Tag Archive for stopping for red lights

Fighting over red lights: To stop or not to stop

I confess, I make a point of stopping for red lights.

Last week, another rider wanted to fight me because of it.

As an experienced cyclist, I feel an obligation to set an example — both for other riders, and to show drivers that we don’t all run red lights.

Not that they usually notice, of course.

Human nature being what it is, they may not notice the riders stopped next to them waiting for the light to change. But they’ll sure as hell see any rider who happens to blows through it.

Besides, it’s not only courteous and safer to stop on reds, it’s the law. And evidently, that’s what got the pugilistically inclined cyclist upset.

Maybe he was just hopped up on testosterone, driven to distraction by a riding companion whose figure, to steal a line from Woody Allen, “described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak.”

Or maybe he was just a jerk.

Either way, I was riding north in the bike lane on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica just south of Colorado Avenue, when I stopped at the red light at the on and off ramps for PCH. I probably could have continued through the intersection safely; the only danger I faced in going through the light was that a car turning onto Ocean from the onramp might carelessly stray into the bike lane.

But I’ve learned over the years never to count on a driver doing the right thing. And I recognize that red lights usually exist for a reason, even if I may not always understand or agree with it.

So I sat patiently and waited. The two riders I’d passed a little further up the block didn’t.

They rolled by on my right and continued through the red light; as they passed, the guy sarcastically commented, “Seriously, a red light? In the bike lane?”

So I simply glanced over and responded, “That’s the law.”

The next thing I knew, he was off his bike and standing in the roadway, fists balled and coming towards me. Fortunately, the light changed and I continued on my way, shaking my head that anyone would feel compelled to fight over something so trivial. And not the least bit concerned that he might catch up to me, as I glanced back a few moments later to see him pedaling furiously in my wake, yet falling further behind with every pedal stroke.

That’s not to say that I never run red lights.

In fact, I ran one just the other day on my way to the Mayor’s Give Me 3 press conference, when I found myself at a light where my bike couldn’t trigger the sensor and there was no pedestrian button to push.

So when traffic going in the opposite direction got the green and I didn’t, I waited until all the cars in the left turn lane went through, then rode through the light. And hoped that the stop light that held back cars on the busy street I was crossing wouldn’t change while I was still in the intersection.

I also recognize there are situations where it may actually be safer to ride through the red than to sit at a dangerous intersection waiting to get hit.

But the fact remains that the law require cyclists to stop for red lights, just like cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians. And as much as I would prefer to see an Idaho stop law here, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t currently exist anywhere outside of the Famous Potato state.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you to stop. Or chase you down and berate you in an attempt to police our sport if you go through a light. I assume you’re a grownup and fully capable of making your own decisions, whether or not I happen to agree with them.

But what I can’t accept are riders who insist on going through the light when someone else has the right-of-way.

Like the two fixie riders I recently watched weave their way through a crosswalk crowded with pedestrians, forcing the only road users more vulnerable than we are to get the hell out of their way or risk getting hurt.

(For anyone unclear on the concept, as long as they’re not crossing against the light, pedestrians in a crosswalk always have the right of way.)

Or the three riders I watched blow through the busy intersection of Santa Monica and Beverly Glen in Century City over the weekend, laughing as the drivers crossing on the green light had to brake or swerve to avoid them. And making me cringe with the expectation that one of those drivers might not be able to stop in time — whether to avoid the riders or the other cars scattering in their wake like so many pinballs.

Somehow, they made it across safely. Though one or more could easily have ended up adding to last weekend’s carnage.

Which brings up one last point.

Few things are riskier than going through a red light when opposing traffic is present. As bike lawyer Bob Mionske has pointed out, if you get hit after running a red light, you’re the one who’ll be held at fault, regardless of what the other person did or didn’t do.

And good luck getting your medical expenses paid after that. Or any kind of settlement, for that matter.

So when the light turns yellow, I’m reaching for my brakes. And making a quick calculation about whether I can make it through the intersection before it turns red, or if I need to pull those levers and wait until the light changes again, just like the drivers next to me.

Whether or not you choose to stop is your decision.

But just remember, going through the light is often dangerous.

And always illegal.


