Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Yesterday morning, I fell in with a group of cyclists commuting to work, about six in all. Half-way to work I lost them, as they ran all the red lights and I stopped for all the red lights. As I was waiting for one red light by myself, the group already far ahead, three guys on bikes zipped by me, barely pausing for the light. A woman in a small SUV waiting beside me (about my gram’s age) said, “It’s so nice to see one bicyclist follow the rules of the road – and look so cute doing it. I love your basket!”

My gut reaction was to protest and stick up for cyclists. I could have said, “And it’s so nice to have one driver be nice to me.” But I did not want to be snarky with the well-intentioned woman and, really, there was not much I could say in defense of bicyclists, given the display witnessed moments earlier.  Instead I answered, “Thanks!  I wish more cyclists would.”

We as cyclists need to shape up. There are too many of us in Chicago to continue ignoring traffic laws, especially red lights. I understand the argument that sometimes it’s safer to jump a light instead of idling among trucks, and I’m not going to pretend that I never treat a red light as a stop sign (and don’t even get me started on stop signs). However, there are too many safety, legal and PR reasons not to ignore red lights and general traffic regulations in the city.

On the bright side, lots of bicyclists ride safely and conscientiously. This morning’s commute was totally different from yesterday’s, as the mini-pack of female cyclists I fell in with stopped at all red lights and fostered a calm and happy atmosphere. However, the bad apples are the ones who stand out the most, be they bicyclists or motorists.

What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing? Is it time to start putting more pressure on other bike riders to embrace both the rights and the responsibilities of the road? And if so, how do we avoid playing into the hands of the crazed, mouth-foaming masses who use cyclists’ red-light-running to excuse the most abhorrent driving behavior?

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know.

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85 thoughts on “Stop, Collaborate and Listen

  1. Great post. Valid concern. I — I must say — am guilty of such bad biking behavior, and [gasp!] without a helmut.

    I’m going to go out and buy appropriate head gear soon…very soon.

    Rude cyclists, rude drivers…all rudeness should be wiped from the planet.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

    • Dottie says:

      Meh, I’m not big on the helmet safety issue, although I wear one myself. Better a helmetless safe rider than a helmeted reckless rider.

      I agree about all rudeness being wiped away! Let’s do it :)

      • Matt says:

        Amen. I don’t wear a helmet with either of my city bikes but I ride and drive quick and defensively. And I follow all traffic lawswith the slight exception of complete stops at stop signs.

      • Dave says:

        Agreed here too – there are much better things you can do to ensure your safety than wearing a helmet. If you feel the need to wear one (and not just because “everyone is supposed to wear one”), ok, but yeah, riding responsibly and alertly is much more important.

      • ridon says:

        i wear a helmet for 2 reasons:

        when i’m off the bike, it lets people know that i’m not normally a sweaty beast, i’ve just been on my bike.

        also i’d like to think it gives motorists the impression that i’m responsible, law abiding, whatever.

        as for not blowing red lights, i think it annoys other cyclists more than it annoys motorists. my skill level/bike just doesn’t allow me to stop in a middle of a big street to look both ways. and if i’m sandwiched between parked cars and a bus, i’d rather just wait behind the bus.

  2. Acacia says:

    Unfortunately in my town (Peoria, IL) most of the people on bikes are alcoholics who have lost their licenses or teenagers on kid-sized bikes. A rider that actually follows the rules of the road is a rarity.

  3. Herzog says:

    “What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing?”

    Hell. *******. No!

    Here in Boston, it’s extremely difficult to follow traffic laws if you’re a cyclist. I try wait at red lights (as I do in Cambridge) but it’s simply impossible. There are few bike lanes and many parked cars, so you have to take the lane and the pressure from cars (the big streets in Boston are unimaginably frustrating for motorists) is simply too much for me to bear. Therefore, I literally need the head start — I can’t deal with the constant honking, revving, swearing, yelling, and occasional threats of violence.

    • Dottie says:

      I can understand that. On one section of my commute I always take a head start at lights because the road narrows. If the road were always so narrow, that would be a problem.

      • Herzog says:

        I’d like to think Boston is bike friendly, but it’s not. Yesterday, A COP buzzed me and waved me off the road when I was taking the lane. That didn’t shake me up too badly because I got a helpful response (they said they’d talk to her to make sure she understands how to enforce bicycle laws) when I called her department to complain. But today, in a so-so part of town, some guy literally ordered me off the road with implied threats of violence.

        I’ve made the decision some time ago to never respond rudely or violently in such situations but I’m having a hard time accepting that I have to share a city with inconsiderate and potentially violent people.

      • Rob B. says:

        It is much easier for a car to stop and start at traffic signals than it is for a bike. Where I live outside NYC, the bike must stay in the lane and it is really tough to be in front of a line of cars at the bottom of the hill and trying to go up that hill.

    • Hmmm. I respectfully disagree with the opinion that cycling in Boston necessitates running red lights. Granted, I try to pick routes that are more or less safe. What areas do you cycle through?

      • Doug says:

        I also bike all over Cambridge & Boston. Probably the most terrifying trips are Comm Ave past Kenmore (taking a lane means you get honked at, buzzed, tailgated, yelled at all by one driver per block), Stuart St, and I was physically threatened on Charles (between the Public Garden and Park) when I made a universal gesture of protest for the dangerous maneuver of a driver.

