Strategic Setup for a Left Turn

Here’s the challenge. We’ve ridden north on Thomasville Rd. from downtown Tallahassee. Our destination is Zone 5 Cafe — the coolest bike shop ever (coffee, microwbrew and bikes)! Between us and our destination is a massive, blown-out 8-lane interchange where Thomasville Rd. meets I-10. To get there, we have to make a left turn onto Timberlane Rd. from this 8-lane monster.

Amazingly, it’s actually quite easy.

The video below shows two different ways to get over to the left turn lanes to make the left onto Timberlane. One is the traditional negotiation, lane by lane, across three lanes. The other is a single, strategic lane change just as the road expands from 4 to 8 lanes.

Negotiated Lane Change

As we entered the interchange area, we realized we would need to be turning shortly after the overpass. As the road widens from two northbound lanes to four, a bike lane also begins. The bike lane is problematic because, once we entered it, we would then have to make 4 lane changes to get set up for a left turn. So, we were keen to get away from a situation where we would be compelled to use the bike lane.

Here’s a diagram of the interchange showing our path from the right lane to the left lane.

I’ve numbered the zones and the lanes (lanes are numbered from the inside to the outside of a road). In zone 1, Thomasville expands from two thru lanes to three. Shortly after the start of zone 2, Thomasville expands again to 4 thru lanes.

Zone 2 is where we need to make the lane change. If we go any farther north, we risk not being able to make it to the left lane before our turn. We don’t want to try to change lanes in zone 3 because it is very short. It is also under the bridges. That’s an area with strong shadows, as well as the potential for disoriented drivers making last-minute shifts to get to the interstate. When we drive through there, we want to be in our destination lane with our attention focused evenly on our surroundings, not diverted backward trying to negotiate a lane change. Zone 4 is also short. If we rode through the interchange to here, we’d have been compelled to use the bike lane. From there, we’d need a clear shot across 4 thru lanes and 2 turn lanes* in order to get to the left turn lane before the Timberlane intersection.

Zone 2 is about 870ft long. It took us almost all of that to negotiate gaps in traffic to make the 3 lane changes required to get to the left lane. This is not a difficult maneuver, but it requires some skills with looking back and assessing traffic speed. It is possible to be more assertive and oblige some motorists to slow and let you in front of them, but at these speeds, motorists are not reliably cooperative. It’s more realistic to hold each lane and wait for a gap in the next.

Strategic Lane Change

Zone 5 Cafe was our staging area to do some passes through the southbound interchange. Each pass required us to loop back around and make a left at Timberlane. Having noticed the way the new lanes were formed, we used a different approach on the subsequent northbound passes. Here’s what that looks like:

On the second pass, we tracked the lane line straight as the right lane in zone 1 splits into two lanes. This eliminated one lane change, keeping us in lane #2 — now the center lane. We attempted to move from lane #2 to #1 while we were still in zone one, but decided to wait for a fast-approaching van to pass. We ended up changing lanes in the intersection, which is technically not legal, but as you can see in the video, that was our gap. Right after we crossed the intersection another platoon was closing in. Making the move where we did set us up to move directly into new #1 lane as it formed.

In the video you can see the advantage of having made this move early, when it was easy. We got stopped at the next red light and while we waited, the light collected a lot more vehicles in all the lanes. Had we been in the right lane (or the bike lane, as would have been required), we would have had all those cars between us and where we wanted to go.

There is one more short clip in the video showing the full set-up being made in zone 1 as we had intended the first time. Here’s a closer look:

In the strategic lane change we move from lane #2 to lane #1 and from there, we simply move left to the new lane #1 without having to negotiate. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Here’s the video:

*Why the inside turn lane?

Because we are planning to make a left turn from Timberlane in a few hundred feet, we want to use the leftmost left turn lane from Thomasville onto Timberlane, then use the left lane on Timberlane. The outside turn lane leads to a lane that becomes a right-turn only lane. It also has a stub of a bike lane next to it. If we were to use the outside left turn lane, then go into the bike lane, we’d only be able to travel a few seconds there before needing to negotiate 2 lane changes. That would simply be ridiculous. No other driver would be expected to do such a thing.

Plan B Left Turn

There is an option for avoiding using the left turn lanes. I ended up doing this as a plan B the first time I rode through here. I wasn’t entirely sure where my turn was in proximity to the overpass, by the time I realized where I was turning, I didn’t have enough distance to negotiate 4 lane changes (from the bike lane).

The traffic and structure of Timberlane is not conducive to a U-turn, so my best option was to ride past Timberlane and loop through the gas station on the corner, then cross Thomasville on Timberlane.

The gas station parking lot may look innocuous from the satellite, but such places are full of unpredictable movements. It’s important to be vigilant whenever riding through a parking lot — even a small one.

When you can plan ahead, making a regular left turn from a left turn lane is much easier. It only requires abandoning oppressive far-right thinking and acting like any other driver who wants to go to the same destination. If I was driving a car through here, I would put myself in the left lane in anticipation of my turn, even if I didn’t know exactly where it was. It’s not as natural to do that on a bicycle. But it should be.

In the video with the author: Tallahassee CSIs, DeWayne Carver and Bill Edmonds.

4 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    ISB (US92) in Daytona is a similar roadway but only changes from 6 lanes to 8 lanes prior to where I want to turn left. Keeping a straight track automatically removes one negotiation, as the extra lane is added to the outside. Great graphic portrayal.

    I think we were taught in drivers’ education to not change lanes in an intersection, but I cannot find any reference to that in the Florida traffic statutes. It’s foolish to pass on a two-lane road while navigating an intersection, and right-turn-on-red drivers make things tricky, but is it unlawful?

  2. Kenneth Cohen
    Kenneth Cohen says:

    Your plan B is illegal in many jurisdictions. One of the wonderful things about bicycle travel is the abilty to become a pedestrian in a moment. What about walking as a pedestrian until you are able to grab the first through lane when traffic allows?

  3. leo
    leo says:

    I like that. I’m thinking that the greater danger is when changing lanes, rather than staying in a lane. That could be illegal (famous answer, it depends) but that does beg the question, comparing that to the traditional method of changing lanes, should obedience to the law require you to endanger yourself? And if it does, then shouldn’t the law be changed?
    That’s really a plus for a either way would be legal.


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