dandySAFETY#1: ask an expert ~ The Right Hook

Image “Crossroads” Copyright: Hamilton-Baillie Associates, Bristol UK hamilton-baillie.co.uk

By Tammy Thorne

dandySAFETY #1: ask an expert ~ The Slow Right Hook

Situation: Intersection College at University

dandySAFETY column introduction:

The column will focus on real-world situations where motorists and cyclists interact.

Our dandy street safety experts are: Hugh Smith, Jim Kenzie and Derek Chadbourne.

You can read our safety experts' bios here on the dandyBLOG.

Hugh Smith is a constable who specializes in traffic safety with the Toronto Police Service.

Jim Kenzie is a wheels columnist with the Toronto Star.

Derek Chadbourne is an experienced cyclist about town who has been advocating for safer conditions for cyclists for many years through multiple venues.

dandyhorse will also ask the local councillor (or city planner, if applicable) for an update on the roadway or infrastructure in question.

In this first scenario "The Slow Right Hook" on College at University, the city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

If you have a dandySAFETY situation you'd like advice on, please email us at: safety@dandyhorsemagazine.com

Here's the first dandySAFETY situation:

The Slow Right Hook on College at University in Toronto

We all know you should never pass on the right, right?

But what should you do when motor vehicles are turning right on College Street when you are riding in the bike lane with so many other cyclists? Especially when it's obvious that most of those cyclists are staying put, in the bike lane.

If you have time to pass on the left of the car; great! (That is assuming the motorist signals and moves to the right ahead of time, before you get to the intersection.) But often there is a big, long line of cars and they aren't signalling their intentions and there are many other cyclists in the bike lane with you. What to do, WHAT TO DO?

Usually, at this intersection there are many pedestrians crossing too -- it's in the heart of U of T's downtown campus and in the middle of a huge hospital cluster -- so who has the right-of-way?

Motorists are supposed to yield to pedestrians - but what about us bikers?

According to guidelines provided by the Transportation Association of Canada and Ontario's driver's handbook: if the line is dotted, technically, vehicles are expected to merge. That is, the motorist should signal and move right, towards the curb.

But, in such a high traffic area, with so many cyclists sticking to the bike lane no matter what, moving to the left of the vehicle isn't always possible, or safe at intersections like this.

If you - the cyclist - arrive at the intersection first you do, legally, have the right-of-way. That is: you have the right to stay in the bike lane.

Still, many motorists squeeze over, nose out in front of you, and do what I call: "The slow right hook."

We asked our experts:

Shouldn't cars let bikes have the right-of-way at intersections like College and University, when there are pedestrians crossing too?

Here are their answers:

Constable Hugh-Smith, Toronto Police, Traffic Safety Division

Probably one of the more difficult questions to give one clear concise answers to. A motor vehicle turning right into a bicycle can occur on 3 separate occasions.

1. A cyclist passes a car on the right and the car makes the right turn into the cyclist.

2. A car moves ahead of a cyclist as they approach an intersection and then suddenly turns right in front of or into the cyclist.

3. Both are waiting at an intersection and the car turns right into the waiting cyclist.

In the case of scenario #2 and #3, the driver of the car would likely be at fault as the cyclist has a lawful position at the intersection.

Drivers shouldn’t have to give up their lawful right-of-way for the mere fact that they can’t immediately make a right turn due to pedestrians, who are crossing within the intersection.

As you mentioned earlier, cyclist should attempt to pass other vehicles on the left when safe to do so.

The unfortunate problem that occurs at these type of intersections at peak hours, is that the majority of the pedestrians crossing en masse, are causing congestion; they are entering the intersection unlawfully on the "Do not Start or Cross" phase and when the countdown timers are activated.

This action now hinders the opportunity for a car to acquire a break in pedestrian traffic, to make a right turn prior to their traffic signal completing its cycle or them losing the right of way to opposing traffic.

Cyclist are now taking the opportunity to pass on the right as the car is restricted due to the pedestrians failure to yield and continually crossing unlawfully.

Cyclist should be aware that it is almost impossible for the driver to see all approaching cyclists as their car is angled and the information from the mirrors is reduced or non- existent. The motorist will take the first opportunity to make the turn when there is a sufficient break in pedestrian traffic.

