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Stopping at an Intersection

I am now finished my final exams for the semester so I have a lot of free time to kill, so the other day I decided to sit on a patio at a busy downtown street and watch the intersection. Intersections are tricky for riders as it is where various users of the road all interact with each other. Statistically, intersections are also where most cycling collisions occur usually as a result of poor visibility or unpredictable behaviour. Below are a few techniques on approaching and navigating an intersection safely.

Approaching an Intersection:

-When approaching a stop sign or a red light glide to the intersection and slowly/gradually apply the brakes to come to a stop. Slamming on the brakes will wear out your tires, brake pads and rims quickly and may result in skidding which is especially dangerous in rainy/snowy conditions.

-Shift down one or two gears as you approach the intersection that way you are in a lower gear ratio when you begin pedaling again. Far too many cyclists stick to the high gear that they were on which means they will be struggling to bring themselves up to speed or they find themselves weaving around to maintain balance while they attempt to gain speed for momentum. Hammering on your pedals to gain speed is not only a waste of energy but can slow you and others behind you.

-If there is a vehicle waiting at the intersection hang back a bit so that you are not in the driver’s blind spot. There’s no point in squeezing beside the driver unless you are making a right turn and it places you in an uncomfortable position as you are boxed in if the driver is attempting to make a right turn. It’s best to either be slightly ahead or behind a vehicle in the same lane as pictured below rather than be caught in their blind spot.

Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto

Waiting at an Intersection:

-Put your left foot down instead of resting your right foot on the curb. It’s very tempting to rest one’s foot on the curb but doing so places your bike closer to the part of the road where debris such as glass accumulates and where there are sewer grates. By putting your left foot down you not only keep some distance away from the curb but it also gives drivers behind you the perception that there is much less space in the lane so they will not be tempted to squeeze beside you. Squeezing is dangerous since you enter their blind spot and vice versa which increases the chance of getting a right-hook.

-Look around you, especially behind you. Take the time to look at what other road users are doing or preparing to do as the driver behind you may be signaling to make a right turn or gun it when the green light shines. Also watch for pedestrians who may be straggling behind while crossing the street or trying to make a bolt for it as the light changes. You are still operating a vehicle even while stopped at a red light so try to be aware especially at an intersection.

Posted: April 28th, 2010
Filed under: How to
Tags: , , | 8 Comments »

8 Comments on “Stopping at an Intersection”

  1. 1 Mark said at 11:19 am on April 28th, 2010:

    Great post, but let me add a couple things.
    1. When you’re approaching an intersection and a car is already there trying to turn right, go on the left side of the car. If there’s no cars there and the right lane is for right turns, wait on the left side of that lane so cars coming from behind wanting to turn right can pass you on your right.
    2. Only people who are left handed (or left footed!) should wait with their left foot down. While your points about debris and appearing to take up space are noted, when you start riding from a stop, you should always start with your less-strong foot (usually your left). Have your left pedal at a 45 degree angle (up and towards the front). When it’s time to go, simply stand on the left pedal which will scoot the seat under you and get the bike in a forward motion.Your right pedal will come around and now you can power ahead with your stronger foot. This helps keep your initial forward momentum in a straight line and you won’t wobble back and forth. (This is from Sheldon Brown: (video too)

  2. 2 Bikeroo said at 1:54 pm on April 28th, 2010:

    Good add on #1, it’s scary watching people try to pass a right-turning vehicle on the right instead of the left it’s risky businesses.

    I’m right foot dominant, like most cyclists it seems, but I still try to keep the left foot down until it is time to proceed at which point it’s just a quick leg shuffle to bring the left foot + pedal into the 45 degree position. This may be tricky for some people but it’s a great way to keep drivers back once mastered.

  3. 3 Joe T. said at 2:30 pm on April 28th, 2010:

    I’m also right-dominant, and have no trouble putting my left foot down and then getting going again.

    I find that having the dominant foot doing the first start-off push works great for getting going faster than having my left do it.

  4. 4 Mark said at 3:52 pm on April 28th, 2010:

    Fair enough – different techniques for different people. I was kind of amazed once I tried Sheldon’s advice. Maybe give it a try and see if it works?

  5. 5 Joe T. said at 4:43 pm on April 28th, 2010:

    You are totally right Mark… different styles for everyone. :)

    Sheldon’s advice sounds good for someone who comes off their seat when waiting at a red light. I can definitely see how the non-dominant-foot-first method would be useful.

  6. 6 Bikeroo said at 9:07 pm on April 28th, 2010:

    An alternative would be to put the right foot down but rest it on the ground rather than on the curb though it may not have the same effect in keeping drivers off your side

  7. 7 Weekly Wrap-Up: Dandyhorse, BikeSharing, and More! | Biking Toronto said at 6:37 am on April 30th, 2010:

    [...] Stopping at an Intersection [...]

  8. 8 duncan said at 11:57 am on June 28th, 2011:

    I disagree with waiting to the far right and allowing right turning cars to pass. Very few streets in Toronto are wide enough to accommodate this move and it requires drivers to monitor your position, look for oncoming cars and crossing peds to their left while also checking the lane to their right to ensure it is still clear. When I arrive at a red and there isn’t a car ahead of me in the right most lane, I stop in the middle. Cars trying to squeeze past cyclists waiting to the left are often stopped by crossing pedestrians once the light turns green anyway.

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