Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If You Were Riding the Bicycle #3 - 4 Way Right

4-Way stops are interesting little studies in human interaction. People get really angry when others mess up the first-come-first-go order of the things. For those of you that don't know, a 4-Way stop is an intersection with four stop signs. Those arriving at the intersections take turns proceeding based on the order of arrival, and in the event of a tie the vehicle on the right wins. Bicycles blowing through these types of intersections really mess up an already tenuous sense of order.

Over the last year or two while I have really reduced my queue jumping and I will merge with traffic and line up like everybody else at a 4-Way stop. The introduction of bike lanes has made this process harder for me, particularly when it comes to right hand turns...

Going straight or left, I would merge about 3-4 cars back and behave like a car at the stop, bike lane or no bike lane, since I would prefer to get through it uninjured. Before the bike lane, I had trained myself into doing right hand turns the "First Way". Before the bike lane, most queue jumpers wouldn't do it at speed, and there were fewer of them since it was tighter and more dangerous. I have gone back to the "Second Way" lately because I think the greater danger lies in cyclists overtaking on the right.

What would you do if you were riding the bicycle?



Alexwarrior said...

Oh man this is a thinker... I don't believe we have a single intersection like this in Vancouver. Can't think of any place where they paint a bike lane to where a stop sign is... At lunch time I ride from work to the gym and the bike lane painted line stops about 10 metres back from the stop sign and I just merge with the middle before the intersection. It'd probably do that in the scenario in your vid too, and wait in the queue I guess

Anonymous said...

I have the same scenario at one four way stop on my route. Before they added the bike lane I would just maintain my place in the queue.
With the addition of the bike lane I ride it to the stop sign, stop fully (if there are any cars around at all) and proceed with the turn.
The drivers around me understand that this is the way to do things.
For fifty feet (guestimate) before the intersection, the bike lane turns into a right turn lane with the option for bikes to continue forward.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Bike lanes should not go all the way to a four-way stop like that, because, as this situation illustrates, they are meaningless, non-functional, and probably dangerous. In your video, I see this acknowledged by the way they become dashed, but what the hell does that mean to anyone? Sort of don't drive over the line? Bikes can go out but cars can't go in? If you're stuck with a bad street like this, I say go with the first approach, slightly modified: get into line with the cars, but keep your right arm stuck way out "signaling" to deter cyclists from blasting past. This approach has the benefit of managing your cars while also deterring bikes. #2 is managing bikes while not deterring cars from right-crossing you at all, which seems ill-advised when described like that.

Steve A said...

I like JRA's notion. Besides, we both know that motorists LOVE a snappy signal!

Unknown said...

I usually remain in the bike lane. If I notice a car's signal light on and am about 2 or 3 cars from the intersection, I just stay behind them.

When I see them look back I wave them through. Some times they just wave me through though.

fred_dot_u said...

"Risk getting nailed by a cyclist on the right or mess up the stop order?"

Risk getting nailed by a motorist on the left, turning into you at the line is much more painful than getting a cyclist coming up through the lane. Because you are a trained, skilled cyclist, you will be more aware of traffic to your right than an average motorist might be.

Safer for you to be in the lane, safer also if there is a cyclist coming up from behind, as you won't hit him, while another motorist might.

Do a reverse Yehuda Moon and paint those stripes black.

RANTWICK said...

I'm always amazed at how well people respond to this type of post. Thanks everybody!

JRA - I think I'll try your way. I normally signal with my left hand, but in this case a right arm shooting out would indeed reduce the chance of my turning in front of a cyclist I missed. I agree about those dashed lines. The only useful meaning they could have is that right turning cars should block the bike lane (I wish they would) but they never do. The dashed line is also way too short for anybody to use it correctly.

fred - I get what your saying, but I disagree about the speed dangers. By the time I am even contemplating a right, I am going very slowly and cars are too. A quick stop or very minor contact is all that may happen with a right turning car, whereas the bike lane encourages some cyclists going straight to do so at a pretty good clip. As I said, the right turn is the only time I consider staying in the bike lane.

Just the same, I'm hearing from most of you that the benefits of taking the lane properly outweigh the cyclist risk, and as you say I know what I'm doing and can watch out for them.

Thanks all!

RANTWICK said...

jtgyk - "The drivers around me understand that this is the way to do things"

I agree that the most common understanding of the bike lane and the most common expectation is that cyclists should stay in it. As much as I may know that it is just paint, we are all programmed as motorists and cyclists and even children to obey painted lines. I think that is also part of my issue - I'll call it traffic "peer pressure"...

Anonymous said...

"I agree that the most common understanding of the bike lane and the most common expectation is that cyclists should stay in it."

Not quite my point.
The new bike lanes that have been painted are used as a traffic calming device and allow parking as well as cycling.
They, in actuality just removed a regular sized traffic lane. But yes, the psychological barrier of the paint has been added. Sometimes there are a lot of cars parked in the lane (goes by a some churches) and it just makes sense to abandon the bike lane.
We have so many cyclists in the area we're just generally accepted as traffic. Just ride by the rules. The problems arise from some riders just blowing through stop signs. Many don't even slow down. There (so far)is no onus on us to ride only the bike lane. Most of the time I just ride with traffic. Bike lanes (much of the time) don't go where I need.

