Monday, June 11, 2012

Bikes and red lights

     The most common complaint from non-cyclists is that bicycle riders do not stop for red lights.  It's a frustrating complaint to hear and the complainers seem to think stopping for red lights is a no-brainer.  They are, of course, wrong!  NYC is an American transportation anomaly.  We have an extensive public transportation system--virtually the only one of its kind in the nation! We have the most active street life of any city in the nation.  Walking is the primary mode of transportation in this city, and has been for a very long time.   My brother in-law visited with his son recently and was overwhelmed by the amount of walking involved in seeing the city.  Pedestrians cross streets in this city whenever they can, not only on the walk.  Why?  Because if no cars are coming it is the logical thing to do.  Why would a rather slow-moving pedestrian waste time waiting on red lights in "the city that never sleeps?"  Its the same with "jay-walking," which is an epidemic in the city--there aren't enough crosswalks to serve either need or demand, and there never will be.

Pedestrians do whatever is expedient for all the logical reasons and there is minimal effort to stop them for all the obvious reasons.  The same rationale applies to bicycles.  Why?  Because like pedestrians, they are relatively slow-moving and relatively harmless when compared to a car or any other vehicle.  A bicycle usually weighs less than its rider--much less.  It's like saying that a kayak represents the same danger of collision as a freighter.  The following is a list of reasons why bikes should not be required to stop for red lights.

  1. The traffic light system was designed for cars because of the danger a 2-ton vehicle poses, not bicycles.
  2. The "stop and go" nature of city traffic is hard on cars, but harder on cyclists--a human "engine."
  3. Stopping for red lights will cost too much time and speed, rendering cycling an inefficient form of transportation for all but the most local, unhurried travel.  
  4. Unlike motorists, cyclists have no "blind spots."  Their view is unobstructed and they can often see if an intersection is clear without coming to a full stop.  
  5. Additionally, there is no "nose" of a bicycle that precedes the cyclist into the intersection. 
  6. Sometimes running a red light before the cars "take-off" is safer than taking off with them and vying for road space.
  7. Similarly, running a red light may be the safest way to make a left turn.
     So what am I suggesting?  I am suggesting that the law be changed to allow cyclists to treat a red light like a "yield" sign.  Of course the idea is to yield to both motorists and pedestrians.  A cyclist should not be entering an intersection that is rightfully occupied with cars (most won't anyway, you don't really need a law for that).  In other words, let cyclists alone! 


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