        I’ve been honked at in Cambridge for taking an entire narrow street, but usually drivers are very understanding and wait patiently for the extra ten or twenty seconds your biking adds to their trip.

        I often run reds on small intersections in downtown Boston and Back Bay (there are so many!), but I am much more restrained in Cambridge and bigger streets.

        • Herzog says:

          Oh yes, the lovely Comm Ave! I’m not sure if I remember a time when I got through the Brighton/Comm intersection *without* getting honked or yelled at. :)

          Cambridge is an entirely different story. I NEVER have problems there. I always stop at red lights and take the lane if I need. On small streets I usually just pull over if I hear a car behind me because there are so few of them.

      • Herzog says:

        Perhaps the two worst spots are Mass Ave (between the Charles River and Huntington Ave) and Commonwealth Ave past Kenmore (as Doug noted). I hate these locations and find them difficult to avoid.

        Other occasional problem areas sometimes include Beacon St in Brookline, Longwood Ave, Washington St downtown, South End, Mass Ave from Huntington to Melnea Cass.

    • cycler says:

      I don’t agree. I bike about 60% in Cambridge and 40% in Boston, and I’d say I take the lane most of the time when I’m in Boston, and I really have very few problems considering how many miles I log. I always stop at lights, and I don’t filter on the right.

      I think it’s a politeness issue. taking the lane because it’s too narrow for a car to safely pass, and then passing stopped cars in the same narrow lane when it serves me better is rude and self serving.

      • Herzog says:

        Well, I agree with you 60% of the time. ;)

        Let me emphasize — I only run red lights at the problem areas which I listed in my reply to Velouria. But those areas are pretty hard to avoid for me.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          I used to believe, much like you, that I needed a head start. Similarly, I live in a city with little infrastructure, and what infrastructure we have I avoid as it is so poorly designed and routed through violent areas, and have been attacked several times. I’ve since changed my road sharing tactics. If there are any witnesses I always wait at lights, but more importantly I’ve instituted sort of a “pass me once” rule for myself. When a car passes me once, they are done with me and I will not pass them and will queue behind them at reds, positioning myself inline with the driver, but only at reds. I do not ride in the door zone, but I don’t take one more inch of lane than is necessary in moving traffic. VC teachings about taking the full lane leads to driver antagonism, which leads to hostility, which leads to buzzing, which leads to screaming, which leads to angry blog postings and comments. ;) I have to day driver hostility towards me, anecdotally, has dropped 90%. So I guess I’m saying I certainly understand the feeling that one might have that it is sometimes necessary, but I’d highly recommend giving a week of full 100% legal compliance a try. I swear that it is a much more pleasurable and less nerve racking experience, and I think there’s a very good change you might find a lot of the red light running not so necessary after all.

          • cycler says:

            DukieBiddle

            I think we do more or less the same thing- I think it’s about politeness. I take enough of the lane to keep people from trying to slip through a space that isn’t big enough to share safely. They have to make a (small) effort to pass me, and I just think it’s more polite not to make them have to do it again and again. I think that motorists generally respond positively and politely in turn.
            Like you, I have found that it’s a LOT more pleasant and less anxiety producing.

    • Mark Simpson says:

      Like cycler & Lovely Bicyle i wonder where you are riding. I don’t haven’t met up with much trouble. Some sure – but not as much as you (and other Boston/Cambridge riders i’ve heard) have had.

      Tell me where you are riding and getting such a hassle so i can stay away from those places :).

      • Herzog says:

        I’ve listed some places I frequent above. Now you tell me where you are ride so I can avoid hassle.

      • Mark, I think you misunderstood – I was saying the opposite: that I do not have that much trouble, and I do not find it necessary to run red lights. I do not really get hassled on my routes. But I do see many cyclists blow through red.

  4. There’s an average about of light runners around here I guess. My concern is at 4 way stops- I’m always sure to slow and look closely enough to know that there isn’t another cyclist crossing the intersection the other way without looking. Sometimes I feel that cyclists are only looking out for cars, but there’s enough of us that we can’t all be scofflaws running through intersections or we’ll hit each other!

  5. Steven Vance says:

    You got verbal confirmation that a non-cyclist recognized that you stopped at the red light and others did not. That’s neat. I haven’t gotten that feedback yet, but I still stop at red lights to continue to set the right example.

  6. JC says:

    I stop for all lights and feel silly many times but its the law of the road and we, as cyclist, need to follow the rules if we want to be treated like legitimate forms of transportation. Denver has a high hipster messenger cycling population and they are notorious for running lights, stop signs, going down one ways the wrong way, etc. Cycling like that doesn’t help our cause to legitimize cycling as a more efficient alternative. Great post! Lets all follow the rules of the road and gain the respect of drivers even if they don’t always respect us.

  7. Maria says:

    My favorite was when a guy was running every stop sign and light over the course of about a mile. I was slowing to a stop or near a stop at each. We reached the park at the same time.

    I ran a red light the other night on purpose. We were on our way home from the park – the kids and I. B1 had made it through both lights on a parkway but B2 and I got stuck behind. We didn’t have any lights on and it was dark. I felt very uncomfortable sitting at the light with the only cars around sitting next to me and my son in the dark on the other side of the intersection. So B2 and I went through. The guy in the front car yelled at me to “follow the traffic rules.” He was right.

    I had to explain to the kids that the driver was right, I was wrong and why I made the decision to go through (and scold B1 a bit for not listening and stopping when I told him to.)

