Should cyclists be allowed to run red lights?

People like to complain about cyclists: “They don’t obey the law,” “They run red lights,” etc. I’ve seen cyclists go through red lights before but I don’t object when they do it. Why not? I’ll try to explain using a situation I found myself in today. I was on my bike with kids inside at an intersection similar to the one below but minus the cycle paths:

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I wanted to turn right but there was a long flow of traffic coming from the opposite direction and I had to give way (we drive on the left side of the road here). However I couldn’t wait in the middle of the intersection because it wasn’t exactly square like this one; the traffic going straight through was slightly to my left and it would have been too dangerous for a bike to sit out in the very middle of a busy intersection. So I was stopped behind the line but on the right side of my lane waiting to turn right.

At one point the pedestrian crossing went green and all traffic was stopped so pedestrians could go diagonally across the intersection. This would have been the best time for me to cross, however I know how riled up people get when cyclists go through red lights and so I didn’t do it. Instead I had to wait until my own light went from green to orange and try to get across as quickly as possible before it changed to red. This is because the stream of traffic coming from straight ahead was non-stop until the lights changed. But I’m so slow – I’m on a cargo bike with an 80kg load not including my own weight – that I can’t dash across the intersection very quickly and so my light went from orange to red before I made it through and then the next cycle of traffic coming from my left and right started again which put me in a terrible situation. Does this make sense?

With the exception of those in the Netherlands and Denmark, most roads around the world are designed for motor vehicles. I don’t think it could possibly be any harder for cyclists than it is currently. Cyclists take up less room on the road, we don’t emit any greenhouse gas emissions, we cost the national health service less, we don’t produce pollution, and yet our town planners have for decades and decades gone out of their way to make life as hard as possible for us. As thanks for this we get abuse from people for trying to avoid getting hit by a bus by running a red light. Next time you see a cyclist run a red light, instead of abusing them, thank them for doing their bit to keep the air you breathe cleaner.

Does this sound like a bit of a rant? It’s because it is. We cycled from the city to the beach today. This should be a lovely cycle route because the beach is touristy and it makes sense to connect one touristy part to another. They’re also very close and walkable. However it was really stressful. I was surrounded by buses at one point and although the bus drivers were all really considerate, what if they hadn’t seen me? I’m not worried about a bus ramming me from behind like the truck in Terminator 2, I’m worried about the bus driver who doesn’t see me. And there were roundabouts which are terrible places for cyclists and intersections like the one above with not a single bike lane in sight. Sometimes I think the city councillors want us all to go out and buy several cars each because that’s who they’re catering for.

On a different topic I’m loving my Nuu Muu dress and wear it practically every day now. It’s probably getting a bit stinky but the fabric is almost like a pair of bathers and doesn’t show any sweat and dries really quickly. Elizabeth has one, too. Here we are, with me feeling and looking a bit knackered after our bike ride:

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14 thoughts on “Should cyclists be allowed to run red lights?

  1. You bring a good point. From what you say, I would agree that crossing when all the lights were red so pedestrians could cross would’ve been the safest way and if that’s how it works in your country then I agree. But where I’m from that doesn’t happen. You don’t get all the red lights all at once for pedestrians to cross diagonally. But cyclists often run red lights here too (I live in Puerto Rico), and when they do I feel scared for them. People drive like maniacs here to be honest. It’s just not safe. The cars from the other side have a green light and they are NOT considerate at all so I don’t think they should run red lights here in Puerto Rico. I do wish they would make them decent lanes with separators for safety. I personally like to ride, but do not dare ride on the road here. I stick to the bike routes. But it’s about time they start keeping cyclists in mind when they design the roads. BTW, the dresses are really cute!

    1. Yes, the pedestrians here get the entire intersection to themselves while all cars are stopped and this is the safest time for cyclists to get across too. They should give cyclists a green light at the same time but they don’t and so we would have to break the law to cross then, which is why I don’t do it.

      I agree that properly separated lanes are what we need. Cyclists shouldn’t have to share road space with trucks and buses. We’re just too vulnerable.

    1. I write to the council every few months. The answer is always the same: “We agree with you and we’re working on x,y,z to make it better but we have limited funds blah, blah, blah …”.

  2. 100% with you on red lights; I used to cycle to and from my office in the city and go round the double roundabouts at elephant and castle. If you want terrifying for a cyclist have a look at them on google. Anyway, the only safe way to cross was to wait until either the pedestrian lights were green or the oncoming was red and before my lane went green to get out in front. I was honked and abused and became very good at the finger and had some mobile arguments on protection of cyclists but I never stopped running reds where it was the safest option. And I didn’t have my kids in a box on front. Now, near the school where my kids went they have a special cycle first green light to allow cyclists out in front. It’s a small start and needs expanding away from the schools to a general application.
    As for the dominance of the car, back in 1910, when our cities were filling with horse crap there was a point in seeing the internal combustion engine as a saviour; but for heaven’s sake we have moved on; let’s face it in those days smoking was seen as good for the lungs and water pipes were made from lead….

    1. Yes, I was thinking that we need a green cycle light just like the one you mention near the school. We don’t have any of those up here but intersections like the one I described desperately need them.

      At least when the horses were crapping everywhere we could put their waste on our gardens. Nothing good comes out of a car’s arse.

  3. I remember running out with a shovel to collect the horse dung for the roses. We’re lucky here as the density of traffic is a lot less. There is one junction though where we turn left, go along a bit and then do a U turn, ending up going right after all.

  4. Rachel,
    I read recently that long term studies have shown that female cyclists in London face serious risk of injury or death mainly from trucks turning left,and colliding with them. The report suggested that these dangers now outweigh the health benefits of cycling in London.
    Cheers,
    Douglas.

      1. No, sorry I don’t have a link to the item. I simply read this in a news report somewhere about London cyclists. The comment about the risks outweighing the health benefits may be someone’s (disgruntled ) conclusion.

  5. I feel like running a red light, regardless of if you are a biker or a driver, could be an excellent way to die because the other person might be texting and driving, drunk, etc. What I am getting at is that you never know, and should always be careful on the roads, and obey traffic laws.

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