I came across this diagram from the well-produced NYC DOT bike guide. It describes how cyclists can perform a "left hook turn" or "indirect left". Cycling education in Canada (like here and here), however, encourages cyclists to make "vehicular-style" left turns, which means to make left turns like motorists do. If they are uncomfortable with such left turns they can make a turn like a pedestrian, a "pedestrian left turn", by walking their bike on the crosswalk. This is encouraged as well with the new bike boxes on Harbord Street, as pointed out by James points out.
Vehicular-style left turn diagram:
There is nothing wrong with promoting vehicular left turns, they can be fast and efficient. But it's not the whole story. There is one example (that I can find) in Toronto of an official encouragement of indirect left turns. [Update: Robyn pointed out that jnyzz found another one at the intersection of Dundas / Annette / Dupont) At Sherbourne and Bloor, westbound cyclists can see a sign to indicate how to turn left (see below). The cyclist is recommended to bike partway across the intersection on green, make a little hook turn, and wait in front of the stop line for the other lights to turn green. Or maybe they mean in front of the crosswalk. Somewhere. The point is, there is some very small official encouragement of a practice that is almost uniformly practiced by Toronto cyclists, and it is making some effort to get cyclists to do an indirect left turn more safely. We need more of this.
©Indirect Turn Sign at Sherbourne and Bloor
©Indirect Turn Waiting Area on Sherbourne and Bloor
The advantage of an indirect left is that it is the easiest way for an average cyclist to make a left turn on major roads (any road with traffic lights). I have only ever seen a handful of Toronto cyclists who will make a vehicular-style left turn from a major arterial road to another arterial road. If there is almost no traffic a few more will do it. The average cyclist is very uncomfortable with crossing multiple lanes of traffic (often with streetcar tracks) and then wait out in the middle of an intersection as cars zoom by them on either side. They have weighed the cost/benefit themselves and decided that the added time of an indirect left by waiting for traffic lights is worth it.
I've been biking in cities for over 10 years. I've learned and taught the officially approved theory and practice. I can do vehicular lefts on most streets, whether it is up at Sheppard and Leslie or at Spadina and College. But I am almost always alone in doing it, and it's not particularly fun or comfortable. I find myself more and more just defaulting to indirect left turns. If I'm not comfortable doing it, just imagine how a grandmother on a bicycle with her grandkid feels about making left turns.
There is nothing special about Sherbourne and Bloor compared to any other major intersection in the core. It just happens to have a sign explicitly accepting what most cyclists are doing anyway. Why not just try to do it more safely by following the NYC diagram above?
In the Netherlands (and similar countries) they go one step further by providing indications and room for cyclists to make left turns at most major intersections:
©Left hook turn in Amsterdam
And see a video of how the Dutch have made indirect lefts easier with a protected bike lane.
The Real Johnson (not verified)
I never know how to behaveMon, 06/06/2011 - 07:46
I never know how to behave for a vehicular left when there are cars in the left hand turning lane. Do I go on the right or left side of the cars, or wait my turn in line as if I was a car?
Gavin (not verified)
Definitely as if you are aMon, 06/06/2011 - 07:56
Definitely as if you are a car.. too complicated to sit beside left-turning cars in that situation, they have other things on their mind.
Do I go on the right or leftMon, 06/06/2011 - 11:19
The best idea is to take the left-turn lane. But....if there's a really long queue, then many (most?) cyclists go to the right of the left-turning cars. This happens all the time on both Front and Richmond approaching Bathurst. Lots of cyclists looking to turn left (south) on Bathurst, long lineup of cars in the left lane (sometimes several blocks long), and cars in the right lane will be turning right. In this case, staying to the right and crossing the intersection leaves you open to get hit by a right-turning car.
This kind of lane-splitting isn't a solution I like, because it does give that "I'll play by my rules when it suits me" vibe that cyclists are accused of. On the other hand, why wait for five minutes in a long lineup of cars to make your turn?
A separate left-turn bike lane, as found on eastbound Fort York Blvd. at Bathurst, would be ideal.
I don't ride in Toronto, so ITue, 06/07/2011 - 13:26
I don't ride in Toronto, so I might be a little naive here, but in that long lineup sitiuation I prefer to filter forward on the right until I'm 5-6 cars from the front. At that point I look back and signal that I want into the lane, and somebody (certainly not everybody) will almost always let me in. Is it different in T.O., or do others here find success with that approach?
Clutch J (not verified)
Wait your turn and use theMon, 06/06/2011 - 12:22
Wait your turn and use the center-right of the lane to control your space (usually) although, should there be a long queue, no one can reasonably expect you to wait through 2-3 signal cycles.
Adrian (not verified)
Take the full lane ifFri, 06/17/2011 - 09:38
Take the full lane if possible. If not (or feeling crazy), travel on the right side of the left turning lane so you can turn without obstructing other vehicles. It's kind of like right turning or passing right turning vehicles: go to their left instead of squeezing in on the right.
