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« The positive impact of commuting by bicycle | Main | Losing momentum: An excuse not to stop, not a reason »

NYC cyclist fined $1,500 for running red lights

Juan Rodriguez (Above.) got not one, not two, but three tickets for running red lights in New York City. He thought if he went to court and explained to the judge that cyclists going through red lights are no real danger to anyone, the judge would dismiss the charges.

He was wrong; he was fined $190 for the first offence, $375 for the second, and $940 for the third, a total of just over $1,500…… Ouch.

Now Juan is angry and puzzled; he feels that fining a cyclist at the same rate as a tractor-trailer running a red light is overkill. While I might be somewhat inclined to agree, on the other hand cyclists are pushing the slogan, “Same road. Same rights. Same rules.”  So if the same fines are applied, does the cyclist really have an argument?

The excessiveness of the fines is only felt if the cyclist runs a red light; if he stops as he should it doesn’t really matter. And if the cyclist doesn’t grasp the concept of stopping on red after the first ticket, and goes on to collect two more, is there anyone to blame but the cyclist himself?

To get fines lowered for cyclists would call for a change in the law, and who is going to propose and push through such legislation? There are far more important laws that could be placed on the books that could be of real benefit to cyclists.

The problem is that Juan Rodriguez has probably ridden his bike through red lights ever since he first learned to ride a bike as a school kid. Like literally millions of others, no one said he shouldn’t do it, and it has become a habit. Cops in most places have turned a blind eye to it, figuring there is no real danger to anyone but the cyclist themselves. 

Things have changed; there are now far more cyclists on the road and numbers continue to increase. People are becoming aware of cyclists, which is a good thing; but often we are being noticed for the wrong reasons. Running red lights is just one of them.

Traffic lights by their very nature only work by everyone taking a huge leap of faith. There is no barrier that descends like a railway crossing; if you approach a light and it is green, the only reason we feel safe about driving through is the leap of faith we all take that everyone crossing your path will obey the law and stop. Naturally that includes cyclists.

Even though the cyclist estimates he can beat the car through the intersection, for the approaching car driver it is unnerving and annoying, whether it is a cyclist or a pedestrian running across. No one wants to hit another person, or even have a close call.

Rodriguez was also fined for not having a bell on his bike; a requirement in NYC and some other places; you could say he got a No-Bell Prize. (Sorry ‘bout that, I couldn’t resist.) I notice in the above picture he now has a bell. I wonder the bold Juan will stop at red lights from now on; I assume if he doesn’t it will cost him $940 a pop.



Reader Comments (27)

Juan should loose the Hitler moustache, it makes him look mean.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob

This morning on my commute into work I played leap frog with another cyclist - I would pass him, then get stopped by a light as he would whiz by me blowing through the red light, then I would pass him and he would blow a red light passing me - this continued for about 6 miles down Elston. At one point as I was passing him, I mentioned to him that I knew a good mechanic that could look at his non-functioning brakes. He didn't appreciate my offer however. I should also mention that my morning commute is between 5-6am and it is pretty dark - this fool also was wearing dark clothing, no rear light and a pretty weak front white blinky.

I enjoy the blog - Steve

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve in Chicago

Sorry, not much sympathy here. I have been struck broadside by a fellow cyclist who decided that red lights did not apply to him; a collosion that destroyed the wheels on my new road bike. Needless to say I was a little grouchy.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Working on the sympathy - nope. None. If cyclists want to be treated as traffic and be respected as road users cyclists need to follow the same rules as everyone else. It is debatable whether anyone else follows the rules, but to me that is not the issue. From my perspective as a cyclist, it is simply nuts to blow red lights.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchris

+1 dude. Yeah, anyone who repeatedly breaks a law they already got ticketed for, really has nothing to complain about. Besides, the worst way to earn any respect on the road from automobile drivers, is by making their driving life scarier & it's pretty scary when I'm driving my car and a kid on a bike decides to try to get in my way when I have the right of way.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevon

He has obviously never heard of a helmet either.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

This stuff needs to happen in Boston and Cambridge Mass . . . there are many more bicycles on the roads now and the law needs to be enforced.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Hope he does NOT drive a car! The law is THE law stupid! This says what is the whole problem with the world. NO ONE CARES anymore (OR LESS) get away with what you can, who cares about the problems it creates, GO FOR IT attitude. Just like drugs and racing. SICK SICK SICK

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

For $1,500 surely someone would have been willing to teach Mr. Rodriguez how to perform a track stand.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

no one said he shouldn’t do it? Yes, the traffic laws have been saying that since William Phelps Eno's first 1903 edition of "Rules of the Road" in NYC. Nobody alive today can credibly claim not to know what red-octagon stop signs and red-ball traffic lights are telling them.

It's not a huge leap of faith. It's the usual social contract by which we all get along together. That social contract falls apart when participants try to abrogate their responsibilities.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBobS

"He has obviously never heard of a helmet either."

Didn't know helmets were a legal requirement in NYC.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

The Traffic Code is designed to avoid chaos. It's these little fines and punishments that makes the system work - a very very complex system that is bigger than this yayhoo - Maybe he'll learn, maybe not. Folks who think they can beat the system, can... for a while... but it's like working a punch press without the safety devices... you can time it, and beat, for a while but the odds of getting whacked are roughly 1... in 1...

Fortunately, the NYT also published this article this past week


This "new breed" of bike lawyers is, I guess, getting into the game about 25 years after us "old breed" of bike lawyers started... good for them! Maybe they can help this idiot cyclist understand the law...

Steve Magas
The BikeLawyer

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Magas

I'm equally concerned about bicyclists breaking the laws of physics as the laws of the road. Break one, likely to break the other. Law says that a soft human body in even a low-speed collision with a large, heavy vehicle is gonna punish the body a lot more than the large vehicle. Somewhere the sense of self-preservation needs to kick in. Traumatic Brain Injuries can ruin your whole day (life). Lights! Helmets! Traffic Laws!

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim from Portland

Good points, Dave. No-bell prize...brilliant. Maybe that's why he blew the red light twice more - because the first time the fine didn't ring a bell.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

Hi Dave, An excellent post and excellent comments from everyone. Looks like were all on the same page. I think with some serious law enforcement and heavy fines eventually the word gets around about running red lights or breaking any other traffic law. Here in LA at times it's almost chaos at times. And it doesn't seem to be any particular gender, race, age or any other "type" of cyclist. The other day I watched some idiot riding the opposite way in a bike lane on a busy main street with his headphones on and dodging in and out of cars as he rode along. He was even riding in and out of the right lane avoiding cars attempting to turn or park. It all came an abrupt halt after he ran several lights and the local bus nailed him as he attemped to "blow" the light without even stopping. I was traveling in my car on the same street keeping pace with him in traffic. I don't feel any sympathy for him. I feel for what the bus driver and passengers had to endure. You know, they say
"stupid is as stupid does." The same can be said for the phone / texters too. The disease of the "Me Me's" is becoming epidemic and unfortunately us who follow the rules of the road get the bad rap for those who don't. They should have impounded his bike and fined him for that too ! With most communities in the red financially, make a serious effort to crack down on the "idiots" and making the fines stiff will generate income and educate up the "Me Me" people.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

he is a good example of feral human.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterh

I used to chase down red light running bicyclists to "talk" to them about their behavior. I gradually came to understand that this was an ineffective approach: They learned nothing, apparently, and it kinda ruined my ride. I decided to leave it up to LEOs. Red light running is rampant within the motorists ranks, too. Mostly running late yellows that turn red. We've all seemed to adapt to this behavior by checking thoroughly for RLRs before proceeding on a green light. Still, I'd be in favor of citations issued based on photographic evidence from intersections with cameras.

