• Right Turn Only Lanes – Poignant

    by  • February 10, 2012 • Safety, Traffic Control • 24 Comments

    From the wire:

    “I just started commuting to work and in reviewing safety and law information videos online, I still have one question. When riding along the road and approaching a right turn-only lane but not at an intersection. Do I A: stay to the far right still and motorist behind should slow and turn after I’m clear. B: ride safely near the left of the lane and let the car behind pass on the right of me since they are turning? I’ve seen a video of this online but still don’t know where to ride. Thanks!!! I look forward to your response! 🙂

    Bike Delaware has no official recommendation, only because conditions vary and each situation can be unique, i.e. lane width, length, posted speed limits etc. However, studies do show that staying in the center to left portion of a right turn-only lane (RTOL), even at driveways and non-intersections, maximizes safety and discourages right-hooking. Most dedicated turn lanes are 10′ or 11′ wide, and placing yourself in this position takes at least 3′ of that space, with the remainder too narrow for a car to pass on your right. A true bike lane, on the other hand, delineates at least 4′ for bikes and leaves the entire 10′ to your right for a car. This way, drivers are much more inclined to fall in behind, then maybe come up on your right and turn right as they decelerate – as if you were another car. While this may not be comfortable for everyone, it is statistically the safest choice where RTOLs exist.

    “The other reason I asked is because I did just that. Rode to the left-most side of the right turn lane near the dotted entry line and a turning car behind me honked, then passed me and turned. Gotta love impatient drivers!!! :)) I’ve also attached a pic of a lane as an example. Green is where i was.”  ~ James Wylie

    You basically took the position of a standard bike lane or shared pocket lane, had one been present. Bike Delaware has made this a signature campaign issue, in the interest of safety for all road users.

    What you describe is an ongoing problem for anyone who gets around by bicycle, some with fatal or life changing consequences. Even the simplest striping modifications, or use of symbols or lines can increase safety dramatically – for everyone if properly designed. Drivers tend to approach these RTOLs differently and more carefully because bicyclists are given a defined space on the road. On the contrary, entering a RTOL with no such provisions is to impede or get in the motorist’s way, and with most in a rush to put out a fire it seems, intolerance and road rage can seriously dampen or end bicycling for some folks.

    Our recent effort to at least open or dash solid white taper lines, to allow bicyclists a clear path where the shoulder or bike lane transitions to a RTOL, has been denied by DelDOT. But this campaign will continue. We are currently waiting for a few design options to clear research and testing at the University of Delaware. Hopefully, with the help of a few friends and allies in the department, they will make their way into the Delaware MUTCD.

    Above:  Angela Cunneely, Bike Delaware Membership Director, tackles Hare’s Corner. Bicycling through right turn-only lanes that accommodate only one user group (fast moving cars) can be a nightmare for anyone doing their part to reduce auto dependence and live a healthy active lifestyle. Dealing with this – especially with multiple lanes of traffic – is not for the faint at heart.

    24 Responses to Right Turn Only Lanes – Poignant

    1. James
      February 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

      I think Bike Delaware should stop calling these lanes “Right Turn Only Lanes” or “Right Turn Lanes”. With the passage of SB120, they can now be used by bicyclists to go straight. So “Right Turn Lane” is pre-SB120. Engineers also sometimes call them “Deceleration Lanes”, which is also an accurate description – but only for motor vehicles. “Auxiliary Lane” is also used but that is, I think, unhelpfully vague.

      Unless somebody has a better idea, I’m going to suggest “Right Turn Lane – Bike Lane” (RTL-BL). It’s bit of a mouthful…but that’s what these things are (now that SB120 is law).

    2. Frank Warnock
      February 7, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Normally, yes. But changing a bit of language in an already obscure code that 99% will never know about isn’t going to change the driver’s perspective. Minus an advertising campaign of epic proportions, right turn-only lanes will stay just that – right turn-only lanes. That said, if we could rename it, I would go with “Slip Lane”. Image search and it fits. Interestingly, radius turns can also be referred to as “Compound Turning”.

    3. James
      February 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Why “slip lane”? Are bicyles slipping?

      The point of “RTL-BL” is not for motorists. (We’re not going to stencil “RTL-BL” in the lane.) The point is for *engineers*.

      Names matter. If engineers are permitted to keep calling these things “Right Turn Lanes” then that’s what they will continue to design them to be: right turn lanes (for cars).

    4. Frank Warnock
      February 7, 2012 at 11:41 am

      “Why “slip lane”? Are bicyles slipping?”