    I’m a fan of following the traffic laws but in all honesty, I don’t always.

  8. Mike says:

    The only time I’ve ever run a red light was about a week ago. It was a delayed green for vehicles turning left from the opposite direction (there were none in this case). I knew it was a short light, and I was pulling a trailer in a fairly narrow lane, so I was taking the lane. I was watching the light for the cross street, which was much busier (thus the short green light), and I started as soon as it turned red, hoping to hold up traffic behind me as little as possible. Oops.

    I don’t know how I might change my behavior if I ever felt that someone around me was threatening me with violence, but in calm conditions, I just don’t understand why cyclists run through red lights. Very few motorists run red lights, even when they can clearly see that there’s no traffic on the cross street. But when some of those same people mount a bicycle, they blithely run through the light. To me, it’s perfectly natural to wait for the light.

    Then again, I’m probably close to one extreme; I used to ride to work on the Minuteman trail through Lexington, MA, and I even stopped for the stop signs where there was only a driveway or a pedestrian crossing. I probably would treat stop signs different if I lived in a place with an Idaho-style stop sign law, though.

  9. Mr colostomy says:

    I see it fairly often here in Manchester, probably about half of people stop and half don’t. The thing that puzzles me is that the people who are in such a rush that they can’t stop for a red light are usually going quite slowly, maybe 15 km.h-1 (~10 mph) and get passed after the light goes green. If you are cycling that slowly you obviously aren’t in a rush so why not wait at the lights?

    It annoys me that it costs us so much goodwill from non-cyclists.

    • LC says:

      I completely agree with you!

      I live and cycle in Manchester too, my daily commute is about 9/10miles. There is not one instance in which jumping the lights is necesseray (to those who says ‘it’s safer that way’ what??!!). And to the cyclists who do jump the lights I always end up catching them up at the next set of lights anyway… plus even if you jump the lights, in such a busy city you are going to save what… few minutes if that in reaching your destination? It does annoy me no end, plus it’s dangerous… it’s easy to always point the finger at bad drivers but attitude and respect towards all road users should start from oneself.

      • Jason F says:

        The reason for jumping the light is so you don’t get crammed between parked cars and moving cars, you jump the light so that you can take the lane before you just have cars blowing by you and no place to fit in safely.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          But queuing with the motor traffic at the red light does the same thing. You’d be surprised at how rarely that bothers motorists, as long as you return to the “practicable and safe” position when the traffic moves. Something deep in their subconscious recognizes that as a safe practice.

          • Dave says:

            I’ve found this to be true in Portland as well. Somehow, if they feel like you’re waiting your turn like them, they’re more likely to be ok with you being there. Maybe a silly behavioral issue, but better that than getting squished.

          • LC says:

            Def agree with Dukiebiddle and Dave. When I am coming at a red traffic light I actually move to the outside more, i.e. so I am ‘parked’ (so to speak) between a car in front of me and a car behind me, this way they don’t ‘squash’ me against the kerb. As the lights turn green and I set off I quickly move back to my ‘position’ and the cars can set off at their own speed. I find that I get a lot more respect that way and I feel very safe. Once and a while I even turn my ahead, while waiting at a red light, smile and say ‘thank you’ to the driver behind me, I always find a get a smiles in return and more polite behaviour towards me when the lights turn green again. My mantra is ‘respect others if you want others to respect you’… it works in every aspect of life!

  10. I cycle in greater Boston, including Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Belmont, Newton, Arlington and Lexington. I always stop and wait on red, with two reasonable exceptions:
    1. pedestrian crossings when there are no pedestrians present (meaning, there is no actual intersection – just a light for a pedestrian crossing in an otherwise unbroken stretch of road),
    and
    2. right turns despite a “no turn on red” sign, after stopping and yielding to traffic.
    Otherwise, even if it is a dinky intersection, and even if I *think* I can see that the coast is clear, I stop on red. I have seen too many close calls both as a cyclist and as a passenger in a car to behave in any other manner.

    As for other cyclists in Boston? Unfortunately, many of them blow through red lights, some without so much as pausing. It bewilders me how someone can do that. I just do not understand.

  11. katie says:

    A couple of people have already said this, but yes, at certain times it’s quite necessary to jump the red light in order to get ahead of the cars behind you. I know that we bikes are legally entitled to the road, blah blah, but it really makes more sense sometimes to just get out of the way, and/or make it easier for cars to pass you.

    Personally, I now always, always, stop for red lights and stop signs. Recently I was biking on my college campus (where people do far worse things on bikes – riding on the sidewalks, for example, which is silly considering the amount of pedestrian traffic – and I coasted through a red light because there weren’t any cars. Since it was my lucky day, a cop decided to pull up behind me, and yes, write me a ticket. ($260, if I decide to pay it, which I won’t!) As far as penalties go, I don’t think that there is a difference between a violation on a bike and while driving a car… I suppose that if I was thinking more, I could have refused to give the officer my driver’s license, since you technically don’t need a license to ride a bike.

    • katie says:

      Now that I read this again maybe it sounds like I think I’m exempt from obeying traffic laws…. But really, of course laws are meant to be obeyed! I’m just still pissed that I happened to get caught :)

  12. Doug says:

    I always stop at red lights and follow the rules of the road as if I were in a car. Many times I’ve had other bicyclists pull up beside me and then proceed through a red light. I’d like to think what I’m doing will rub off on some of those riders one day. Plus, I want people driving cars to see at least one cyclist obeying the rules.

