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10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic: Part 9 of 10

10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic

Today we continue a series of 10 posts about cycling with car traffic. These are things we have learned from years of riding in downtown Toronto. Some of these tips you may have seen before in other places, and some will be new.

This is not meant to be a complete list… there are more secrets out there… but here are 10 that you’ll find very useful.

NOTE: These are geared towards downtown cycling, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. These all assume that you already know about proper lighting and safety (ie. helmets are useful, stopping at red lights is advised, etc.) precautions, and know that riding on sidewalks is one of the most unsafe things you can do, for both pedestrians and yourself.

Past tips are found at the bottom of this post.

9. Avoid the Right Hook

One of the most common places that car-bike collisions happen is at intersections, and more commonly, when a car is turning right.

Being hit (or you riding into) a right-turning car is sometimes nicknamed the “Right Hook”, and the best way to avoid it is to not pass a car on the right hand side if it is turning right.

Avoid the Right HookIf you see a car waiting to turn right and you’re about to pass on the right hand side, the best thing for you to do is to slow down or stop and wait for the car to  complete the turn.  The rear-right blindspot to a driver is huge, and if a driver is not being especially vigilant, they will miss you approaching from behind on that side.  So, slow down or stop and wait for them to complete the turn.

If the road is not busy and you have the option, head around the car on the left side to continue through the intersection.

The only, ONLY, exception to this rule is if you are 100% sure that a driver knows you are there on their right and are being nice and waiting for you to pass before they complete their turn.  You’ll find nice drivers like this a lot downtown, as they are used to cyclists being everywhere.  You still need to be careful and pass them with caution, and be sure to thank them as you go by (with a handwave, or verbally if their windows are open).

Another way the Right Hook can happen is if a car turns right in front of you as you are approaching a cross street (a non-signalled one).  The best way to be prepared for something like this is to stay aware of what is around you.  When approaching a cross street, look around you to re-affirm where cars are so that none of them catch you unawares.

Check out the full “10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic” series:

  1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You
  2. Ride in a Straight Line
  3. Play by the Rules
  4. Avoid the “Stoplight Squeeze”
  5. Signal Sensibly
  6. Take That Lane
  7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable
  8. Ride With Others
  9. Avoid the Right Hook
  10. Practice Your Route

Image Credits:

  • Joe said: “The only, ONLY, exception to this rule is if you are 100% sure that a driver knows you are there on their right and are being nice and waiting for you to pass before they complete their turn.”

    I’d up that to 120% myself. It is such a risk. This morning on the way to work I’m pretty sure someone was trying to be nice this morning but I waited behind them and motioned them forward. After all, they *may* have been being nice. They may also have been looking in the glove box for a CD and would hit me once they got their tunes going again.

  • Good point Todd. I pass on the right very rarely… and only if I’m absolutely sure they are waiting.

    I slow down a ton just in case… and I be sure and thank the driver on my way by. :)

  • I’ve been enjoying this “10 secrets” series (but why are they ‘secrets’!?) and this issue of the ‘right hook’ is probably the most difficult to solve with an easy rule. When coming up to an light-controlled intersection, my usual practice is to check to see if there is a car (or cars) waiting to turn right, or if the right lane is used for right turns only – if the case, I position myself on the left side of the right lane (i.e. on the left side of the right-turning car(s)). As much as I can, I go around the left side of right-turning cars – but this doesn’t always work.

    Sometimes the light will be red and I’ll be waiting on the right side of the street and a car will come up to my left side and then want to turn right. If I don’t get myself up to the stop line or the cross walk, when the light changes to green, the car will often (feels like ‘always’!) pull ahead, turn a bit and then stop, blocking me, as the car waits for pedestrians to cross. Many times there will be a car beside me and then, just as the light turns green, they suddenly put on their signal to turn right and pull in front and cut me off – so annoying! If they had their signal on while waiting, I’d have positioned myself on their left. Another annoying practice is when a car will gun it past you, then cut in front to turn right onto a side street and immediately have to stop for pedestrians.

