Comments on: Why it’s not OK for cyclists to run red lights A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: PugsleyDude Wed, 20 Mar 2013 16:54:00 +0000 Well in some cities it is legal to ride a bike through a red light. And where I live I would NEVER get through red light. Why…because they only change for a car…not a bike. In some cites when a bicycle stops over the bicycle symbol that is on the street the light changes just as if they were a car. That is what needs to be done but most cities won’t because they just don’t care…period. I am in the street when I approach a stop light and if I were to stop all the time I would have cars mad at me because they feel I am in the way. I could use the crosswalk at a red light, but that is infinitely more dangerous. Why…because cars making a right-hand turn do not care one bit if they hit me and will cut in front of me all the time. Then when I am in the middle of the intersection about to get to the other side, those cars making a turn, either a left going the same direction as me, or those making a right in front of me will ALWAYS cut in front of me. You have to stay in the street and you have to run a red light at least part of the time. Those that don’t ride in the city should not comment as they have NO clue.

By: Brent123 Thu, 09 Aug 2012 15:09:51 +0000 “It is important to cyclists that we get the full respect of drivers as fellow road users, with just as much right to be riding down the street as they have.”

After many years of cycling, I have yet to see a connection between minding traffic rules and gaining respect from drivers. Cyclists aren’t particularly law-abiding in any place I’ve ridden, including The Netherlands and Denmark, where cyclists enjoy equal access to the roads. Drivers respect cyclists when they empathize with them, and when the law demands it with real penalties (see Art. 185 of the Dutch code), not because cyclists are such great road users. In the unofficial hierarchy of road use, cars are king, bicycles are princes, and pedestrians are serfs. It should be the opposite. Pedestrians thank you for stopping at lights; has a single driver done the same?

By: dansatlantic Wed, 08 Aug 2012 21:50:41 +0000 I agree with Pinko, the notion that Europeans are these super law abiding, stop sign/light obeying cyclists is ridiculous. I live in Geneva and when I first moved here, I was very impressed with all the bike lanes, bike lights, etc. I was under the same impression that cyclists here obeyed the rules strictly since they are A) Swiss (i.e. generally VERY respecting of rules) and B) have such incredible infrastructure dedicated to them. I was wrong. I routinely find myself stopping, or at least yielding for a red (bike specific) light, only to have a mother with a child on the back of her bike blow right on through.

Bikes are indeed a completely different form of transportation that need to be as segregated from auto traffic as possible. As others have pointed out, it takes much more energy to start from a stop (both cars and bikes), but with cars, all that additional energy is blown out into the environment as an externality (additional pollution). Being human powered, bikes absolutely require more leeway in this regard. Ironically, European cyclists are teaching me this every time I ride.

By: Frwip Wed, 08 Aug 2012 06:08:33 +0000 Oh, and stop signs also apply to cyclists, btw…

By: dr2chase Tue, 07 Aug 2012 23:29:58 +0000 The problem with any criticism of Cohen is that if he is wrong, it is an ethical rounding error. In a typical year people on bicycles kill about 1 pedestrian; people in automobiles kill over 3000 (adjusted for ride share and being generous to the cars, riding a bike as about 15x safer for other people, even with all the rule-breaking that we observe). What’s more important?

The more interesting question to me is: if you have a choice between driving and biking (i.e., a short trip), and you choose to drive, is THAT ethical? Look at the accident rate. And you may think you’re a safe driver, but various studies show that people overestimate their own skill, can fail to see a gorilla walking through their field of view, are essentially driving deaf, and are often unaware of their near-crashes.

To someone who rides a bike regularly, 95% of the criticism of cyclist behavior is tribal nonsense. People driving cars also break rules almost continuously; speeding, rolling stops, stopping past stop lines, poor lane discipline, running red lights, tailgating, etc. Riding a bike doesn’t turn someone from a jerk into a saint, but it does make them a much less dangerous jerk, and if we care about minimizing harm to others, that means a much more ethical jerk. Perhaps even a smug, sanctimonious, know-it-all jerk, but nonetheless, a jerk who made the better choice.

(On “but what about cyclist deaths!” I direct your attention to studies of mortality across large populations. Not biking to work raises your risk of death by 39%, all else equal, among mostly unhelmeted Danes.)

By: jvj24601 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 23:20:18 +0000 When asking why cyclists run red lights, it’s also worth asking: why don’t drivers? After all, drivers regularly break other laws, particularly speed limits.

From 7/the-myth-of-the.html :

“A better question is “Why don’t drivers ‘jaydrive’?”

Is it because they love the law so much? Did you skip the previous section?

It’s because their risk/reward calculation is coming up with a different answer. And that makes sense. In a car, you’re several feet farther back from the intersection and you’re often a foot or two lower than on a bicycle, meaning you can’t see as well (I bet those on recumbents don’t jaybike as often as those on standard bikes). In a car, you’re in a soundproof enclosure, so you have no stereoscopic hearing. And if you make a mistake you aren’t as maneuverable as you would be on a bike or on your feet. You can’t just ditch to the sidewalk. Drivers don’t jaydrive because, in their own estimation, they can’t. If they could, I’m sure they would.”

By: pinko Tue, 07 Aug 2012 22:50:25 +0000 “all cyclists always stop at all red lights, and don’t go again until the light turns green”

felix, you obviously have not biked much in central amsterdam. dutch cyclists do as they please and the motorists stay out of their way. its called strict liability and critical mass.

