What is a bicycle box turn?
Steven in Chicago was at a bike meeting last night when he tweeted something about box turns. We got to chatting about box turns and, before long, everybody’s asking “What’s a box turn?”
In bicycling, the box turn is what you do when you make a left turn by going straight across an intersection, turning sharply at the opposite corner then crossing again. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I drew the box turn in pink in the diagram below.
You already know all of these types of turns, but common nomenclature helps when discussing this stuff. I know there are other names for this style of turn but I can’t think of them at the moment. Some people also call this an indirect left turn.
Another type of indirect left turn is the ‘jughandle,” shown in orange. This is when you make a right turn and then an immediate U-turn to make your left turn. The jughandle turn is what Illinois state Senator Dale Righter from Mattoon wants cyclists and motorcyclists to do whenever they encounter a ‘dead red’ traffic signal in a left turn lane. I only do a jughandle when I’m in a hurry and I want to legally run a red light by cheating with this jughandle turn.
For completeness, I also show a vehicular style turn. This is your normal shoulder check, merge left, and make your left turn type of turn. On multilane roads, left turns like this are made one lane at a time, as demonstrated in this video I shot on El Camino Real to turn left onto Castro Street in Mountain View, California.
I hesitate a little to post that video because I’m pedaling like a madman to avoid ‘impeding’ traffic on ECR, but this type of left turn is doable cycling much more slowly. Slow cyclists crossing two lanes like this are common in parts of Santa Cruz, where traffic is typically much slower. It’s perfectly acceptable and often preferable to make the indirect turns, of course.
To clear up any confusion from last night’s discussion on Twitter, box turns are legal in Chicago.
You can now sound all wonky and knowledgable on Facebook, Twitter, and at the city council meetings you’ll attend this month, thanks to Cyclelicious!