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Drivers must merge into bike lanes before turning right

The garbage truck and driver who killed Alice Swanson two years ago was making an improper turn, but most drivers would make the same mistake. The correct procedure is for drivers to merge into the bicycle lane before the intersection, then turn from that lane.

Image from the Oregonian.

Why? Let's say you're driving in a motor vehicle on a road with two standard general-purpose lanes going in the same direction. You are in the left hand lane. We all know that if you want to turn right, you should first signal to change lanes, look right to make sure the other lane is clear, then move into that lane. Then, you turn from that lane.

Bicycle lanes are lanes too. They're specifically "restricted lanes." Many of them are narrow, but for the purposes of vehicle movements, proper driving procedure treats them as lanes like any other.

Therefore, if you want to turn right, when there is a bicycle lane on the right side of the road, you should signal right to change lanes, look to ensure there are no bicyclists in the lane, then move into the lane. You are then blocking the bike lane, so cyclists don't pull up on the right. You can then signal again to turn right and make the turn.

How far ahead? According to the DC regulations, it should be anywhere within the block approaching the turn:

2203.3 Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge or the roadway.

2220.2 ... [A]ny vehicle may enter a restricted right curb lane solely for the purposes of taking on or discharging passengers or to make a right turn where a right turn is not otherwise prohibited by any official traffic control device.

2220.3 Vehicles entering a Restricted Lane to make a right turn or to discharge or take on passengers shall be permitted to enter the Restricted Lane only within the same block as the right turn or passengers are to be taken on or discharged.

2220.4 Vehicles, other than those to which a lane is restricted, are prohibited from continuing through an intersection in a Restricted Lane.

Sometimes when I do this as a driver, cyclists will still try to squeeze between my car and the curb to go straight. This is incorrect and unsafe. If you are a cyclist riding in a bike lane and a car pulls into the lane with its right blinker on, you should wait behind the car until it makes its turn. Update: Or, you can merge into the adjacent general-purpose lane, assuming there's room, and ride in that lane.

This DDOT/WABA PSA video about not cutting off cyclists shows the driver using the correct procedure, moving gradually into the bike lane with a fair amount of distance before the intersection.

Michael Perkins found a great animation from The Oregonian comparing California's law, which matches DC's, and Oregon's, which is (or was, in 2007) different. Oregon required motor vehicles to stay in the general-purpose lane and turn across the bike lane when it's safe. That lets cyclists overtake cars about to turn, which might be why some advocates opposed the change, but it's more dangerous.

Unfortunately, as matthias noted, the Oregon procedure is what most drivers believe they are supposed to do. Now you know.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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This is making the assumption that the drivers will both a) signal before merging and b) look over their shoulder before moving into the lane. If they don't do those, then it really doesn't matter where they turn from, because they will run over any cyclists in the lane regardless.

by engrish_major on Jul 13, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

"Sometimes when I do this as a driver, cyclists will still try to squeeze between my car and the curb to go straight. This is incorrect and unsafe. If you are a cyclist riding in a bike lane and a car pulls into the lane with its right blinker on, you should wait behind the car until it makes its turn." this implying that cyclists are breaking the law when they do this? Or is it not illegal, just "incorrect"?

by Fritz on Jul 13, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport


Probably illegal. If not, then it should be. It's a common sense measure.

by andrew on Jul 13, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

Fritz, passing on the right is allowed in very few circumstances. In the diagram above, passing on the right is not allowed because there are parked cars on that roadway.

by Lou on Jul 13, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

I'm not sure that is illegal, but if a car is in front of me and has made its intention clear of turning right, I will by no means try to squeeze past the car on the right. That is one of the highest causes of bike/car accidents, and my safety is far more important than worrying about the legality of my maneuver.

by engrish_major on Jul 13, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

If you are a cyclist riding in a bike lane and a car pulls into the lane with its right blinker on,

What is this "right blinker" of which you speak? Some archaic signalling device from ancient times of manners and decency? If I cast my mind far, far back into the mists of time, I vaguely remember once witnessing this fantastic sight in my long-ago Midwestern youth. But never have I spotted this mythical beast on the roads of DC.

by Erica on Jul 13, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

@Fritz, @engrish_major:
I agree with engrish. I wouldn't squeeze by a moving car which has indicated its desire to turn.

However, if that car is, say, 10th in line at a red light and none of the cars are moving, I might pass if there was room and no chance that the car would be able to move further to the right.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 13, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

Wow - this is confusing even to a life long biker and driver. My problem with what you are saying - at least from an Arlington perspective - is that by the markings on the road, this means I am crossing a solid white line. As marked in Arlington, bike lanes have solid white lines until JUST before an intersection where it goes dashed. The few feet of dashed lines does not provide enough time for a merge - its really only provides enough room for a right turn from the car travel lane. Otheerwise, per markings and solid lines, the message communicated to me the driver is to stay the heck out of the bike lane.

I dont particularly like bike lanes - the confusion demonstrated here is only adding to the dislike. Automobile traffic works largely because it is linear and drivers have to make simple decisions. I dont see that here.

by bArlington on Jul 13, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

Good lord -- trying to squeeze past on the right side of a right turning car is just begging to be hit. If the driving lane is clear, I'll often try to pass to the left of the right-turning car. We all know bike lanes are meant for delivery truck parking anyway.

by aaa on Jul 13, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

Thanks for posting this. It's amazing how many people don't know it, cyclists included. I have witnessed other cyclists berating drivers for following the law correctly.

To those asking about the legality of passing a car in the bike lane for a right turn: The legal and safe way to pass a car in that position is to merge into traffic int he car lane, and pass on the left, with traffic.

If both lanes are stationary, you are obligated to wait. The law says you can pass in the same lane only when it is safe to do so, and DC now has a three foot law. It applies equally to cars and bikes. There is no way that you would ave three feet of clearance in the bike lane, with a car.

by CJ on Jul 13, 2010 11:11 am • linkreport

Thanks for this info. I had no idea.

by AJ on Jul 13, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

If I'm understanding this correctly, it's ok to pull into and stop in a bike lane to load and unload passengers?

by Chris on Jul 13, 2010 11:18 am • linkreport

I think we can all agree that common sense would dictate to not try to squeeze in on the right in the scenario above.