      Sure, why not? One of many definitions of “slip”:

      2. To pass gradually, easily, or imperceptibly


      From the engineering perspective, of course it makes sense to change it. No small task 😛

    5. February 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Actually, for a multilane road like that, the safest behavior, although admittedly not the most comfortable for beginners, is to control a travel lane, probably the rightmost one unless you are planning on turning left soon. Move over during a gap in traffic, and be right in the middle to make it clear that overtakers need to change lanes to pass. In all states, AFAIK, this is legal when the lanes are too narrow to share side by side, as they generally are on a multilane road. You are a driver and have the right to do that.

    6. Mighk Wilson
      February 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      There’s a much simpler, safer, and unquestionably legal approach: drive in the middle of the right-hand through lane. Drivers who wish to go right will pass on your right about 8-10 feet away. Drivers who wish to go straight will change lanes and pass on your left about 8-10 feet away.
      By being on the lane stripe or the left side of the right-turn-only lane, you risk having motorists come across in front of you from the through lane or squeeze past you in the right-turn lane.

    7. Frank Warnock
      February 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      @ M.Wilson
      This can work under certain vehicle speeds, or in a traffic calmed area. What we’re dealing with here are “minor” arterial highways with posted speed limits of 45 or 50 mph, with 10′ shoulders and deceleration lanes. If the light is green, not even the most advanced cyclists will move out into a through lane with cars charging full speed ahead.

      At least here, if you ride when there’s a full lane or shoulder on your right – tantamount to riding in the middle of the road from a windshield perspective – you are asking to be honked at or buzzed, if not run over. For a left, depending on the volume, cyclists sometimes continue straight and use the pedestrian facilities (if they exist) to cross.

      • Mighk Wilson
        February 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm

        We do it in Orlando on roads posted at 45-50 mph. We’re still here to talk about it. No fuss.

    8. Dave Holland
      February 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      @Frank Warnock, You’re wrong Frank, I would be in the travel lane. That is where a vehicle should be.

    9. Mighk Wilson
      February 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      More video. University Blvd. outside Orlando. Six lanes, posted at 45 mph; driver usually doing 50-55:

    10. James
      February 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      The context of the last few comments is, I believe, that bicyclists just need to be educated to take the travel lane on a , say, posted 45mph (but actual prevailing speed 60 mph) 20,000 ADT arterial road.

      This can be done. There are bicyclists out there that do this. There are videos on the internet to prove it. Just like there are videos of people skydiving and rock climbing, and living to tell about it.

      So what? It’s not a practical piece of advice for bicyclists. And here I don’t mean the 99.7% of people who won’t ride on shoulders on busy roads. I mean it’s an empty hope for even the 0.29% of the 0.3% who are highly confident and experienced road bicyclists. I’ve been on rides with scores of bicyclists – including LCIs – and in a group of 50 bicyclists I don’t see more than one move left to avoid a right turn lane and take the travel lane on a high speed, high volume arterial.

      Frank has been a commuter cyclist for probably 20 years or more. He was Delaware’s 2010 Bicycle Commuter of the Year. And he won’t do it. I won’t do it. I only know one person in Delaware who will do it.

      Again, I’m not saying that some intensive education regime might not program a very few bicyclists to do this. But if even our most highly trained bicyclists – LCIs – won’t even do this, what is the point of making the observation that it’s possible? It’s an interesting and exotic skill, sure, but it doesn’t have anything to do with practical, everyday, transportation bicycling for the remaining 99.9% of us.

      • Dave Holland
        February 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

        Obeying the rules of the road while driving may be considered an exotic skill, but It is possible and achievable by most people.

    11. Frank Warnock
      February 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Dave, you are perfectly welcome to come here and ride in the lane of 50-60 mph traffic in spite of a comfortably wide and well paved 10′ shoulder, and we’ll be more than happy to watch motorist’s reactions – and yours when you almost get hit for the umpteenth time. Your argument is ludicrous.

      Riding on a highway with no shoulder (or a worthless shoulder) with no other alternative leaves you little choice – that is about the only argument that makes any sense, and even then, most bicyclists ride in groups for increased visibility and safety. You’re comparing apples and oranges. If you honestly think we’re going to grow modeshare by telling people to ride in these conditions – sharing a highway lane with speeding 16 year olds absorbed in their iPhones and text messaging – you really are delusional.

      • Dave Holland
        February 9, 2012 at 11:05 pm

        My argument is ludicrous? I’m comparing apples to oranges? It wasn’t me who adopted the straw man strategy with the skydiving and rock climbing on youtube BS. You have now made this about riding on a shoulder when we are talking about lane position on the roadway through an intersection.
        I don’t give a damn about growing modeshare, I’m concerned with the safety of people who are riding now. Confusion and unsafe practices may increase modeshare by instilling a perception of safety, but it’s better to have the real thing. I’m telling you what is safe and practical, if you can’t negotiate the roadway in that manner it is safer for you to dismount and become a pedestrian.
        If you would, please inform your test subject, Angela, about proper lane position and dooring in bike lanes.

