Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Run Red Lights


I said it.

Acrually, I creep across them.

I never "blow" through them.

I do it when it is safer than following "The" Rules of the Road, rules that don't exist for bikers in many intersections.

I do it when the road and the parked car ahead forces me to merge from shoulder into the direct flow of traffic. I am safer to be ahead rather than caught in between tons of moving metal and opening doors.

I get a few second jump on the tons of growling metal on my back and dozens of itchy feet ready to jump from brake to accelerator.

I see there is no left turning traffic coming across my road, and I know that my light comes just after that light.

I look left, right, and behind.

I go.

I am not crunched.


Anonymous said...

Sounds responsible and reasonable. If that kind of behavior was made the norm, I don't think people would be getting crazed with bicyclists trying to put the responsibility of crossing safely on everyone but themselves. Or even the road configuration. Sean writes:"In a modern roundabout, what other users of the intersection are doing and going to do is much clearer." C'mon. I beg to differ. One side stops, the other goes, there is nothing clearer than that. Trying to judge an opening while someone is closing a gap or leaving a larger one, or catch some eye contact - as was stated in some other roundabout discussion is NOT clearer. It sounds like an attempt to lend legitimacy to the way you and some others ride. There should not be that much calculation when seeing a yellow and red light. You're pushing that envelope, Sean in whatever way you can, and regardless of a stop light or an opening in a roundabout, you're attitude is most likely going to be just as obnoxious. Pushing that agenda to the nth degree is not making it more attractive, and it's hurting any reasonable efforts by folks that are looking at both sides.

Steve R said...

But anonymous, it isn't actually as clear as "one side stops, the other goes." That's what it's SUPPOSED to be. But in reality, I see cars run red lights daily, and no amount of stepped-up enforcement is going to eliminate that behavior. It never has; why would it change? Given a choice between stopping and waiting for 2 minutes vs. continuing, there will always be a number of impatient drivers who take the risk of continuing through a new red, betting that drivers won't jackrabbit the green.

Though there shouldn't be that much calculation in seeing a yellow/red change, the fact is, those calculations are just as common for drivers as for bikers. I wish they weren't, but they are. So let's build intersections based on that reality, instead of wishing for (or attempting to enforce) better compliance, which hasn't worked.

In a roundabout, judging an opening is far easier than at a signaled intersection, where movement is unfortunately unpredictable as the cycle changes. Cars in a roundabout are predictably in motion, and at a much slower and more constant rate (usually 20-25 mph) than cars blowing through a green-yellow-red cycle (often over 40mph). As a driver, I've lost count of the number of times I've started from a green only to have to brake suddenly to avoid hitting some idiot driver who's gone through really late on a red. Far more motorists than bikers.

Wouldn't you rather have cars always slowing to 20-25 for an intersection, rather than regularly blowing through at 40 to make the light? I'd certainly feel safer both as a biker and as a pedestrian. (Car collisions with pedestrians at 20-25mph kill only 5% of the time. Collisions at 40mph kill 80% of the time.)

Bikers will act much like drivers in a roundabout: since there's no need to bolt through to avoid stopping, they're more likely to take it easy. That--and the prospect of interacting with cars already in motion--would decrease the likelihood of an accident like the recent one taking place.

All that said, I'm a biker who stops for red lights, and I do question the strategy of not doing so. I happen to think the safety benefits of leading off a red light are overrated, and the risks underrated. So I'm not trying to justify that behavior. I'm just saying that wishing it away won't make it go away, and though enforcement efforts might decrease it, engineering changes stand to have much more profound, long-term effects on safety.

MamaVee said...

I have done this at beacon and walnut when all left turning traffic is gone and I want to position myself past the cross walk barriers. I do wish bikes had a sep advance light system. That would be nice.

Also I sometimes use the all walk signal to forge ahead. I know traffic is stopped and as long as there are not pedestrians inthe way I will go on. Specifically at chestnut (?) and Washington making a left turn as if to go to harris.

Budd said...

I would argue that running redlights is more common in Boston for cars.

You may be responsible with they way you do it on your bike, but don't expect sympathy when you do get hit. You argue that you just get a head start on traffic then in the same sentence say that cars run lights all the time. I would hate for those two events to happen simultaneously.

Nathan Phillips said...

"You argue that you just get a head start on traffic then in the same sentence say that cars run lights all the time."
- Who made that statement? Budd, try riding eastbound on Beacon St. at St. Paul's in Brookline during the morning rush and then tell me what you think. If it made you stop biking altogether I would totally understand.

Joe said...

I used to run red lights, but I usually don't any more, unless there is nobody at the intersection. (I know, this is illegal, but that's where I've drawn the line. Read on to find out why.)

I ran red lights because it was faster than waiting. I think that's why most cyclist do it. It's not safer. That's a rationalization, and we all know it. It's faster. Waiting for lights adds 2 minutes to every 10 minutes of city cycling.