But, as we've seen repeatedly when discussing bikes and cars and pedestrians (such as the thread last week about cops shooing pedestrians out of the street and onto the sidewalks after the 4th of July fireworks), common sense apparently doesn't mean anything unless it's codified into law.

And even if it's codified into law, some individuals - whether in a car, on foot, or on a bike seat - feel that it shouldn't be complied with b/c of whatever reason.

So my question still remains: If a cyclist were to try to squeeze in on the right, is it illegal?

Because if there's a parked car in the far right lane that opens it's door and the cyclist hits it, then we're back to the discussion from a few weeks ago where a taxi passenger opened the door, the cyclist nailed it, and the blame was somehow on the passenger for not recognizing that a cyclist could be zooming by at any moment.

by Fritz on Jul 13, 2010 11:20 am • linkreport

Chris: Apparently so. But not to load and unload cargo.

by David Alpert on Jul 13, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

The problem from what I've seen driving occurs more at a light where a car is waiting for a break in traffic to turn right on red. Too often (1-2 times/week) while I've been waiting for a break in cross traffic (and sitting in the right bike lane) a bike will try to squeeze past on the right, at the same time I have an opening to turn. This is usually followed by a friendly gesture or wave of a U-lock.

by m on Jul 13, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

"What is this "right blinker" of which you speak? Some archaic signalling device from ancient times of manners and decency? If I cast my mind far, far back into the mists of time, I vaguely remember once witnessing this fantastic sight in my long-ago Midwestern youth. But never have I spotted this mythical beast on the roads of DC."

LOL - and unfortunately, more true than not.

by Fred on Jul 13, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

I'm not going to debate this incident, because, like you, I wasn't there so I can't say what really happened.

But what is clear is that the way cars and bikes are supposed to share the road with bike lanes is not well understood by either party, is complex, and as such, is unsafe.

You'd think a blog called "" which highlights abuse of bike lanes would have at least some iota of understanding what's the right way to use a bike lane, wouldn't you? Take a look today.

1) First pic - complaining about segways in bike lanes. They are explicitly permitted in DC, and in fact, may have no other option in some places since (unlike bikes) they cannot use the roads.

2) Fourth pic, "delivering a blocked bike lane, apparently." Apparently? No, obviously, the truck is exactly where it's supposed to be - turning right, and moved into the lane to do so. While I wasn't there at that second, given that the truck's brake lights are on, it seems obvious someone is, actually, at the wheel, and if they were stopped, they most likely would have pulled all the way over where there is space.

3) Fifth pic - "Uh, a bike lane isn't a taxi stand... Just FYI." Actually, it is. The law says that you must pull over as far as is practicable when loading or unloading passengers. You are allowed, explicity, to use bike lanes, and it would be stupid to expect discharging of passengers in the middle of the road. The picture shows the car with its door open on the curb side! This person couldn't be doing their discharge more correctly.

Wow, fully half of the first six pics complaining about cars in bike lanes are complaining about absolutely correct and legal use of the road.

So it seems that people who are so concerned about bike safety that they are posting pics on a blog have no clue whatsoever how bike lanes are supposed to be used.

How do you think most other people who aren't so passionate understand the same?

The reality is, there's a big learning curve for most drivers about how to interact with bikes on roads with bike lanes - and obviously the same is true of cyclists. We can't just build infrastructure like this and expect everyone to understand it. It's not intuitive. Nobody learns to look in their right-rear mirror before turning right from one road to another. You can write a law and paint some lines, but that doesn't magically change the way people learned to drive.

If even many cyclists have no idea how cars are supposed to use bike lanes, why do you expect the drivers should?

This is a problematic setup and a lot more education is required for it to be safe.

As for Alice Swanson, how do you know she wasn't in the blind spot of the truck? How do you know that a large truck had enough space to pull entirely into the bike lane where it was legally allowed to, and still be able to make the turn? Haven't you seen those signs on the back of trucks that say "this vehicle makes wide right turns?"

by Jamie on Jul 13, 2010 11:27 am • linkreport

Interesting. I would love to see some data about the comparison with the oregon technique and safety

by Allan on Jul 13, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

In Europe, there are two traffic rules that are very confusing for (North-)Americans.

1) Traffic from the right has the right of way.
2) Traffic going straight has the right of way over turning traffic.

These are absolute rules, causing a plethora of 'right of way signs'. However, their rigidity provides clarity. Pedestrians going straight have the right of way over turning cars.

The second rule prevents the whole confusion presented above, because cars would not be allowed to turn in the presence of bikers. And in the absence of bikers, it does not matter where the car is.

by Jasper on Jul 13, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

Best way to avoid all of this trouble: ride your bike in traffic lane. Take the full lane. It's legal if the lane is under 11 feet wide (which seems to be most lanes in DC.). It's safer because you're FOR SURE seen. (You might have more 'friendly' gestures toward you but you'll be seen).

So... seen, legal. Seems simple: ride in the full lane!

For the record, I'm a rider and a driver. I prefer this from BOTH parts of my life.

by David on Jul 13, 2010 11:54 am • linkreport

As to: "If you are a cyclist riding in a bike lane and a car pulls into the lane with its right blinker on, you should wait behind the car until it makes its turn.":

The other option is for the cyclist to overtake the right-turning car on the left, merging into the travel lane that the car had been in (and likely still is partially in) when it is safe to do so. Trying to squeeze by between the right-turning car in the bike lane and the curb is an unsafe attempt to overtake on the right.

On a related note, when I'm on my bike and stopped at a red light that I wish to go straight through, I try to merge to be either in the center or left edge of the unrestricted travel lane, so that if another vehicle behind me wishes to turn right (on red), it can do so.