    12. James
      February 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      While shoulders are not part of the roadway, they are now explicity legal (courtesty of SB120) for bicyclists to ride (not “drive”) in. Do shoulders fit into the “Rules of the Road” since they are not actually part of the road?

    13. Frank Warnock
      February 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      For bicycles, absolutely. On a 4 lane arterial, aren’t the cars in the left lane driving to the left of the cars in the right lane? If a car in the right lane requires a left turn, does it not move into the left and then into the LTOL, if there is one? The movements a bicylist makes from a well designed shoulder or bike lane (those without nuisance sold white edge/taper lines at merge points) – including the onset of an RTOL – will be similar.

      The main idea behind opening the lines is to create this legal, unimpeded “lane” for bicyclists; the result being better legal protections and ease of sharing for everyone.

    14. James
      February 10, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Dave –

      Bike Delaware is also focused on the question of lane positioning. As you point out, this has essentially nothing to with the question of increasing mode share. It is strictly a question of safety for people who are riding now…I don’t think there has ever been a claim that the lane positioning issue has anything to do with mode share.

      This is a link to DelDOT’s current proposal for an RTL-BL pavement marking facility:


      I would appreciate your comments on the proposed facilities.

      • Dave Holland
        February 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm

        The first observation with theses drawings is they are incomplete. I have to assume there is some place for the cyclist to go if they make it through the intersection. Only the third drawing shows any part of the intersection.
        They all put the cyclists at risk due to their lack of compliance with standard rules of the road – a vehicle in a turn lane should be turning. Drivers in the oncoming lanes making a left turn across the cyclists path and drivers making a right turn from the right intersecting lanes will expect the cyclists to be turning and overlook any path they take that doesn’t conform to the standards. Also with all of these drawings, the cyclists is entering the roadway/travel lanes and mixing with the normal flow of traffic that they seek to avoid by having created the new shoulder and turn lane laws. Rather than create all this uncommon design only to end up in the flow of traffic they are seeking to avoid they would be safer to follow the practice of entering the correct travel lane for their intended destination at the correct time – before the intersection.
        There seems to be an unfounded fear of speed differential, mixing with larger vehicles and road rage that is driving decisions that are not making it safer for cyclists in Delaware. You’re dumping cyclists from a bike lane into a turn lane and using sharrows to place them in a position that is close (inches) to the higher speed large vehicles they fear on the left and invites high speed large vehicles to try and squeeze by on the right. Magnify the dangers created there with the slip lane in drawing 3 – on a green light you will have people speeding up to make that turn. There is also no place for the bike lane that morphed out of the turn lane to proceed to.

        If you were to persist with these designs, the safest (and I hesitate to use the word) position would be in the center of the turn lane. That only pertains to the position in the turn lane, which would be the norm to to be center to right center for a cyclists proceeding through the turn.

        Having control devices in use that conform to the MUTCD could likely be done, your design problem is going to be with AASHTO and FHWA Safety. Not to mention the conflicting local laws and law suits to follow.

    15. Frank Warnock
      February 10, 2012 at 10:08 am

      @ Dave Holland:
      “You’re wrong Frank, I would be in the travel lane. That is where a vehicle should be.”

      Whether to take the lane or stay in the “bike lane position”, for me, is a case by case decision, based on things like length of the right turn-only lane, amount of traffic, current signal phase, etc. It is not a “one size fits all” approach. You neglect to consider speed differentials, distracted driving, vulnerability, road rage, and all other disparities by grouping bicyclists and cars as equals. They are not, nor are kayaks and cigar boats for that matter.

      The pocket lane is *much* preferred, which puts you in the slip between the right turn-only lane and the through lane. This is *not* a false sense of security; it is safer and less contentious with other vehicles in the intersection. We did a survey on the topic and found overwhelming support across the board. It is the position most recommend (in most cases) and it finds support among the clear majority – even LCIs.

      Bike Delaware is about safety for the 1.3% (or whatever is is) riding right now, but we are also about increasing modeshare which can only be achieved through increased safety. There is nothing safe about multi-lane, high speed arterial intersections – all we can do is discuss various strategies for reducing our chances of being hit, that’s all.

