Wednesday 17 July 2019

Jumping Red Lights - when and why I do it

One of the constant bellyaches from cyclist haters and idiot victim blamers is red light jumping. The idea that in some strange way a Moron sees another cyclist who isn't you jumping a red light and that's why they give you a hard time when they see you afterwards. Its nonsense, as anyone who has read any psychology at all will be able to explain.

But at the core of this is the idea that we must not ever jump red lights. only an idiot would say that we should ignore traffic signals. But to maintain that we must never jump a red light goes beyond idiocy and into suicidal stupidity. From a cosy, closeted view that never sees the world without windscreen wipers and a rear view mirror in the way its easy to pretend this is an absolute principle but don't be fooled, it isn't. At some stage when out on a bicycle you too will jump a red light for a valid and fair reason. The road network is so given over to dangerous motorists that by obeying the rules we can be put into extreme danger if we don't.

I don't intend to produce an exhaustive list of reasons, I'm only listing those that come to mind for why I sometimes have to go through a red light. Feel free to add as many more reasons as you like in the comments. But I am going to go through the times and reasons I sometimes go through red lights. tl;dr version: because I don't want to die.

...because a driver behind is going to kill me if I don't

This is one of the most common reasons, and it will be familiar to many of you. You're heading down the road at a fairly decent lick, probably covering your brakes because there's a light ahead of you and it could change. It goes amber with plenty of time for you to stop at the red light. But there's a car accelerating behind you, and from the sound of it you know the driver isn't planning to stop. 

You've got two choices. Stop and hope the driver behind won't kill you, or keep going and know that he's not going to kill you. Go through the red light and survive or hit the brakes and, with any luck, the driver behind is aware enough to stop. 

I've lost track of the number of times I've run a red light this way. It must be dozens, if not hundreds of times. And on every single occasion the car behind followed through on red - I've never mistakenly gone through a red light to avoid being run over and for the car driver behind to demonstrate that no, he wasn't willing going to kill me.

I'm not going to die under someone's car wheels just to stubbornly be right about obeying the law.

...because its understood by motorists that I should

There are some junctions here where if I don't go through a red light and cross the road on my bike on the pedestrian phase, drivers waiting behind become positively hostile. The best local example is the junction of Arbury Road, Union Lane and Milton Road, a four way intersection with lights for all ways on and a pedestrian phase. And almost every cyclist held up at the lights goes on the pedestrian phase, if the lights haven't favoured them sooner.

Is this naughty? Sort of. Its harmless, the space to ride across is safe enough, but you're still jumping a red light. The question really is, why not wait for your own green phase? I invite you to try it. 

You see, the cyclists going on red aren't holding any of the motorists up. If you wait for green then anyone in a car behind you IS (in their flawed opinion) held up for a few moments while you get away. Whereas all the other cyclists who headed off before you, through the red light, haven't held them up. Which exposes the cyclist waiting for a green light to hostility from ignorant motons who just won't have it that they need to wait their turn to get through. I've had some horrendous encounters at that junction because I've obeyed the law. The end result? I'm not waiting at a red light just to put up with some half wit threatening me for doing so. I'm going off with the other cyclists who don't suffer the implicit threat of murder under the angry wheels of an idiot. 

...because the road is designed without regard to cycling

This is another one best shown by example. If you're riding on Victoria Avenue in Cambridge towards Mitcham's Corner, you will most likely find yourself wanting to get off the road and on to the cycle route and shared crossings across the junction. Reasonable enough, its a shorter, faster, and less hostile route that doesn't require you to take the very centre of a lane of traffic to prevent motons encroaching on you from both sides. You get to the red light, but unless you're lucky and the bike box doesn't have a car in it you're left on the left kerb needing to cross a stream of cars to get where you're going. And they've only got a short light phase to get into the junction, they're not going to stop and let you past. Its not bad if you hit the junction on a green light and can get straight through - but that never happens.