(Then again, I've seen rather sensible arguments that right-on-red is bad policy, because roughly half of cars don't fully stop before turning, and often block the crosswalk or otherwise take the right-of-way from pedestrians who have a walk signal.)

I understand that bike lanes are rather important to attracting new cyclists, and that the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling is for everyone, as other drivers become more accustomed to having bicycles on the road. Yet the sort of conflicts that this article is about really go to the heart of the Vehicular Cycling theory, propounded by John Forrester.

by thm on Jul 13, 2010 11:58 am • linkreport

For all the lane takers, please don't skim past all the cars stopped at a red light, take the lane in front of the traffic and slowly start when you get the green. Repeating this for several blocks is probably going to put yourself in a bit of danger after pissing off several dozen drivers.

Please, simple courtesy.

by m on Jul 13, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

This is a helpful and great discussion, and unfortunately rare on this blog these days. I think the european rules cited by Jasper is worth looking at. CJ also has a great common sense point, pass on the left, not the right if a car is turning right. David also makes an excellent point. If the speed limit is 25 mph or lower, take the whole lane. You may get honked at, but you probably will not get hit. There is safety in numbers too, so ride in packs, use the bike lanes where appropriate, and take lanes when you can.

This is precisely why I love the Penn Ave bike lanes, as there are not conflicts with right turning cars. I think we should take the middle of more of the larger boulevards for bikes. It's high visibility, and you don't get hit on the right on red.

by BikerB on Jul 13, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

The problem is that people don't think of the bike lane as a "lane," they think of it as completely separated bike space not ever to be violated. If you think of it as a regular lane, only smaller, it makes it much easier to figure out what the correct behavior is:

Scenario 1: Car turning right. If the bike lane were a regular wide lane, would you drive your car from the middle lane across the right lane to turn? No, you check for traffic (car, bike, horse-drawn carriage), merge into the right lane and then turn.

If you're on a bike in the same scenario and a car merges in front of you (safely we assume) do you sneak around them on the right? No, you either wait, or go around on the left (in the same lane if there's space or in another lane if you'd like).

Scenario 2: Driving down a street, can I straddle the bike lane/regular lane?

No, you can't. If you're driving down a two-lane street can you just drive down the middle of two lanes? No, not unless there's something blocking the lane and you're going around it.

The fact that people label simple traffic rules like this "confusing" makes me realize why everyone drives like morons.

Also I agree on the turn signal thing - nobody uses them correctly. People either don't use them at all, or they start to turn and then put their blinker on (fat lot of good that does!)

by MLD on Jul 13, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD, the reason the rules are confusing is because most drivers did not learn to drive in a place or time where any significant number of bike lanes existed.

Like anything else, once you understand it, of course it is not hard to follow it. But given that obviously even many cyclists do not intuitively understand the rule, why would you expect drivers to?

Your car cannot fully fit in a bike lane. It is decidedly unintuitive that you would move into it when making a turn. If you never took a driving test or class that told you anything about bike lanes, why would you be magically expected to realize this?

by Jamie on Jul 13, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

Ok, another situation: I drive south down 11th street on my way to work. I turn right at Florida. At that section, just before the intersection, the bike lane on the right changes from a solid white line to a dashed white line (for about a ten foot span). The rightmost (parking) lane, past the bike lane, is always empty at the intersection unless there is a bus there at the bus stop. So, I signal right a ways before the dashed bike lane, I look to make sure that there are no cyclists in the bike lane, and then merge through the bike lane at the dash to the rightmost (parking) lane, and then turn right onto Florida from there.

So...I don't really have a question aside from: why don't more bike lanes have dashed lines to indicate where one can pass into them?

by AMF on Jul 13, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

I think this is a useful post, but you're most likely wrong about the truck driver in the Alice Swanson case. "As close as practicable" for trucks and buses does not mean hugging the curb or in the bike lane. They make wide turns by necessity.

MPD investigated the case and did a reconstruction, and did not find that the truck made an improper turn. It's not to just assert he did, with no evidence.

by jcm on Jul 13, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

@CJ, please post the text of the 3 foot rule, because I don't think it works the way you describe.

Here's the DC traffic code giving bikes the right to split lanes and move through stopped cars at a red light.

DCMR 18, Sect. 1201.3, b-c:
"(b) A person operating a bicycle may overtake and pass other vehicles on the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway, as necessary to pass with safety. (c) If a lane is partially occupied by vehicles that are stopped, standing, or parked in that lane, a person operating a bicycle may ride in that or in the next adjacent lane used by vehicles proceeding in the same direction."

So fellow cyclists, pass on the left. It's as true on a bike as it is true when you drive on the highway. And ride through stopped traffic at the red, because if you don't, you might as well drive, and that's ridiculous.

by Crin on Jul 13, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

So, back to the point that started this conversation, the dump truck. The driver swung wide to avoid riding up on the curb. The angels of the streets didn't allow for him to turn from the bike lane. Sometimes vehicles swing wide to make turns. The problem is that when a car gets hit, no one dies, but when a bike does, someone usually does. What about creating bike only and car only roads?

by Paul on Jul 13, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

I dropped a word. Should be "It's not fair to just assert he [turned improperly] with no evidence.

by jcm on Jul 13, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

So this begs the question why are the streets designed like this; we should be looking for a new way of designing the streets to stop this.

by kk on Jul 13, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

Many people have commented here in the past that bike lanes are not safe for this and other reasons (dooring).

I don't know whether, overall, in-street bike lanes are a net positive or not. But when I am using one, I am extremely cautious when approach an intersection if there's someone in the driving lane to my left. I slow down and make sure they are going straight or let them turn if they haven't seen me.

What is clear though, is that cyclists are vulnerable, and particularly so when riding beside a large vehicle that by design has poor visibility. Even drivers of many cars can't easily see something that's to their right. Most trucks have stickers that warn about wide right turns, and also that say "if you're here I can't see you."

When driving a car, most of us are well aware of these hazards and drive cautiously around large vehicles. Cyclists need to use at least the same amount of caution given their vulnerability, and the fact that they are in a place that is not intuitive to all drivers.

