Newbie cycling: Overcoming the terror of the left-turn
I love my cycle to work. It's not too busy, and the majority of the ride I have the comfort of a bike lane to ride in. And it's all right turns.
But coming home, that's when I get nervous because all those right turns become left turns. And left turns scare the bajeezus out of me.
Part of the problem is I don't even know the proper way to make a left-hand turn. I know how to signal for one, but don't know where I should be in the left lane. Do I hug the right side? Do I take up the whole lane?
I took my questions to Toronto Police Const. Hugh Smith of traffic services. Smith has been cycling for more than 20 years, and was one of the first to patrol Toronto's streets on a bike when he worked for 52 Division. He rode the streets for eight years there.
"If it's a designated left turn lane, normally we would suggest to just stay in the centre of the lane or just right of centre," he said, adding that it is always recommended cyclists turn left when there is a designated left-turn lane.
He explained it is important for cyclists to take up the "blocking" position (when you're in the left lane, ride on the right tire track, while riding in the right lane, ride on the left tire track), while they are waiting to turn left. Make your intentions known, both to the traffic you're riding in and oncoming traffic, and be aware of the speed of oncoming traffic before making your move.
But, Smith warned, if a cyclist like me is new or unsure about making left-turns, they don't have to make them.There are other options to making the dreaded left-hand turn.
Here are some of them:
- Dismount your bike and cross as a pedestrian: "I can't throw my Denali SUV on my shoulder and walk across and then put it back into traffic," Smith said. "So there are more options available for the smallest, most vulnerable users out there."
- Turn right and then make a U-Turn when it is safe to do so: "that would take away going across traffic. That way you're sort of only crossing one street, you're not crossing two on the diagonal.
- Turn in a bike box, though Smith admits "they're few and far between."
"When it comes to left turns, I always recommend take the simplest, safest route according to your destination," Smith advised, adding in a rhyme to help cyclists decide whether to turn or not: "If traffic is light and you catch the light, then it's probably an easy option to make that left turn.
"Any time you have to stop, make sure you communicate with oncoming traffic before you cross their path. That's always going to be difficult for cyclists."
Perhaps I'll continue to cross my bike across intersections for now, and I'll add making a left turn as one of my goals to accomplish by the end of the summer.
I'd love to hear your left-turn tips. How you worked up the confidence to make left, tricks you use, or why you still don't make lefts. Leave them in the comments below.