Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bike Commuting Tip#3: Red Light, Green Light, 1, 2, 3

Let me begin by stating that the law is the law.

If you live or work in NYC one thing becomes apparent--the rules get translated a little differently here compared to elsewhere. Perhaps it's best to say the usual rules and regs don't always make sense here, but then there is the dilemma that rules are needed. Theory and reality have a hard time being one in general, but in NYC this union is especially elusive--especially with regard to transportation. Folks jay walk every chance they get, they definitely have the right of way, and their light is theirs and red lights only matter if cars are coming fast and frequently enough that one cannot get across. You know what? It works. It works very well. It happens that cyclists in NYC act a lot like pedestrians. They do not stop for red lights unless they have to. Also, there does not appear to be much of an effort to crack down. There are several reasons why this isn't so bad, even though it sometimes irritates jealous motorists.

First of all, a bicyclist is hard pressed to inflict either serious or even any bodily harm or damage to motorists and their cars due to collision. Second, a bicycle/pedestrian collision is probably equally dangerous to both with a greater danger to the cyclist. This is because even a glancing blow could bring a cyclist down. Cyclist vulnerability to pedestrians is evidenced by the recent video footage used to convict a NYC police officer who intentionally knocked down a cyclist for no apparent reason at a Critical Mass ride. ( This of course does not excuse cyclists hitting pedestrians, however, that does not appear to be a problem to date. Thus, the principal danger is to cyclists themselves. The motorist's insurance will not be paying out if you get hit while running a red light. This is the top reason to take care. The other reason that cyclists passing red lights is tolerated is that a bicycle is a human powered vehicle and needless stopping and starting is needless wear and tear on the body. I am not going to be happy if I have to stop when I am going uphill. Finally, the loss of speed from stopping and starting needlessly defeats the advantage and usefulness of a bicycle as a commuter vehicle, which is counter to all common sense.

All the same, I do not believe cyclists exercise enough caution at red lights. Some seem to have a philosophical objection to stopping at any red lights. Even if you feel you can get away with it, it is wise to stop or at least slow down considerably for pedestrians, traffic enforcement agents, and yes, even for cars. In the first case, they have the right of way, and you hit my Grandma or my kid and we're gonna have a problem! In the second case, the city spends money on traffic agents because they're needed. Of course I am referring to the ones actually directing traffic, not giving out parking tickets. This means it is a good idea to respect them and pay attention. In the third case, why give drivers cause for anxiety if it's not necessary? I'm not gonna tell you exactly what to do, just be considerate and use good judgment.

I will end by repeating that the law is the law. 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home