EC Notebook #18: Intersections: “Messy Merging”

Most car/bike crashes occur at intersections. Effective CyclingTM cites the Cyclist’s Lane Rule as a general guideline for lane-positioning decisions before entering intersections: Choose the right-most lane that serves your destination (left, straight, or right). However, some circumstances complicate your decision. One of these situations is when you must cross a freeway on- or off-ramp. As a cyclist riding on a high-speed (in excess of 50 mph) highway and approaching an expressway entrance-ramp lane, what procedures will best get you safely through this messy merging situation? Here are three options:


  1. Ride in a vehicular manner for the entire length of the ramp lane (for example. if there is no useable shoulder). To do this:
    • Look for overtaking traffic entering the ramp.
    • Point ahead with your left arm to signal that you intend to go straight through.
    • Make eye contact with motorists.
    • Proceed through, remaining in the right third of the through lane.
  2. Ride on the shoulder next to the ramp lane (if there is a useable shoulder) until you are near the shoulder of the through lane, then cross the ramp lane. Steps for this procedure:
    • Remain on the shoulder next to the entrance-ramp lane. Continue until you reach the point where the ramp diverges from the through road.
    • Look over your shoulder for an opening that will let you cross the ramp lane safely.
    • Adjust your speed so that you and the opening in traffic both reach the through-lane shoulder at the same time.
    • Look again to make sure your opening is still there.
    • Signal and quickly cross over to the straight-through shoulder.
  3. Cross to the right side of the through lane. ride in a vehicular manner for the entire length of the ramp lane, and then return to the shoulder. To do this:
    • Prepare to move off the shoulder before reaching the entrance- ramp lane.
    • Look for overtaking traffic.
    • Point your left arm ahead to signal that you intend to continue on the highway. (Don’t confuse motorists by making a left-turn signal.)
    • Look again for traffic, and make eye contact with motorists.
    • Move left off the shoulder onto the through lane.
    • Proceed through, remaining in the right third of the lane until you reach the far side of the entrance ramp. Then return to the shoulder by moving right.

Deciding whether to use method a., b., or c. isn’t always easy. Examine each situation and look at its specific conditions. Consider the length of the entrance ramp lane. How long will you be in high-speed traffic if you stay in the lane? Is it rush hour? Are you climbing or descending a hill? Is visibility reduced by a right-curved roadway or hill?

Conclusion: Be visible; be alert; be predictable (signal your intentions); and be prepared for any emergency maneuvers that may be necessary.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to

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