A new campaign has been launched in the UK called Stop at Red encouraging cyclists to sign up to ‘pledge’ their obedience to traffic signals. This campaign raises a whole host of issues for me. I think it is well intentioned but unfortunately wholly misguided. I guess I should start out by saying that I run red lights all the time, routinely, and I’m not ashamed of it and I won’t apologize for it. Of course I never take anyone else’s right of way, and I only run the light if there’s no one coming. There are a hell of a lot of lights in Bristol that seem to stay red for no particular reason. Everyone just sits and waits. We’re very well trained.
The sponsors of this campaign are confusing safe behaviour with law-abiding behaviour. You can follow every law and still put yourself in a terribly dangerous position (i.e. in the door zone). By the same token, you can slow and look around carefully at red lights and stop signs and proceed when no one is coming and you’ll likely never get into trouble. Blindly following the law is a recipe for getting hurt on your bike. Better to trust your own hearing, sight, and instincts than the government’s rigid idea of ‘health and safety’ which is quickly spiraling out of control, as evidenced by the recent replacement of a Guy Fawkes Bonfire with a video of a bonfire in Devon.
Cyclist red light running to me falls into the category of a victimless crime. If a cyclist runs a light and no one’s coming, who is harmed? The moral sensibilities of the people sitting in their cars at the light? Please. Where’s the habeus corpus here, people?
I think it is a noble goal to have every road user obey the law and get along great, but unfortunately we live in a society where the needs of one class of road user are prioritised at the expense of more vulnerable road users. Cyclists are consistently hit, threatened, maimed, their air polluted, environment degraded, and then we say, oh you must EARN the respect of the car driving classes and they may offer you a few more crumbs off the table. This is a little like saying to oppressed minorities, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “if you only acted in x, y, z ways you’d be equal, and all the -isms would vanish”
You know what- look at crosswalks- pedestrians running red lights is rampant. Why isn’t anyone running a campaign to “improve the image of pedestrians” or raise the lowly image of the pedestrian as a “social out group”? Of course this sounds ridiculous, about as ridiculous as this ‘stop at red’ campaign would sound to the Dutch, where cycling is a normal part of life that practically everyone engages in.
How did cyclists gain an equal, even elevated status in the Netherlands? It wasn’t from some preachy campaign to encourage Dutch cyclists to follow the law. No, it was because air pollution and gridlock was becoming so bad in the 1970’s that the population, and their politicians said enough is enough. As car traffic was restricted, cycling and walking were prioritized. Now the Dutch have some of the most accessible, livable city centres in the world. We can only hope that our pols here in the UK see the same light.
Cyclists in the Netherlands are some of the most law abiding in the world. Why? Because the law is reasonable and the government treats cyclists as if they have a right to the road. In order to level the transport playing field, cyclists and pedestrians must be prioritized on account of the sheer physical weight, speed, and danger of cars– their parasitical effect on the body of urbanity.
Cycling groups such as the CTC have led the fight for cyclists to be treated the same as vehicles on the road. These rights have been hard fought and won. But being treated the same as a vehicle is a double edged sword, and the sharp end is hurting cyclists more than ever, I would argue. Cyclists have de jure access to the entire road network (aside from motorways) yet more and more roads are de facto off limits to cyclists and pedestrians. This is an extremely serious problem in rural England, where villagers who have walked or cycled along country lanes for years now find themselves excluded because of the rapidly growing traffic. And of course these people often drive as a result, adding to the problem. Exclusion of anyone not burning petroleum on our ‘public’ rights-of-way while our Arctic ice caps are melting is a scandal and injustice of epic proportions.
The bicycle is a kind of a hybrid animal– somewhere between a pedestrian and a vehicle, and we need to treat it as such. Blaming cyclists for driving the wrong way down a one way street or running a stop light is a little like telling pedestrians to walk one-way on pavements. Let’s stop trying to fit the round peg of cycling into the square hole of overly regimented traffic regulations.
The bottom line is that red lights and other rigid, auto based traffic rules are only necessary to keep the awkward and clumsy movements of cars packed into an urban area from killing and maiming more than they already do. Why should cyclists, who aren’t the cause of this madness, be caught up in the same wide net as cars? The solution is not to campaign for cyclists’ obedience to traffic lights, but to change the law to better reflect the reality of our transport systems. In Idaho, the law allows cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs. What a sensible idea. Let’s focus our energies on the suitability of our laws rather than putting our energy into preachy campaigns that blame the victim.