The motorist has the right-of-way if they are at the intersection first lawfully, and cyclists who violate the right of way rule maybe found at fault in case of a collision (not to mention risking serious injury).

As a motorist should not turn when pedestrians are crossing, whether lawfully or not, a cyclist should not pass a car on the right if the cars have lawful position at the intersection.

High traffic areas like these can be identified to City Transportation Services, and options like pedestrian only priority signals or Bike Boxes may be implemented. [Links chosen by dandyhorse editors.]

All road users should exercise courtesy and communication to minimize risk of injury at all intersections. This may be achieved by maximizing visibility and recognizing some of the more dangerous intersection hazards and taking safety steps when approaching any intersection.

Jim Kenzie, Automotive columnist, the Toronto Star

First, contrary to popular belief, passing on the right is not illegal per se, at least depending on how one interprets The Ontario Highway Traffic Act, Section 150 which specifically mentions only 'motor vehicles', and not bicycles. There are also a bunch of provisos therein which would need a greater legal mind than mine to ferret out any information to the contrary.

But it should be clear than cars turning right on a green light are obligated to ensure that the way is clear, of pedestrians and cyclists.

The issue is: IF the car driver doesn't understand the law, or doesn't see the biker (I have been at that very intersection at dusk, and some cyclists are near-invisible under those circumstances because their lighting is non-existent or insufficient), then we know who is going to suffer most.

So, yes, the cyclist does have the right of way, but (s)he should proceed with extreme caution, eyeball the motorist if possible, watch the right front wheel for signs of turning in and/or acceleration, and continue only if certain the car has stopped.

There's no point in being "dead right".

Derek Chadbourne, member Advocacy for Respect of Cyclists, owner the Bike Joint, experienced cyclist about town

It's really not who has the right-of-way, but what is your safest course of action. Personally, when I am in this situation, I signal that I am going to move to the left, make a shoulder check to make sure other cyclists and cars are not doing the same and then ride around the turning car. I think it is safer to move into the next lane of traffic then get caught in a potential door opening or bottleneck of turning car, crossing pedestrians and a peloton of cyclists. As for who has the right-of-way, well if the car was there first and they have their signal on, then the car driver has the right-of-way and the cyclists can either go around them or simply wait.

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Councillor Wong-Tam's comments are as follows:

I can certainly support the addition of the words 'and cyclists' to the signage. In the scenario no. 1 described, cars should never be turning when the intersection is not clear. If motorists can't follow the rules of the road, then we'll have to eliminate the possibility for conflict and collision.

I would advocate for a bike box at the intersection and restrict motorist right turns during peak traffic hours.

UPDATE: dandyhorse has engaged with the councillor's office to ask that the signage be changed at this intersection to say, "Motorists must yield to pedestrians" (an existing sign that can be seen all over the city) OR, even better, that it say: "Motorists must yield to pedestrians and cyclists."

Here's what the MTO says on yielding the right-of-way.

Here's what the City of Toronto says:

What do you think should be done to improve the flow at this intersection?

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Related on the dandyBLOG:

Meet our dandySAFETY columnists

dandySAFETY #2 - One-way the wrong way? How to make a left turn

If you have a dandySAFETY situation you'd like advice on, please email us at: safety@dandyhorsemagazine.com

Thank you to  Hamilton-Baillie Associates, Bristol UK hamilton-baillie.co.uk for the delightful image "Crossroads."
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3 responses to “dandySAFETY#1: ask an expert ~ The Right Hook”

  1. warren says:

    Balanced. Passing on the left is very liberating as a cyclist – it commands a certain respect, like taking the lane. But especially in winter conditions, it is critical to take that maneuver at the right speed, and communicate to the drives behind that you are going to do it.
    So much easier to just coast through and blame the driver.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I agree with Cllr Wong-Tam’s comment. A bike box should be installed at this intersection. I never have an opportunity to pass on the left and feel it’s unsafe to do so so I end up just waiting. But with the level of traffic and congestion, a bike box would definitely be great, or perhaps just making the bike lane solid at the intersections so cyclists have an auto right of way.

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