The desire to blame the driver every time there's an accident involving a cyclist accomplishes nothing. None of us witnessed this accident, and it seems obvious to me given the situation that even if the driver had taken all reasonable precautions he might not have been able to see the cyclist.

The desire of some to place all the burden on other road users for their own safety doesn't make the roads any safer, but it certainly increases their own risk. Everyone needs to realize when they are doing something, legal or not, that could be a hazard. The law cannot account for every conceivable situation. We don't have video cameras on every car that gives everyone a 360 degree view of their surroundings at all times. It's impossible for a driver, especially one who is in a large vehicle, to be 100% sure that a cyclist didn't dart into his blind spot right before he looked.

As someone said before, if you don't pass stopped cars, then what's the point of being in a bike? Fair enough, but you also have to realize that by doing that, you are possibly putting yourself in harm's way because drivers can only look in one direction at a time and have areas of limited or no visibility.

by Jamie on Jul 13, 2010 4:26 pm • linkreport

I agree with CJ who said:

"Thanks for posting this. It's amazing how many people don't know it, cyclists included. I have witnessed other cyclists berating drivers for following the law correctly. "

It's extremely frustrating to read of cyclists that talk to drivers and try to "educate" them to do the wrong thing!

Cyclists seem to think that cars are never allows in bike lanes. False! It's in everybodys best interest that turning vehicles move as far right as possible.

Here is what California says:

"When you are making a right turn and are within 200 feet of the corner or other driveway entrance, you must enter the bicycle lane to make the turn. Do not drive in the bicycle lane at any other time."

As someone else pointed it, it's also frustrating to see websites dedicated to "bike lane blockers" when most of the examples are of perfectly legal maneuvers.

by J on Jul 13, 2010 6:13 pm • linkreport

Thanks so much for this -- I have this problem (as a driver) many mornings at East Capitol and 1st St. East -- my commute often takes me westbound on E. Capitol to a right turn (northwards) on first. That particular intersection is more confusing than some, because for cars, it's a "T", but bicycles frequently carry on westwards on to the renovated Capitol grounds.

I try to be careful about the cyclists, but even after signalling, shoulder checking, and in one case making eye contact, the cyclist and I then both advanced into conflict.

Changing lanes makes perfect sense -- like the earlier commenter, I was reluctant to do so because of the solid white line.

by Urban Garlic on Jul 13, 2010 7:40 pm • linkreport

I think it would be best if bike lanes were delimited by dashed lines everywhere rather than the solid lines generally used (other than, as at least one commenter observed, for too short a distance before intersections). Signs saying such things as "Merge with bicycle traffic before right turn" would also be very useful.

I personally avoid riding on streets with bike lanes precisely because they observably make the inevitable interactions between bikes and cars, especially at intersections, more rather than less hazardous. More permeable-appearing lane striping and explicit merge signs would help a great deal.

by davidj on Jul 13, 2010 7:46 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: nice comment, that sums up everything i was going to say as well regarding the rules in Europe.

Americans can be taught to follow the European rules (which seem to mirror the Oregon rules), it is covered in the Military Police Driving Handbook, which is standard issue at least here in Germany. (Link:

Practice question #60 clearly shows when a bicycle and a car are travelling on an equally-weighted road, the bicycle is going straight and the car wishes to turn right, that the car *must* yield right-of-way to the bicycle.

This rule even applies to bicycle lanes on the sidewalk. The turning car must yield to any bicycle going straight in the bicycle lane in the sidewalk.

Here in Germany, most (sadly not all) bicycle lanes are painted bright red or green from about 2m before an intersection through 2m after the intersection. This gives the impression of perhaps altering a car driver to a potential cyclist.

by loull on Jul 14, 2010 6:20 am • linkreport

@loull: Funny. Firefox does not trust the https link from

As for the painting of lanes: it works without any doubt. Painting bike (and bus) lanes creates a psychological barrier that car drivers do not like to pass.

by Jasper on Jul 14, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

Actually, I don't like this rule. This is because I think it encourages people who are unfamiliar with bike lanes to think they are traffic lanes. When the lanes were added to Walter Reed in ARlington about two or three years ago, and up to today, I can't believe the number of people who try to travel down them, even if they are not making a right turn, or if their turn isn't for a long way. And as the other Arlington poster noted, the lanes there have the dashed lines at the intersections, clearly implying that's where cars should be making their turns.

by Josh S on Jul 14, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

On what basis do you think "bike lanes "work without any doubt?" There are pros and cons.

Googling "are bike lanes safe" returns little in the way of actual research, though a recent UK one indicates that, actually, bike lanes cause motorists to pass cyclists more closely than they would in the absence of one.

This is intuitive, to me, since the painted line basically tells a driver they just need to stay on their side of it. This would, typically, put them a mere foot or two from the left edge of a cyclist in the center of their lane, which is actually closer than the law allows. Weird, huh?

I came across this page that is older than the above study, but references a lot of opinions.

This particular cyclist, however, thinks they are good, except in some situations where they should not be installed. His list:

1) Low-speed or congested roadways where turning volume is very high
2) Residential streets
3) Where they can't be swept or otherwise maintained
4) Where you can't commit to "no parking".

Almost all of the bike lanes in DC fall in this category.

I agree with him. It's far from intuitive to me that bike lanes on 25 MPH roads do much to increase safety. They put bikers squarely in the door zone almost everywhere they exist, and there is great risk of cars turning right not being aware of a cyclist. They create a false sense of security.

Anyway, the evidence is far from conclusive one way or the other, but at least the UK study is evidence that, in fact, the lines put cars closer to bikes, not farther from them.

One thing we can say for sure, though, is that Alice Swanson would probably be alive today if she had been riding with traffic instead of in a bike lane that day.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 9:56 am • linkreport

Actually this is a fascinating page referencing some research going back 70 years (mostly european).