Gary says it’s time to stop letting the roadway bullies win. LADOT Bike Blog looks at sidewalk riding in the South Bay. Claremont Cyclist offers the history of roads in response to the KSU writer who claimed roads are for cars, explaining that roads are for general transportation and “not the hegemony of a single mode of transportation over others.” NorCal residents struggle to reclaim the street Caltrans turned into a highway; thanks to Brent for the link. More bicycle scorchers in 19th Century Denver. Zeke writes about his experiences on the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Bicycling Magazine offers seven steps to pain-free cycling. Austin on Two Wheels says the new riding stats from New York should be the death knell of vehicular cycling. A Maryland cyclist is killed in a right hook with a semi. Now that looks like a nice commute. A New Orleans community activist plans a 1600 mile bike ride along the Gulf Coast to raise awareness about fuel dependence in the wake of the BP oil spill. Bicycling through Tokyo at the speed of light. A insurance company plants unlocked bikes around London to show how easy they are to steal; turns out, no one wants them. Riding without brakes is illegal in the UK, and usually not smart. Miss Scotland rides a bike.

Finally, a Connecticut driver encourages cyclists to share the roads, but please act like adults and leave your egos at home. Somehow, I get the feeling he doesn’t like us very much.

The nail that stands out

I used to work with this one guy, a third-generation Japanese American.

Nice guy. And one day when we were talking, he mentioned a traditional Japanese expression that says it’s the nail that stands out that gets pounded down.

I’ve often thought about that saying, because it so often seems to be true, even in a this country like this that supposedly prizes individuality. It’s the exceptions, the ones who stand out from all the rest, who often draw the harshest response, whether you’re talking about the campus geek in junior high, the neighborhood eccentric or leaders like Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy.

You can even see it now, when a politician can be criticized, not for his policies, but for his eloquence and ability to inspire others.

And then there’s the other side of that same coin, where someone tries to demonize some group, in order to justify their own negatives attitudes.

Like cyclists, for instance.

Because some people look at those exceptions — such as cyclists who regularly ignore the law and flaunt both safety and common sense — and somehow assume that all riders are like that. And decide that since that one nail is loose, we all need to be pounded down.

It’s not true, of course. Any more than it’s true that all (insert racist, sexist, ethnic and/or religious slur of your choice here) are alike.

It’s also demonstrably false. Just stand next to a busy street intersection along any popular bike route. You won’t have to watch very long to see that many, if not most of us, stop for red lights and try to stay out of the way of the way of traffic as much as possible.

But these people only seem to see the ones who don’t stop, or take a lane for reasons they can’t, or perhaps don’t want to, comprehend. So they automatically reach for their hammers to pound down every nail, rather than the few that stand out.

Take this recent letter from Graham A. Rowe in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, in response to their earlier article about the cycling the mean streets of L.A. (I also notice they didn’t print Will Campbell’s response to the article.):

“Bicycle riders believe that they should enjoy all the benefits of both car drivers and pedestrians. They choose to ride both with and against traffic. They obey no traffic signs, never stop at red lights or stop signs. At a red light they decide to become a pedestrian and simply ride across the crossing. They ride on the sidewalk at danger to pedestrians. Bicycles should be required to have a fee-paid license plate and be ticketed for infractions. Maybe then they would be more careful and get more respect.”

Yes, that’s exactly what we all believe, posts like this from Gary Rides Bikes and yours truly notwithstanding. Never mind that most cyclists don’t do those things, or that riding on the sidewalk is legal in Los Angeles.

You’ll note that he ends by saying that we’ll get more respect when we’re more careful. Despite the fact that drivers are required by law to grant us that respect, just as they would any other vehicle. And despite the fact that the consequences of failing to grant that respect are far greater for us than they are for the driver.

In other words, he’s saying that we’re responsible for the fact that some people refuse to drive safely, and legally, around us. Of course, not everyone who fails to share the road does so out of spite. Some are just unaware of the law, or refuse to believe it when they’re told. And some are just jerks, not unlike some cyclists.

I’ve written about it before, notably here and here, in response to some letters that were recently published in the L.A. Times. And I’m going to keep writing about it.

Because frankly, I’m tired of people trying to pound me down for something I didn’t do.

Great article from the U.K. about whether helmets are fashionable for Parisians and Prime Ministers. It also discusses a Dutch idea that assumes the driver is automatically responsible in any collision between a car and a bike. One lesson experienced cyclists learn is to make eye contact with opposing drivers. Cyclists protest unfair tickets in Santa Monica by crossing the street — repeatedly. The Times’ Bottleneck Blog considers what L.A. could be like with a little more foresight from out elected leaders. And finally, both Seattle and supposedly bike-unfriendly New York test the radical concept of turning a few streets over to cyclists and pedestrians.

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