by Meg Dunn of Pedal Fort Collins
Sometimes I see behavior on the streets that just stuns me. Last week I saw a motorist stopped at a red light (along with several other cars). But then, before the yellow had even come on for the cross traffic, she proceeded through the intersection. (Did you catch that? Her light had been red and was still red and she proceeded through.) I think every jaw dropped around that intersection whether people were in a car, on a bike, or just standing at the corners. We couldn’t believe what we had just seen.
A similar jaw-dropping incident occurred last week as I was pedaling home from the City’s open house about the West Elizabeth Enhanced Travel Corridor. (See “A West Elizabeth Enhanced Travel Corridor Open House Update” for an overview of what was presented.) I was traveling east on Elizabeth and stopped at the light at Shields (near where CSU is going to add an underpass for pedestrians and bicyclists). When the light changed, I proceeded through. But two other bicyclists that had been in the bike lane with me turned left. I felt a moment of panic as I realized that they’d both just put themselves right in harm’s way. Thankfully there were no cars heading straight towards Moby and they made the turn just fine.
But it was enough to convince me that a little refresher on how to make a left turn might be in order. So, for the record, what they did comes under the heading of “how not to make a left hand turn.” If you’re in the bike lane, and the bike lane is on the right hand side of the street, then you can be pretty certain that that’s not where to make your left hand turn from.
If you’re heading towards campus on Elizabeth, then you’ll find two left hand turn lanes, one of which doubles as a through lane. And to be honest, most people do turn left (or right) at this intersection. But not all. And if you make an assumption that everyone’s turning and they’re not, you could become an asphalt pancake.
There are two ways to safely make a left hand turn. (And this is true for anywhere you might be traveling. It’s not specific to just this intersection.)
Turn left from the left hand turn lane – or the left most lane if there is no turn lane.
If you’re turning from eastbound Elizabeth onto northbound Shields, then you’d want to be in the rightmost left turn lane. If you arrive at the intersection and there’s already a car in that lane, just queue up behind them. If you get there first, put yourself right in the middle of the lane. That way there’s no confusion about which lane you’re in. (If you’re on the right hand side, they might just think you’re in the bike lane and that you’re going straight.)
By being in the center of the lane, just as if you were a car, and signaling (That’s important too!), it will be abundantly clear to all that you’re turning left. They might not like it. I’ve even had people honk at me. But I just remind myself that that means they’ve seen me, so they’re less likely to run me over. And, to be honest, if I were in a car instead of on my bike, I’d be in the exact same spot taking up even more room. So they’re only complaining out of ignorance, not because you’re actually impairing their commute in any way.
As you make the turn, you can stop signaling and focus on staying in the center of the lane until you’ve reached a point where there’s enough room for you to get right. (You really, really don’t want to give them enough room that they think they can pass you while you’re making that turn. That could be disastrous. Sometimes riding safely doesn’t just mean that you’re doing things that keep you safe, but that you’re also doing things that encourage other people to travel safely around you.)
Make a “Copenhagen Left” – the Two Stage Turn
If the idea of standing in the middle of the left hand turn lane (or, in cases where there is no left hand turn lane, then in the left most through lane) makes your stomach ball up into knots and your palms sweaty, a “Copenhagen Left” might make more sense for you. Used frequently in Copenhagen (hence the name) this kind of turn is essentially a two stage turn.
The first step will be to proceed through the intersection as if you’re going straight. It might be possible to progress across while in the bike lane. But if you have a line of bicyclists behind you, they’re going to want to keep going when you want to stop and turn to complete the left. So more often than not, you’ll actually want to use the sidewalk to execute this maneuver.
Any time you’re using the sidewalk while riding your bicycle, be extra cautious when crossing at an intersection. People in cars are often more focused on not hitting another car and it’s possible they might not see you. Once it’s clear, however, cross the street and stop (without getting in anyone’s way) and reposition your bicycle so that you’re lined up to be in the bike lane for the next street.
You do not have to walk your bike across the intersection. Even though you’re using a crosswalk, there is no requirement in Fort Collins that says you have to get off your bicycle and walk it. (Check out the Pedal Fort Collins post entitled, “Bicyclists are required to dismount when…” for more info.)
Don’t Forget to Signal!
And whether you’re in a car or on a bicycle, please, please, PLEASE signal if you’re going to make a turn. You’re legally required to signal a turn 100 feet before the intersection. When you signal a turn, you’re giving everyone around you the information that they need to make smart decisions.
For more safety tips like this, as well as information about new infrastructure coming our way, bike related events and more, head on over to Pedal Fort Collins.
Meg is the author of PedalFortCollins.com, a local transportation blog that’s part of the Scoop Blog Network. She’s an active member of Bike Fort Collins and the Fort Collins Coalition for Infrastructure and she is frequently involved in transportation and urban planning events hosted by the City of Fort Collins. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.