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Monday
Apr142014

The good, the bad and the clueless

Whenever I write an article about cyclists running stop signs and red lights it brings many comments for and against.

According to some, it seems you can be on either side and still see yourself as a good safe cyclist, it is not black and white for everyone, it is a matter of opinion.

Those who ride through red lights, say they do so for their own safety, and though the letter of the law says a bicycle is a vehicle and as such should stop and wait like every other vehicle. The red light runners say it is a stupid law.

There are many stupid laws, and not just traffic laws, but as a society can we pick and choose which ones to follow? Or just break certain ones we can get away with because they are not adequately enforced.

Take the speed limit for example, a good law most will agree. Without it there would be even more carnage on our roads. Most people drive at five miles per hour over the speed limit, they feel there is a good possibility they can get away with that.

Some years ago I realized it was ludicrous to drive at 5 mph over the speed limit, just because everyone else does. So now I drive at the speed limit everywhere. I save on gas, I save on wear and tear on my vehicle, and I am never going to get a speeding ticket.

Traffic often backs up behind me, and people get annoyed and will come flying past me at the first chance they get, and I wonder why they are putting themselves through all that stress. I get to my destination just the same as they do.

I am following the letter of the law, if others want to go faster than the limit, why should I be forced to do the same and allow myself to be intimidated by some monster truck that is tailgating me.

The same thing when I ride my bike, I will stop for a red light. If I am first in line I will stop in the middle of the lane leaving enough room for any car who might want to turn on red.

When the light changes I stay in the center of the lane until I clear the intersection, then I move as far to the right as is practical. Like driving my car at the speed limit, I am following the letter of the law.

If I am not first in line at a light I will wait in the line of traffic, and stay out in the lane momentarily, long enough to make sure everyone knows I am there and I am not going to get “Right hooked,” then I will move over to the right and let the traffic flow by.

Anyone can change their driving habits or their bike riding habits. All it takes is the will to do it, but if a person can see no fault in the way they drive or ride a bike it is not going to happen. 

As for the clueless, they are the ones who it seems, don’t know any better, and are ignorant of any laws or rules that apply. They are the people on bikes who ride on the sidewalk in the wrong direction and suddenly appear in front of a car making a right or left turn. They are the ones who ride on the wrong side of the road at night without lights.

These people behave like pedestrians on bikes. Pedestrians cross against red lights all the time, therefore some feel it is okay to do it on a bike. If I choose to ride a bike, I am no longer a pedestrian, I am a vehicle and I behave as one. No one can say I am a bad cyclist if I follow the rules, any more than they can say I am a bad driver because I drive my car at the speed limit.

My feelings are, if in doubt it is always a good idea to follow the law. It at least makes sure everyone knows what the other person is doing. Throw people into the mix who make up their own rules as they go along, and you have a somewhat chaotic situation. 

Footnote:

I left the UK in 1979 to move to the US. At that time I had never seen a cyclist ride through a red light, I had never seen one ride on the sidewalk, (Pavement in the UK.) or ride towards traffic. I am not just talking about cycling enthusiasts, but any person on a bike, period. Up until that time the Highway Code was taught in schools, so we all knew the rules from an early age. Plus the local Bobby rode a bike so he would enforce the laws.

It was somewhat of a culture shock for me when I moved to the US and saw the “Ride anywhere, do as you please” attitude practiced by anyone on a bike. Judging by the above video, this same attitude now prevails in Britain. Caused no doubt by new generations that were never taught the Highway Code, and probably never rode bikes on the road as children.