  13. Vee says:

    It’s a big issue being talked about around town ( the suburb I live right outside of boston) b/c a guy ( the barista at my fav coffee stop) was killed a month ago when running a red light and not wearing a helmet. Now everyone I talk to ( often non cyclist) is talking about red lights and helmets and saying ” Oh it’s so dangerous! They take risks!”

    I had to say to one woman, “well, cycling isn’t that dangerous, I do it all the time and I do it really safely.”

    I am helping train the 5th and 4th graders in bike safety and it was nice to hear their questions and for me to give them my real world answers of how I deal in those situations. Maybe we’ll grow some nice people…

  14. Jessica says:

    I lived in Austin, TX for a few years, where cyclists love to flaunt the traffic laws. I think it’s actually on the verge of getting ugly with the police–a friend got a ticket for not stopping at a four way stop on his bike. The officer made it pretty clear that the police were getting very tired of seeing bikes run lights and stop signs. I cringe every time I go back to town at how bad the local cyclists make us look.

    But, I don’t really have a good answer, either. We live in the suburbs, where there just aren’t many adult cyclists. The local car traffic expects us to behave like the local BMX kids, and reacts very unpredictably when we follow the “real” rules, especially for things like left turns. Not to mention the number of local red lights that are triggered by car-only sensors.

    • bongobike says:

      Jessica, I live in Austin and my anecdotal experience is that the worst red-light blowers are the Lance-wannabee roadies and the UT students. For the most part commuters are pretty good about obeying the law.

    • Tinker says:

      I’m pretty sure you meant FLOUT, not FLAUNT, up there.

  15. Academichic says:

    Great topic and it’s been interesting to read everyone’s comments. I follow the traffic laws when on bike as I would in a car, it never even occurred to me not to. When biking, I’m still on a vehicle on the road…I didn’t realize that following the rules of traffic were an option.

    S.

  16. Su Yin Khoo says:

    I don’t really have much more to add … it’s the same here in Auckland, New Zealand. A lot of (un)cool kids and alpha males will ignore the red. I haven’t actually witnessed a situation where they run the risk of getting knocked down or cause a crash but it’s very, very negative PR for the rest of us.

    In fact, on any given mainstream media website where comments are allowed, whether or not the article/op-ed is positive towards cycling, running the red will be cited within the first five comments as a reason to treat all cyclists like scum. C’mon people, don’t feed the trolls! ;-) We can’t immediately get 10 miles of bike lanes but we can immediately change our behaviour (in order to help speed up the acquisition of said bike lanes plus hundreds more).

    Dottie, you tempted me to say this: if there’s a problem, yo I’ll solve it .

  17. Mark Simpson says:

    One day recently after commuting home and seeing some particularly ‘interesting’ bicycle driving i said to myself:

    I’m glad these people are on bicycles – if they were in cars they’d be able to do a lot more damage.

  18. Dave Reid says:

    Agreed, as far as red lights, we need to stop and wait. What would be great if our states could bring the Idaho Stop Law to IL (in my case Wisconsin).

  19. Eric says:

    What’s more embarrassing, lawless cyclists, or cyclists quoting Vanilla Ice?

  20. Traci says:

    Sometimes I think people in cars want it both ways – they seem to wish we’d run the lights and stop signs so that maybe we’ll get out of their way more quickly (and they won’t have to be annoyed by spending 5 seconds to move over and pass us), but on the other hand, they will be the first to scream if we DON’T follow the rules of the road!!

    I stop at all red lights and will only go through if there are no cars around and the light doesn’t detect bikes. But even then I usually just go over to the pedestrian signal and press it in order for the light to change. I admit though that I just do a rolling stop at stop signs if I see no cars at all in any direction.

    It’s definitely infuriating when police and others who should know the rules tell you to get off the road. My husband has had people driving city vehicles be really obnoxious by stalking him while honking their horn and then yelling at him that he’s supposed to be on the sidewalk – ugh!

    I did have a nice experience recently when I was trying to turn left with several cars coming. I was hoping not to have to come to a complete stop in the street, since one of my least favorite things on a bike is taking left turns, and one of the cars actually stopped and motioned for me to turn.

  21. Sean says:

    I live in New York City. Cyclists’ behavior here is generally bad. Most people run red lights and stop signs; riding against traffic is also common. It creates safety problems and is terrible PR for cycling. I stop at red lights and obey other traffic laws but I am certainly in a very small minority.

    I hear the argument often that running red lights is “for safety” but I cannot understand the logic behind it. Running a red light and possibly getting hit by a vehicle moving at full speed seems to carry a greater risk of injury than being hit by one accelerating from a complete stop.

    I have had experiences similar to Dottie’s: drivers commenting on my good behavior. But my experiences with gender are different. I don’t really notice any difference here between men and women. Both seem to behave badly.

    One caveat though – much of my riding is through Greenwich Village with a mostly homogeneous hipster population. Things may be different elsewhere. Thank goodness though for people like Velouria (Lovely Bicycle) who are out there giving hipsters and cycling a good name. Lower Manhattan sorely needs more people like you.

  22. Eric says:

    I think the approach should be to make a concerted effort to be as safe as possible while never inconveniencing a motorist. Sometimes that may mean rolling through a red light when no cars are crossing in order to let a car behind you make a right on red. Sometimes that may mean waiting for the light to turn green so as not to disrupt cross-traffic.

