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May 21, 2012

GeoLitt - someone has geocoded all the places mentioned in books written by J G Ballard (click for more)

More than half of cyclists ignore red lights according to British motorising organisation, The Institute of Advanced Motoring (IAM). The Institute conducted a survey which found 57% of respondents answered yes to the question: “As a cyclist, do you ever jump red lights?”

It’s a highly sensational number but it’s also highly dubious. There’s every chance the tabloid media in Australia will get onto it soon, so it’s worth looking at it more closely to see what it really means.

For starters, it comes from an on-line self-selecting survey, so there’s no reason to believe respondents are representative of cyclists as a whole. Those more inclined to take risks – read young males in particular – might be over-represented.

Or the survey might’ve been “gamed” by members of a group unsympathetic to cycling – say the members of an activist motoring organisation.

The most obvious flaw though is the way the data is presented by IAM. What it shows when looked at more closely is just 2.2% of respondents said they jump red lights “frequently” when cycling. Another 11.1% said they do it “sometimes”.

Those figures are much closer to findings by the Monash Accident Research Unit than the 57% claimed by IAM. The Monash researchers filmed cyclists at intersections in Melbourne and at one found 13% of cyclists ignored a red light.

IAM got its inflated figure by adding in those who admitted they “rarely” jump a red light or did it “once or twice”. Now if the question is effectively “have you ever, ever run a red light?”, then I reckon many motorists would be guilty too (and on a point of methodology, what’s the difference between “rarely” and “once or twice”?).

I’m a conservative driver, but I admit to having run a red light in the car “once or twice”. One time I over-ran the amber by a nanosecond and got a ticket to prove it. There might even have been one or two other occasions when I’ve got away with that nanosecond because there wasn’t a camera.

I’ve also driven through a red light in the dead of night after waiting so long I convinced myself the lights mustn’t be working. There was no other traffic about but there’s no getting away from the fact I ran the red and would say so if I were responding to a survey.

Running a red light in a car however is very different from doing it on a bicycle. For all practical purposes, cyclists mostly only endanger themselves, not other road users. That’s why they take great care when ignoring red lights. They don’t often literally “run” them like motorists do, rather they negotiate them with great care.

One case though got attention in the media on the weekend. A City of Melbourne Councillor, Ken Ong, says he was almost hit while crossing the road outside the town hall by a cyclist who ignored a red light. He’s called for a 20 km/hr speed limit for cyclists in the CBD.

I don’t know how often pedestrian-cyclist collisions occur on roads but I expect it’s not common, if only because cyclists are as much at risk of serious injury as pedestrians. Cyclists are likely to be much more regarding of pedestrians on the road than motorists are. It’s a pity Cr Ong didn’t mention how many collisions and near-misses between cars and pedestrians there are in the city centre.

Nevertheless the last thing we want in our CBDs is for pedestrians to be fearful for their safety when crossing roads at traffic lights. Our city centres are the densest parts of the metropolitan area – they should be havens of walkability where people shouldn’t fear cars or bicycles.

The law already has provisions to deal with the sort of danger Cr Ong experienced. What’s needed isn’t a special speed limit for cyclists, but better enforcement of existing laws related to pedestrian crossings. The CBD is small enough and busy enough to justify greater resources devoted to enforcement.

I think there’s a more general point though. In some respects bicycles present a different hazard for pedestrians than cars. They’re much quieter so pedestrians aren’t always aware of their approach. Most importantly though, cyclists ride close to the kerb, potentially endangering those many pedestrians (and themselves!) who step out on to the street before looking for traffic.

Limiting cyclists to 20 km/hr on all streets in the CBD might lessen these risks, but enforcing a speed limit would be much more problematic than enforcing the law on traffic lights. The latter is a simple binary decision and the number of locations is limited to traffic lights. Not so with a speed limit.

Rather than pursue Cr Ong’s proposal, I’d much prefer to see Council and the State government take four other actions.

First, minimise the number of motorised vehicles in the city centre through road pricing and parking policies. Second, encourage cyclists to use the middle of the lane on CBD streets, not the edge. Third, as mentioned, take a more proactive approach to enforcing the law at locations where pedestrians interact with bicycles and cars. Finally, impose a maximum speed limit of 30 km/hr on all motorised vehicles using city centre streets.