The very oldest study from 1938 says:

"Cycle tracks increase danger at every road junction. Supports trend towards merging tracks into carriageway before cross-roads"

What a novel idea...

The newest one, from Sweden, says:

"In Helsinki, using a road-side cycle path is nearly 2.5 times likely to result in injury than cycling on the carriageway with traffic. At junctions the relative risk rises to more than 3 times. In those countries and cities which are just beginning to build cycling facilities, two-way cycle paths in particular should be avoided in an urban street network"

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 10:05 am • linkreport

Jamie, many thanks for your succinct summation of the case against bike lanes:

"It's far from intuitive to me that bike lanes on 25 MPH roads do much to increase safety. They put bikers squarely in the door zone almost everywhere they exist, and there is great risk of cars turning right not being aware of a cyclist."

Yes, bike lanes often make cycling _more_ dangerous, even as, ironically:

"They create a false sense of security."

I too think that unfortunate young woman was set up, rather than protected, by the bike lane she was riding in.

by davidj on Jul 14, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

@davidj, what is even more ironic is that one of the primary benefits touted of bike lanes is that they increase the number of cyclists because of the perception of safety. This means larger numbers of less-skilled cyclists using the bike lanes.

However, a more-skilled cyclist, aware of the risks a bike lane presents, would prefer to ride with traffic on city streets. But where a bike lane exists, I can only imagine that many drivers would get very irate about someone who (legally) chose to ride in the street instead of in the bike lane.

This means that the net effect of a bike lane on a street is to basically eliminate the safest travel option for a cyclist who chooses to ride in the roadway, essentially forcing them to use the less-safe one.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

@ Jamie: On what basis do you think "bike lanes "work without any doubt?"

Read the entire line. It says: As for the painting of lanes: it works without any doubt.

My data is years of biking in the Netherlands on the same roads. First without bike lanes, then with bike lanes, then on painted bike lanes, and finally on separate bike lanes. It is my experience that the painting of the lanes made my biking experience the most safer (is that proper English?).

Having the bike lanes is ok, and separated bike lanes are obviously safer. However, the effect of painting the lanes on has never ceased to surprise me. If you want data on bike safety, I'll point you to the documents of the Dutch government. They do nothing without studying it do death. Oh, you can't read Dutch? They even have an English website. Have at it:

You may also check the websites of the Danish and German government documentation. If Danish and German are not your strongest point, you may want to try Belgium which will offer you documents in Dutch, French, German and even occasionally English. I bet the French might have something as well.

All these countries have seriously worked on increasing biker safety and reducing the number of traffic deaths. And one of the important measures has been to make, paint and separate bike lanes.

The fact that data does not exist in English, does not mean it does not exist.

by Jasper on Jul 14, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are trying to make here. Are you saying, painting lines for bike lanes is better than having a bike lane without a painted line? What is the difference between no bike lane, and a bike lane that's not painted?

If there's some particular study on that web site you'd like to point me to I'm interested in reading it, but I'm not going to search for something that you seem to already know about, but haven't referenced directly, without knowing what I'm looking for.

I referenced a number of studies (in English!!) which pretty conclusively demonstrate that in-road bike lanes are less safe than not having them at all. If you have anything that contradicts that (rather than just a vague mention to stuff not in English) please provide it.

I am not interested in being right, I'm interested in understanding what the safest way for bikes to share the road with cars is. My intuition, personal experience, and observation is backed up by the information I was able to find. But I will gladly devour any reasonably-sourced information that discusses non-separated bike lane safety you can point me to in order to have a more informed opinion.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

Jasper means having a lane with painted pavement. Meaning that the entire width of the bike lane is painted green or something. With a white lane marker dividing it from regular traffic.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 14, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

Okay, I agree that that is most likely better than just a dividing line.

But, is it better than no bike lane at all on low-speed city streets with parked cars? While the extra paint would certainly help in terms of driver alertness to the existence of the lanes, the basic problems still exist (doors and turns with poor right-side visibility for drivers) when compared to bicycles traveling in the roadway.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

@ Jamie: I referenced a number of studies (in English!!) which pretty conclusively demonstrate that in-road bike lanes are less safe than not having them at all.

Well, then the number of bike related injuries and deaths in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France should have gone up after they spent all that money on all their bike infrastructure, not? Ministers would have shamefully resigned and bike lanes would have been removed. They didn't. Reality counts more than Google.

@ Matt: Thanks for the help.

@ Jamie: the basic problems still exist (doors and turns with poor right-side visibility for drivers) when compared to bicycles traveling in the roadway.

These are all problems caused by inattentive car drivers. That's the problem. Lack of attention. Or Windshield perspective. Not where the biker bikes. Filling in the bike lane with a different color does get the attention of the inattentive driver. That's why it's safer.

It would be nice if governments in places where the start with bike lanes did some drivers ed. That's what you have pubic ad campaign for. Furthermore, they should update the driver's ed booklets and requirements.

by Jasper on Jul 14, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

@Jasper, what percentage of Amsterdam's bike lanes are not separated and next to parked cars?

"These are all problems caused by inattentive car drivers. That's the problem."

Every single accident is the result of someone being inattentive. This argument is meaningless. Given a choice between a travel architecture than can more easily result in an accident when a driver is "inattentive" for a moment, versus one that is less prone, why would you just say "it's the drivers fault" instead of wanting an architecture that is fundamentally less prone to accidents?

The question is, what kind of infrastructure minimizes the possibility of an accident?

Drivers, and cyclists, are not perfect and never will be. Bike lanes create situations where an accident can be caused much more easily as a result of "inattention." Even if one acts with all due diligence, cars, but definitely large trucks, have blind spots.