All that said, as a cyclist I do and will run red lights when I'm at a lighted intersection with no other traffic in either direction. Since I regard a traffic light as a traffic control device the purpose of which is to allow multiple users of an intersection to move through it in some orderly fashion, it's purpose is removed when there is no other traffic present. I am aware that I would likely receive a citation if a LEO observed my behavior and, though I'd probably try to talk my way out of it in court, making on argument that judgement is more important than complete and thoughtless adherence to laws when there is no risk to others, I suspect I'd be unsuccessful.

Scoff law bicyclists riding moronically in heavy traffic continues to annoy the heck out of me.

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurt

Looks like a hipster and deserves what he gets... As I've said before and I'll say again - break the law if you choose, but don't go whining to anyone when it catches up to you either through a ticket or getting flattened by a car.

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Armstron

Traffic signals on Manhattan avenues are timed at 30 mph. While there is no excuse for running the red lights, this does disadvantage cyclists, and especially the slower ones. (OK,Mr. Rodriguez doesn't look like one of the slower ones). Engineering measures, and in particular, timing for a slower "green wave" can work to the advantage of cyclists.

It isn't a common issue in New York City, but some traffic signals are triggered by metal detectors buried in the pavement that do not sense bicycles, so the light will not turn green unless there is also a larger vehicle waiting. In that case, the fault lies with the jurisdiction which installed the signals. More about this

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn S. Allen


I didn't mean to imply helmet laws, but rather sensibility. I'm not particularly in favor of legislating helmet use but I am in favor of bringing back cycling education in the public schools as part of early phys ed curriculum. Telling a child a helmet will keep him safe without educating him on the other parts of cycling safety will only increase reckless behavior. Lack of education leads to bad habits that are retained well into adulthood. Now then, if my children had only NOT learned the phrase "allez, allez."

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim


Teh only time I go through a red light is when they fail to function. I'm very careful to make sure it isn't just slow to change. I'll wait at least one cycle or if it is not cycling through for other lanes wait at least 1 minute and go when clear.

We had a question put to officers in the San Jose Area about cars not tripping lights and what to do, especially in left turn pockets. There is no legal remedy. If a cop sees you they could ticket you for running the red light if you go. My suggestion is to call 911 because you are trapped at an intersection. :-)

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Stopping at red lights in NYC can be suicidal because of the abundance of backed up traffic anxious to get around you. I don't run all red lights, but I do run lights if not doing so means that I'm stuck in the middle of a bunch of asshole cab drivers and SUV owners from NJ.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

You people obviously have no conception of what it's like to ride in NYC. Stopping at red lights only means that you repeatedly get passed by a bunch of high-speed a**hole cab drivers with inches to spare. It is a total, complete nightmare. Taking the lane is often not an option, as drivers will almost always drive only a few feet behind you--one pothole and you're dead.

As long as I live here (which is hopefully not too much longer), I will run red lights on my bike. Not all of them, just the ones where I could die in traffic.

August 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

How can a cyclist honestly not think they are endangering others by running red lights? Let's just call a spade a spade. You know you're taking a risk running the red, but you've never had to stop at one before and don't think you should start now.

In a matter of 30 minutes tonight in Brooklyn (aka The Biking Capital of the US), I was almost hit twice. On one of those occasions by a pack of 6 cyclists. I too am a cyclist and though I look and feel like a TOTAL a**hole, waiting for the light to turn red, I do.

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergee

From what I've read from a cyclist and author I greatly respect (see for yourself at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2010/nov/24/newyork-cycling-bike ) it seems that NYC is indeed a place where cyclists need a adopt a rather unusual approach.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobM

I have got into the habit of looking over my shoulder and indicating before stopping at red lights or pedestrian crossings. The common assumption made by people behind me (cyclists and drivers) is that I won't stop.
I live in Valencia in Spain and our local cyclist group has just made an excellent video about how to ride the city streets. The voice-over is in Spanish with English subtitles. Anyone interested can see the video at: http://youtu.be/JTDlpprqin4
Warning - the video contains some nude heads. North American viewers may be a little shocked by the absence of helmets.

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Rawlins

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