Your other option is to go around the outside of the cars, through the red light, and straight on to the off road facility. Yes, its designed so badly that without breaking the law the safer cycle facility is inaccessible unless you go through the red light.

I mean I could ignore the cycle route and ride in completely the wrong lane holding my right arm out to cross two lanes of traffic hoping someone lets me out (they won't) to go the long way around a hostile road junction, that for once motons will show the slightest bit of respect to a cyclist there (they won't). But for the sake of going through a red light and breaking the law for all of about a yard of distance, screw that. I'll go the safer way.

...because the bike box is full

We've all seen this one. You're passing a long stream of car traffic to get to an advance stop box for cyclists, but when you get there its full of car drivers. You have the choice of waiting to their left (and if they'll turn left through you, you'll die), on their right (if there's space, but there won't be - and if they turn right through you, you'll die) or in front of them on the other side of the white line. Illegal, but visible and safer. I mean yeah, I could just legally wait in a stupid place and die, but that's not going to happen is it?

...because a lorry has pulled alongside 

By far the biggest killer of cyclists is large vehicles turning left through them. Many savages in the press like to blame cyclists for this, but most often if you find yourself in this situation its because as soon as the cab of the lorry has pulled alongside you the driver just forgets you were there, and then you're in danger. 

If a lorry pulls alongside me at a red light, or even right up behind me to put me into his blind spot, I'm not going to wait there just to prove a point. I'm going to ride forward until I can comfortably make eye contact with the driver, and I'm going to make sure he's seen me. I'm not going to get myself killed just to win moton brownie points by not jumping the red light. I didn't design the road in such a way as to make it potentially lethal to me - you're going to have to put up with me adapting my behaviour to make myself safer. 

...because the sensor hasn't seen me

Thankfully this is less common than it was, but it still happens. You ride to a light that is meant to be triggered by a vehicle on top of it, and you wait. Maybe other lights change and other people get a phase, but you don't. And you realise that maybe its your alloy bike, or you've maybe not lined your ride up on the right part of the road sensor. So you shuffle about a bit, and the lights change for other people again, and it becomes apparent you're going nowhere.

I'm not going to wait there all night in hope. I'm going to wait until I can see its safe and I'll ride on. I don't see I've got any other choice. make space for an emergency vehicle

A while back I was approaching the red light at the end of Bridge Street, with heavy traffic on the other side of the road blocking that lane all the way around the corner. I heard a siren, glanced back, there was a police car coming. I went past the knot of pedestrians on the pavement, through the red light, and hopped the bike onto a quiet bit of pavement I could see ahead before waving the police car through.

Amazingly someone on the other side of the road stormed out through the heavy traffic on the other side, waving a walking stick at me and yelling for going through the lights and being on the pavement. I think you'll agree it takes a very special kind of dick head to argue its better to block emergency vehicles than to go through a red light.

...because someone is threatening me

So you've had someone yelling abuse at you on the road, and there's a red light ahead. You don't want to face continued hostility, and you don't see any reason they should be allowed to project their own inadequacies via. the medium of a car engine and the relentless gleaming metal and glass box they're in. You get to the red light, they're stuck in traffic. Be honest - why the hell wouldn't you ride through and get out of their sight if you can? You aren't obliged to put up with someone abusing you and threatening you, and if you need to take the law into your own hands to escape them? I won't argue against that.

So there you have it - my short list of reasons I've broken the law and gone through red lights. I know, it is an inconvenient truth that on a hostile road network we are forced to sometimes bend or even break the rules to avoid being killed by the idiots who the rules are set up to control. But there it is - I'm not spending time recovering in hospital because I want to demonstrate how virtuous we can be, and I'm not having it that going through a red light in any circumstances where I'm putting myself at greater risk if I don't do so is wrong. 

Bluntly I suggest that anyone telling you otherwise should be invited to take a long walk off a short pier. You don't have to take their shit. 

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