This article is about roads. I’m aware I haven’t discussed conflict between pedestrians and cyclists on footpaths, bike paths or public squares. I’ve discussed that before (despite what some readers think, it isn’t possible to mention every related issue in an article).

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65 thoughts on “Do most cyclists run red lights?

  1. observa

    SBH, there is a ‘carist’ sect. I’ve not seen it on this blog, but it exists. It’s actually identical to the ‘bikeist’ sect – a selfish, narrow-minded view of the world with no focus on wider issues. In some cases posts are identical, just replace ‘bike’ for ‘car’.

    I agree safety is a primary goal and with your comments which are approriately nuanced. My objection was to Burke John’s view which appeared to be as needing to promote safety above all else, when as you’ve pointed out it is one of several goals to meet – cost and efficiency being others. Human lives are not pricesless when it comes to infrastructure planning.

    I must however correct your point about stupidity. Humans have a level of risk they are comfortable with and will live their lives to that risk level. Give them safer and better cars and they take more risks. A GM exec once observed the best safety device would be a large spike sticking out of a steering wheel, and imagine if that was the case how carefuly everyone would be, or if their car blew up as the slightest touch. Humans don’t maximise their own safety, just look at jaywalkers and the like. I don’t think this can be called stupidity, but it is certainly a human trait planners need to be aware of. The new generation of cars which removes even more control from the driver by detecting pedestrians and hazards will again allow people to increase their risk level.

  2. SBH

    Are you being deliberately polemic Burke John? There is no ‘carist’ sect and it’s simply silly to assert that there is.

    The mubarak reference does my work for me and I’ll leave it to others to assess.

    If safety was the only goal we may ban cars. However I never said it was the only goal. Safety is the primary goal of the regulation of the roads. Other things are subordinate but may still be important. I’d argue observa that the very significant investment in safer cars and infrastructure indicates the primacy of safety – to say nothing of the ongoing and dranatic drop in the road tolls in every jurisdiction but the NT. Most crashes happen because people are unsafe and use their cars unsafely ignoring or wilfully over-ridiing the safety features of the infrastructure, statutes and vehicles. Can’t legislate out stupidity.

  3. observa

    If safety was the primary goal everything would be different, but the world trades the highest level of safety for efficiency and cost. If safety was the highest priority trains and buses would have airbags and seatbelts, and occupants would wear helmets.

    I don’t feel a motorist lifestyle is my birthright and I agree oil will run out at some point etc etc, and thus society needs to adapt. But I do look at where the world is today and would like some practical ideas as opposed to idealism. There’s many steps between now and the ideal state, whatever that may be.

    So again, think about just banning private cars tomorrow, the impact on society. Or maybe that’s not what was meant? In which case, what was?

    The link between Mubarak and complying with road safety laws in Australia is in my view not in the least relevant.

  4. Burke John

    “All the whinging about why I should be allowed to do as I please because I’m special is just anti-community, selfish individualism.” Nothing at all like a member of the carist sect SBH. If safety was the primary goal private car usage would be banned.

    I guess the Egyptians wouldn’t have had to had a debate if they had complied Mubaraks rules either. Such a drag.

    Also Observa I have thought about it. We haven’t got 200 years to get rid of private car usage. Soon the people of India and China will be able to afford a car and boy do they want one! I ask you to pause and think about that, do some simple calculations. Place the motorist lifestyle you feel your birthright over some of these other populations in developing countries. I’ll tell you it is a bit of a fright and entirely impractical. Hint though, electric cars, driverless cars etc, don’t change anything much.

  5. SBH

    Really Burke John, you think convenience is the major driver? I don’t think the infrastructure as built and operated backs this up.

    None of this debate would be happening if all road users just complied with road rules which have safety as their primary goal. All the whinging about why I should be allowed to do as I please because I’m special is just anti-community, selfish individualism.

  6. observa

    Burke John, the jaywalking laws are there for the protection of pedestrians. Who’s got more to lose in a pedestrian/car colliision?

    In order to have people able to walk across any road any time the wished then you’d need to get rid of motorised traffic. Think about that for a moment. Maybe in 200 years time, but it’s not practical now.