      • Dave Holland
        February 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm

        Kayaks and cigar boats, like rock climbers and skydivers, are not considered legal vehicles on the roadway. Bicycles, cars, trucks, tractors, etc. are. I don’t neglect any aspect of the highway, but I am also not inventing any or applying false disparities. I certainly don’t group bicyclists and cars as equals, a bicyclist is a human driver of a vehicle and a car is a vehicle. Speed differential, distracted driving, vulnerability and road rage are things that equally apply to all vehicles and operators.
        I’m not surprised at your survey, anything that looks like a bike lane is going to get the vote of most people associated with advocacy. The painted white line protects them. I’m not attacking advocacy, I say this because I am an advocate of bicycling and also an LCI. So, you can stop using the LCI stamp of approval on everything.
        Saying there is nothing safe about multi-lane, high speed arterial intersections is only hyperbole. There is increased risk for all at intersections, the idea is to have traffic control devices and standardized procedures in place to decrease the risks.

    16. Frank Warnock
      February 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      “Drivers in the oncoming lanes making a left turn across the cyclists path and drivers making a right turn from the right intersecting lanes will expect the cyclists to be turning and overlook any path they take that doesn’t conform to the standards.”

      This was the exact argument used to justify our proposal, because the vast majority of cyclists do not and will not move out to the through lane in most cases. Making it legal to use the right turn-only lane (RTOL) as a shoulder and giving guidance (sharrows) can only provide legal protections for bicyclists in an altercation. It also provides a clear sign to motorists to expect bicyclists to take this position, which in turn yields greater respect and some measure of traffic calming when bicyclists are present. The safety benefits are readily apparent and proven in a number of bike lane studies.

      For one thing, the drawings are not bike lanes – they are a form of guidance, and legally, one is not required to follow them if they so choose. Your argument about lane positioning is also without merit, because any properly designed bike lane will provide merge points (see post about open taper lines) or in the case of this facility, no line delineation whatsoever. Almost every RTOL here is 10′ wide at the most; any position a rider takes on the left side of it – where the sharrow will be – is not going to leave enough space on the right for a car to pass, let alone “speeding up.” I have never once seen this happen, because 10′ is not enough physical width to share. They’e much more inclined to fall in behind, and wait for the bicyclist to clear the intersection/side street/whatever.

      “You’re dumping cyclists from a bike lane into a turn lane and using sharrows to place them in a position that is close (inches) to the higher speed large vehicles they fear on the left and invites high speed large vehicles to try and squeeze by on the right.”

      You’re not making any sense, Dave. Yes, they may come up on the right in a true bike lane, where the full RTOL width is maintained – but even then, drivers generally slow down or are in deceleration given the onset of the turn. Regardless, using the slip sees greater compliance with the 3′ passing law. In the lane, you will be buzzed. There isn’t a cyclist here that would tell you otherwise, not even LCIs.

      “Your design problem is going to be with AASHTO and FHWA Safety. Not to mention the conflicting local laws and law suits to follow.”

      Wrong. Nothing gets put on the ground without a research proposal, human factors testing, and actual trials. Nothing is permitted without FHWA approval – period. And nothing now – broken taper lines, sharrows and bike symbols – isn’t already AASHTO.

      End of conversation. If you would like to come visit Delaware and experience our roads first hand, we’ll be glad to join you – let us know.

      • Dave Holland
        February 14, 2012 at 12:19 am

        Frank, You are arguing yourself in circles to avoid rational conversation. I’ll honor your “End of conversation.” until you can prove the safest course when cycling through an intersection is not in the normal traffic lane designated for your direction of travel.
        Be safe,

    17. James
      February 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      DAVE HOLLAND WROTE: “If you were to persist with these designs, the safest (and I hesitate to use the word) position would be in the center of the turn lane. That only pertains to the position in the turn lane, which would be the norm to to be center to right center for a cyclists proceeding through the turn.”

      Dave, in my opinion this is a reasonable point. When I ride in a right-turn lane, I prefer to control the lane that way.

      DAVE HOLLAND WROTE: “Your design problem is going to be with AASHTO and FHWA Safety.”
      Maybe. But Frank is correct that DelDOT is being extremely conservative in its study design. They are conducting research on the sharrow-in-RTL marking because that is the procedure that the FHWA’s NCUTCD advisory committee wants everyone to follow. If there isn’t data that supports the marking, we’re not going to get it.

    18. Carmen
      June 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      This has been a huge source of contention between my husband and myself. He insists that cyclists should get out of the turn lane altogether and get into the straight-only lane, especially when stopping at a red light. His rationale is that the cars in the turn lane can still make a right on the red light, if traffic is clear, but with a bike in the lane may be less inclined to do so, and shows poor traffic etiquette on the rider’s part. My argument is that if you get into the straight-only lane, when the light turns green, you will be slowing down the traffic behind you. BTW, the particular intersection and lane in question DOES have a sign that clearly states “Right Turn Only EXCEPT BIKES”, which to me makes it pretty clear… But forget the argument, Id’ like to know what the actual statistics are, and as a driver, I’d take the right turn, provided I could clear the cyclist in the turn lane.

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