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The red light debate continues.

August 7, 2012

Red light cyclist debateI have written about whether it’s OK for cyclists to run red lights and whether it’s dangerous for cyclists to run red lights.

I thought I’d made up my mind on this issue: I won’t run red lights anymore.

Then, yesterday, I read Eric Jaffe’s piece in the Atlantic about why cyclists run red lights. He shares the results of a survey of 2,000 riders, who gave their main reasons for running reds, which were:

  • the need to turn,
  • the failure of a signal to recognize them at an intersection, and
  • the absence of others on the road.

None of the reasons cyclists say they run reds is: I am in a hurry, don’t feel like braking, and consider myself superior to motorists and therefore exempt from traffic laws.

Jaffe cites Randy Cohen’s editorial in The New York Times, which, in turn, cites Kantian philosophy, saying that rolling through red lights when no pedestrians or cars are in the intersection is ethical, because it harms no one. He offers up some powerful statistics: “In the last quarter of 2011, bicyclists in New York City killed no pedestrians and injured 26. During the same period, drivers killed 43 pedestrians and injured 3,607.”

Then, Cohen goes on to say, “If cycling laws were a wise response to actual cycling rather than a clumsy misapplication of motor vehicle laws, I suspect that compliance, even by me, would rise.”

It feels pretty absurd to continually adhere to laws that were written without consideration for your situation and that do not protect you.

Now, I’m feeling ambivalent again. To roll through red lights or to stop? That is the eternal question.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Sabie permalink
    August 7, 2012 11:04 am

    Last week I spent 4 minutes at a signal waiting for a green in the left turn lane. Finally, I ended up using the crosswalk. I think that common sense should come into play in these situations, but unfortunately there are varying degrees of common sense. In my opinion, what should happen is cycling policy reform that would create accountability for cyclists to adhere to bicycle specific laws. This might even take away some of the aggression that motorists have towards cyclists if they see someone on a bike getting a ticket for, lets say, abruptly going from sidewalk to road back to sidewalk. (or maybe not… I got honked and yelled at yesterday, “get out of the way,” 50 yards after passing a huge sign that said SHARE THE ROAD WITH BIKES)..

    • avaerewyck permalink
      August 15, 2012 10:16 am

      I like your thinking, Bob. Seems like you’re suggesting the police crack down a bit on the rules that actually matter for cyclists and re-think the ones that don’t apply well. Sounds like it could work. Sorry about your bad motorist interaction – it’s so frustrating, I know. Because they have the ability to speed away, you don’t even have the option of talking with them or explaining their error.

  2. August 7, 2012 11:28 pm

    I like what Cohen says in the Kant article:
    >>But most of the resentment of rule-breaking riders like me, I suspect, derives from a false analogy: conceiving of bicycles as akin to cars. In this view, bikes must be regulated like cars, and vilified when riders flout those regulations, as if we were cunningly getting away with something. But bikes are not cars. Cars drive three or four times as fast and weigh 200 times as much. Drive dangerously, you’re apt to injure others; ride dangerously, I’m apt to injure myself. I have skin in the game. And blood. And bones.
    >>If cycling laws were a wise response to actual cycling rather than a clumsy misapplication of motor vehicle laws, I suspect that compliance, even by me, would rise.

    Cyclists in ‘merica are expected to obey laws designed for automobiles doesn’t compute with me.
    It’s like I’ve always said, use your own common sense, use laws as a reference

    • avaerewyck permalink
      August 15, 2012 10:19 am

      I really like that second Cohen passage, too – almost included it in the post. Do many cyclists run reds in Portland or do most heed them?

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