Gavin (not verified)
I'm totally good withMon, 06/06/2011 - 07:54
I'm totally good with vehicular lefts at every intersection that doesn't have streetcar tracks in both directions. Then it just becomes too risky to hold my left arm out (particularly important in that scenario) while navigating Toronto's ridiculously tire-catchy tracks. We really need rubber track stoppers installed at those intersections - you know, they ones they use at railroad crossings that train trucks can squish down but cars/pedestrians/bikes can't.
Robyn (not verified)
There's a similar sign at theMon, 06/06/2011 - 09:31
There's a similar sign at the horrible Dundas/Dupont/Annette intersection too -- see http://jnyyz.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/dundas-dupont-annette/ for a photo & some videos.
Pedal Pusher (not verified)
I'll second Gavin. WhenMon, 06/06/2011 - 09:34
I'll second Gavin.
When making a left I take the lane.
If you are on the side of the car, you will confuse the crap out of them and put yourself in danger because every one turns slightly differently.
The upside of taking a lane is also that you don't really slow down traffic as I find I can accelerate faster than the cars around me, so at that point you really are part of traffic.
I will take the pedestrian approach at intersections like Jarvis where you have 2 cars full of traffic to cross. It's a mixup for me depending on where I am and current traffic conditions.
The 3rd option if you arrive at a fresh red is to dismount and cross to the left first like a walking pedastrain. and then across.
I would like to discourage staying on the bike at that point since you are no longer part of traffic.
I find that my lane positionMon, 06/06/2011 - 11:12
I find that my lane position when making a vehicular left varies. If I'm early enough in line for the light that I won't miss the left turn phase on the coming cycle (particularly on Spadina, where there's no option to make a left turn outside of the left turn phase), then I'll take the lane.
If I feel it desirable to filter forward though, then I'll position myself on the rightmost side of the rightmost left-turn-only lane. If there's no dedicated left turn lane, then there usually isn't a dedicated left turn signal, or a long enough line of left-turners to keep me from taking the leftmost lane.
Pedal Pusher (not verified)
Ed I think the scenarios outMon, 06/06/2011 - 12:02
Ed I think the scenarios out lined plus the third of dismounting and becoming a pedestrian are all fine. I am all for playing by the rules and this is a case where the cyclist has the most options while still playing by the rules.
The one scenario where people break the rules is riding across crosswalks at a red. That I do have an issue with. None of the other methods put us in a bad light.
dances_with_traffic (not verified)
I often go for vehicularMon, 06/06/2011 - 12:50
I often go for vehicular lefts, particularly if there is a turning lane. The disadvantage of the indirect left is if you get into an accident somewhere on the crosswalk(you weren't walking it across) the onus is going to be on you, not the pedestrians or drivers. Indirect left sorta perpetuates judgmental drivers, not that i'm particularly concerned about that because they complain when you take the direct left anyways.
Note that the indirect leftMon, 06/06/2011 - 14:39
Note that the indirect left diagram and signage featured above do not advise cyclists to ride in the crosswalk. Cyclists ride just to the left of the crosswalk and then come to a stop before the curb. Then when the light changes they are in front to make it through the intersection first.
I take the additional measure of waiting far back enough that a car can still make a right hand turn on a red. I think this variation is better because it avoids riding in the crosswalk (which can be rude and get you a ticket) and puts you in a better position to cross.
Margonaut (not verified)
For me it depends on theMon, 06/06/2011 - 14:27
For me it depends on the intersection and how busy it is, I just make sure to give peds the right of way. I put safety before following traffic laws to the letter.
I haven't ridden alongMon, 06/06/2011 - 14:49
I haven't ridden along Harbord in a dog's age. Are the bike boxes ahead or behind the pedestrian crossing? (Actually, I can't imagine them being ahead of the pedestrian crossings, because it wouldn't be real safe for pedestrains with bicycles rolling through, would it?)
The reason I ask is that indirect lefts have problems at intersections with a lot of bike and pedestrian traffic. It's hard to position yourself on the far corner without either blocking through cyclists, or getting into the pedestrian crosswalk and thus blocking pedestrians.
I guess if you have the full signal cycle, you can dismount and walk across, no worries. Riding across, especially when trying to make a late signal, means you'll have to nail the brakes just as you reach the far side. On a busy cycle route like College, that invites being rear-ended by following cyclists (bicycles don't have brake lights).
So trying to do an indirect left turn at say College and Bathurst is going to be tough to do without making others have to duck around you.
Also, it means that once you've made your "left", you start out as the light turns green with all the other traffic. My general preference is to go through a light later in the phase, as I'd rather have all the cars jockeying for position ahead of me rather than beside me, or behind me trying to pass. Not that this keeps me from filtering up when going straight; however there I do have a chance to size up the cars, and can for example take the opportunity to head to the left if any are signaling right.
The bike boxes are behind theMon, 06/06/2011 - 15:48
The bike boxes are behind the pedestrian crossings.
