Red light running is counterproductive

Despite various justifications people make, running red lights is done for selfish reasons and is bad PR for cyclists. At a time when we are trying to negotiate with government at all levels to improve conditions, safety and participation, we should behave as good ambassadors for cycling.

Firstly, definition of red-light running behavior for my rant:

*I’m not talking about flying through just as it goes from orange to red, or taking off just before it turns green.
*I’m not talking about drifting across with the pedestrian green man instead of the main green light
*I’m not talking about riding through lights early am/late pm when there is no one around

I am talking about serial running of red lights. This can be seen around the city every day, where many cyclists ride as if red lights are give-way signs. Especially on huge multi-lane intersections. Some riders run them all, one after the other, often slightly misjudging and having close calls with cars and pedestrians. Oxford street, anzac parade and college street are prime locations for this sort of behavior. These riders are doing this in front of hundreds of people every day, spreading ill will towards cyclists faster than any other method I can think of, except perhaps Miranda Devine and the Daily Telegraph.

The reasons some people on this site have given to justify red-light running seem just as irrational and self-centred as the kind of logic employed in anti-cyclist rhetoric. Psychologically, when deciding their opinion a given issue, people firstly have an initial ‘gut feeling’ – ‘for’ or ‘against’. Secondly, they use ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ to justify the gut feeling. The logic is rarely the original source of the opinion and whether they are ‘for’ or ‘against’ the issue people always seem to find some reason to justify their view. Many people want to hate cyclists (generally as a scapegoat for their own frustrations) and they justify it by ill-formed arguments about showering logistics, slowing traffic and red-light running. Some cyclists want to run red lights basically because they are impatient and don’t enjoy stopping and starting. They justify it by saying things like: it’s safer; it’s a valid law in some US state; it doesn’t affect anyone cos a bike is so small; it’s my safety at risk cars won’t be hurt by a bike; it is a ‘protest’ against the system; or I’m saving the planet so I can do what I want.

You may not realize that the flaws in these latter arguments are just as apparent to an objective bystander as the flaws in the daily-telegraph-style claims about bikes causing traffic jams. We can use our critical thinking and know that the average speed of a car in the city in peak hour is only 22km/hr. We realise that merging, traffic lights and queuing across the intersection have a far greater impact on traffic than bikes. But, unfortunately many cyclists on this forum don’t seem motivated to apply anywhere near the same objective cross-examination to controversial claims made by cyclists themselves.

Firstly, the law. As lame as it sounds, it is in our interests to be law abiding most of the time. To disobey is extremely hypocritical from people who are lobbying for laws to be changed to further their interests. What is the point of changing laws if you say laws don’t need to be followed? Laws should apply to EVERYONE and they should be laws that obey the principle of ‘Universalism’ – Universalism is the idea that for a given law or behavior, the rule should be valid for everyone to follow if they choose. This principle was coined in moral philosophy to guard against laws and ideas that only work in a limited niche. For instance, the P-plater who speeds and dodges and weaves their way through the traffic without any consequence. They are young, confident with fast reflexes and have good driving skills so they are able to ‘safely’ drive very fast. They haven’t slowed down anyone they’ve overtaken because the slower cars were going along at their own pace anyway. But the principle of Universalism says, ‘what if everyone drove this way?’. The result would be chaos and there would be far more accidents and traffic jams than there would be otherwise. The only reason why this behavior seems harmless to the P-plater is because they are the only one doing it. But, the only reason this dodging and weaving is safe and achievable is because of the constant speed and predictability of the other traffic. The traffic is predictable because they are following (mostly) the road rules. The P-Plater is able to weave through like a cowboy through a herd of cattle. If everyone was dodging and weaving in this selfish manner the result would be like driving in a third world country and no-one could want that.