    Motorists should not be upset because bicyclists are “breaking the law.” They should be upset that they are being unnecessarily startled and inconvenienced by bicyclists regardless of legality.

  23. Bryan says:

    I try not to run red lights. It’s the right thing to do, and it helps me work on having patience. However, my commute takes me through not such a great neighborhood, and I will occasionally run a red light if I get “sketched out” by the scene at the corner, especially after dark.

  24. Trisha says:

    I have to admit, one of the things I like about cycling is having a little flexibility when it comes to the rules of the road — there are a lot of shortcuts I take that I could never do in a car (like riding, briefly, on the sidewalk when cutting through the college campus; taking a crosswalk to avoid going out of my way to get on the right side of a one-way street, etc). Still, I am way too conscious of the negative PR engendered by disobeying the rules of the road to do something like jump red lights. Hey, we’re already getting around in a more fun and often faster manner than drivers are — why rub it in? ;-)

  25. David says:

    Slow down, no hurry, you’re not losing that much time.
    We’re supposed to stop at stop signs too. But I see people blow by those too. When there’s a dangerous intersection, it’s a must, and only the stupid or suicidal would blow by the light or stop sign. Bicyclists die at intersections when doing stupid things.

    But sometimes you’re just sitting there, no cars are coming, you can see everything. So we go. No harm no foul, right?

    In Madison, there are places downtown where there are cops on bikes, they will give you a ticket.

    So what I do, is only run reds/stops, when it is “safe”, not in front of my kids, and a look around for cops.

    I’ve just discovered what other are talking about by runnin the red light to get out of the way of cars. I see that know. I cross our “freeway” of sorts. There’s a light at the bridge, where there is an on-ramp. It’s better when I run the red, I’m out of the way of cars behind me that need to gun it to get up to speed on the freeway.

  26. G.E. says:

    Okay, first, I just have to say thank you ever so much for putting that horrible Vanilla Ice song in my head for the day. It’ll be rolling off my lips, for at least several hours, I’m sure.

    Second, I suppose there are some benefits to living in a more rural area… like not having as much city traffic to deal with when riding. Even here though, I notice several bicyclists running red lights. It certainly sets a bad tone (as if there wasn’t already a negative tone) with drivers in cars too. When I go to the “big city” (Denver) bicyclists are either one way or another… they either act like a car and follow the rules of the road, or they think they are immune to road rules and just do their thing, oblivious to those around them.

    I have found though that I seem to get back what I’m putting out (as far as drivers go). Meaning, if I’m doing what I should and have a good attitude, the drivers seem to be more respectful; however, if I act like a buffoon, I get that treatment in return. Not always the case, but I find it is true 95% of the time.

  27. Mike says:

    Great post. And it takes courage, Dottie, to say you didn’t defend misbehavior in the name of cycling advocacy.

    I’m no angel (like with the whole filtering on the right thing), but we have to behave ourselves in traffic. We cannot ride like we are still a twelve-year-old, and then claim respect as a peer road-user.

    There are rules, and then there are rules. Blowing red lights confuses and enrages other traffic (not just drivers!). It’s just not safe, and riders who are in the habit of doing it are playing with their lives.

    Be careful out there.

  28. Dave says:

    Things have changed a lot in Portland over the last year or two, I feel. For one thing, the *percentage* of people doing stuff like weaving in and out of traffic and blowing stoplights has gone way down as more and more people have started riding. Therefore the perception that all cyclists are hooligans has softened somewhat, I think. In my own experience, I feel like I encounter this kind of stuff much less frequently than I did a couple years ago as well.

    For myself, I behave slightly differently depending on the area I’m riding in – most of Portland’s neighborhoods have very calm streets in-between the arterials, and I don’t always stop completely at stop signs, though I always slow down enough that I could easily stop instantly if I needed to. On busy streets, I’m much more strict with myself about stuff like that, especially if there are cars around.

    I make it a point to never ride through red lights, unless it becomes clear that I’m unable to trigger the light and it’s just never going to turn green. At which point I’ll wait until I’m very clear to get through the intersection and go. This happens pretty infrequently, and usually not in areas with much traffic, so it’s usually not a major problem.

    There are certain areas with stop signs in Portland that *nobody* obeys, because the view is wide open, there’s hardly any traffic of any kind, and it is clear that it’s just silly to have to stop there – such as Ladd Circle, which is basically a big round-about with streets coming into it from 8 different ways (I think). From any given side-street, you can see halfway around the circle, traffic never moves more than 15 mph around or coming up to the circle, the road around the circle is wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side, and pretty much everyone (on bikes or in cars) treats the stop signs as yields because it’s blatantly obvious way in advance if there is someone coming or not, and even if there is, there’s room for both of you. It’s extremely rare that you’ll hear anyone complain about this behavior in these kinds of areas, it’s usually people who live elsewhere who see that and shout “lawbreakers!”.

    I’ve never really felt, riding around Portland, that I needed to break the law to stay safe, and I feel fortunate for that.

  29. Eric B says:

    Running red lights is generally a bad idea, but there are exceptions. Here in LA catching the tail end of a yellow gives you a 1/2 mile of peace before the next wave of angry 40 mph motorists are on your tail again. Likewise, entering the intersection before the green when you know it’s coming allows you to get up to speed and merge better with drivers who accelerate much faster. The third case is simply running a signal that doesn’t detect your presence. Most of our lights are outdated and can’t tell a bike is waiting there. Obviously, all of these are against the law, but show that the law was not written with bicycles in mind. The difference between scofflaw cyclists and scofflaw drivers is who pays the consequence for an error. Safe riding and legal riding are generally similar, but don’t always match up the way they should.

