On my commute home last night, I had two separate instances where fellow cyclists rode up next to me at a red light. In both cases, the cyclist came to a stop, waited for a break in the traffic, and then proceeded to cross the intersection.
In both cases I was with a line of cars waiting for the light. I was wondering to myself ” what do you think the people in the cars are thinking right about now?”. I’m guessing at best there was some confusion — they see one cyclist obeying the traffic laws and another breaking them. At worst I’m being painted with the “damned cyclist can’t even follow the law and shouldn’t be on the road anyway” brushstroke.
This bothered me greatly, but I try to play “devils-advocate”, look at the “other side of the coin” so to speak before coming to any firm conclusion or belief. When I got home, I got on the Internet and checked into a couple of cycling forums and blogs to see what other cyclists are saying about running red lights. Well, I was somewhat shocked to find that most cyclists do it — some more regularly than others.
The arguments used usually break down into two categories — (1) a bicycle is not a car, and traffic signals are set up for auto-centric traffic, so bicycles should not have to obey these signals and (2) there is an inconvenience associated with all the stop-and-go when dealing with red lights — all your valuable momentum is squandered. In fact there should be specific laws exempting cyclists (i.e. the Idaho state law) from having to stop. I even see some argue “it’s safer sometimes” to break the law and run the red.
If we look at (1) we can see and agree that a bicycle is not a car. But, to infer that bicycles do not have to follow traffic signals because they were “designed for cars” is a stretch. Traffic signals help direct traffic — “traffic” can be pedestrian, bicycle, motorcycle, or automobile. Most signals are present to add a visual element to inform “traffic” of who has the right-of-way or to take away the ambiguity of a traffic situation. If all traffic follows the laid-out laws, then traffic will move as efficiently and safely as possible. So it seems to me to make sense for cyclists to use the same Rules of the Road (i.e laws) as other traffic (i.e autos). Some call this Vehicular Cycling — although that term has been stretched to encompass other ideas — I prefer to simply say “bike like an automobile when on the road”. That means, use the same rules (laws) — that means stopping at red lights.
It’s the second argument that troubles me most. The “inconvenience” of stopping and starting. Why is this even a valid argument? If the law states that Traffic has to stop at red lights and wait for a green, why would anyone say they are exempt or can break the law because it is “inconvenient”? Those that cite this explain that since a bike is not a car (see argument #1) it cannot stop/start up again as efficiently as an automobile. They cite how traffic signals are set up to benefit autos and not bicycles. My response — so what? That does not legitimize your running the red. Work to change the light’s timing, or on having roadways with other types of traffic-controlling features (like round-abouts), or advocate changing the law like Idaho’s statute. And as for being safer (to run red lights)? I can’t find any logic in any statement that says acting in a unexpected fashion makes you safer — just the opposite.
We ask to be treated as equals on the road, but we don’t want to follow the same laws. Can’t have it both ways, people! And talk about getting motorists to respect us? How do you think they feel when they see this kind of thing happening? I suspect I know the answer… and as unfair as it is to condemn all of us, it’s just too easy for motorists to do.
As a daily cycling commuter, on the road, I am traffic. I will act like traffic should. I will follow the laws of traffic. And then, perhaps, eventually, I will get what I think we all want — to be fully accepted on the road, as traffic.
I think we have some work to do with some of our fellow cyclists …