An indirect left is a bit trickier without a dedicated space for doing so (see above for examples) but it doesn't mean it can't be done safely. You don't go all the way to the far corner. Instead you stop just to the left of the crosswalk and a few feet before the corner so that there's room for right-turning cars.
Crosswalks are almost always set back so there is just enough space for a cyclist to stay out of through traffic but be in a good position for going through to the left. Being in the front of all the other traffic is the best place to be because everyone sees you. Then you can start up and be in a good position at the other side of the intersection - 1 metre from curb/parking.
By the way, there is aMon, 06/06/2011 - 15:06
By the way, there is a cast-in-concrete indirect left at Brown's Line and Lake Shore.
Here's a picture. The bike lane is on your right. Continuing along puts you westbound on Lake Shore. If you want to go east, you duck to the right of the right-hand yellow/black striped marker post and swing around the concrete island. When all is clear, cross the traffic lane to the short continuation of the bike lane, visible by the left-hand yellow/black marker post.
The satellite view might clarify this (or maybe not).
It took me about three years to figure out why that island was there. Needless to say, no one uses it. There are precious few cyclists riding over the Brown's Line bridge, and I would guess half or so use the sidewalks anyway.
Claire (not verified)
I use the indirect left onTue, 06/07/2011 - 08:10
I use the indirect left on University Ave. There is no safe way to get over 3 lanes to get to the left turn lane and then back over to the far right once the turn is complete. Traffic is too heavy and cars are too busy jockying for their own position to watch for cyclists. And cyclists can't indicate lane changes and turns long enough for distracted motorists to take note. For each situation, I consider the risk of an accident and choose the course that reduces my risk.
University is a greatSun, 06/19/2011 - 10:10
University is a great example, Claire. I can think of few cyclists that are willing to do battle with cars on that street. I can do it, but I just find it too stressful unless there is no traffic behind me.
I find myself doing more and more indirect left turns, now that I've found that it is condoned and that I can do it safely by waiting just ahead of the crosswalk.
W. K. Lis
Since a bicycle is aTue, 06/07/2011 - 10:56
Since a bicycle is a "vehicle" it can use the whole left turn lane to make a left turn. However, if there are streetcar tracks or heavy lines of traffic, I switch over to the "left hook turn" or "pedestrian style" both to save time and safety.
dances_with_traffic (not verified)
More aggressive perhaps is toTue, 06/07/2011 - 17:33
More aggressive perhaps is to filter forward, wait on the opposite side of the intersection until somebody who is turning right or left delays traffic and then make your move.
Okay, gridlock's many joysWed, 06/08/2011 - 09:07
Okay, gridlock's many joys may be semi-unique to downtown at rush hour. One really big problem is that cars turning right are often backed up for a long way, because they're stuck waiting for pedestrians.
So when traffic starts moving, the right lane often doesn't. If you continue to filter up on the right, sooner or later you'll be to the right of a right-turning car, and that's a very bad place to be. Now you have to make a right-angle left-hand turn, squeeze between the front of one car and the back of the next one, and then to a right-angle right-hand turn to get past the right-turning car on the left side. With traffic in the second lane zipping through the intersection, that's not too good either.
All this presumes that there won't be a bus or car up close to the curb so you can't really get by on the right anyway.
Southbound on Yonge, I often move entirely into the left lane to get past right-turning cars at King or Wellington or Front (note that due to construction, the latter two are way worse than usual anyway). Fortunately Yonge is downhill and it's the start of my ride, so why not sprint a bit?
Bike lanes are nice, but then there are the bike lanes on Yonge where, south of the railway tracks, a southbound cyclist gets to compete with southbound cars backed up in a long line to make a right turn onto Lake Shore west. Here again, once you're beside the unmoving line of right-turning cars, it's really tough to get to the left of them.
Ironically, it's a lot easier to filter on the right on streets with parking, such as Queen. But there you're automatically entered for the door prize.
Kivi Shapiro (not verified)
I don't think this actuallySun, 06/12/2011 - 22:11
I don't think this actually is "what most cyclists do anyway". What I see most often is for cyclists to use the other two sides of the square. For instance, if they are travelling north when they hit a red light (and are therefore on the south-east corner of the intersection), they'll cross directly against traffic to the south-west corner, then against traffic again to the north-west corner when the light changes, and then continue westward. Usually without either stopping or dismounting at any point.
Sometimes the indirect leftSun, 07/17/2011 - 20:21
Sometimes the indirect left is quicker, depends on traffic. For safety reasons I usually do it more often at intersections with criss-crossing streetcar tracks. Like people who posted above, University (from Queen and south of) is a common stretch to do it as well, but it depends on the time of day.
If it's not an easy pass through the intersection because of heavy traffic and multi-directional, I just use the pedestrian signals. Spadina/Queen is another area I commonly do indirect lefts, especially in early evening between the PM rush and sundown.