You can keep blaming drivers for "inattention" every time there's an accident, but no amount of blame-placing will alter the fact that it is the infrastructure that creates situations where "inattention" is much more likely than not.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

I ride in bike lanes every day, and I am not in the door zone. Stay to the left hand side of the lane.

by jcm on Jul 14, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport


If you are riding on the painted line itself, what's the point of the lane? You're basically in traffic.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

1) "Basically in traffic" is different from in traffic.
2) In a five foot wide bike lane, with cars parked an average of 1 foot inside the bike lane, you can remain within the lane and outside of the door zone.
3) The study you cite claiming bike lanes are 2.5 times more dangerous is discussing separated two way paths, not bike lanes.

by jcm on Jul 14, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, the big difference is that European cyclists follow the rules. They don't go through red lights, etc. like way too many of our Washington cyclists are doing. Incidentally, my European female relative who died many years ago while riding her bike to work was adhering to the rules ... specifically, the one you stated as"1) Traffic from the right has the right of way. ... the young American GI driving his truck back to the base didn't know about rule. I think as David made a point of in this posting, the largest part of the problem is that not everyone 'knows the rules'. I'd of course like to add to that that 'and not everyone wants to follow the rules." If we can get these two items knocked out, then our roads here in Washington would be able to handle both car and bike traffic like they do in Europe.

by Lance on Jul 14, 2010 2:59 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie: Bike lanes create situations where an accident can be caused much more easily as a result of "inattention."

No, they don't. They limit the space where bikes can be and hence the space where cars have to pay attention for bikes. I take it you have never driven a car in Amsterdam where bikes truly come from all directions, regardless of where the bike paths are.

The problem is that DC (/American) drivers aren't used to checking for bikes, then don't and then hit an "unseen" bike. You can't see something if you're not looking.

Even if one acts with all due diligence, cars, but definitely large trucks, have blind spots.

They do not have to. There are cars that can park themselves due to camera help. Trucks can get cameras pointed at their blind spots. Is this the country that invented all that technology or what? There are extra mirrors you can mandate (and that are mandated in the Netherlands). In fact, all trucks in the Netherlands are also required to have bars around the entire frame to bikers can not get under them in any situation.

Furthermore, it is up to the truck driver to make sure that nobody (biker, car or pedestrian) is in his blind spot before he turns. The biker, car and pedestrian can not help the blind spot. Again, if you don't look, you can't see.

Finally, large trucks are pretty much outlawed in most major cites in the Netherlands. They are loud, stink and bad for safety and the environment. But I will admit that I do not have data on whether is it the absence of (banned) trucks or the placement of bike lanes that caused the reduction of traffic deaths, so we'll just assume that both arrangements were useless and baseless.

by Jasper on Jul 14, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, the big difference is that European cyclists follow the rules.

You hear this a lot from the "scofflaw cyclist" obsessed. What you don't hear is a whole lot of evidence for it. My gut feeling is that it's an exhibition of the kind of provincial naivety that leads young coeds to proclaim, "European men are very artistic" and the like.

My guess is that it varies from country to country, and city to city.

by oboe on Jul 14, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

The relationship between number of cyclists and accident rates is the only thing that is truly conclusive. More cyclists = fewer accidents. In Amsterdam, it is very likely that most drivers are also cyclists, meaning they have the other perspective hardwired as well. This seems pretty intuitive.

The research on bike lanes is difficult, because of the wide variety of configurations and other contributing factors when trying to say something conclusive about their safety.

The best one, that I can find, that actually analyzes before and after for bike lane installations in Amsterdam, is Jensen, Andersen, Nielsen. Velo City, Barcelona, 1997.

The number of bicycle accidents doubled compared to the "before" period at intersections without signals. While the number of accidents on the non-intersection stretches was reduced, it was more than offset by the increase at intersections.

I think painting the bike lanes across intersections is a very good idea, I don't see how it could hurt. At the same time, if I'm going through a city grid with intersections every 500 feet or so, I'd much rather NOT be in a bike lane at all.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

"They limit the space where bikes can be and hence the space where cars have to pay attention for bikes."


How do bike lanes mean the space where bikes can be is "limited?" Without them, a bike cannot legally pass straight through an intersection on your right while you could be turning right. That means you have no chance of right-hooking a bike who's acting legally on a road without a bike lane.

At the same time, there is nowhere that a bike lane removes bikes from possibly being.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

"Trucks can get cameras pointed at their blind spots."

Well, when we have a national law requiring such things, then great. If your solution to an existing safety problem is to retrofit every one of the 500 million or so vehicles in the U.S. with a camera, I think you better get back to the drawing board.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

There's also a growing body of data showing that more bikers on the road increases safety. Thus, if bikelanes gives more bikers, then safety increases with more bikelanes.

@Jasper, I'll be visiting your homeland soon and I'm really looking forward to biking around (while carrying my groceries in a reuseable sack)!

by Bianchi on Jul 14, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

"European men are very artistic".

My guess is that it varies from country to country, and city to city. and from individual to individual!

by Bianchi on Jul 14, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

@Jamie - didn't see your comment about the more bikers/fewer crashes studies. Don't harsh me dude.

by Bianchi on Jul 14, 2010 3:31 pm • linkreport

@Bainchi, Not at all, I totally agree with you. It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing. There's compelling evidence that more cyclists increases safety. But right now, in the US, that means greater risk for the least-experienced class of cyclists who may not understand the best way to ensure their own safety in bike lanes.

That is, the bike lanes made them feel safe enough to ride at all, but in actuality may increase their risk when using them. It's almost like a sacrifice for the greater good. Maybe the benefit overall offsets the risk, but it just seems like we should be able to find a solution to the education problem (both for cyclists and drivers) other than encouraging people into more-risky cycling behavior under the guise of greater safety.

Maybe there's no better way, I dunno, but personally, I feel very unsafe in bike lanes on roads that have many 2-way stops crossing them.

by Jamie on Jul 14, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

That animation from OregonLive is great. It looks like the Oregon law is similar to European traffic laws (correct me if I'm wrong) and is the way I drove before reading about the DC law. After watching it, I have mixed feelings. Both systems could work safely if all parties abide by the rules, and the Oregon system seems to allow bicycles to travel more freely, but having two different systems is sure to increase the confusion. The California system is probably safer, assuming that drivers use their turn signals. An idiot-resistant system is necessary, because we all know how many idiots are on the road (both behind the wheel and on two wheels).

