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Roadshow: On right turns and bike lanes

The San Jose Mercury News: Roadshow: On right turns and bike lanes

By Gary Richards
Mercury News
Posted: 11/01/2009 01:00:00 AM PDT

Q  One of the most interesting rules I learned for the DMV test when I moved to California almost 20 years ago was the law which requires a motorist to merge into the bike lane before making a right turn. While I frequently see drivers speed up to make a right in front of a bicyclist, I rarely see a driver turn right from the bike lane and have almost never seen one merge behind a cyclist. Why? I consider this driving sin as dangerous as driving under the influence or with a cell phone to your ear.

Ron Hall
San Jose

A  I’ll say this: Judging by my e-mail, bicyclists say numerous drivers don’t know where to position their cars when turning right.

Q  I commute by bicycle three to four days a week. The most dangerous part of my ride occurs anytime I approach a major intersection or driveway and have to deal with cars traveling the same direction as myself and they want to turn right. The danger comes when these drivers pass me on the left and then either turn in front of me at the last moment or stop or slow down as they realize they are going to hit me.

Dale McNamara
San Jose

A Some drivers are indeed confused. "...

Q  I moved to the Bay Area a few months ago from the East Coast and I have a question about something that happened to me several times one day. I was stopped at a red light, in the right-hand lane, dutifully awaiting the green light so cars in front of me could go straight and I could turn right. After I’d started to make my right turn, cars came barreling up behind me in the bike lane to turn right. This was frightening. I almost got hit and I could envision my husband (who commutes by bike) being run over somewhere. Is this something I should expect here?

Kris Felker
Milpitas

A  Yes, for good reason. It’s the safest way to turn. DMV officials say the issue of where to be when making a right turn is one that a lot of people get wrong on the written test to get a license. Drivers need to turn right as close to the curb as "practicable" — which means moving into the bicycle lane. You can do this 200 feet before the intersection if safe to do so, whether or not the dotted white line extends that far. But some motorists don’t know how to make this move if a bicyclist is present, as the next reader knows.

Q  Why is it that drivers always want to get in front of me — a bicyclist — to make right turns? Can’t they wait five seconds for me to cross the intersection before they go? I’ve had to brake and steer clear to avoid hitting them. What gives?

Bob Vu

A  Drivers, here is your lesson today. Yes, you can move into a bike lane 200 feet from the right turn, but you need to give way to a bicycle who is already there. This may mean moving behind it and slowing down. Do not race ahead and cut off the bicyclist. The person on the bike is likely going faster than you think — and has the right of way.

Q  I hope you can stand one more letter about bicycles and cars making right turns. I recently got into a verbal altercation with a bicycle rider because I blocked him from continuing straight ahead while I was planning on turning right at the next intersection. He was riding next to the curb as I passed him somewhat before the next intersection. The light was red and as I came to a stop, I activated my right-turn signal and drifted to within a foot of the curb. I came to a stop and was the third car in line at the intersection. This is an area with no painted or marked right-turn lane or bike-lane markings. Within a few moments of stopping, the bicyclist was slapping the side of my car because I was blocking his path. I don’t think there’s any question that I was making a legal or safe maneuver.

Bruce McCoy
Hayward

A  If you did not cut off the bicyclist when moving to the curb, then you were in the right. You correctly point out that moving as far right as possible when turning right serves two good purposes. It clearly telegraphs a driver’s intention to turn right and eliminates what Bruce calls "sucker holes" for bicyclists who might be thinking that the car to their left is going straight, when in fact, it is about to be turning right in front and cutting them off.