Handling a Pittsburgh Left on a bike?
I’ve noticed a trend in drivers that is mildly irritating (to me at least). The habit of drivers opposite the intersection to me trying to wave me past when I am waiting to turn left in front of them. I understand that they only have the best of intentions in mind by being “bike friendly” and courteous. However, for multiple reasons, I usually ignore their request and have to wave my arm in a gesture to tell them to drive. This usually ends up with a look of confusion, irritation, anger, or any combination of the three as the driver passes me. But I think I have some valid reasons for not taking their offers.
1) 95% of the time I cannot make eye contact with the driver. You’re in a 2000+ lb vehicle. I’m on a 30lb bicycle. Without actually seeing your face I can’t be sure you’re not just fumbling with your lights instead of flashing me through. Likewise, when the light turns green and you sit there, I can’t be sure if you’re waiting for me or just absent minded.
2) On my route, it is often the case that there is nobody waiting to turn left behind me. However, there are usually a line of cars behind you. It only serves to irritate the drivers behind you if you waste their time trying to wave me through. Not only does it take a few seconds for me to get up to speed from a stop, but it’s easier for me to get a rolling start as I anticipate the last driver in line coming through the intersection.
3) I don’t think it’s legal. Someone can correct me here, but I don’t believe it’s legal to turn in front of traffic without yielding. Even if a driver is trying to signal me through, in the case that I do get in an accident, I don’t want to be shafted because of a technicality.
I don’t know if I’m complaining or just making an observation. How do others handle these situations. On the one hand, I appreciate the gesture. On the other hand, there are multiple reasons for me to ignore it.
I don’t have a good answer.
The worst part of the scenario is that it opens up the possibility that some impatient ahole will pass the car that is waving you on, on the right and drill you, hard. I’ll take the left when waved on sometimes, but only if I can clearly see what’s going on for the entire area of the oncoming traffic.
No real good answer.
Wikipedia says it’s illegal, and cites the PA driver’s manual (chapter 3, page 47: “Drivers turning left must yield to oncoming vehicles going straight ahead.”).
I usually go ahead and take it, often waving back, but only if I can see what’s going on behind as edmonds says, or if there’s no room for an impatient a-hole to pass.
As far as irritating the drivers behind, if it’s clear the lead driver is offering, I find that the confusion and non-action that results from not taking the left eat up more time than just quickly making the turn.
It also seems like a “thank you” from drivers for my signaling a left.
Wait, we’re talking about two different things here, right?
1. The Pittsburgh Left, as defined by Wikipedia, is a car jumping a green to make a left turn.
2. The situation described at the start of thread is the oncoming traffic yields to the person making the left.
I don’t believe the second is explicitly illegal, though that’s open to interpretation.
Like Karen and Edmonds, I generally take it, particularly because I find sitting at an intersection waiting to turn makes me rather vulnerable to another road user who is going straight and may not be paying attention.
If im on foot or on my bike, I try and avoid walking or riding in front of a (presumably well-intentioned) motorist “waving me past.” In most cases, the driver has the right of way. If they are ceding the right of way by waving me through, they are doing so unilaterally, and violating the expectation that any other motorists would have. Those other motorists, not aware of the “side deal” I and the motorist have entered into, will proceed like normal and flatten me like a pancake. I usually step back from the intersection or windmill my arm to show I’m not interested.
Around here “penalty declined” would probably be understood to decline a left turn. Also, pass interference, personal foul, and illegal motion might be useful.
Anonymous 12/10/2011 at 12:45am #
This is not 100% relevant, but I definitely try to avoid all kinds of waving situations after having a minor but still expensive and scary wreck (in my car, yuck) because of getting waved across by someone who stopped in the near lane when I was turning left from a side street. I was assigned fault even though the other person in the collision was driving super-fast in the middle turn lane for no apparent reason, completely invisible to me behind the car that stopped and the line of cars that stopped behind it, not being cautious at all despite poor visibility (night, and maybe rain if I remember correctly), and not in a place where that would be expected or reasonable at all. There wasn’t even an intersection on the other side of the street anywhere near there, so she had either been driving straight in the turn lane for a while or had tried to swerve around the cars that stopped for me so that she didn’t have to stop. I can’t imagine that what she was doing was remotely legal, and it definitely made no sense, but it didn’t matter. (Not to say that I deserved 0% of the fault, but I don’t think it was >50% my fault since the other car was not visible, was doing something weird and unpredictable, was going unreasonably fast, etc.)
This was in TN, but I imagine the outcome would have been similar in most states. My understanding is that the person entering a roadway is at fault if the other person was traveling straight on said roadway unless the other person was clearly doing something else that was appallingly illegal, and I’m guessing the person “not yielding” gets the same treatment. No one was hurt, fortunately, but the financial consequences were significant since I was “at fault,” and more importantly, the experience was terrifying, so now I am extremely afraid of turning in situations like that. So yeah, I wouldn’t count on fault coming out in your favor if you were to get hit in Pittsburgh left situations – or in any kind of situation where someone is waving at you to turn when you don’t have the right of way.
I thought this thread was going to be about when you try and go straight on a bike, and someone pulls a Pittsburgh left into you. Usually with no signal too, it’s a lovely lottery at ach light that I have yet a good way of detecting.
I agree with taking the waving/flashing if it is clear there is no way for someone to speed past, and if it won’t get in too many people’s way.
I occasionally wonder if drivers see cyclists signaling for a turn as a way of saying they “want” a Pittsburgh left. I prefer to signal my intentions before a light changes, but several times when doing so, I have started receiving “go ahead” motions from the driver on the other side, all before we even have a green.
I too am leery of being ceded the right of way, i.e., being given the go-ahead to do a Pittsburgh Left. If this occurs on a street where there only is one moving lane each direction (inbound/southbound Sixth St at Penn Ave, Downtown, for instance), this isn’t that big a deal. It’s the multi-lane corners that scare me (inb/sb Ninth St at Penn, for instance).
In any event, I like to downshift to a low-ish gear, the better to be able to make a jack-rabbit start. Given the go-ahead, I will want to clear the intersection, and quickly. Usually not the lowest gear possible, just the lowest that lets me clear 50 yards as fast as possible.
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