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I have been reading Ontario's official driver's handbook and the section on bike lanes was particularly uninformative. First off, you are not supposed to drive in bike lanes, that is straightforward and obvious. But, the text states that for right turns you not only turn through the bike lane but you should be in it to turn right, as if it were the right lane. If there were no bike lanes you would be expected to get over far in advance, but you are never supposed to drive on the bike lane, so I am not sure how far in advance I am supposed to pull into one, when I want to turn right. Also, it just seems very strange, having to change lanes at the last instant, and hoping your spot does not fill up with bikes, seems like turning right with a bike lane would be a very hit and miss situation.

Also, what if I cannot or forget? If I am not in the bike lane, is it illegal to then turn right?

official diagram from handbook

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    I'm not a driver, but I would expect that the moment the line between the road and the bike lane becomes dotted instead of solid means that you are allowed to go into the bike lane to turn right. I'll see if I can find something on that though. – Zizouz212 Jan 31 '16 at 18:29
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This is more of an answer from experience, but isn't necessarily a legal answer. During the summer months, I would bike to school, which is around an 11k distance. There's been some... interesting drivers, but I've figured out a good bit.

From the online handbook, I got this:

Sometimes you will need to enter or cross a bike lane to turn right at a corner or driveway. (See Diagram 2-12) Take extra care when you do this. Enter the bike lane only after ensuring that you can do so safely, and then make the turn.

To help you, here's a good image of a bike lane:

Dotted bike lane

Generally, as a road nears an intersection, the line separating the bike lane from the road lanes will become dotted, signalling to cyclists and cars that they may enter the lane to turn. This is a good indicator: you've got a good distance to slow down, and prepare for the turn.

Not all bike lanes have the luxury of a big green box to help, so the decision is effectively yours as a driver. Check your mirrors and your blind spot before slowing down. Remember to signal: as a cyclist, this is the scariest thing for me. Riding through in a bike lane to find a car turning in front of me without having signalled. This is probably the most important part: making sure that you know the cyclist's intentions, and that the cyclist knows yours.

  • Hmm. Just watched for bike lanes and where I was the line remained solid. – Jonathon Feb 1 '16 at 23:09
  • @JonathonWisnoski Even at the end of an intersection? That's interesting. I'll see if I can find something on that (the screenshot in the online handbook also has dotted lines, so it's weird). I would imagine that the decision to move into the bike lane is at your discretion. – Zizouz212 Feb 2 '16 at 0:28
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If you do not enter the bike lane before your turn, for whatever reason, it is a violation to make the right turn across the bike lane.

§ 141(1)(2) of the Highway Traffic Act says:

Where a driver or operator of a vehicle intends to turn to the right into an intersecting highway, he or she shall, where the highway on which he or she is driving has marked lanes for traffic, approach the intersection within the right-hand lane or, where it has no such marked lanes, by keeping immediately to the left of the right curb or edge of the roadway and he or she shall make the right turn by entering the right-hand lane of the intersecting highway where the lane is marked or, where no such lane is marked, by keeping immediately to the left of the right curb or edge of the roadway being entered.

R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 141 (2)

The bike lane is a lane. I am frustrated that I cannot find a definition of lane in the Highway Traffic Act but I did find in the Toronto municipal code:

BICYCLE LANE - The lanes or portions of lanes of highways designated as bicycle lanes under §886-8

So if bicycle lanes are lanes, and you must be in the rightmost lane to turn right, then you need to be in the bike lane. It is definitely confusing and perhaps impossible sometimes!

In the US the typical rule is the as you've described - cars, yielding to approaching bicycles, move into the bike lane to make right turns. As you've intimated in your hypothetical, it causes all sorts of problems.

As for the law around taking a right turn from an area to the left of the bike lane, that's going to be up to the discretion of the police officer and then perhaps a judge! What is a driver to do who approaches a right turn at a red light with no cars waiting, wants to move into the bike lane, but the dashed line hasn't started yet and the bike lane is full of bikes. The driver can't go into the bike lane (solid line) and can't pull forward to the light (must be in bike lane to turn right!), and can't roll up to move into the lane after the dashes start (full of bikes)!

Fact is, drivers come in three flavors - those who know how the bike lane turn rule works and try to follow it, those who don't know the rules but see bikes and try to do their best, and those who don't know the rule and don't see bikes and do whatever is in their best interest.

Even better is these biker boxes that they are painting in some places. These things are not even defined in the laws or the driver handbooks! So they are painted on the roads, but can drivers be ticketed for somehow not doing the right thing?

  • Bicycle boxes are described in AASHTO handbooks and "FHWA supports the use of these resources to further develop nonmotorized transportation networks, particularly in urban areas." by DOT: fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/guidance/… – user662852 Feb 1 '16 at 20:25
  • "What is a driver to do ... [when] the bike lane is full of bikes?": Stop and wait for the bikes to pass. Also, there's another flavor of driver, mercifully increasingly uncommon where I live, who see bikes and get angry or irritated by them. – phoog Feb 1 '16 at 21:56
  • @phoog the problem with waiting is that in a lot these are situations it is not the car that is turning that is the issue, it's the car behind that car. A driver sees the blinker on the car in front of her and assumes that blinking car driver is going to slow down and then turn, not slow down and then STOP! But that not a law-writing problem, that's a people-are-in-a-rush-all-the-time-problem. – jqning Feb 1 '16 at 23:17
  • @jqning if I were the driver behind, I would hope that I would notice the cyclists preventing the car from turning, and cancel any assumption that the car would turn rather than stop. In general it's dangerous to assume that a turning car will not stop, even in the absence of a bike lane; there could be a pedestrian or anything else in front of that car, possibly not visible to following traffic. For that matter, it's really safest to assume that any car is on the verge of slamming on the brakes. Drivers can be taken ill, children can run into the street, etc. – phoog Feb 3 '16 at 16:28

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