Many cyclists have the same mentality about their own dangerous riding - such as riding fast on footpaths and red light running. They have the skills and agility to get away with it (mostly). But this doesn’t mean the behavior should be legal. If it was and every cyclist was allowed to run red lights there would chaos. Part of the good thing about traffic laws is that there are a limited number of actions a given vehicle or person can make in a given situation. Once you go outside the scope of the law the number of possible actions you might make rises exponentially. For vehicles or pedestrians to travel safely they are constantly making assumptions about the kind of actions other road users could make in the current situation. Once you begin breaking laws you become unpredictable and suddenly it is very difficult for everyone else to adjust what they are doing in response to your random action. When you are a single ‘free-agent’ breaking laws in this way the impact is minimal; but, if suddenly every cyclist is allowed to add a little chaos the result would be more accidents because this would add a large unpredictable element to an already complicated city-intersection.

Some have claimed that certain laws shouldn’t apply to cyclists because they are so fragile compared to cars. They argue that the cyclist bears their own risk rather than imposing their risk onto others. This is true if you are mountain biking through a desert - but not in the city. If a driver hits you they may have trauma and financial loss as a result - even if they are entirely faultless. A car could swerve to avoid you and hit something or someone else. You could hit a pedestrian. And further if you crack your head open people’s taxes have to pay for your treatment and possibly care for the rest of your life.

Protesting against the system by running red lights (assuming the law will be changed to match the behavior) is probably not a good idea. The authorities will be chillingly unaware of the intent and political statement contained in your actions. They would likely also become EVEN LESS sympathetic to the plight of those visibly defying their system of road rules. The RTA/government are human too, and no-one likes being dissed. Any habits of this sort will do more to discourage people from cycling and will reduce pro-cyclist sentiment. Most ordinary people will not want to cycle if it seems highly dangerous or if the public image of cyclists becomes one of sweaty macho anarchists who break all the road rules. Most people will be repelled by such a stigma. If we want the best support from the authorities for cyclists and want more people to try cycle-commuting we need to create a good image of safe, law abiding cycling to get people onside. Which brings me to the environmental argument: ‘I’m saving the planet so I can do what I want’ that some cyclists seem to make. By being law abiding and considerate to members of the public you are probably doing the greatest possible service to the environment by encouraging more people to ride. If you behave like an arsehole and people see you, and as a result don’t want to be seen as a cyclist, you are effectively putting another car on the road.

Basically, pissing off the public is not the way to get the government onside. If you are planning to ask your boss for a pay rise do you start taking sickies, turn up late and dress like a slob? The way some things are going, and the weight of public opinion it would not surprise me if cyclists’ rights in Sydney were reduced rather than improved to placate the increasingly vehement masses. Do you want compulsory registration for cyclists? Number plates? Restrictions on roads we can ride on? Reduction in facilities? Changes to laws allowing two abreast or cycling up the inside of stopped traffic? Keep on disregarding the rules and don’t be surprised if the systems turns against you.

Views: 150

Comment by Richard (Poncho) on December 5, 2008 at 11:07pm
"If you are planning to ask your boss for a pay rise do you start taking sickies, turn up late and dress like a slob? "

So er... you've never employed anyone from Gen Y have you?
Comment by Doddsy on December 6, 2008 at 12:39am
Nick You Said
"*I’m not talking about flying through just as it goes from orange to red, or taking off just before it turns green.
*I’m not talking about drifting across with the pedestrian green man instead of the main green light
*I’m not talking about riding through lights early am/late pm when there is no one around"

So you run red lights.
And your complaining about people running red lights.
Thats a bit silly and you clearly dont know what your talking about.

You missed other points also.
*Running red lights when traffic is grid locked from one or both directions and the only person that can go anywhere is you (affter you check for other cyclists and pedestrians).
*Running red lights when there is dozens of j-walking pedestrians next to you (a human shield).
*Running red lights to get out the way of motor vehicles and put yourself in a safe position to be able to turn right up ahead (instead of waiting in the middle of a road full of busy fast moving metal boxes.)

If they create laws that protect cyclists (hold motorists liable for the damage that they cause). Then yes maybe one day i will obey road rules.

Until that day you cant stop me. I ride safely. Oh wait a second you run red lights also.

There are no laws that protect cyclists from motorists increasing the penalty for someone leaving the scene of an accident after hitting a cyclist (eugene mcgee) or getting a bigger fine for opening your car door does not protect cyclists. We need laws put in place that protects the cyclist before an accident actually occurs not after.