Personally, I prefer cycling on low-traffic streets, bike lane or no. When can we have some bicycle boulevards?

by Matthias on Jul 14, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

Forgot to mention that we have a great bike boulevard in Arlington, which I use when I bike to work--Key Blvd between Veitch and Jackson:

View Larger Map

Far superior to a bike lane in both actual and perceived safety.

by Matthias on Jul 14, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

It's a design issue that's pretty simple to deal with. Before the intersection you shift the bike lane left.

This isn't the best photo example: -- it's from Philadelphia.

Reducing intersection conflict is an area where all jurisdictions can do a better job. Most decent bike plans discuss the issue, but it's really a design-engineering issue for the most part. I seem to recall that the Minneapolis Bike Plan handles the issue pretty well.

Yep, see p. 22 of this document:

I didn't have my camera with me last Sunday, but I intend to go back and take a photo of New Hampshire Ave. in Maryland at Lockwood, just before the Sears shopping center (White Oak). MD SHA has done a very good job of shifting the bike lane left to deal with cars turning right.

by Richard Layman on Jul 14, 2010 6:00 pm • linkreport

Richard, there's an example of a bike lane shifting to left of a right-turn-only lane on C Street NE at 14th Street.

Since most bike riders, I daresay, do not realize that they should ride in the straight-through lane if they're going straight through even if -- especially if! -- it is not the rightmost lane, this is one instance, indeed the only one I have ever encountered, where a bike lane may actually reduce, rather than increase, the danger to people riding on it.

by davidj on Jul 14, 2010 10:07 pm • linkreport

Just to follow up on GGW's suggestion that cars planning to turn right may enter and block the bike lane anywhere in the preceding block, I think that's not quite true in practice on most DC streets with bike lanes. That is, even if the default rule says that's OK, most DC bike lanes (as others have commented above) have solid white lines dividing them from the other lanes, with a dashed section of line about 30 feet before the intersection. Where the line dividing the bike lane from the other lane is solid, that would appear to be an "official traffic control device ... prohibiting the changing of lanes" as referred to in 2201.6(d), and "and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of the device." So if the line is solid, drivers should wait until it's dashed before merging into the restricted lane to turn right (and they should signal beforehand). And cyclists, by all means, should cut such drivers a break. If a driver is signaling ahead of time, and waiting until the dashed line to merge into the bike lane, please don't squeeze a bike to the right of them (unless, I suppose, traffic is at a dead standstill for a while). It sends a bad message to those all-too-rare drivers who are doing just what they're supposed to be doing.

by Pilgrim on Jul 15, 2010 2:40 am • linkreport

Thanks for the post. Here is a related question that I haven't seen discussed.
At an intersection almost exactly like the illustration above, a bicyclist arrives to the intersection first. The light is red and s/he intends to continue straight. So s/he stops at the line. Soon after a car comes from behind, intending to turn right, which is allowed during the red line. How do you proceed? Are you allowed to cross in front of the bike or should you line up behind s/he.
Thanks for the answers. :)

by urbica on Jul 16, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

urbica: If the bicyclists is up at the line, the driver can't go in front of the bicyclist without being in the intersection. So the driver should move into the bike lane behind the bicyclist, then when the light turns green, wait for the bicyclist to move before making the turn.

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2010 9:39 am • linkreport

Remember that as far as traffic laws are concerned, the bike lane is just another lane. So rethink your question:

The street has two (let's say) northbound lanes. One general purpose lane, one lane for cycles. A cyclist arrives first in the bike lane. A car arrives second in the general purpose lane wanting to turn right. Can they do so?

Well, if we treat the bike lane like a car lane, the scenario would be this:
There are two northbound lanes, both general purpose. A car arrives in the right lane first, wanting to go straight. A second car arrives in the left lane, wanting to turn right? Should the second car wait or turn across the right lane on red?

Well, obviously in the second case, it is clear that the second driver should have been in the right lane in the first place to turn right. And he or she would have to wait until the first car got a green signal to go straight through.

And it's exactly the same for the first case. If there is a cycle in the bike lane stopped at a red light and you want to turn right, you should merge into the cycle lane behind him or her and wait your turn.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 16, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

Thank you David, I though the same thing :)
Except that I was being yelled at by the car driver, who dove up to me in the next left car lane and then made the right turn in front of me...

by urbica on Jul 16, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson:

Imagine a typical scenario involving more than a little traffic. A half-dozen cars want to turn right, a half-dozen cars want to go straight.

Should the half-dozen cars that plan to turn right line up in the bike lane? I don't think that would go over very well with cyclists.

Suppose everyone does everything "correctly" - the first car to turn right is waiting in the bike lane, and five more cars did not cross the solid line, but plan to turn right and have their blinkers on.

Now add a bike or three, and the light changes.

What happens? Who gets priority? What should those five other cars do as the move off? What should bikes do who (theorietically) would wait behind the single car to turn right since he was there first?

A bike lane is not just another lane. If it was, then the six cars would be in line and nobody should be on their right as they are waiting for the light. Instead, cyclists are allowed to pass some, but not all, of the cars.

It's complicated. This is the problem.

by Jamie on Jul 16, 2010 9:51 am • linkreport

Jamie: In most jurisdictions, there is a distance (like 200 feet) in which the cars can merge into the bike lane. So in that instance, what should happen is that drivers inside that distance (i.e. the last few cars) can be over in the bike lane, while the drivers farther back that want to turn right should not be.

The bicyclists can pass the drivers who aren't in the last 200', but can't pass the drivers who are. Once the light changes, the drivers already in the bike lane make their turn before the bicyclists behind them go straight, while the drivers farther back have to wait until they get up to the 200' zone, then signal right and move over once there's room in the bike lane, then turn.

The sequence of vehicles passing the end of the bike lane would generally be:
1. First couple drivers turning righ
2. All the bicyclists waiting to go straight
3. Other drivers turning right
4. Any bicyclists who show up later during the green phase

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2010 9:55 am • linkreport

@David - as I said. It's complicated.

