This week I’m going to go over how to properly use hand signals for stopping and turn indication, dealing with common signaled intersections, and the safest way to handle turning vehicles and merging buses.

Before We Get Started

Always remember that safety begins with you. I encourage all of those who ride to obey the rules of the road as if you were a vehicle yourself (in truth you are), wear a helmet, clothing that makes you highly visible to those around you, and if traveling at night utilize multiple reflectors and lights on the front and back of your bike.

Universal Hand Signals

I know you’ve all learned it at some point in your life, but a small refresher is always nice. Because bikes are typically not equipped with brake/turn lights it is up to you to make other vehicles around you aware of your movements and actions.

The most important times to utilize hand signals are:

1. When changing lanes.

2. Indicating a reduction in speed when coming upon an intersection.

3. Identifying which direction you are intending to turn.

Changing Lanes

I've written up the typical method that I use to change lanes; if you are just learning please utilize this as a framework to build your own technique on. The total procedure time presented here takes about 5 seconds to execute.

To the Left:

  1. Look to your immediate left and verify no vehicle is present.
  2. Look forward to make sure there are no vehicles or obstacles within 50 feet of your trajectory.
  3. From front to back, scan the entire peripheral left side of your bike until you are aware of everything surrounding you.
  4. If you have no vehicles approaching within 25 feet (or with rapid speed) signal with your left arm, initiate lane change, and continue on.

To the Right:

With right hand lane changes you will want to pay particular attention to parked cars or those signaling to exit a curbside parking spot.

  1. Look to your immediate right and verify no vehicle is present.
  2. Look forward to make sure there is no vehicles or obstacles within 50 feet of your trajectory.
  3. From front to back, scan the entire peripheral right side of your bike until you are aware of everything surrounding you.
  4. If you are not entering an intersection and have no approaching vehicles within 25 feet: signal with your right arm, initiate lane change, and continue on.

People are terrible with stopping at lights for a right turn and paying attention to anything that is crossing the intersection that is not the size of a Civic, remember this even if you have a green signal to pass through an intersection.

How To Anticipate Missing The Light

When approaching an intersection one of the best ways to know if you'll need to stop is by paying attention to the crosswalk timer.


If you will be unable to enter the intersection by the time the countdown reaches "1" you might as well take your time getting there.


Additionally, if you do need to stop make it a habit to utilize the "slowing down/stopping" hand signal.

Where To Stop At An Intersection

The following are a few images that identify the safest locations for you to stop at intersections that do not have bike or bike-turning lanes:

Stopping at a light


  • If there is not room to move towards the intersection stop as if you were a vehicle within traffic.
  • Try to stay towards the right side of the lane, but not in a lane designated for right turns.

Stopping behind a car signaling for a right turn


  • In this scenario you are part of the traffic flow.
  • Do not pass the vehicle on the right.
  • If they are stuck waiting for pedestrians after the light has changed, utilize the diagram discussed later on as an outline for how to pass.

Stopping at a red left-arrow signal


  • Give yourself plenty of time to merge safely and effectively.
  • Stay on the right side of the turn lane that will allow the greatest turning radius.
  • Be mindful of traffic that will be passing on your right side.
  • Do not run a red arrow, period.

Making Left Turns At Major Intersections

There are a few key features to keep you safe while making a left turn at a stoplight. I’m going to highlight the paths that I find safest during times of normal and high traffic congestion.

Important things to remember:

  1. Always utilize the designated left turn lane that is closest to your normal route of cycling. Ideally you want to have the largest legal turning path when executing a turn.
  2. Watch and be aware of any oncoming cars making a right turn, they may not be paying attention to anything smaller than a Civic.
  3. If the arrow is red DO NOT BLOW THE LIGHT. You are a vehicle on the road and need to obey all lights and signs as well; failing to do so is illegal, puts you in danger, and makes the rest of the cycling community look bad.
  4. During times of heavy congestion or when the average speed of a road is much higher than you feel safe merging into, utilize the alternative left-turn. Many states require you to dismount your bike and walk with it inside a crosswalk, however you can reposition yourself on the right side of the traffic flow and wait for the light to change.