    Stop signs are another story entirely. They have proliferated in the last 10-15 years on intersections that never used to require them. The sole intended purpose of a stop sign is to assign right-of-way at intersections. For cars, it makes sense to have them come to a stop and proceed. There’s no way this should be required for a bike–no steel and glass, no radio blasting–we just have a much better sense of our surroundings. I will never take someone else’s right-of-way, but I will adjust my speed to go before or after without inconveniencing the other person (car, bike, or ped). Stop signs on every block designed to discourage through traffic are a misuse of the traffic control device and causes all road users (cars and bikes alike) to disregard them.

  30. Adrienne says:

    To me, this is an issue that is discussed in the wrong context. It isn’t about do we break the law so much as why and is it ever valid? Road rules are not designed to protect vulnerable road users and almost never take the needs of the bicycle rider into account. The fact that all road planning allows cars to turn right from the left side of the bicycle lane is just one of many examples. Another would be placing bike lanes on roads without bringing the speed limit down to less than 40MPH. If anyone is truly interested in having cyclists be more “law abiding” then we need to get serious about changing our roads and laws to make riding “lawfully” safe and viable.

    As to responses by passersby, when I had a guy comment on my full stop at the intersection to allow him to cross, my reply was “Thank you. I do it from time to time.” I said it with a smile and a laugh, but he got it- I stop when I need to and don’t when I don’t.

    • Dave says:

      Adrienne: I definitely agree with you, that cyclists feel forced to do certain things sometimes which may seem dangerous or may irk other people, because they feel trapped – pedestrians get pissed if they ride on the sidewalks, drivers get pissed if they ride in the road, so where do they go?

      I see this changing a bit in Portland, but we still have a way to go, and I think we will honestly find, as bicycles are more and more accommodated as a mode of transportation on our roads, the people riding the bicycles will less and less feel the need to forcibly assert their right to be there in ways that, to someone who only drives, don’t make sense, seem dangerous, and are irritating.

  31. cycler says:

    Very nice post Dottie.

    It’s nice to hear that most of your readers are the law abiding kind. I sometimes feel I am the only one. Even when I ride with friends who I know to be safe cyclists, they find my refusal to filter and my adherence to stopping at lights to be excessive and odd. Perhaps it is, but I’ve found it makes me less anxious and stressed and improves my relationships with motorists

    The consequences of getting hit by a car while running a red light are so devastating, and the downside of waiting is such a small disruption to my trip that it seems like an obvious choice.

    I suppose most light runners argue that it makes them faster, or make (what I think are exaggerated) arguments about it being safer. I would be curious to see statistics, but I bet that the percentage of people who get hit from behind at an intersection is miniscule, especially compared to the people who get “accidentally” right hooked (whether filtering, or using a bike lane unsafely). I guess I can’t speak to faster, because If I wanted to go faster I wouldn’t be riding a 40 pound bike.
    For me it ultimately comes down to courtesy to my fellow road users. As biker few things are more irritating though than to take the time to safely pass a slower rider and then have them blow by me at the stop light, and then have to pass them again, and again and again. I’m sure that if I were a driver passing cyclists safely I would feel exactly the same. I like Dukie Biddle’s “pass me once” credo.

    I hope that Dave is right on his observation that as ridership goes up and becomes more mainstream in Portland, compliance with the laws increases.
    Until then I’ll continue with the somewhat controversial position that the police should ticket cycling infractions more than they do. If you don’t want a ticket, don’t break the law. If you feel that the law creates an unsafe condition, work to change the law, or break it as civil disobedience and suffer the penalty.

    • Dave says:

      I should perhaps note, I still see a lot of cyclists not stop completely at stop signs (and therefore technically break the law), but I see notably fewer people fly through them as if they weren’t there. I almost never see that happen anymore. So, I guess maybe rather than saying more people are compliant with the law to the letter, I would say more people behave in a rational and safe manner. This goes for other things too, not just running stop signs.

      I’ll also note that I do occasionally have people driving cars behind me get annoyed when I actually stop for a stop sign, or wait to enter traffic from a side street until there is no traffic coming. Also, when Oregon was voting on the Idaho Stop law, one of the representatives who had previously been against the law was swayed to vote yes on it because a friend of his said something to the effect of “the only thing worse than driving behind a cyclist is driving behind a cyclist who follows all the rules.” Unfortunately, the law still didn’t pass.

      Anyway, as the number of people getting around by bicycle in Portland has gone up, I definitely feel like overall things have calmed down on the streets and in most cases both people in cars and people on bikes behave pretty well towards each other.

  32. Amy says:

    Wow. Reading all the comments about the way drivers act towards cyclists in the cities makes me glad that I live out in the middle of nowhere! Until the last few weeks, I’ve been the ONLY cyclist on my route. Which must be so unusual that I literally see drivers with mouths agape, and even sometimes pointing at me while I pass. As if they have never in their lives seen someone riding a bicycle in regular clothes. Now it’s that time of year that a handful of evening and weekend riders come out, in full uniform, looking very focused, and not acknowledging my presence. I must not be worthy. :)

    I only have one light on my commute. I always stop at it, whether I’m the only person at the intersection or not. There was ONE time that I had to go through it when it was still red, and that was only b/c I sat through it’s cycle 3 times. It was never going to change for me b/c I just didn’t register on it’s sensors. I had been hoping for a car to come up behind be to make it change. I also only have 3 stop signs. There is one that I most of the time I just slow down for to see if anyone is coming. If not I just go. This is b/c the intersection is in the middle of a steep hill. When I do have to stop, it means that I’m walking up the rest of the hill. Which is also fine. It’s not the only hill I’ve had to hoof it up.

