There has been some confusion surrounding what right-turning drivers should do at intersections with bike lanes, and BikeRaleigh is here to clear things up.  Two things need to occur to make turning right safer:

1. Motorists and bicyclists need to look for and yield to each other when approaching intersections.

2. After checking that the bike lane is clear, motorists should merge into the bike lane where it’s dashed before turning right. Motorists should not merge into the parking lane to turn right. 

Here are some helpful images courtesy of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and esurance.

What does the law say about drivers merging into the bike lane to turn right?

North Carolina law (G.S. 20-153) states that right turns “shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”. However, Raleigh’s code of ordinances (section 11-2104), which supersedes North Carolina law, specifies that motorists can only execute a right turn from a travel lane where right turns are permitted. This precludes on-street parking lanes and paved shoulders, since they’re not travel lanes. Section 11-3006 states that motorists can cross or merge into bike lanes to execute their turn after yielding to bicyclists. In short, local law says motorists can merge into a bike lane to turn right. However, they are not required to. Nevertheless, BikeRaleigh recommends motorists use their turn signal and merge into the bike lane to turn right after yielding to bicyclists in the bike lane to prevent right-hook crashes.

So, what are bicyclists supposed to do when approaching intersections in a bike lane?

Bicyclists should avoid riding in motorists’ blind spots. If it’s safe to do so, bicyclists can move to the left to pass motorists turning right, or they can wait to travel through the intersection from the bike lane.  While bicyclists in the bike lane technically have the right of way, they should ride defensively and look for any indication that a motorist may want to turn right, like an activated turn signal or deceleration. 

As a driver, can I use the empty space to the right of a bike lane to turn right?

Only if it has a right-turn arrow marking on the pavement. Sometimes there is empty space in the parking lane where both travel and parking are prohibited to keep sight lines clear for everyone entering the intersection. In most cases, the empty space can’t be marked as a right-turn lane because it’s too narrow to be safe.

What is the best practice for designing bike lanes to prevent right-hook collisions?

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Guide to Bicycle Facilities (section 4.8.1) says, “The dotted line is intended to provide a reminder that merging movements can be expected in this area. State vehicle or traffic codes should be consulted as well, as the presence of a solid bike lane line at the approach to an intersection may discourage motorists from merging before turning right, as required by law in some states. This can result in conflicts when motorists turn right across the path of bicyclists. In some states, a solid line may be interpreted as prohibiting a motorist from crossing the line to turn right. In such cases, a dotted marking should be used or the bike lane should be dropped on intersection approaches where right turns are permitted.”

The National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide doesn’t provide much design guidance for through/right-turn lanes and bike lanes. It instead focuses on intersections with dedicated right-turn only lanes, which are ideal but not always possible given operational and geometric constraints. 

What about the green paint?

The City of Raleigh obtained approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in August 2014 to use green-colored pavement for bike lanes. Compliant with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Design, the City of Raleigh uses green-colored pavement to draw the attention of bicyclists and motorists to potential conflict areas, e.g. at intersections and across driveways.

We hope this information will help you safely travel through intersections with bike lanes, whether you’re in a car or on a bike.  If you have any questions, you can get in touch with us at bikeraleigh (at) raleighnc (dot) gov.