    Also, pedestrian crossings are sited where it is safe and practical to cross roads, for example you don’t find them halfway through blind corners or across freeways.

    Different forms of transport have to give way to each other all the time. Cars stop at red lights, everyone gives way to trains at level crossings. I don’t see an inherent problem with this, it just makes sense.

  7. Burke John

    Yes SBH I think you got the drift now. Pedestrian crossings are of questionable value without motorized traffic.
    Without them people could walk across a road whenever they pleased, God forbid. Thats why there are laws for Jaywalking too. So that motorists might not be inconvenienced.

  8. SBH

    laws written for motorists? Is that why 95% of traffic lights include pedestrian crossings? Just obey the road rules, it’s really not that hard.

  9. observa

    SBJ, simply don’t enter a large junction if the lights have been on green for some time and you’ll avoid that problem, which is basically not observing the light sequence.

    Exactly the same applies if you were for example in a car towing a heavy trailer uphill, you may not make it.

  10. SBJ

    I’m quite a cautious cyclist, and have often found that traffic lights can be green upon entry to the intersection and red upon exit. Given that I’m travelling at less than half the speed of cars, this isn’t particularly surprising. But it is another example of the way in which cyclists can struggle to follow the (car-based) rules of the road. There are some intersections (along Napier Street in Fitzroy) which have a separate light for bikes that turns green and orange before the regular car light. So authorities (Yarra Council at least) must be aware of the problem. So yes, I have definitely run a few red lights, but usually not by choice!

  11. observa

    Sure Inka, there are occasions where there’s no choice. But the default should be ‘no going against a red light’. And I’m not against breaking the law in cases where complying with the law materially increases danger.

    Cyclists are quick to point the finger at motorists for not complying with laws, so they in turn need to be as clean as possible to avoid charges of hypocrisy.

  12. IkaInk

    As various commentators have pointed out, it’s frequently impossible for cyclists to continue cycling, and obey the law at all times. I’ve already mentioned that light sequence frequently do not trigger with a bike, and in that case the only legal options are: wait until a car shows up; or get off, walk the bike to the pedestrian crossing (because riding on the footpath is illegal) and press the button. Guess what, both of those ideas are maddeningly stupid and as Burke John has pointed out, demonstrate that road rules have not been written with cyclists in mind. It is therefore completely justifiable that cyclists break laws in this or similar instances, in order to continue to ride (rather than get off their bikes and walk) and to stay safe.

  13. Burke John

    Observa I do appreciate your community mindedness. In my view however every time I stop at a red light on my bike I represent the motoring community not the cycling community. The laws are skewed in favour of motorists and in many countries they have reversed that trend and handed the streets back to people, including those on bikes. Traffic lights ripped out and the legal onus on motorists not to hit a cyclist.
    Cyclists will always have a “bad rep” because they are using the roads that are apparently owned by motorists, though why they do is an interesting question because they certainly don’t pay for them as is the usual claim.

  14. observa

    51 comments and I only spotted one that mentioned the fact it’s NOT ACTUALLY LEGAL for cyclists to move across red lights, whether you call it running, negotiating or whatever else.

    Look at it from the perspective of the car driver. They all come to a stop at reds, and see cyclists zooming through at high speed. If you wanted to reinforce the divide between cyclists and motorists that’s an excellent way to do it. So, how about doing something for your movement and stopping, like the law requires you to?

    Now if we ignore the law I agree about negotiating red lights etc, but the fact is everyone here expects car drivers to obey the law (ref the dooring discussion recently) so where do you all get off picking and choosing which bits of the law you’ll obey?

    As for losing energy every time you stop, well HTFU. I don’t believe it’s worth 1km of effort and even if it was take a leaf out of the IAM’s book and see if you can time your arrival such that you don’t actually need to stop. If you’re cycling for fitness (and it seems many are) aren’t extra stops a good thing? As a transport cyclist myself I don’t much care about extra stops.

    Every time there’s a red light I’m aware that if I don’t stop the eyes of many motorists are upon me and I’m represeting the cycling community. And it’s not just the law, it’s the fact that all it’d cost you is a little time. If a cyclist breaks the law by using a footpath to avoid a busy roundabout I think motorists get that, as they see it’s not safe for the cyclist and in many cases the footpath option takes more time. But a red light? That’s just saving a few seconds and in the process breaking the law and sticking a finger up at everyone else. And people wonder why cyclists have the rep they do.