  33. sara says:

    Some weeks ago while riding home with two of my boys, we looked ahead & saw a bike lying on the side of the road near a police car with flashing lights. My heart stopped for a moment but when we came upon the scene, it turned out that the cops were giving the cyclist a $125 ticket for running a red light. I ended up sharing this with New Haven’s cycling community via our listserve & it set off a firestorm of comments. Some cyclists felt like– “Right on, cops. If we want all the rights to the roads than we need to pay attention to traffic laws too.” Others were adamant that cyclists should be able to run red lights safely and that there’s a HUGe difference between the damage a bike can do running a red light vs. a car. What bummed me out was that cars DO run red lights quite often here (of all the places I’ve lived, New Haven has the worst drivers) and I have rarely seen a car ticketed for running a red.

    With that being said, however, 95% of the time I ride, I have one, two, or three sons in/on my bike. I stop for red lights. Always. No matter what. My cargo’s far too precious to ignore traffic signals. Plus, I think it is important for my husband & me to model how to ride safely in an urban setting so that they will be safe cycling when it’s their turn to go off. It’s gotta be black & white for them now– we always stop at red lights. If they move to Idaho or if wherever they live passes the Idaho rolling stop law– then they can learn to safely run red lights. But not now.

    And yes– I hate to say that I see a LOT of lawless cyclists around here & it bums me out as it seems to make it bad for us all.

  34. Adrienne says:

    I think we need to get away from the term “lawless”- Jesse James was lawless. Choosing to stop does not make one person more law abiding than the one who chooses not to. No one, and I mean no one, can ride safely and comply at all times to the letter of the law. Our road and legal systems make this impossible. I do not always stop and I am not lawless. Neither am I reckless, dangerous or discourteous. My rule- do not take someone else’s right of way, always stop for pedestrians (the more vulnerable road user).

    It is interesting how polarizing the speech within the cycling community can be, usually without intent, but polarizing nonetheless. I know that when my riding is characterized as “lawless” that it generally ends the conversation for me.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “Choosing to stop does not make one person more law abiding than the one who chooses not to. ”

      While I agree the use of the word “lawless” might be construed as hyperbolic, people who follow the law are by definition more law abiding than those who opt to not follow the law.

  35. Steve A says:

    Red lights. If motorists ran them the way cyclists do, the roads would be chaos. Cyclists that run a functioning traffic light give the lie to the notion of traffic as a cooperative endeavor in which the operators behave in a predictable fashion.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Well… red lights were invented and implemented to mitigate the dangers that the motor vehicles pose to society. Your distinction between the two modes of transportation explains precisely why many feel the two modes should be held to different standards. If rabid coyotes are menacing a town there isn’t any reason to slaughter all the birds too just because they’re both wild animals.

      I’m a member of team ‘stop at reds’ too, but the fact remains that controlled runs at reds for bicycles is not in itself a dangerous action. Only 3% of bicycle/motor vehicle collisions in urban areas are attributable to bicyclists running reds or stop signs as even a partial contributing factor. The only safety consideration is the rage the action inspires in motorists which leads to dangerous reprisal “lessons” directed against us.

      The only way to win converts to Team Stop is to address the matter honestly, which means focusing on the diplomacy angle and pointing out that minimizing road rage makes us all safer all the time, because members of Team Run see right through claims that running reds is in itself a dangerous act.

  36. Steve A says:

    You can be killed on a bike just as surely by getting t boned by a cyclist running a red light as by a truck. It is one thing to run a red when you have determined that you are unable to trigger the signal, and cross traffic is unquestionably clear, and you follow up with a complaint to the city. It is something quite different to rationalize it with the notion that signals exist only to keep motorists from killing others. Signals exist to reduce traffic conflict, and there is only one logical conclusion you can reach if you accept the premise that cyclists on the road function as a legitate component of traffic.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I’m not contradicting the premise that cyclists on the road should function as a legitimate component of traffic in full compliance. I’m only pointing out that to claim that it is a matter directly associated with safety is a flawed argument and will be dismissed due to its adherent flaws by those familiar with the statistics. The example you cited, cyclists t-boning one another by one running a red, is not even remotely as likely to cause a fatality as one involving a truck, and is dependent on a scenario involving a cyclist blowing through at full speed without any regard to the cross traffic. I’ve never actually witnessed such a blow through by a cyclist before, although I’ve been assured by others that they see it all the time. Besides, the scenario is not fundamentally different from an intersection of two MUPs, and I’ve never seen a MUP intersection with such a light. I’m only saying that to win converts to Team Stop, we have to use strong and irrefutable arguments, and to say that a controlled run is fundamentally dangerous contradicts the statistical evidence.

    • Herzog says:

      I’m sorry but when you say “Signals exist to reduce traffic conflict…” you must be referring to motor vehicles. Lights are not needed where bicycle (or pedestrian) paths cross each other. So yes, signals *were created* only to keep motorists from killing each other and others.