 

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Reader Comments (17)

I come upon a red light, dismount my bike and walk it across then ride. This bad? I use mountain bike pedals on my road bike.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterResty

Who can argue for breaking the law! I can't. There is no justifcation for it. Where I work, the law has no respect except when it serves an individuals purpose. This is evident from the behavior of the occupants in the domed building on the hill in town to the way people drive here. Nearly all my biking behavior or decisions are based on self preservation. I work in Washington DC.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

I have the same experience as Dave. Growing up in the UK in the 1950s all cyclists (and bike riders) feared and obeyed the law, from stop signs to not riding without lights after dark. Moving to Canada was like the Wild West. But watching the video Dave posted, it's just as bad in the UK now. Thank prosperity and the car culture.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

When I'm stopped by a red light behind an auto, I do almost as you, but move as far to the center of the lane as possible.
I move far enough over that I can see the driver stopped in front of me in his side view mirror while also being able to see the driver of any on coming traffic. If I can see them, they can see me.
Whether they see me or not is out of my hands, but I have done everything in my power to make myself visible to them.
A left hook hurts as much as a right hook, and I don't want anyone turning left in front of me because they didn't know I was behind the car that they yielded the right of way to.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Great post! You should never be harassed for following the letter of the law, but no matter what you do, there will be dicks that will be annoyed at you and perhaps react in a way which is even dangerous.

I view (most) traffic laws as guidelines, with the possibility of fines and punishments and consequences upon violation. The #1 most important principle (even above 'law') is "be safe, not stupid". So I do drive a little bit over the speed limit, when in my judgment it is not dangerous (and in those cases, I am willing to accept the consequences if caught). Also, I will run a red light in those intersections where my road continues straight, and there is an incoming road to the left, but nothing to the right -- i.e. no traffic can possibly come 'through' me. Also unfortunately there are still many traffic lights (one on my daily route to work) that are not sensitive enough for a bicycle wheel to trigger. Those I will wait for green if a car comes up behind me to trigger it, otherwise, wait for an obviously clear hole in traffic and make my move.

Also sometimes I ride on sidewalk, but whenever I do it is at a dramatically reduced speed (like 5-10mph), and vigilantly monitoriing every driveway for cars that would not expect a bike (or jogger) coming from my direction.

But you make a good point about sticking to the law strictly. I have a friend that made that choice, and he found it very liberating. No more stress while driving; no worrying whether he was going too fast, no watching for the fuzz, etc.

Finally, that was a great video. 90% of those bicycle moves I would NOT have made. Mostly the ones I would have made were all the sidewalk left-turns. But then again here in CA, the equivalent right-on-red is generally legal (and I could do it from the road).

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Oh yeah, the faceplant at the end of the video was very funny and scary at the same time. I don't think I've ever tried to take off a jacket while riding -- and now I never will!

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

I don't own a car and am a former police officer (San Jose, Badge #2933). I follow the traffic laws to the letter with one exception and that involves red lights. Frequently bicycles will not "trip" a red light magnetic anomaly detector. In that case after a full light cycle (and only then) will I proceed through the light, when absolutely safe.

In the San Francisco Bay area bicycle law breakers are the norm. One morning in Portola Valley the sheriff set up a stop sign "trap" and wrote over one hundred tickets to bicycle riders, all of whom had blasted through the stop sign, not paying one whit to the law. It cost them, seriously so.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

I think that stop sign trap is a good idea; condition the bicycle community and make some $$. I do stop at stop signs, and it is a pet peeve of mine when cars that obviously reached the intersection want to wave me through, even though I very deliberately came to a stop and put my foot down. I just want to be a responsible road user and wait my turn and be considered an equal. I guess it's like (on a much smaller scale) a wheelchair rider getting annoyed at people walking on eggshells around them all the time.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Rube, that's also a pet peeve - stopping at stop signs and having cars wave you through. No matter, I usually smile, mouth the words: "Thank You" and proceed.

Sometimes, however, I stop, put my foot down, point at the stop sign and give 'em a big smile. They appear astonished ("Why, pray tell, would a bicycle rider consider stopping at a stop sign? I've never seen THAT before!").

As I tell my 4th grade students - you set the example. You stay quiet and in your seat. You stop at stop signs and red lights. You follow the rules. You provide the EXAMPLE for others to follow.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Of all the things I've seen cyclists do, the one that scares me the most as a cyclist and motorist is people riding against traffic as opposed to with traffic. As a motorist continually on the lookout for cyclists - 'cause I are one - some of the other loony moves are marginally tolerable because I have to be alert to motorists doing the same thing (save drive on the sidewalk; my second most frightening thing).