    As suggested on this site before, a cyclist should take up the lane so that right turning cars can’t get around, and the car will have to wait for light to change (just like when there’s a car first in line that wants to go straight). But I’m a pretty relaxed person and I like to try and make life easier for everyone and I don’t really like blocking a car ‘on principle.’

    Anyway, I’m very glad that you’re recommending cyclists avoid passing right-turning cars on their right. Too often, I see a cyclist try to squeeze through on the right side of a right-turning car that’s waiting for pedestrians. And the cyclist gives the driver a dirty look, yells at them, feels offended, etc..! I feel like yelling to the cyclist “go around the other side!!”

    So, for example, when you’re riding north on St. George and you’re coming up to Bloor and the light is green and there is a car trying to turn right but waiting for pedestrians, go around the left side of the car or wait. Don’t try and squeeze through between the car and pedestrians and then be amazed that the car diver is surprised you’re there.

  • Bradley Wentworth

    There is a bit of a catch-22 about the right hook in this city, unfortunately; cities with advanced cycle infrastructure always have bikes pass on the right, but that’s because of good signage and alert drivers. The question is: at what point do we make that change?

    More disconcerting is when you come to a stop at a red light and then a car comes to a stop next to you. Often the right lane on the far side is blocked by parking. If the car isn’t signalling right, you don’t know if it will go straight and merge left (often dangerously racing the left-lane vehicle), go straight and park in the right lane (taxis do this a lot) or turn right without signalling. I solve this by jumping the green light by about half a second, which is illegal but has saved me from so many possible vehicle-bicycle conflicts. I’ve been pulled over but not ticketed.

    What we really need is bike boxes at all major intersections, or a bicycle green 2 seconds earlier than vehicular traffic. This is how many cities deal with this issue.

  • chris

    “You’ll find nice drivers like this a lot downtown”

    perhaps it’s my ignorance of the lane rules for cyclists, but if we (cyclists) are considered vehicles, i’m not sure how we have the right to pass a queue of cars waiting to make a right on their right side? shouldn’t the only two options when approaching this scenario be to either: wait behind the line or merge into the left lane?

    i think these two options are what is presented in the article above, but i think adding the “nice drivers” comment assumes that cyclists have the right of way on the right side of the road and can pass waiting cars at will. since i see a lot of cyclists do this, perhaps it is the case, but it just seems like a dangerous rule then. clarification of the legalities of our lane rights would be helpful for the above article.

    ultimately, we’re responsible for ourselves, so i just take the safest route and assume the car is not looking for me on their right.

  • Good comments everyone!

    @Chris I hear what you’re saying and I think it *is* a really grey area. After all, when traffic is slow and lane size permits, cars are permitted to pass me on the left. Am I not permitted when they stop to pass them until my “lane” is stopped? (This is not a rhetorical question – I don’t know the correct answer but I hope to get one soon).

    Practically speaking it makes sense to be allowed to do this but slowly and carefully watching for folks turning not only right, but people stopping next to you to allow a left-turning person, for example, to enter a driveway. This last one has almost caught me a couple times – not when filtering but when actually using a bike lane next to stop/go traffic.

  • Can of worms you opened here isn’t it?
    Everything you are talking about is right on! I really appreciate the common sense strategies and tactics you are taking here along with the awareness that is coming out of this. What a great series! Wish I would of seen it at the start…(hint, hint.)

    Here is another option for the right hook avoidance. If cars are waiting to turn, hop off your bike, go up on the sidewalk and walk across with the rest of the pedestrians. This takes you out of the zone and hopefully makes you more visible to the drivers since most are looking there and not where you are.

    I personally would pass to the left of the intending turner given room for safety and visibility.

    Todd asked me to comment via Twitter about passing on the right. By the letter of the law, no one is allowed to pass on the right except where there is room to do so, to go around a left turning vehicle, paved shoulder, road wide enough, etc. Sec 150 of the HTA.

