Flashback Friday – Clever Cycling Stuff: Hook Turn Boxes

If you do get out and about on your bike over this Easter weekend, you might come across a few of these handy green boxes at intersections. Back in Mar 2013 when I originally posted this, hook turns were still relatively new to Christchurch, let alone the country. Now you can even find national design guidance on them…

Here’s another nifty cycling tool that’s starting to pop up more around Christchurch: hook turn boxes. These innocuous little painted boxes at intersections help people cycling make that trickiest of manoeuvres – the right-hand turn.

So what’s a hook turn? Basically it’s a right turn done in two steps. As explained in the NZ Cycling Code and shown in the photo below, step 1 is to ride across the intersection, turn your bike around, and wait in the little box (usually marked with a cycle symbol and right-turn arrow). Then, when the traffic signals change for the side-road traffic, step 2 is to ride across to your intended departure leg with the crossing traffic.

A hook turn box recently installed at the Whiteleigh-Lincoln intersection – the yellow arrows show the path you would take

The beauty of hook turn boxes is that they allow riders to avoid the somewhat grotty manoeuvres of getting across to the right-turn lane in the middle of the road and then trying to find a gap in the opposing traffic. This is particularly a problem on busy multi-lane roads.

Hook turn boxes have actually been around in Christchurch for over a decade now. The very first one (and indeed, the first in the country) was trialled in 2002 opposite Burnside High to help school kids get across Memorial Ave more easily. Since then they have only slowly been installed until recently (in fact I’m still not aware of any in NZ outside of Christchurch).

Waiting to cross over at the Memorial/Greers intersection in Burnside

Hook turns are a very common cycling tool in some other countries. When I was in Copenhagen, for example, I noticed quite a few hook turn boxes marked around the city (for left-hand turns in that case). But interestingly, even when there wasn’t a formal box, most people cycling there tended to undertake a hook turn to turn left. Perhaps that reflected a much greater proportion of less-confident “interested but concerned” riders there?

A (left-hand) hook turn at an intersection in Copenhagen

There are a few popping up around the city now, including Lincoln Rd (Whiteleigh/Barrington and Lyttelton/Wrights intersections) and new ones proposed for the Frankleigh/Sparks/Lyttelton intersection in Spreydon and the Brougham/Strickland/Antigua intersection in Addington. NZTA actually installed a whole series of them a number of years ago along Brougham St. However, not that you could tell – not one of them was marked completely properly with coloured surfacing, arrows and symbols. And so even today most people think they’re just there for an advanced stop space.

Brougham St hook turn box – no wonder this rider thinks it’s an advance stop box…

Of course, you don’t actually need a hook turn box to undertake a hook turn. It’s perfectly legal to do a two-step right-turn manoeuvre at any intersection where you don’t feel comfortable doing the alternative (e.g. where the middle lane is a combined through/right lane, leaving nowhere safe to wait). Just make sure you stop clear of other through traffic (including bikes and crossing pedestrians!) and also ensure that you’re not blocking left-turning side-road traffic if they get a special signal phase first.

 What do you think of hook turn boxes? Where would you like to see some installed?

3 thoughts on “Flashback Friday – Clever Cycling Stuff: Hook Turn Boxes”

  1. I was a volunteer cyclist for a study done in Christchurch a few years ago and encountered one then. The cycle lane disappeared before the intersection and the hook box paint was faded and I didn’t get the feeling that it would be a safe place to wait to cross the intersection from. So seeing as it was the weekend and traffic was light I went throught the intersection the same way I would if I were driving a car. Actually I didn’t even see the hook turn box until I had started moving across to the right turn lane. I didn’t have much time to make a decision of which way to go and it sure is heck didn’t grab me as a safe space worth using considering I would then take twice as long as a car to get through the intersection.

    If council really want cyclists to use them then cycle lanes can’t just disappear when near an intersection and hook boxes need to be well maintaned so they look safer than the alternatives.

    1. There is an advance information sign now available to let people know that a hook turn box exists at the approaching intersection. They should always be located so that they are clear of any through traffic lanes and cycle lanes, and these days I would not expect any new cycle lane to disappear before the intersection. At many busy intersections where the right turn queue takes longer to discharge than just one traffic signal cycle, it is definitely quicker to use a hook turn box.

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