Thursday, October 25, 2007

Should Cyclists Run Red Lights?

That is the question posed on, of all places, the Wall Street Journal "informed reader" blog.

It has the two seemingly-contradictory presumptions:
- cyclists need a "separate system of traffic laws" and should treat intersection signals as "advisories."
- cyclists should act like motorists.

We've got a rather unique (and good, IMO) law here in Idaho. Cyclists must slow and yield at a STOP SIGN before proceeding, but a full stop is not necessary. They must stop at a solid red TRAFFIC SIGNAL, but after stopping and yielding, they may proceed cautiously.

John S. Allen, in his awesome booklet, "Bicycling Street Smarts," makes a good point. Many traffic signals are tripped by an underground sensor, and a bicycle is frequently not substantial enough to be detected. Allen says, "If your bicycle doesn't trip the detector... going through the red light isn't against the law, because the light is defective." If bikes are legitimate vehicles, I believe it's hard to argue with his logic.

Click here to link to the WSJ blog. The responses/comments are predictable, but quite civil (as would be expected with Wall Street Journal readers, huh?).


Anonymous said...

Funny thing, I just ordered that book from IDOT for fun.

I like Idaho's laws for bikes and intersections. The only problem is drivers are not aware of this law and just think you are being rude or reckless.

Bikeboy said...

What you say is absolutely true, Clancy.

The only time I will proceed on a red light is if I'm alone at the intersection. If there's a car - or a row of cars - next to me waiting for the green light, I'll wait along with 'em for exactly that reason.

(If you're at REI, I believe you can pick up one of those books off the rack near the Customer Service counter in the back of the store. They are also available in the lobby of the ACHD, and I believe they are available free at many local bike shops. But I don't get to the bike shop too often.)

db said...

I do the same thing, Bikeboy. If there are cars in my direction waiting, I'll wait with 'em, since I know that they will trigger the light. If NOONE is around, I will wait 60 seconds to see if the camera or sensor detects me, and then go through.

Agree 100 percent with Clancy: Idaho has good laws, but motorists are often ignorant of them. "Get on the sidewalk." Whatever.

Anonymous said...

I just had a shouted "get on the sidewalk" suggestion earlier this week. I usually ignore it, but I wondered if it might be handy to have a small pamphlet to hand those folks. Obviously, there's not enough time to explain the details of this issue on the roadway, but what if you could hand them the printed information at the next light?

The cynic in me says that they're not interesting in facts or issues, they're just a**holes, and a pamphlet is not going to help.

idahospeed said...

Here's a link from the Portland paper that is interesting and shows differing laws(CA versus OR) for intersections.

db said...

Click here to see the media file that Idaho Speed was trying to link to. (Looks like the comments box lopped off the last part of it.)

As other stories on the multimedia page of would indicate, it's been a rough October for cyclists in Portland.

Also, check out the praise Idaho's cycling laws are getting from riders in other states, where the laws are less bike-friendly.