    Slower moving vehicles (Sec 147)…must travel as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of roadway. Except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction. Most people think this is where the authority to pass on right comes from. It doesn’t…there is no authority to pass on right except in section 150.

    As a vehicle, you are required to maintain a lane, so technically you have to wait in line with the rest of traffic, unless you pass the stopped vehicles on the left side, which will leave you out in no man’s land when those vehicles get moving again.

    I have never met an officer that has charged a cyclist for passing stopped vehicles on the right and I have never laid it either myself. In a quick round table here no none would lay it unless there was a collision as a direct result.

    Having said that, splitting the lanes or going between cars…everyone here said, “Yes, I’d charge.”

    I hope that clears it up a bit….ride safe, ride aware and be predictable. Thanks for letting me jump in.

  • Thanks, that was really a helpful explanation. I like the “turning into a pedestrian” idea also. It’s not always the fastest way through an intersection (it might be faster to just wait your turn in traffic depending on how fast you walk). However, I was riding down Bloor last night east of Avenue Rd (first time in a long time – I’d forgotten why I was avoiding it) and that’s a perfect place to use that approach. Traffic was basically at a standstill. Sure, you could filter a little bit up towards the front but all you’d need is for someone, say at Bay street to just have enough of the traffic, whip the wheel to the right intending to go down and take Wellesley and you’d be toast. And really, the traffic there is so slow that the pedestrians are moving faster anyway so you’re better off.

    I’m a big fan of the “turning into a pedestrian” approach (when safely applied) for making left turns at busy intersections as well. There are some places where there’s no delayed green and nobody’s going to give you a break. In those cases, hopping off the bike, joining the pedestrians crossing one way and then cross with them again to complete your left turn. And a modified version of that is suggested turning from westbound Bloor onto southbound Sherbourne. Cross the intersection, stop at the other side and turn your bike to the left and join the southbound traffic when the light turns green. I use this approach in other places as well, particularly when riding our tandem – as it’s a single speed and especially with two of us it is a bit heavier I don’t have the acceleration I’d like for making a quick left from the left turn lane.

  • gnille1

    Hey all, great comments. Todd, everyone, I’ve wondered why Sherbourne @ Bloor (To my knowledge) is the only intersection with a specific sign promoting the “indirect left turn” method? Anyone have an idea? I often go for this when there is just too much traffic to comfortably/safely get to the left turning lane, but I always feel like I’m doing something wrong.

  • I’m sorry, but had I known that the police would be part of this discussion I would never have contributed. My encounters with the police have only ever been harassing, intimidating and violent.

  • Sorry to spoil it for you Mark, but please don’t take my involvement as a reason to remove yourself from the conversation. There is a great discussion going on here and I know you’ll find that not all officers are indicative of the experiences you’ve had.

    I know that not all cyclists are represented by the worst of the behaviours out there. In fact, I know that the very small percentage of the truly poor behaviour I’ve seen offends most responsible and respectable riders, (even the ones that don’t obey every rue of the road).

    I think if you keep an open mind, you’ll see that just like anything else we are a micro-representation of society in general. There is good, bad, great and average in everything. But in case your opinion can’t be swayed about us. Thanks for writing in anyways.

  • Thanks for taking part in the discussion, Tim.

    Having a member of the Toronto Police Service weigh in on issues is extremely useful and I think most people who read BikingToronto appreciate having you here to offer your experience and expertise.

    I won’t delve into good and bad police experiences because this isn’t the place for that kind of discussion.

    I will say that BikingToronto is here to be an information resource for new and experienced cyclists in our city, and that we believe in the power of positive and constructive discussion. There are enough (and too many) websites about biking that welcome and thrive on negativity and confrontation, and people are welcome to go to those if they don’t like the way that BikingToronto does things.

  • Great discussion everyone – I tried to have this same conversation on Twitter with @giddyupsales the other day, but it’s hard to explain yourself in 140 character messages.

    I agree in principle that if a car is turning right, a cyclist should either wait or go around the car (if safe to do so). But there is a HUGE grey area that I think many people are missing.