Anyway...I digress. Since the bike lane is clearly marked and signage is for Rt turns only with bikes allowed to continue forward at this 4 way stop, you would normally be expected to be in the turn lane before the stop for a rt turn...that would be the accepted place to position yourself.

Anonymous said...


My less than cohesive ramblings are a good reason I don't have my own blog.

That and the fact that my life is just too damn boring to write about...

RANTWICK said...

jtgyk - I get what you're saying now. I didn't realize that in your case the bike lane was large enough to accomodate a whole car and be used as a proper right turn lane. Thanks for the clarification.

Hey, my life isn't interesting either, but that hasn't stopped me from trying to annoy the world with it.

Apertome said...

I have almost this exact scenario in a couple of places on my commute. I use method #2, I do have to carefully watch for cars turning right from the lane, but usually the car traffic is backed up and I can ride right through.

On my commute, in the intersections like this one, at least one of the two streets is one way. So it's a little simpler, and there aren't as many cars I have to watch out for.

I do have some difficulty figuring out how to handle a left turn. I need to find a good time to get over into the lane to make my left turn, well in advance of the light, but not TOO far in advance.

Interestingly enough, I never have these dilemmas on streets that DON'T have bike lanes. In a lot of ways I prefer those roads ...

JAT in Seattle said...

Indeed, this is one of the many problems with bike infrastructure (as opposed to generalizing the culture of traffic cooperation - which is really what a four-way stop embodies...) (but I swore to myself I wouldn't ramble here.)

If there's a bike lane there I'd use it unless I were turning left in which case I'd merge into traffic as you did in example one. If I were going straight I'd confirm (to the extent that motorists can be counted upon to signal/indicate) the car next to me was going straight or turning left (AND that the car opposite wasn't planning on a simultaneous left...) and go straight simultaneously with the car (I call this the "Shield Principle")

If I were turning right I'd go more example 2: stay in the bike lane, signal (I use the arm of the direction I plan to go), confirm the driver next to me wasn't going to also turn and ineptly crush me, and make the turn when it's our lane's turn.

Locally there's a four-way stop with two lanes in each direction, it's outside of my cycle-verse, but I drove through on my way to softball a couple times this summer (and the roads don't meet at a right angle, to add to the confusion). The varying interpretations of right of way and correct spacing and intervals always made me sweat nervously behind the wheel.

RANTWICK said...

4 way non-rightangle 2 lanes each way? Sounds like an awful lot of room for human error in computing who goes next! I would sweat it too.

RANTWICK said...

Apertome - Yep, as many vehicular cyclists will tell you, bike lanes don't necessarily make things easier or safer or better; they make the road more attactive to newcomers.

They do introduce new peoblems, but there are some that I like.

The human car said...

Personally when there is space to the right of cars I pull up on the side between car #1 and #2 and then go with car #1. If Car #1 turns right, I'm clear. If a cyclists comes up from behind, I'm in his lane.

RANTWICK said...

Human Car - That's roughly the Second Way, but your detail on positioning makes sense to me.

I tried JRA's method yesterday (merge into car lane, stick out right arm to warn upcoming cyclists) and quite liked it, alhtough there didn't happen to be anybody around!

Unknown said...

I can't tell if you're trying to use the same method for straight, right and left turns.

I would strongly prefer to go left or straight from the main traffic lane (#1). Using the bike lane will increase right and left hook hazards. I've never seen any motorist ever merge into the bike lane for a right turn (east coast), and very few will yield to bicyclists when they cross the bike lane to make right turns. With no enforcement, they are free to force bicyclists to yield (threaten to run them off the road).

For right turns, I guess the choice depends on how much traffic is backed up and the hazards in the bike lane. If you're turning right anyway, I don't typically see a large right hook hazard, especially if you have a stop sign at the intersection. In this case it could be safe to filter carefully when you want to turn right and left turning traffic is blocking the lane. If the bike lane is full of storm drains, potholes and debris, I would use the main lane.

fred_dot_u said...

I overlooked one concept,until I saw Stephen's post. Moving up the right side of a queue in a bike lane is something I would no longer consider to do. Before I took the TS101 course, I was in a position to turn right on red at a traffic light. There were ten or more vehicles ahead of me, so I rolled alongside. Apparently one driver took offense and cut over to the curb to stop me.

I think he underestimated my speed and ability to stop on the wet roadway, because I plowed right into the side of his vehicle, adjacent to the existing gash in the rear door.

A ticket for him and a lesson for me.

RANTWICK said...

Stephen - I always take the full vehicle lane for going straight or left. It is only the right turn where I am undecided.

fred - yeah, I've seen cars do that. When I do proceed to the right of a queue, I go pretty darn slowly, hopefully slowly enough to avoid just such a situation

Kokorozashi said...

Argh. Pesky web filters at work prevent me from seeing videos :( However, I wanted to thank you for bringing this point to light -- thus far, we don't have any bike lines through four-way stops here in Louisville, but if we did, I can't imagine it would make life easier (even though the people of Louisville are exceedingly polite at 4-way stops and usually live out something like the 'You first,' 'No, you,' 'No, I insist,' 'Not at all, you must go' etc. exchanges one sees in comedies from time to time).

I'm going to try to remember to pass this on to our local bike club!

RANTWICK said...

Kokoro - Please be careful about polluting the cycling world with anything produced for this blog. I mean, this is innocent enough, but if other content should spread... I shudder to think.

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