I stopped because of the thoughts I have as a motorist when I see a cyclist zoom through a red light. It pisses me off. And I'm highly sympathetic to cycling.

So this got me to thinking about motorists who are not sympathetic to cycling, Massholes who drive with the rage we all see in Boston traffic, and then talk on their cell phone, and text, and I just didn't want to give them another reason to hate me, not to give me room when I take the center of their lane if I have to.

So I wait. I check my email on my iPhone while I'm waiting. Give myself 5 extra minutes to get where I'm going. No bid deal.

I don't think we'll get the respect we're demanding if we don't follow the rules.

Anonymous said...


I am curious, what exactly is wrong with the eastbound Beacon Street approach in Brookline that makes it more unsafe than other intersections you encounter?

Anonymous said...

I know it's not as simple as "one side goes, the other stops" and I've been forced to go through yellows because I could tell the the guy behind me wasn't stopping, but I haven't seen any roundabout that's clearer. Just because people "think" and want to be able to merge faster doesn't mean it will be safer to do so. Aside from all the bad and agressive drivers you have the inexperienced and older drivers. They will have a tougher time handling the merge, judging the speed and distance. You still have to wait for an opening, what if there is none? Then a driver will have to push their way in. You can't even get people around here to perform an alternate merge when stuck behind an accident and cars are creeping. Folks seem to be bringing up all the bad issues of someone at an intersection with a light, but none of the possible drawbacks of a roundabout. Saying it's much clearer... no, that just doesn't seem right. Sounds more like an advertisement than an honest assessment.

Nathan Phillips said...

At that intersection and others like it, the biker cannot continue straight. The biker must move left as he proceeds forward, into traffic (and here, there is no bike lane and little space between moving and parked cars). If the biker can start a few seconds early, the biker can establish his position in the lane and cars approaching from the back will be dealing with a less dynamic merge situation.
Steve describes "taking the lane" as an alternative, which is a bold move on the inbound morning rush in Brookline. Indeed I take the lane on occasion, but that comes with its own set of stresses, including motorist road rage. I see it as perhaps more predictable at the stop light, but leading to more direct spatial conflict. If we really believe in the "Same Road, Same Rules" slogan, then bikes should take the lane, but the reality is that the motorist pressure on bikers is too high as of now. Sharrows are really starting to help here.
I look forward to the day in which bike accommodations will allow safe passage in intersections like this, and bikers will not have to resort to violating unsafe laws. Although my post was deliberately provocative, I am actually optimistic about the future for biking, given bike accommodations being installed in Boston and neighboring communities.
So I expect someday not to feel compelled to cross red lights out of (perhaps wrong-headed, but at least genuine) safety considerations. This post is not about saving time or maintaining speed.

espressoandbicycles said...

rather than run the red to be first, can you hang back and wait to merge safely? i prefer to do that at the terrible intersection of Moreland St. and Somerville Ave, just before Beacon St., where the right lane suddenly turns into right-turn only after the Moreland St. light ... rather than get a jump on the cars who will be turning right i hang back, take the lane, and merge left.

Nathan Phillips said...

On a lazy sunday afternoon I can do that, but probably not on a monday at 8:30 AM - there are no lulls in the line of traffic. At least that is my impression, and maybe I am wrong. But I will take your advice and try it out this coming week and post here if it works. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

So what would be the solution to St. Paul & Beacon. There is not room for a dedicated bicycle lane on that strecth of Beacon, without the removal of an entire metered parking lane, otherwise it would have been done as part of their construction project. Would you propose a bike box and sharrows past the intersection as a reasonable way to help cyclists "take the lane"?

Nathan Phillips said...

Anonymous - I think you have the best solution - bike box, sharrows, taking the lane. The biggest challenge there will be behavioral - cars respecting bikers rights. But this would really be "Same Road, Same Rules", not just an empty slogan.

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dr2chase said...

I have a hard time buying the "erodes respect" argument. If this were the only source of respect-erosion, sure, but we also have things like that insurance advertisement depicting cyclists as losers, and a recent BBC segment showing helmet video of a car-at-fault collision, followed by viewer comments (read out loud by the BBC) critical of the cyclist for being in the way. (See here: ).

Second, I think there is a cart-and-horse problem at work. Consider the fact that drivers are seemingly literally blind to their own law-breaking. If they respected cyclists in the first place, they would display the same understanding of our flaws that they do of their own.

I've come to think, more and more, that logic is far down on the list of things that make us tick, and that instead, we start with gut reactions, and then pluck at likely-looking facts and events to attempt to justify what we already feel. There was never any respect there for drivers to lose; some of them are just impatient, view bikes as "other", and are grasping at straws to justify their own antisocial attitudes. It's not at all about "rule of law"; look around you, look at any freeway. To an engineering approximation, nobody driving a car obeys the law all the time. Nobody.