    For example, if I’m riding along a street with a bike lane, there is ample space to pass cars on the right – and this is perfectly legal as Sgt. Burrows has explained. There are also situations when there is a long lineup of cars turning right across a bike lane (good example is College street at say Bathurst). If the cars are waiting in a straight line, and not blocking the bike lane while they are waiting for pedestrians, then there is no reason why cyclists shouldn’t *cautiously* proceed past the cars on the right. It would be extremely awkward to go around this lineup of cars on the left because they are bumper-to-bumper. And it wouldn’t make sense to wait for these cars to turn because they typically don’t turn until there are no pedestrians – and the light has often turned yellow or red by the time this happens.

    So I think this situation is an exception to the “always go around or wait” rule. And it’s a very common exception too since a lot of the routes I take are on streets with bike lanes.

    Somebody else mentioned that in a perfect world, traffic signals would eliminate the conflict between bikes and cars to prevent cars from turning across the path of bikes. That’s how they handle it in the Netherlands.

    But until that day comes, bike boxes and advance green signals would be helpful – but most importantly, always being aware is the best advice to stay safe.


  • duncan

    James brings up a good point. What are the rules or best practice for streets with bike lanes? I’ve often been the first to a red, on a street with a bike lane. A car comes up to my left and wants to turn right. Often, that person will stop beside me and then proceed to box me in, often getting stuck waiting for pedestrians and effectively blocking a lane of traffic (bike lanes are active traffic lanes).

    Common sense would suggest that advance priority would progress from right to left. Pedestrians have the right of way first once the signal is green. Bike lanes are next in line and then, once both of these lanes are clear, the third lane is free to turn right across the bike lane and through the crosswalk.

    Hopefully this is addressed by the Toronto Cyclists Union changes to the driver’s handbook, but the MTO should be actively educating drivers as infrastructure changes.

  • Bradley Wentworth

    I think it’s great to have so many different contributors – good to hear a Police Officer weigh in too. Re: Sec. 150 of the Highway Traffic Act, “Passing to the right of a vehicle”, it begins with “the driver of a motor vehicle…” Earlier in the Act a motor vehicle is specifically defined to exclude bicycles, so that still leaves the question up in the air.

    From my own experience and reading up on the statistics, I believe a good deal of the confusion and even ill-well between authorities and cyclists stems from the inadequate and sometimes downright unsafe provisions in the HTA for bicycles. The law has to be amended. A better cycling culture is also crucial.

    My classic example is this: Sec. 60 (3) states: “No person shall ride a bicycle on a highway unless it is equipped with at least one brake system acting on the rear wheel that will enable the rider to make the braked wheel skid on dry, level and clean pavement.”

    That’s ludicrous – it implies you don’t need a front brake, when in fact a front brake is generally all you need to stop a bicycle within its minimum stopping distance. In other words, the law and probably the way we teach cycling is robbing us of potentially life saving meters when trying to avoid a collision. Most casual cyclists I know never use their front brake, and this has to change. See http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html for the rudimentary physics of this.

  • Naturally the biggest concern we have here is your safety, so any decision has to be based there. I am a huge proponent of communication so my first suggestion is to try to get eye contact with the drivers who are stopped so that you both have an idea of each other’s intentions. That in itself ‘should’ solve the problem.

    Having said that…since what can go wrong, will, when stopped, it would be advisable to become a pedestrian. Hey, doing this even gives you the satisfaction of making drivers wait for you. (A small victory). Another option, if you are lucky enough to be the first at the light, take the motorcycle approach and stop in the left side of the right lane (blocking position). The cars can then turn right and when you get a green indication, start off and move to the right edge again.

    When moving, since we all know that you are travelling towards a dangerous situation, your ‘spidey senses’ should be in overdrive here. My suggestion to the drivers is when the solid bike lane marking ends and becomes a hashed marking, move over and block bikes from passing on the right. If they did this then it creates a ‘safer’ zone to their left for you to proceed around.