Add to this that when everyone's stopped and first beginning to move, there's a very good possibility of a bike being in a car or truck's blind spot. When can you start to move? This adds a lot of complexity to a very routine, common situation.

This is why I think on city grids with lots of intersections and one traffic lane, bike lanes do more harm than good.

by Jamie on Jul 16, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

Matt, thanks for your comment as well.
I thought the same thing, but to be honest, I didn't know that at intersections cars are allowed to merge into bike lanes.
IMO this one or two and a half lane configuration (as bike lanes are only about half the width) at intersection does more harm than good, even if we take bikers and the whole special purpose thing out of the equation.
Just imagine 2.5 lanes with 2 cars traveling north and 1 half way off about to turn right. Add to this some driver impatience or ill-fated timing...

by urbica on Jul 16, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

Thank you David, I though the same thing :)
Except that I was being yelled at by the car driver, who dove up to me in the next left car lane and then made the right turn in front of me...

Now, before the advent of bike lanes, this was a much simpler and more intuitive situation for both biker and driver. As a biker, in the situation you describe, I would have done one of 2 things (well, actually one of 3 things .... though I always thought the 3rd one was 'wrong' ... but everyone seemed to do it.)

Option #1. Stay in the center of the lane (remember this is pre-bike lane) ... but far enough up so that a driver coming up behind me and wanting to make a right on red could easily do so to my right. THEN, when the light turned green, I'd quickly squeeze to the right to let the car traffic go by me. I'd then proceed as far to the right as possible, which I always learned was the correct place for a bike to be ... because of a bike's inability to keep up with the traffic.

Option #2. (Again pre-bike lanes). I'd stop before the intersection and rest up against the curb ... being sure to leave plenty of room for cars to make their right on red or to go straight ahead in the lane. After all traffic had emptied from my side of the intersection, then I'd proceed ahead ... in the middle of the lane (to be visible to all traffic) and then slowly ease back to the far right of the lane after going through the intersection.

Option #3. A legal maneouver in most places (from what I have read on here), but not really 'right' ... As I approached the intersection, I'd apply the brakes and pedal through the brakes and use the handicap ramp to get on the side walk ... and suddenly become a 'pedestrian' for all intents and purposes as I slowly rode my bike (with brakes applied) in the crosswalk. (I used to know a bike cop and he'd taught me how to go extremely slowly when surrounded by pedestrians ... without losing your balance. It's a fairly simple trick ... just apply your brakes ... and keep pedalling. It's amazing how slowly you can operate on a bike when doing this ... and how much steering control you get.)

All in all, I think either of the 3 methods worked. I don't think having the bike lane in there works. It unnecessarily complicates a situation which doesn't need to be complicated.

by Lance on Jul 17, 2010 9:44 pm • linkreport

Wow, what a discussion. I bike all the time and I'm pretty shocked that cars are actually allowed to turn before a biker. That explains a lot. I think Jasper had a good point that the right of way rules should be revised.

To add another design solution, I added a link to a random intersection in Amsterdam. Note the box for bikers stretching in front of the car lane? That avoids any confusion. Also note the happy biker in the car lane. Bikers in Amsterdam do not follow rules! Never have. Never will.,-76.923407&sspn=0.007968,0.012124&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Amsterdam,+North+Holland,+The+Netherlands&t=h&layer=c&cbll=52.367398,4.872135&panoid=z-ur4mrGDXk8eyG8AMqerA&cbp=12,148.47,,2,3.5&ll=52.366902,4.87109&spn=0.012526,0.024247&z=15

by Thomas on Jul 20, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

David: A belated thanks for this summary, which was used to inform people in the formulation of proposed revisions to the Maryland Driver Handbook last Fall (which the MVA is still reviewing). Maryland law implicitly has the same requirement as DC, and this post has been used to help educate advocates pushing for clarification of rules in bike lanes. Some bills considered in the past would have implicitly changed MD law to the European rule in bike lanes. Having two sets of rules as one crosses the DC/MD border would not be good. In Maryland, the California rule also applies if there is a right-turn lane. However, the European rule appears to apply when there is a bikeable shoulder.

I also noticed that the European rule appears to have been adopted by a New York City regulation.

by JimT on Jan 3, 2011 8:39 am • linkreport

This is not just a problem with bike lanes on the right side. It's that many bad drivers don't merge right before making turns, even if there were no bike lane.

But bikers in such bike lanes should get in the habit of being prepared to stop when they come to intersections because there are many bad drivers who will race in front of you to make a wide right.

by Brett on Jul 22, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

David, thanks for the explanation about the various laws and how to turn properly, depending on what the law is in a given state (or DC). And I agree that the way DC, California, etc. do it is better for everyone when done properly. But the way Oregon does it, although not as ideal, is also safe if done properly.

You should have also mentioned that depending on where you are, the lanes are striped based on what the law is in a given state (or DC). Where it's permissible to use the bike lane for a turn, the painted lines are broken. Where it's not permissible, the painted lines are solid. It's far easier for people to pay attention to that than remember which of the 50 states does what.

by Dave G on Jul 24, 2014 8:45 am • linkreport

@Jasper -

"In Europe, there are two traffic rules that are very confusing for (North) Americans.
1) Traffic from the right has the right of way.
2) Traffic going straight has the right of way over turning traffic."

We already have these rules. Try navigating any four-way stop-signed intersection. These same rules apply, or should, regardless of the mode of traffic in question (ped, bike, motor, etc).

Also, I don't understand this purported ban on passing on the right. Maybe I don't understand it correctly, but with two general purpose lanes (such as on a freeway) where the left lane is full of slow traffic, but the right one is empty, is it illegal to pass on the right in that case? Seems silly for it to be illegal in that case.

by Dave G on Jul 24, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

Although left turning traffic at a given 4 way stop has the ROW over oncoming traffic if it arrives first, but not when arriving at the same time.

by Dave G on Jul 24, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

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