Seeing "wheel traffic" where I don't expect it forces me to a double-take. That double-take eats up my reaction time as my brain scrambles to process the anamoly; to discern its meaning and consequences. It's been really hard-hard to explain to someone who thinks its somehow "safer" to ride against traffic or on the sidewalk how that strategy could not be farther from the truth.

Some of what I think I see in that video is laziness. People taking short cuts because they can, and it's easier, or saves them time. I admit to the temptation to not kill my momentum, or to go an extra block because of a one-way street. But, that's all it is - a temptation and I can choose not to succumb. In the organization of the world, I really don't lose a lot for behaving like traffic expects me to behave, and I could be saving my own hide.

But the other thing I think I see in that video is a stunning complacency. Some of those riders seemed to go through intersections on auto-pilot. It didn't even seem that they actually *looked.* They must have at least half-looked, but those riders seemed to be operating with a confirmation bias; "I'll look, but there really won't be anything there." Do they drive their cars that way? Or, do we all pray that they don't drive cars at all?

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

For what it's worth the South Carolina Code of Laws concerning bicycles states that when you come to a non-responsive traffic signal you can proceed against a steady red light if you do the following:

(a) comes to a full and complete stop at the intersection for 120 seconds; and

(b) exercises due care as provided by the law, otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign, and determines that it is safe to proceed.

Of course when it comes to riding in South Carolina, I make sure my last will and testament and life insurance are up to date and I say a little prayer before I set off.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Bernique

I often comment as riders pass me stopped at a red light, "Makes us all look bad."
-Rob

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRedtaildd

The second stage of this year's Tour de France starts in York. Could be a wild ride!

April 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin W

My rule(s) of thumb while driving or bicycling: I don't compromise someone else's safety for my convenience. I don't compromise my safety for someone else's convenience. I don't regard what is convenient for me as more important than someone else's convenience. If I'm at a signaled intersection with no other traffic, I'll go through the red light. If I've waited for a red light to change and it doesn't, I'll go through it if it's safe and doesn't inconvenience other road users. If I'm coming up to a stop sign with good visibility in all direction and there's no nearby traffic, I'll go through without coming to a complete stop.

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKurt J

I am old enough that I used to government-issued exercise books at school.

Printed on the rear covers of theses were illustrated examples of road rules for pedestrians and cyclists.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThoglette

I notice that many people who posted here don't know one particular bike law (and actually, i don't know how universal this law is, so they might not have it where they are.) Here in Kansas, there is actually a law on the books that a cyclist may run a red light if they have come to a full stop and waited a reasonable length of time to realize that the light will not change until a car triggers it. So those of you that mentioned this situation as an exception, assuming you have the same laws as i do, you are actually obeying the law and it is no exception at all.

I also want to say that if you are in a situation where it is necessary, you can always get off your bike and walk it. if you are walking your bike you can use the sidewalk all you want. i do this lately to get past a construction zone where the best street to ride is closed for a section on my ride to work. it doesn't kill me to be safe for the pedestrians and walk for less than half a block.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick

I moved to the UK in 1999 from the US. In London, cyclists ride on the pavements (sidewalks), then through zebra crossings (crosswalks) - expecting cars to yield of course (I'm a vehicle when I want and a pedestrian too!). Not all, of course, but plenty.

London is a bad example, though, since you have many people from away with Very Important Jobs and who don't have time for rules. I'm fortunate enough to have ridden in London, NYC, Spain, rural Maine and England and South Africa all in the last six months. Each has their charm and risks. NYC must be the worst for red light running by cyclists (I mean, it has a LOT of lights). It's less common in London because it's much more dangerous (NYC has phased lights and many one-way streets. London not so much.) In South Africa, you might ride through a red light because you are safer on the move.

I see lots of bad biking every day - from the overly aggressive riders (99.9% male) who imperil both them selves and pedestrians to the out-of-touch riders who stupidly put themselves in extreme danger without even realising it (riding up the inside of buses and large trucks - about 90% female). It's too bad cycling safety isn't taught anywhere. Learning can be very painful

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteveP

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