    Passing a line of stopped cars is really risky. We teach our officers on the highways that when passing stopped traffic to actually go slower than if they are passing moving traffic…that’s how dangerous it really is.

    I know this isn’t too much help, but even in terms of right away, its a bad argument to make when you’re injured. The true right way is the safest way.

  • duncan

    Thank you for your reply, Tim Burrows.

    Personally, I’m against the “turn into a pedestrian” suggestion. It completely defeats the purpose of why bike lanes are there in the first place. Of course, the police aren’t the ones making the laws, so this is why we need the MTO to be proactive and address our changing infrastructure. Or for us as drivers and cyclists to urge that they become more so. I’ve been a licensed driver for more than a decade. In that time I have never, ever, received a single notice from the MTO about, well, anything aside from my license getting ready to expire.

    Of course, it’s up to drivers to also take the initiative and learn the rules of the road for whatever region they may be in. Our rules are standardized throughout Ontario, unfortunately our infrastructure, while mostly consistent, is not. Toronto being a major Ontario destination means that we have people on our roads who may never have encountered a bike lane or pedestrian controlled crossing or streetcar. How do we reach out to those drivers?

  • Ryan

    Unfortunately, there’s some very bad infrastructure in the city that makes things even more dangerous. For instance, if you’re travelling west on Queen’s Quay: When you come to Spadina, the right-hand lane becomes a turning lane. Not only that, but the street is significantly narrower on the west side of the intersection. So if you stay in the right-hand lane, not only do you have to contend with cars turning right, you also have to merge with non-turning traffic in the left-hand lane.

    I ride that route often enough that I always move to the left-hand lane when I approach the intersection, but there’s nothing indicating the unusual aspects of the intersection. Interestingly, if you keep going to Bathurst, the street does the same thing, but the bike lane stays to the left of the turning lane, so it’s easier to stay in the correct position.

    Taking the lane – the “blocking” position – can be very helpful at some intersections, depending on traffic and geography.

  • Allan

    A bicycle is a vehicle therefore do as you would do if you were in a car.
    As for Tim (police) following this group it is good to know there interpretation of the law as they are the ones given out the tickets. Work with them and they will work with you, work against them and they can make life miserable for you.

  • Hal

    As a driver and a cyclist, nothing drives me more crazy than a cyclist squeezing up between your car and the curb while you’re waiting for a light and indicating a right turn. If a cyclist sees a car ahead of them indicating a right turn they should stay back until the car has negotiated the turn.

  • Adam H.

    Chris, if there is room to pass on the right, you are allowed to. It’s around section 147 of the HTA, I think; you’re allowed to pass on the right if there’s room for two lanes of traffic, and bicycles are traffic, we just need less lane. But if you are coming up behind someone who is signalling right, you should yield to them.

    Typically, if I am first at the stop line for a red, I move left a bit and assert my safety over right-turners – I’m tired of being endangered by idiots who floor it around me and the corner as soon as the light goes green. If the right-turner is first at the line, I stop behind them, on the right, and either wait or go around on the left.

  • Jeff

    As a former copper I can tell you that any vehicle that is clearly ahead of you, stopped and making a right hand turn has the right of way. Under the Ont. Highway Traffic Act it would be considred an unsafe pass if a cyclist were to try squeeze past between the vehicle and the curb as that vehicle was attempting to make a right turn. If you run into the side of a right turning vehicle you will be charged every single time with making an unsafe pass – guaranteed.

  • Ernie

    In downtown Toronto, there are often hoards of pedestrians crossing, especially at rush-hour, making the cars attempting to turn right wait the full duration of the green light before one, or two, cars can make the turn. In these cases I feel it is ok to pass the right-turning car on the right side while they are waiting – he’s not going anywhere, after all. But drivers still hate you for it. It’s worse, in the above scenario, if you move left to pass on the left side of the waiting cars, because you put yourself in the horrible position of being hit by a driver tired of waiting in line who switches lanes to his/her left violently.

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