  15. Johnfromplanetearth

    All i wish for is that cyclists have some duty of care on the roads, and currently they take advantage of a lawless scenario where upon they can shoot the lights, run into pedestrians and get away with it. Karl: You’re dreaming, it will cost me $676 to register my Lancer next month…that is exorbitant! I love bicycles, i just don’t like being hit by them, wake up Karl! Pay $100 a year and obey the rules, without rules you have chaos and cyclists create chaos every day in the CBD!

  16. Dudley Horscroft

    Lets face it, cars are lethal weapons on the roads. They kill. So do pedestrians when they knock cyclists over and so do cyclists when they knock pedestrians over, but the incidence is so low that it is reasonable to consider neither pedestrians nor bicycles as lethal weapons. Which is why drivers, to be in charge of a lethal weapon, must be trained and licensed.

    So road rules are designed for cars and their drivers. They unfortunately also include cyclists and pedestrians, with odd effects. I have driven through a red light – I was told about it by the passengers a few seconds after – I didn’t see it as I was concentrating on the road – a T junction with a signalled pedestrian crossing – I was on the cross bar of the T – no conflicting traffic, no pedestrians. I have also ridden through a red light – I found afterwards that the brake blocks were designed for steel wheels and the rims were alloy and apparently when wet the two are incompatible. Doing about 40 km/h when the red traffic light became visible about 200 m away, put the brake on (a Repco bike -only one brake!) and sailed through the red light at about 30 km/h! Luckily no conflicting traffic.

    But back to the argument, and the question really is, Should the road rules applicable to cars also apply to cyclists? It seems to me that a good case could be made for removing the obligation to stop at a red light from a cyclist, instead reminding him that if he does not stop he automatically invalidates his insurance for that incident.

    And for the pedants among us, ‘he’ and ‘him’ are generic pronouns as well as masculine pronouns. And people have sex, words have gender! (I change all forms when I find ‘gender’ misused.) Now that should put the cat among the pigeons.

  17. gdt

    Hi Rohan @32, I recall the stat but I don’t have the reference handy. I suppose the question is: is it likely? Well 400Km is about the limit of my range as a cyclist and I’d be pretty torn after 400 starts, even at the moderate “lights go green” effort. So it strikes me that the stat isn’t wildly unrealistic. It’s certainly in the right order of magnitude — 40 would be trivial, 4000 impossible.

    Thinking about it some more, I’d say we see a lot of this when teaching new cyclists. They’re significantly less knackered once they get enough confidence to keep going rather than stopping every 25m.

  18. IkaInk

    That’s not a mixed metaphor, it’s a precisely worded metaphor for an unwinnable battle. The point of a metaphor is to evoke an image. In the case of arms against a sea, the image is quite clear; bucketloads of barbarians on the other hand…

    Anyway, I should probably leave you and Alan’s blog alone for a while. It’s been fun trolling the windy troll (another one I was confused by).

  19. SBH

    you acting like a dill doesn’t make me wrong sport

    as for mixed metaphors – What comes after ” to take arms against…..” Hmmm?

    geez you’ll be onto split infinitives next.

    As at 44

  20. Burke John

    I’m never going to claim Orwell’s on my side again. I’m going back to God for that sort of thing. The posthumous nature of an Orwellian endorsement is less certain than God’s – the claim of death not yet verified.

  21. IkaInk

    Excellent retort SBH, I see you’ve provided a clear example as to why the word data is more useful as a singular noun. Also, having just re-read Politics and the English Language (thanks for reminding me of that, it’s been a while), I’m wondering which part of the essay covers the use of the word data. I read only two sections of the essay that are at all relevant. Firstly, Orwell claims that apart from useful abbreviations, i.e., e.g., and etc., foreign words serve little purpose in the English language; although perhaps as there isn’t a true English equivalent, in this instance he would find its use logical. Secondly, and this point I believe is most pertinent, Orwell states: “it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a “standard English” which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear.

    If you’re going to claim you are “right and [that you] don’t care that bucket-loads of barbarians are too lazy to make use of their sublime language” then please stop mixing your metaphors (are the barbarians chopped into little pieces to fit in the buckets, or are you referring to the buckets of giants?), and back your arguments with sources that support what you are saying, rather than the opposite.

