This is the intersection of Primrose and Colonial at rush hour. I pass through this intersection a lot. I snapped this image with my iPhone while waiting for a green light.
We talk about visibility a lot. Being visible to others—being in their primary focus area—is important, but it still relies on the other drivers to be paying attention. This time I want to talk about vantage — putting ourselves in control of recognizing and monitoring threats.
I’m planning to drive straight (headed for the connector trail at the north end of the street). All the cars in the lane beside me are turning left onto Colonial. The ones in front of me are turning right. Few cars continue straight because Primrose isn’t a thru road, it just serves the Coytown neighborhood. The cars facing us in the left lane on southbound Primrose are turning left onto Colonial.
Those oncoming drivers want to make the light, so they’re looking for the first opportunity to dash across — creating the potential for a left cross. The right-turning cars in front of me could give them that opportunity, if they think they can turn into the inside lane as these guys turn into the outside lane. A driver in a hurry will often place a higher priority on saving time than assessing risk.
From what I’ve seen, most cyclists cross this intersection by riding up the sidewalk and using the crosswalk. Doing that introduces an additional layer of conflict and crash potential. But mostly, it gets them stuck. Right-on-red is permitted here (unlike at many of the other intersections in this area). This puts pedestrians at a disadvantage because the right-turning motorists are looking left, watching the eastbound lanes. They will turn when those lanes are clear, regardless of the signal phase. As traffic slows for a yellow signal on Colonial, those drivers are getting a jump on the walk-signal for Primrose (I know, as if they’d notice or heed it anyway).
Aside from the right-turn issue, the cars in the queue will screen everything to their right from the view of the left-turning drivers, and block the view of the potential threat for anyone in that space. So at an intersection where a road has a wide lane or a bike lane, it’s important to move into the queue, and all the way to the left side of the lane. Moving only to the right tire track or middle still leaves you invisible and with poor vantage — screened by the cars in front of you.
By staying in the queue and positioning on the left side of the lane, I’ve eliminated the right-hook problem and set myself up to monitor the primary conflict area during my approach to the intersection. The left-turning drivers can see me, too.
The narrow lane and tight radius means turning cars move pretty slow. I can usually pass the car in front of me as it turns. When I get into the intersection, the left-turning car I encounter may not be the front car that had been stopped at the light. That one might have made the turn into the inside lane already. I can’t be certain the drivers of the cars behind have seen me yet. Because the left-turning drivers are not sure where the right-turning cars are going, they tend to be cautious. But before I cross the path of a left-turning car, I make sure I have the driver’s attention. Usually I can get a wave or nod of acknowledgement, sometimes I can tell the by the movement of the vehicle. In the dark, a bright headlight is great for stopping them in their tracks — I can see them hit the brakes.
After clearing the left-cross threat, I check to my right for a possible vehicle turning right-on-red from Colonial onto Primrose. Because of the width of the intersection and my vantage, I can monitor these threats easily in sequence.
General Rule of Vantage
The best vantage in your lane will generally be gotten from where a car driver sits. So, when stopped in traffic, moving the speed of traffic, crossing intersections or approaching a side street or driveway with poor sight lines go to the left tire track.
For other left cross scenarios, check out this animation.