I came across an interesting, and potentially dangerous, traffic situation today, and thought I’d share what was going through my head as the situation played out.
Here’s the scene:
This is at 159th and Lone Elm Road in Olathe, KS. At this intersection, Lone Elm Road is a 4-lane arterial road, with bike lanes going each direction.
In this photo, what you can’t see is that the first vehicle stopped at the light — an SUV pulling a trailer — does not have his turn signal on, while the truck and the car are signaling a right turn.
In this situation, as a cyclist approaching the intersection via the bike lane, I could have continued in the bike lane up to the red light. After all, the bike lane striping is solid, and I apparently had the right of way. This would probably have been safe, since I would have been to the right of the SUV + trailer going straight, and to the front of the turning truck and car. When the light turned green, I would have proceeded through the intersection, and the right-turning vehicles would have waited until I cleared before making their turn.
But what if the driver of the first vehicle suddenly decided to turn right? He could get tired of waiting for the light, he could think of an errand somewhere else, or he could just change his mind. But if he decided to turn, I’d be in a tough spot. Maybe the driver would look before turning, and see me, but if not, I’d be hit, either by the SUV or by the trailer.
My best move would be to leave the bike lane and merge into the right-most vehicular lane, and get in line behind the white car. I’d be in no danger from any of the three vehicles in front of me.
But what you can’t see here, and what I could see in my rear-view mirror, was a line of cars nearing the intersection from behind me. If I’d been more vigilant, I’d have moved out of the bike lane well before the new cars arrived. But as it was, I was struggling with taking the picture while riding, so I missed my chance, and was trapped in the bike lane.
So I decided to just stop, well back from the intersection, and let the whole parade pass by before continuing my journey.
That wasn’t an ideal solution, and may not have worked if traffic were truly non-stop, or if there had been other cyclists coming up behind me, but in this case, it eliminated all conflicts, and only delayed me slightly.
One thing to note here is that the right-turning truck and car were improperly positioned. They should have moved into the bike lane before making the turn. That would have prevented me from doing something stupid.
Here’s the Kansas statute dealing with right turns:
8-1545.1 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.
Kansas law does not explicitly deal with right turns across a bike lane, but 8-1545.1 should apply.
Other states, such as California, spell it out in detail: “Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn.” (See Bike Lanes & Right Turns from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.)
This law is apparently not commonly known, either among motorists or cyclists, because the vast majority of vehicles I see at this intersection (and others), turn across the bike lane, rather an merging into the bike lane and making the turn. And I suspect that if you asked most cyclists, they’d say that a motor vehicle should not enter the bike lane under any circumstance.
In this case, it doesn’t help that the bike lane is painted solid — it would be helpful if it were dashed near the intersection, to visually indicate that the line may be crossed, and turning traffic should merge.
This situation, where a straight-through cyclist is in conflict with right-turning traffic at an intersection, is known colloquially as the “coffin corner“.
It is particularly dangerous with right-turning trucks, which often have numerous blind spots. If a truck is stopped at a light, and a bicyclist comes up from behind, and proceeds along the edge of the street, between the truck and the curb, the cyclist may not be seen, and is in grave danger. (The Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation has an excellent discussion of this issue: How to avoid being hit by a turning truck.)
If you come upon traffic stopped at a red light or stop sign, whether they’re signaling for a right turn or not, do not attempt to pass them on the right — if you can, just get into line behind them, and control the lane through the intersection. If you can’t get into line behind other traffic, do as I did and wait for the intersection to clear before proceeding.
And if you come across a car in the bike lane at a stop light, blocking your way while waiting to turn right, don’t get mad — they’re doing it right!