Thursday, October 12, 2017

John Allen: Right turn-only lane as dual-destination lane?

John Allen penned a wonderful piece back in 2013, explaining why the use of a right turn-only lane (RTOL) as a through lane for bicycles does not have to violate the rules of movement in most cases. Excerpts:

Installations formalizing this [shared RTOL] treatment have been made in a number of places in the USA. It is accepted under the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices if shared-lane markings are used, though state laws generally still do not allow it…

Most importantly though, treating a right-turn lane as a dual-destination lane when it is empty, or lightly-used, or carrying slow traffic while the through lane is blocked, and riding at its center or left side does not violate the rule of destination positioning and does not lead the cyclist into a conflict. I yield when entering the lane (if there is any vehicle to yield to) and I never place myself to the right of right-turning traffic. I have never gotten into a hazardous situation by doing this. I must anticipate that a driver waiting in line in the through lane to the left may decide instead to turn right and enter the right-turn lane late. This is the same concern as when overtaking any line of stopped traffic, and the countermeasure is the same; stay far enough away from the stopped traffic to be able to avoid a merging vehicle.

In my opinion, the assertion that a cyclist should never ride centered or left in a right-turn lane when proceeding straight across an intersection is rigid, legalistic, and impractical. But on the other hand, it doesn’t make sense everywhere, either as an informal practice or a standard treatment. That is why, in my opinion, a standard is needed to establish where it may be formalized, and education is needed, as always, so cyclists will be able to judge when it is advisable or inadvisable.

Examples of shared right turn-only lanes being installed by DelDOT
This was the very platform that 1st State Bikes advocates used in convincing DelDOT that a shared RTOL/bike through lane treatment made sense. The project ran from 2011-2016 and has now resulted in a RTOL design that accommodates bicyclists and encourages safe positioning relative to turning traffic. And it comes at only the cost of a few extra man hours and a little added paint with each pave & rehab project. Delaware bicyclists are also covered under SB-120, a bill that was passed in 2012 to legalize the use of RTOLs in this manner. With everything in place, what we see now is continuous shoulders and/or bike lanes with "mixing zones" (a painted symbol and broken taper line) in advance of intersections. Depending on the conditions, the bicyclist can take the through lane, or legally choose to continue up the middle or left side of the RTOL to continue straight.

This design is becoming the new normal on Delaware's primary roads, so why are we posting this now? Nationally, John Allen is a renowned advocate for bicyclists’ rights as participants in vehicular traffic. He is looked to and admired by the "Bicycle Driving" movement and those who advocate alongside the American Bicyclist Education Association (ABEA). Yet, John is pragmatic when it comes to dedicated bicycling facilities, gauging their safety and his approval by whether or not they adhere to the laws of movement. The above mentioned DelDOT project and treatment does just that.

John adds (October 2017): A lane may serve more than one destination, while forbidding a destination to one or another category of vehicles. A lane where a truck route turns right, but other traffic may also proceed straight, is exactly the same in principle as a lane where all motor traffic must turn right but bicyclists may also proceed straight. Bicyclists must ride left or centered in the lane for this to work. A bicyclist who rides at the right side of the lane risks a right-hook collision – hence the shared-lane markings. And there must be a receiving lane at the far side of the intersection, so bicyclists do not merge inside the intersection.

A big tip of the helmet to John Allen for contributing to this article. We encourage you to visit John's website for a wealth of information on bicycling safety in the built environment!

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