  22. SBH

    Ikaink – go away – too silly for words

  23. IkaInk

    SBH – For someone so bitter about supposedly incorrect interpretations of language you might want to reread what I’ve written. I never once claimed that “that someone using the correct usage is incorrect” only that common usage is precisely how language evolves, and interpretations that were previously incorrect become correct through common usage. Therefore data is is a cromulent usage.

    As for whether the word is less useful as a count noun or a mass noun; is the following sentence more ‘useful’ than the next?

    The sand on the beach are hot today. I could see the individual sandums glistening.

    The sand on the beach is hot today. I could see the individual grains glistening.

    Of course not, because the vast majority of the time we don’t need to talk about a grain of sand, and when we can always add, or use in some contexts, the word grain to describe the singular; just like rarely need to talk about a single data point, and can add point to make it clear what we are saying.

  24. Burke John

    As far as registering bikes etc goes its a perfectly reasonable position-provided you were born into a society where carism as an ideology has already completely taken over every thought.
    If not, bike rego and failing to “negotiate” red lights seems absurd. Not to mention helmets.
    There is also a very real thing as well concerning carism or motorism as it is sometimes called. There seems to be a correlation with extreme orhodoxy and complicity that would make George Orwell shudder. Many positive changes in social history have come about through civil disobedience which gathers a momentum and popular support. The Arab spring…wonderful. Its ok to bring down a cruel regime through civic disobedience but if it were to get to that point in Australia I would advise anyone on their way to the barricades on a bike to wear a helmet and not run a red light at the risk losing popular support.
    Cars a paramount.

  25. Stelios

    Thanks Alan for the Article, and well said michael r james – I couldn’t agree more.

    The whole issue of compliance to traffic signals and road rules etc. is the tip of the iceberg of the massive imposition that chronic and widespread car domination imposes on the rest of society – particularly in denser urban areas – most of us are so conditioned to this state of affairs we no longer see it for what it is because, well, “…that’s how it’s always been”.

    Car use as we currently practice it defies the principles of logic, efficiency and safety on so many levels it’s criminal, yet we are all required, by law, to acquiesce to a litany of rules and regulations so that this titanic exercise in futility can keep this white elephant ‘functioning’. No thank you. This stupidity will come to an end, one way or another… I hope it does so smoothly and sensibly.

  26. Rohan

    JFPE@37 Careful what you wish for.

    With that policy and legislative framework in place, cyclists would be forced to behave like cars. The result? Shedloads more delays, inconvenience and frustration as a motorist becuase of the hordes of cyclists who, in accordance with their fully legitimised status as an equal road user, start taking up the whole lane and maddeningly slowing traffic flows, particularly at every change of lights.

    But not to worry, you can just wiggle your toes and…(deleted by the ed – no doubt meant in jest Rohan but too intemperate I’m afraid. AD)

  27. suburbanite

    Since personal anecdotes are being raised by Johnfromplanetearth…..

    On my ride to work this morning, a car failed to give way to me despite seeing me (Oh it’s only a oncoming bike who will have to give way to me or die, so it’s safe to turn left in front of them), a pedestrian walked out into the middle of the road with their back against the oncoming traffic without looking first (I could have been injured also had I not veered out of their path and this was not at the edge of the road) and a semi went through an intersection after the lights had gone green for the other direction. Pedestrians are quite capable of posing a threat to cyclists by walking out into roads and cycle lanes relying on their hearing to check for cars.

  28. Karl

    Johnfromplanetearth? You could have fooled me!

    Exorbitant fee to register a vehicle? Wake up Jeff.

    Registration for cyclists and forcing them to wear a numbered shirt? I’ll have what you’re smoking.