Your just looking for someone to blame.
Most cyclists get killed while they are obeying the law and you know it. We are victims on the road.

Whinge whinge whinge

Your talking about me justifying running red lights in this and i don't appreciate your criticism, You run red lights also and your in denial.

As cycling increases red-light running will become more and more like j-walking, you know it and you can't stop it. (If Calgary an anti cycling city of 1 million motorists with Oil money for the police force coming out there ears cant stop red light runners either can Sydney.)

Mc Donalds "a clown" was the last group of people to teach someone how to cross a road properly. Which says a lot for Harold Scruby and the amount of pedestrians dying on the road.

Cyclists will always run red lights. (including yourself)

Deal with it.

start a blog telling people to run red lights responsibly next time.

Take some responsibility for your own actions and stop looking for someone to blame.
Comment by Trevor on December 6, 2008 at 6:58am
Sitting at the red lights when a fellow cyclists goes flying straight past us. I look at the motorist next to me and shrug 'want can you do?', then he decides to give me a lip full about a*#ehole cyclists, I vocally defend myself and position, he screeches off at the green light and I really would not like to be the next cyclists he zooms past........its all connected, man
Comment by Kim on December 6, 2008 at 7:45am
I hear what you say Nick, I really do.
Comment by Doddsy on December 6, 2008 at 11:21am
Very well said Dave.

To tell you the truth i didn't quite disagree with you Nick, I disagreed with your Blog title and the way you said you run red lights with out taking responsibility for it. and the way you didn't acknowledge what you don't know.

If you called it breaking the road rules and cycling responsibly i would have joined in with your discussion and made a few suggestions.

I also was annoyed at the Sensationalizing of other peoples opinions when you said....

'They justify it by saying things like: it’s safer; it’s a valid law in some US state; it doesn’t affect anyone cos a bike is so small; it’s my safety at risk cars won’t be hurt by a bike; it is a ‘protest’ against the system; or I’m saving the planet so I can do what I want.'

Your 'Its safer' comment was taken out of context...
You created an example of some irresponsible idiot blasting through and intersection and then applied the 'its safer' point to a completely unsafe scenario. Its safer to break the law and ride out the way of motor vehicles than it is to obey the law and ride with motor vehicles. It is not 'safer' to just blast through an intersection.

And your dismissal of 'a valid law in some U.S state'
find this disrespectful and rude to other cultures and the way they go about improving conditions for cyclist, If you think things need improving and you are not prepared to research, look and consider what other cities have done before us then you don't have a valid opinion. You should either be keeping your opinion to yourself or asking more questions in your blog post (trying to learn something).

I cant even be bothered talking about the other justifications that you dismissed and sensationalized straight after you said when you run red lights and why.

And your trauma justification straight after you dismissed other peoples reasoning-
If you drive a vehicle that kills people you should take responsibility when you end up killing someone.

People are idiots weather they are on bicycles or not, all we need is someone like Alex Unwin to say 'thank god they aren't behind the wheel of a car.' the next time someone criticizes irresponsible behavior on a bicycle then all he has to do is say 'We support the police cracking down on irresponsible road users.' and we are off the hook.

So many people think Amsterdam is the answer to safe cycling in Sydney and to a degree it is. Try putting 4.5 million people in Amsterdam or Copenhagen and you'll have a hell of a lot of problems, we need learn what other cities do and how they do it then combine the differences into one.

Urban planning and bike paths is not even half the answer. The current Australian road rules is a big problem and this forum is a place to discuss that.

Im dying to see road safety media campaigns. Educating people how to cross a road properly and reminding people that when traffic is stopped cyclists are still moving. All we need to do is put cyclists in the background of a safely crossing j-walker and the two will be associated together.

Weary eyed friday night blogging... yawn.
Comment by Bob Moore on December 6, 2008 at 6:24pm
Dave, about the two right turn lane situation, the road rules are fine, its the motorists who toot that arent, and the RTA for not providing a bike lane next to one of the right turn lanes, or storage box or some other indication that cyclists need to make right turns like everyone else, ie not from the far left lane. Or they could put in a box turn facility.
Comment by Colin on December 6, 2008 at 10:32pm
Your argument that there would be "chaos" if every cyclist was allowed to "run red lights" is both misleading and wrong.

