, then you can’t very well pull all the way right. So what you should do is exactly the same thing you would do if there were a motorist ahead of you that was queuing up to turn right… you pull up behind them and wait your turn.
Just because the cyclist is going straight and you are turning does NOT mean that you can go around them from the lane to their left. That’s a big no-no. If you were in a car lane with no bike lane to your right, and there was a car in front of you that was going straight, and you wanted to turn right, you wouldn’t go around them. You’d wait until the light changed and the car moved before you’d pull forward and make your turn. The type of vehicle at the intersection does not change the rules of the road.
The cyclist, on the other hand, does have the option of getting left and taking the traffic lane if they are traveling through the intersection and there is a car in the bicycle lane. Or the cyclist can remain in the bike lane and just wait patiently behind the motorist for the exact same reasons the motorist should be able to remain behind a bicycle in the same position. It’s just what we do when we have someone in front of us. We wait.
East Bound Approach – When the Lines Lie
As you approach the Harmony/Ziegler intersection headed east, the lines just plain lie. If you were to do what the paint tells you, you’d be acting illegally.
The bike lane is very clearly marked with a solid white line all the way around. As a motorist, I’d be very tempted to forget about CRS 42-4-901 (1)(a) and stay the heck out of the bike lane. The lines are clear. I don’t belong. So when I make my turn, I’ll be turning right in front of the bike lane, either setting up a cyclist to ride right into my side, or setting myself up to ride right into the side of a cyclist.
Just because the paint feels like it’s saying “keep out” doesn’t mean you should listen. At least not in this case. The Colorado statute that requires motorists to get as far right as possible to make a turn still applies. So pretend like there’s a dotted line there, and when the lane is clear, ease yourself right and make your turn from within the bike lane.
And cyclists, remember, motorists have to use our lanes sometimes. There are times when it’s safest and makes the most sense for a cyclist to use a traffic lane. And there are times when it’s safest and makes the most sense for a motorist to use a bicycle lane. It might “feel” funny. But feelings are not a good indicator of what’s safe and what isn’t.
Two more circumstances that I haven’t covered
There are two more situations that I’d like to cover briefly here.
There are some intersections, like the one shown above at College and Boardwalk, where the bike lane has ended and the only options at the intersection are traffic lanes. In this case the cyclist that plans on going through the intersection has two options. 1) Take the lane. That means ride right in the center of the straight-bound traffic lane as if you were a car. Or 2) you are legally allowed to sit in the left hand side of the right turn lane if you’d prefer.
CRS 42-4-1412. Operation of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles
5. a. III. Upon approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right-turn lane, a bicyclist may ride on the left-hand portion of the dedicated right-turn lane even if the bicyclist does not intend to turn right.
The other situation involves sidewalks. Crossing an intersection from a sidewalk is a really quick and simple way to get yourself hit as a cyclist. Motorists know from experience that the most important place to be looking for problem traffic is on the streets. If a car is going to be hit, it is most likely going to come from another car. So motorists just aren’t thinking about the fact that you might come whipping past them from the sidewalk.
It’s OK to use the sidewalk. It’s legal. And when you’re traveling with kids, it’s a whole lot less stressful. BUT, when you come to the intersection, remember that you’re coming from a position of near-invisibility. (Imagine that you have your cloaking device turned on.) When you cross the intersection, make sure motorists see you. And travel only slightly faster than a pedestrian would be traveling — both because you don’t want to be a nuisance to any pedestrians that are around and because you’re also much more likely to be seen if you’re not trying to be Flash Gordon through the intersection.
Sources for this post:
The top image came from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and was modified by me to include the correct Colorado statute information and to include a third safe option at the intersection. I really should have included a fourth that would have shown the car and bicycle flip flopped. Sometimes bikes have to wait behind cars. Sometimes cars have to wait behind bikes.
The rest of the images came from Google Earth and were taken in June 2014.
The Colorado Revised Statutes can be found in many places online. One that I used was from CODOT.gov.