Should cyclists be allowed to run red lights?


Cyclists in Paris are now allowed to ride through red lights, and San Francisco is considering a similar move. Could London be next?

When the lights turn red, the cyclist shoots straight through,then the police will write a fine. The Metropolitan Police hand out around 3,000 of these fixed penalty notices a year to cyclists for running red lights: many motorists would like to see them issue more – but could the offence instead be scrapped altogether?

When Paris changed the rules this summer to allow cyclists to ride through 1,800 red lights, the French capital joined Brussels and cities in Germany and the Netherlands which have been doing just that for years. There’s a row over proposals to introduce similar changes in San Francisco – cyclists protested against a police crackdown by rigidly obeying traffic laws and brought traffic to a halt. Transport for London requested permission for a trial back in 2009, but it never took place. Transport for London has concentrated instead on remodelling junctions to allow “early release” (where cyclists get a green light before cars) and “hold the left-turning traffic” (keeping cyclists and cars apart on left turns).

But the rules change – often referred to as the Idaho Law after the US state where cyclists can stop and roll through a red light if the way is clear – is back on the agenda. Campaign group Stop Killing Cyclists asked the main candidates in May’s mayoral election to support its 10 by 2020 safety challenge, which includes a call to increase spending on cycle infrastructure, the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street and “the introduction of the Idaho law, allowing cyclists to turn left when traffic is free at junctions, with full legal priority for pedestrians”.

While McCarthy welcomes TfL’s moves to improve signalling, he says remodelling 20 or 30 intersections is taking years and costs millions of pounds each time. Changing the rules on red lights could be implemented almost instantly and could affect all of the city’s 10,000 junctions. “If a cyclist waits for green, and a bus or HGV (heavy goods vehicle) wants to turn left, then they are in real danger – that’s how most cyclists in London are being killed. If someone on a bike can turn left before the light turns green – watching out for pedestrians of course, and we’re very clear that pedestrians have priority – then you can be away before the bus or HGV starts moving and you can avoid getting squashed.”

Variations on the Idaho Law are already in place in a number of cities across Europe, where most countries drive on the right. The European Cycling Federation says there are more than 5,000 right-turn-on-red intersections in Germany, while the Netherlands allows cyclists to turn right where they see a sign. Brussels started a trial in 2012 and, after a study by the Belgian Road Safety Institute found no increased danger, is expanding the scheme to more than 250 junctions. Trials in French cities including Strasbourg and Nantes have yielded similar results.

Paris cyclist rules

The changes in Paris are part an attempt to triple the amount of journeys by bike by 2020, install more than 400 miles of segregated bike lanes and ban articulated HGVs from the centre during rush hour.
A three-year pilot scheme established that allowing cyclists to run red lights improved the flow of traffic and cut the number of collisions, especially those involving a vehicle’s blind spot.
So, this summer, signs were fixed to 1,800 traffic lights telling cyclists that when the signal is red, they can – if the way is clear – jump the lights. The change only affects right turns or going straight on at a T-junction – where the rider can stay close to the pavement.

It saves cyclists time and energy, and helps the city work better. “If you say to people, ‘don’t do that – just obey’, then they don’t think about what they’re doing. If you give people more responsibility, it works better. Traffic lights are there to slow cars down and allow pedestrians to cross. Bikes are much lighter and much slower so, when there are no pedestrians and the way is clear, it is stupid that a cyclist should have to stop.”

In the US, the Idaho Law, in effect in that state in 1982, allows cyclists to treat a red light as a stop sign, and a stop sign as a yield sign. Variations have been adopted in a few small cities in Colorado but, until now, no big American cities have followed suit. What works well in Boise or Aspen, the thinking goes, wouldn’t be practical in a larger metropolis.

Running reds is a controversial issue even among cyclists, with some arguing it is bound to anger motorists and pedestrians, and set back the cause of cycling. If it continues to work for other cities around the world, though, could a trial in London, or another British city, one day get the green light?

Full article available at The Guardian