Box Turn

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. You can also call them a “two stage turn.” A picture is worth a thousand words, so I drew the box turn in pink in the diagram below.

Bicycle left turns

You already know all of these types of turns, but common nomenclature helps when discussing this stuff. These turns are also known as hook turns or two-stage turns. Wikipedia says Canadians call them perimeter turns.

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!


  1. Ahh, my ears! 

    Thanks for the illustration, it makes much more sense now. Now i can educate people here as well. 

  2. And then there’s the…shall I call it the “pedestrian turn”? When I don’t see the opportunity or dare to attempt any of the other turns, I go straight across the street, dismount at the curb, push the walk light, wait, check traffic in all directions, warily walk the crosswalk, and get on my bike again.

    As a wimpy, risk-averse cyclist in Santa Cruz, the majority of my left turns are “pedestrian turns.” Not that they guarantee safety, of course. Sometimes the crosswalk seems to be the most dangerous part of the road!

  3. Whether you dismount or not I still think of it as a box turn.  

    I love watching cyclists of all abilities and speeds make that left turn from Water Street onto Front Street, especially since so many drivers can’t figure out that double left to Front & Pacific.

  4. That’s one of the turns I can usually make without dismounting. As soon as I come to a stop at the intersection, I hold out my arm for a signal, and keep it there throughout the turn. I also try to merge beforehand into the middle car lane, instead of staying in the “bike lane” that runs straight into the pedestrian island, which is kind of crazy!

    (Vanishing bike lanes like that always make me think there should be a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-type of bike that can take off into the air…)

  5. You’re always teaching me something over here.  I do a lot of what I would call “modified jug handle” turns.  I should draw a map or do a video for it sometime…..I think you’d approve of it and I find it gives me more time on the bike and less time sitting at red lights.


  6. Jug handle to kinda sorta legally run a red? I call that ‘cheating’ though
    allegedly I may have been known to do the same thing 🙂

    Sent from my Googaw

  7. Another handy hint: two wrongs may not make a right, but three rights make a left.

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