  29. Johnfromplanetearth

    Living in Melbourne using a middle lane for bicycles could be a problem considering we have trams down here, although that doesn’t stop cyclists passing them on the outisde!
    As a pedestrian in the CBD it’s an obstacle course out there on the streets, cyclists use the footpaths, shoot the lights, ride down the tram tracks just as pedestrians jaywalk and cross the road while the lights are red, all the while on the phone or texting! This of course must be the fault of the car owner who navigates through all of this and is paying an exorbitant fee for registering their vehicle in the first place! Now that’s an idea, why not register all bicycles who are supposed to obey the laws of the road, then issue a numbered display shirt so we can all see who almost bowls me over daily as i try and cross the road with the lights! Maybe that tram driver can identify the bike he couldn’t possibly see passing him on the right? Cyclist and pedestrian collisions are very common in the CBD, i can vouch for that myself having been hit 3 times in the past year, all 3 times were while waiting for the lights to change as the cyclist shot through the lights across the footpath! Did they stop? Nope! Had a bloody sore arm though!

    John: Not the middle lane, but “middle of the lane”. Conflict between cyclists and peds is an important issue – it’s been discussed here. Have also discussed registration here. AD

  30. SBH

    clumsy mistake, people are always adding an ‘e’ to my name. My apologies.

  31. michael r james

    “Street” usage may change but technical usage is probably a lot more resistant, largely because rules are enforced de facto by scientific & technical publishing. Even if your co-authors miss such an error, or the referees, or the journal sub-editor, it will often be corrected by the final proofer.

  32. Aidan Wilson

    It’s Aidan, by the way, and SBH, I have to digress on a couple of points, particularly to do with the difference of errors such as affect and effect, hoi polloi, foul swoop and so forth, and the evolution of the noun ‘data’. The former come about because of imperfect learning and just mistakes that never got corrected. Even as a linguist I concede as to their incorrectness – a word that I personally otherwise hate.

    ‘Data’ however, is not quite the same as this. It isn’t that it has become singular when it used to be plural, nor has it really changed from an earlier point where people really used datum and data as singular and plural respectively, but instead as a word that was borrowed very recently from Latin, it has never fit properly into English nominal morphology as the original Latin singular and plural inflections. Moreover, even when ‘correctly’ used (that is, according to Latin nominal inflections), it is only really ever used in the plural.

    So, given the context of its use and the semantics that it covers, it very quickly became common for ‘data’ to be classed as a mass noun. Count versus mass is not the same as singular versus plural; rather mass nouns do not have countable status and therefore do not have singular or plural forms. Consider ‘rice’ or ‘water’ (excluding examples like ‘the waters of Babylon’), when you say ‘rice is good’ (as opposed to ‘rice are good’) it’s not behaving as either a singular or a plural; it is a mass noun. Yes, the verb is inflected for a singular subject, but only because it has to take either singular or plural.

    Finally, the OED has examples going back to 1702 demonstrating that ‘data’ has been used as a count noun consistently since then, and they list it as a mass noun as a second definition. The earliest known examples of datum/data as a count noun go back only another 70 years. So it was very quick to be adapted slightly in its semantics so as to fit in with regular English nominal morphology.

    As to the broader issue of usage determining what is correct, well, that’s really the irreconcilable difference between people who believe there is a language that exists independent of use, which in turn is imperfect and must be improved and continually modelled on the archetype, these are prescriptivists, and those who think language is as it is exemplified, by use by people, and seek to document it as it is used, these are descriptivists. You are clearly a prescriptivist while I am a descriptivist and as such, you probably won’t agree with my points above, but such is life.

    Alan, sorry for the continued derailment of your thread (see what I did there?).

  33. Krammer56

    I don’t care what self-serving excuse you come up with, bikes are vehicles and should obey the road rules. Runinng a red on a bike is the same as the “it was only a little bit red officer” drivers who do the same thing.

    J-walking pedestrians are not vehicles and are are subject to a different set of rules (and fines).

    I can’t blame motorists for getting uptight at cyclists when they see us breaking the road rules for no good reason at all. And when I point this out to other cyclists who whiz past while I am patiently sitting there waiting for the lights to change, all I normally get is the bird.

    Do the right thing people. If everybody ignored the signals, the road toll would go up instead of down. And no – you are NOT a special case.

    That said, I did chuckle to myself one evening when the tail of a pelton triggered the red light camera near my home. I imagined the person processing the photos wondering which backside to book.

    Ride safely 🙂

  34. Rohan


    “starting from zero takes the same energy as cycling 1km”

    Are you for real?

    You must be a track cyclist, because the only way you could generate enough power to match the energy expenditure would be if you exploded off the mark with such vigour to push well into your anaerobic range and hold it for long enough that it really hurts..