      • Mike says:

        Where the volume of bicycle traffic is sufficiently high, traffic signals are used at intersections of bicycle paths (and bicycle/pedestrian path intersections). Not in North America (as far as I know), but in northern European cities they certainly do exist. The traffic density needed to require it is very high, though; much higher than it is with automobiles.

  37. Dottie says:

    I can’t speak for other areas of the country, but the cyclists who run lights along my commute route do NOT have to run them for safety. In fact, I’ve seen so many close calls from cyclists running red lights, it’s ridiculous. Waiting safely at a red light is very easy along my route – ride in the bike lane to the front of the line, position yourself directly in front of traffic and establish your lane position as far to the right as practicable once the light turns green.

  38. neighbourtease says:

    Nobody ever stops here. I think my neighborhood (Williamsburg, BK) is the worst in NYC for poorly behaved cyclists.

    It stresses me out to run lights so I don’t so it. I do turn right on red and would probably run a light if I could see in every direction and it was really empty but that rarely happens here bc of the nature of our congestion and parking. I especially don’t understand the people who blow lights with their kids on board. And I see lots of them everyday. Scary.

    I think this stuff is slowly improving. I actually have stopped at lights with others in the past year — and I was the only one at most red lights a few years ago.

    Ironically, I generally catch up to these people who blow by me. I’m not fast, but by the time I get to the Williamsburg Bridge we’re all kind of at the same place. I just didn’t get there the same way.

  39. Cherilyn says:

    I stop for reds unless there’s on one around. At all. I’ve had too many close calls as an auto driver with cyclists who were trying to cut corners, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

  40. dweendaddy says:

    Here in New Haven I run reds when all directions have a red light and the pedestrians can walk. I slow to near walking speed and steer clear of pedestrians. I should probably get off my bike and walk it but that seems a bit extreme.

  41. Scott says:

    People on my route run red lights regularly. There is one light I run, at Milwaukee and Ogden, because I know no cars are coming during this part of the light cycle and it creates a lot of motorist angst when the light turns green if I am still there. Sometimes the cars try to run me off the road here if I wait for the green. Otherwise, I always wait, even if no cars are coming.

  42. Anne says:

    I commute by bike in Chicago and completely agree with you. I am often the only one waiting at red lights and it’s very frustrating! I hope that by stopping at lights, drivers like the one who spoke to you see that not everyone on a bike rides recklessly.
    I really enjoy your blog!

  43. Charlie says:

    Great Post…

    From a driver’s perspective, it is very difficult to ‘share the road’ and offer equal rules to cyclists if they do not reciprocate.

    I know it is hard to stop and start on a bicycle… but it is also difficult for car drivers to wait for a moment to safely pass a cyclist.

    Those that offer no patience for rules on their bicycle should not except opposite behavior for others.

    I am fine with driving behind a cyclist until there is a safe and courteous place to pass. But when I stop at a light and they blow through it, forcing me to find a place to pass them again 20 seconds later, the patience isn’t so high. And for less patient drivers, the next cyclist they encounter probably gets undeserved wrath.

    So, follow the rules and share the road, please!

  44. graciela. says:

    I cycle in LA and I cannot think of a situation where running a red would work for me. There are just so many cars and traffic is so congested that if I have the red, then there will be cars zooming really fast in the perpendicular direction.

    I will continue on yellow if there isn’t a car making a left (the only time a car can make a left in this city). I’ll do a rolling stop at a stop sign and go with the car that takes the right of way going straight if I have the chance.

    People in LA are insane drivers and my family lost a close friend about 10 years ago that was killed by a drunk driver while on his bike. So I try to be nerdy with the traffic rules.

  45. Coraniaid says:

    Ok so I stopped reading the comments about halfway thru but isn’t there at least one of you who when you’re stopped/stuck at a red light & there’s no traffic coming just gets off your bike & walks it across?

    Here in VA it is allowable for a pedestrian to cross the street whenever so long as they are not interrupting the flow of traffic. It’s a loophole I try to take advantage of whenever I need to, like at 5 am on my trip to work or when I need to make a left turn but traffic is too heavy.

  46. scott t says:

    generally it is better to stop at the stoplights and wait for them to change.

    i have found that many lights dont cycle properly with a bike only at an intersection. if this is the case i always scoot across the intersection red or not if perpendicular lanes are clear. i will often drift over to the pedistrian crossing to cross though.
    i personally dont feel safe sitting on a bicycle in the middle of a lane at an auto intersection – the most dangerous sections of roadways for cars even.

    other than that i go for avoidance. using parking lots, sometimes abandoned ones, alleys or low traffic streets and when a path or bike lane exists i use them. though most bike paths in my area (reno nv) are recreational.

    i will occaisionally hop onto sidewalk if a road obstacle appears. drain grates or some road construction with uneven roads or deep cracks in streets that can wrest a handlebar from a hand.

    after watching netherlands cycling videos you cant help but be amazed at the thoughtfulness of their cycling infrastructure.

    after having experimetnted with grocery trips and hauling some goods it does appear to me now that cycling is a viable transport mode and not just a pasttime.
    thus smartened and better mix of infrastructure would make sense.

    i see signs all the time telling peoiple to stay of rr tracks. i guess there is a reason.

  47. […] The AIDS/LifeCycle ride will arrive in L.A. on Saturday. Some cyclists stop for red lights, and maybe the rest should. The Race Across America — a non-stop competitive ride across the continent — kicked off on […]

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