By: jtr1962 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 16:07:02 +0000 Felix is ignoring one key thing here which is the primary reason why traffic signals aren’t respected by many cyclists and quite a few motorists. NYC has gone completely crazy with traffic signals, including implementing horribly complex timing patterns at intersections of 3 roads in the outer boroughs whereas a roundabout would be perfect in this situation. As a result, often red light cycles are in excess of one minute. During last night’s ride between 1 am and 2:30 am I actually saw a fair number of cars pass red lights, so it’s not only cyclists who feel lights are too frequent and too long. Given this awful environment, how can one not expect most cyclists to pass lights when stopping and starting repeatedly will take as much energy as riding a stage in the Tour de France, and will also reduce average speeds to walking speeds (why even bike if it’s no faster than walking)? NYC hasn’t even bothered putting in vehicular and pedestrian detectors so at least lights wouldn’t go red unless something was actually crossing. A few weeks ago I saw an amazing contrast between NYC and everywhere else. I rode out to Glen Cove Road at about 1 am. I took NY 25 most of the way home as usual. For the first 6.3 miles before I hit city limits I didn’t see one single red light. Evidently the lights out there all had detectors, and since there were no cars waiting on the side blocks, the lights on NY 25 remained green. I did see a few lights go red from a distance when a waiting car triggered the signal, but the light changed back to green within seconds after the car passed, long before I got there. Once I hit city limits it was back to the same old sh*t despite the traffic level being just as low as during the rest of the ride. I must have saw 15 or 20 red lights in the last 2.8 miles I was on NY 25, compared to none on the first 6.3 miles. So my question is if NYC insists on having so many traffic signals, why can’t they do the same thing as Nassau Country and most of the rest of the country and use detectors? Having dumb timed signals which force everyone to wait at 3 AM for literally nothing is about as dumb as it gets, and is also very disrespectful of people’s time. It’s high time we had people petition NYC DOT for a little traffic signal sanity. The situation has just gotten completely out of control. It’s incumbent upon the DOT to engineer traffic safety in the least intrusive way possible. Lights which force people to stop and wait for literally nothing much of the time is counter to that principal.

In the end the problem isn’t red lights per se, but red lights when absolutely nothing is coming. As Heoore mentioned, we have the technology to avoid having red lights unless something is crossing. If red lights actually meant something was crossing 100% of the time, changed backed to green immediately after the intersection was clear, and weren’t so frequent, then you can bet most cyclists would respect them.

By: Heoore Tue, 07 Aug 2012 15:46:01 +0000 The root of the ethical conflict lies in the fact that our local streets have been over-engineered with highway-oriented black & white restrictions codified in laws. Why should local one-lane streets have a solid red light when no traffic is coming? It’s silly. Signals at streets other than major avenues and highways should be engineered to more accurately reflect the real traffic conditions. Instead of going from green to yellow to red, signals should go from flashing yellow to flashing red, indicating that you can proceed if no one else is coming, and assigning hierarchy based on your signal’s color. Most red signals are akin to the snaking barriers for the line at the bank when no one else is waiting – they’re designed to impose strict order an maximum efficiency on a large crowd but at most times a much lighter touch is called for. Even if one or two people are waiting at the bank line, you can walk outside the barriers up to the front and just get behind the two people who are waiting. Sometimes you have to bend and go under the barrier to file into place – something that feels just as silly as waiting at a red light when there’s no traffic. It doesn’t mean you’re cutting in front of them, you are just trying to use your common sense and manners to determine what kind of adherence to the design-imposed order the situation really calls for. This should therefore be a question of manners, not ethics, the only difference being it’s not against the law to go around the barriers at the bank line.

However, I’ve found at the airport the security line barriers are often open to the last available lane, and a monitor will close off lanes as they fill up. Our traffic signals are not similarly responsive but they could be. We have more than adequate technology to have traffic lights that could be programmed to anticipated traffic levels, or even to respond to real-time traffic conditions. If the signals actually prescribed behavior that is more aligned with drivers’ and cyclists’ sense of good manners, I think you’d find a much higher rate of compliance without causing this ethical dilemma.

By: qrt145 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 14:04:48 +0000 Most of the arguments from cyclists who say that we should stop at red lights seem to boil down to the desire to engage in a PR campaign to earn the “respect” of other road users. Thanks, but I’m not interested. My priorities are 1) be safe; 2) be courteous 3) be efficient; 4) follow the law. In that order.

Felix did not examine the direct safety of stopping at a red light, but only a speculative PR-induced effect. Some people argue, and while I don’t think it’s been proven, I think it’s very plausible, that running the red light carefully is actually safer because it allows you to get ahead of the platoon of car drivers eager to speed to the next light.

Regarding laws and ethics, there is an implied assumption that being ethical and following the law are generally the same thing. I think they are almost orthogonal. When no one follows a law, it is a pretty strong indication that the law is wrong. You may wonder why jaywalking is illegal when everybody does it. Isn’t this a democracy? The reason is that because it is never enforced, nobody cares. Imagine what would happen if the NYPD started to strongly enforce against jaywalking–let’s say giving several hundred thousand tickets a day (which still wouldn’t even cover 1% of jaywalking incidents in the city), every day. I’m pretty sure that there would be a bill to legalize jaywalking within a week, unless the NYPD chose to stop enforcing and returned to the status quo.

“No pedestrian insists on the right to walk down the middle of the road at any time of day or night, and to be respected by drivers while doing so.” Really? I don’t know which neighborhoods you frequent, but I see this all the time in NYC.