Bike Lanes and Motorist Right Turns

Here’s an interesting article discussing how motorists should legally and safely make right turns in the presence of a bike lane (with no separate right turn only lane):

California law requires motorists to merge into a bike lane before turning right.  This is consistent with destination positioning traffic principles (right turning traffic turns from the rightmost part of the roadway) and thereby minimizes the chance of a “right hook” crash, where a right turning motorist turns across the path of a cyclist proceeding straight.

A few years ago, Oregon was dealing with conflicting laws – one that required motorists to make right turns from the edge of the roadway, and yet another required them to stay out of bike lanes.  The police proposed a California-style law which would require motorists to merge into the bike lane before turning.  That did not gain traction, and so the net result in Oregon is that motorists are required to turn across bike lanes when turning right.

Oregon has been moving in the direction of installing “bike boxes” to address the right hook problem.  Here is an animation that shows they don’t work as intended in all situations:

As the Mercury News article illustrates, there is often confusion among motorists and cyclists about the California law regarding motorist right turns and bike lanes.  In my (Brian’s) view, part of the confusion is that motorists are being asked to occupy two lanes at once (the bike lane and part of the travel lane) – which runs counter to the concept we’ve all learned about only being in one lane at a time. But what other solution is there when bike lanes are striped to the right of lanes where motorists may turn right? Since there seems to be little desire to drop the bike lane stripe before intersections (even though the design standards allow it), the California law appears to be the best way to address the potential conflicts.

See also this post:

4 thoughts on “Bike Lanes and Motorist Right Turns

  1. Michael Graff

    Part of the confusion comes from the similarity between 6″ bike lane stripes and 4″ shoulder stripes, which have opposite rules. Motorists are not allowed to merge into shoulders to turn right, but are required to merge into bike lanes to turn right.

    There’s also inconsistency between the law and bike lane designs. While the law (CVC 21209) allows merging into the bike lane up to 200 feet before turning, the bike lane design standards specify that bike lane stripes be dropped or dashed 100 to 200 feet before intersections. I often see only 50 feet of dashing. So the dashed/dropped zone is often much shorter than the legal merge zone.

    Also, the dashed/dropped striping seems to be applied only at intersections, not driveways. So right turns into driveways usually involve merging into and crossing a solid bike lane stripe.

  2. Bob Sutterfield

    Alas, cyclists try to overtake stopped traffic on the right even absent an edge stripe or bike lane stripe (solid or dashed or colored), with results in California as tragic as those in Oregon:

    I see very low motorist compliance with 21209(a)(2)/(3) or 21717 or 22100(a). Long vehicles wouldn’t be able to make the turn if they started at the curb or edge, so “as close as practicable” for them could be fifteen feet away. But it’s unusual to see drivers of even normal sized vehicles merging to the curb before turning, unless perhaps they arrive at the intersection on a red signal. This certainly isn’t an enforcement priority.

  3. Brian DeSousa

    I know of a couple of motorists in Orange County who were ticketed for merging into the bike lane too early before turning right. I believe these were both instances where the bike lane stripe changed from solid to dashed only 50-100 feet in advance of the intersection, and the police were clearly using the solid striping as a guide rather than the 200 feet specified in CVC 21209.

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