Two or more turn lanes

Once the light turns green:

  • Signal to those behind around you that you're making a left turn.
  • Make your way out into the intersection and keep an eye on opposing traffic, take note of any cars that may be turning right.
  • Finish the turn into the proper lane.
  • Look towards your right, signal, and merge as far over as needed to resume normal riding.

Single turn lane


If I am turning with vehicles I always make sure I know which lane they intend on turning into and give myself at least 5 feet of space incase they forget how to make a normal left turn.

The single turn lane image shows a pathway that aims for the far lane, and in this scenario it is a safety consideration that does one of two things:

  1. Gives you less chance of an oncoming right turn running you down.
  2. Allows space to breathe incase a vehicle turning with you tries to take the far lane.

Making Left Turns From Minor Roads

One noticeable difference here is that you most oftentimes will not have a turn lane. Because of this you should make an effort to stay more towards the middle of the left lane while waiting at the light.

Once the light turns green:

  • Signal to those behind around you that you're making a left turn.
  • Make your way out into the intersection as initial traffic in the opposite direction passes.
  • You may need to wait here if traffic is heavy.
  • Once traffic has cleared, finish the turn into the proper lane on the major road.
  • Look towards your right, signal, and merge as far over as needed to resume normal riding.

Alternative Turning Method

There are times when you'll find traffic is far too heavy or the average speed is much higher than you are comfortable with merging into. When you cannot safely make it into a lane to turn from it is suggested that you proceed with the following pathway:

  • Slow and pull over to the right curb as allowed.
  • Make sure that the crosswalk signal is indicating it is safe to cross.
  • Either dismount or ride your bike across the street.
  • Reposition yourself in the lane that is furthest to the right (not the turn lane).
  • Make sure you've backed up behind the crosswalk.
  • Wait for the signal to change and be on your way as you normally would.

Depending on your state you may have to dismount while in the crosswalk.

Safest Route When Passing A Vehicle That Is Stalled Or Making A Right Turn

Sometimes cars making a right turn will get stuck waiting for pedestrians to cross. The following diagram gives you the best route to pass the halted vehicle. Do not pass them on the right.

  • Before executing this maneuver you must follow the left-lane change procedure.
  • To minimize danger try to stay out of the door-prize area incase the vehicle is just stalled.

Handling The Merging Bus

If you've ever traveled down a busy city street on a bike there is a pretty significant chance that you've been pushed aside by one of these behemoths. While I have had my share of close shaves with public transit in the past I've come to find that in the end it was my own ignorance causing it. After several conversations with public transit workers I've figured out the answer, “If they cannot see us, we do not exist.”


Taking this into consideration I've started utilizing the mirrors on the bus to make eye-contact with the drivers and let them know I am approaching or behind them. Never expect them to yield to you if they have been signaling to merge while you were still 75-feet away, and once you establish eye-contact communicate with a head-nod or wave.

Final Thoughts

Stop Signs

Please remember that cyclists must also obey stop signs even if it breaks up your flow. Anytime you come upon a busy four-way or two-way stop make sure you have eye contact with the other drivers on the road and they are aware of your intentions, especially when you are turning.

Rules, Rules, Rules...

Yes, there are a lot of rules to remember and sometimes the laws of the road may impede your progress or extend your commute time. In the end however, utilizing a bike as transportation is highly enjoyable, keeps you healthy, saves you a lot of money over time, and can really change how you view and interact with your surroundings.


In followup posts I will adventure into handling "uncommon" intersections, how to integrate biking into a longer commutes, bike parking/security, apartment storage solutions, and several useful product reviews.

I invite all my fellow cyclists to once again provide their expertise and experiences from the road in the comments below!

Previous posts in the series: Getting Started and First Aid Kits

Signaling image from

Photos and drawings by Joseph S