It's misleading to use the expression "run red lights' when what is being proposed is cyclists giving way at lights. And because cyclists are giving way, there would be (and isn't) "chaos".

About the 9% statistic - it's not entirely clear from the context but I read that as indicating the proportion of cyclists who didn't stop and give way, which fits my daily observations.
Comment by Nick on December 6, 2008 at 10:54pm
>>It's misleading to use the expression "run red lights' when what is being proposed is cyclists giving way at lights. And because cyclists are giving way, there would be (and isn't) "chaos".

That is assuming that cyclists are following the letter of these hypothetical laws. Based on how current laws are treated in practice, I'd say legalizing cyclists to merely 'stop' (stop-sign style) at red lights would translate to some pretty poor form.
Comment by Nick on December 6, 2008 at 11:21pm
Hey doddsy, I agree with some of your points, e.g., about "Sensationalizing of other peoples opinions". In the interest of rhetoric i probably was guilty of that. I guess i was trying to get across how elaborate some people's justifications are for stuff they just want to do anyway. I shouldn't have taken some of those examples out of context when they were actually valid arguments in context - i'm as bad as a journalist. In true journalistic style the blog title was deliberately provocative because otherwise i thought no one would read it! I agree a lot of cities (eg amsterdam) have managed bike laws and infrastructure far better than sydney and i would love sydney to follow those leads. Regarding my comment about "laws in some US state" I just meant that until we have lobbied for these changes the laws in our own country are far more relevant to shaping current behaviour.

Also, I don't think my red light running has anything to do with what I've said: 1) because arguments are valid or invalid independent of who proposes them; 2) because i specified clearly i was only talking about blatant and unsafe red-light running which from what you say is quite different to the more strategic and considered kind of red light running that you are a proponent of.

I don't think the current system of drivers attitudes, police support and laws is good - it is clearly stacked against cyclists and it angers me deeply. I'm just saying that a lot of cyclists i see aren't doing us any favours for making progress for change with their reckless unsafe riding in the public eye.
Comment by Doddsy on December 7, 2008 at 2:35am
Cheers Nick i'm a bit of a provocateer also.

One of my aims when i come on this site is to address the conservative types and try and get my point across that the road rules for cyclists are inadequate.

I've been on so many rides with law abiding cyclists and in an attempt not to be respectful to them i have cycled in the manner of which they do. I remember on one particular occasion i cycled with a law abiding cyclist from Newtown to Heffron Park and we got honked so many times (between 4n6) No motorists yelled out abuse loud enough for us to hear it and fortunately no one threw any rubbish or pulled a 'Ben Kirsten' on us. Its bloody scary obeying the road rules sometimes.

I don't understand why i can do 40-45 hour weeks in busy traffic and sometimes not get honked for weeks or even months (more like month at the best of times) then ride with a role model citizen and be scared out of my brain while receiving some unnerving motorist attention.

When i disobey road rules its for a reason and primarily that is to get out the way of traffic. (which is what motorists want)

Motorists that are Cyclist friendly are still the silent majority and anyone that isn't does not deserve our attention.

I believe in addressing the behavior of some cyclists but i don't believe in blaming bad cyclists behavior for angry anti cycling motorists.

Giving in to the minority that generalizes about groups of people is a bad idea. Cyclists, Blacks, Gays, Police, Asians... Messengers Whatever. If we acknowledge these discriminating pigs we are heading in the wrong direction.

I still think that we should be pushing the Australian Bicycle Councils proposed road rule changes and i don't understand why we are not. Do places like BikeNSW not support these changes?

Australian Road Rules –
a) Change law to allow riding across crossings
b) Change law to give cyclists riding on paths priority at side streets
c) All states should allow footpath cycling at least for children, accompanying adults, adults with children on their bike (e.g. child seat, trailer bike) and those with disability exemption.

The riding across crossings rule in particular will allow us to give way to pedestrians and join in with them. Making it safer to turn left and right. It will also make the Zebra crossings that interrupt our cycle ways part of our cycle ways.

Changing these road rules will get us one step closer to being treated like people instead of machines.

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