  35. Rohan

    My observations from commuting to and from the Sydney CBD over the last 10 years support a ‘running’ the red frequency of well in excess of 20% And that applies across pretty much all cycling cohorts (including the over-60’s who

    I’ve made a committed effort over the past 5 years to not brazenly run red lights (pre-empting / early take-off is another matter entirely), and pretty well never do it in the CBD anymore. Cyclists can never expect to reduce antipathy with motorists if they insist on pulling shit like that.

  36. SBH

    But Aiden, you are a light when all around is dark. Only yesterday my spouse rolled out the spare tele after some idiot said ‘foul swoop’. My lid, tipped..

  37. SBH

    Ikaink – Thanks for the etymological tip. I refer you to Orwell’s essay on ‘Politics and the English Language’

    It’s one thing to rely on common usage to decide a word used incorrectly enough is now correct, it’s another thing to say that someone using the correct usage is incorrect. According to common usage ‘hoi poloi’ means elite, irregardless means regardless, ‘rolled gold’ means of the highest quality and ‘quantum leap’ means a leap of enormous magnitude. all wrong but hell – who cares. I guess if enough people ride through red lights we’ll start calling them green. Calling data a singular ignores one of the words defining characteristics, confuses dopes who don’t understand and lessens it’s usefulness. It becomes less of a word not more. Oh – I forgot – no need to trouble yourself with trying to understand the difference between the noun ‘effect’ and the verb ‘affect’ we’ll just use the noun ‘impact as an intransitive verb whenever.

    By now you may have picked up two things – I’m right and don’t care that bucket-loads of barbarians are too lazy to make use of their sublime language, that they use the rapier of English like a club and (secondly) that I have so totally lost my gruntle with the state of cold war on our roads that I’ve resorted to windy trolling on a completely irrelevant subject.

    Sorry for the interruption Alan

  38. Karl

    Cycle couriers are another breed altogether.. but a tiny minority.

  39. Steve777

    As a motorist, I’ve never had a problem with cyclists. Like other motorists, they can be annoying sometimes, but I accept them as legitimate users.

    However, as a pedestrian in the Sydney CBD I came to see cyclists as a real menace, especially in the pedestrian malls near where I worked. Courier cyclists were the worst offenders. Council rangers and/or police need to enforce the laws for cycling, including: riding on footpaths and pedestrian malls; red lights, especially at pedestrian crossing; one way streets.

  40. Karl

    There’s a set of lights near where I live which doesn’t trigger from a bicycle, even if I am riding a heavy all-steel frame and sit right in the middle of the lane over the sensors! I’ve written to the local authority as it obviously needs to be calibrated, but after a few years it still hasn’t been fixed. i usually have to wait for a car to come and trigger it (not so great at 2am in the morning) or just take my chances on the empty roads and ‘negotiate’ the red at my own risk.

  41. Russ

    IkaInk, true. But if there are cars around they’ll trigger it on the bikes behalf. Also scratch the steel bit, it is much better than aluminium at generating a current. On any non-steel bike, your best bet is almost certainly getting the chain over the sensors.

  42. IkaInk

    @Russ – Unfortunately the sensors are almost always in the centre of the car lanes, precisely where bikes shouldn’t be!

  43. IkaInk

    SBH – Common usage is how language evolves. It’s also what the majority of people will understand as correct, even if they were wrong at some time in the past. ‘Data is’, is absolutely fine.

  44. Russ

    gdt, a little by the by, but it isn’t ‘weight’ that triggers traffic sensors but metal. As the metal in a vehicle moves over the sensors it induces an electric current that alerts the light sensor. Cyclists can trip it by aligning the pedal, wheel rims or bottom bracket over the sensor as they travel over it. Aluminium bikes should have no problems (better than steel). Carbon bikes will have a lot of problems. You could try taping aluminium foil to your shoes and trail it across the sensor as you stop.

  45. Aidan Wilson

    Common usage gets to be the excuse for all sorts of crimes.

    Are we talking about using ‘data’ as a mass noun or running red lights? I’d like to think you’ve managed to encapsulate your opinion of both these topics in one fell swoop.

    Aiden: Brilliant riposte! No disrespect to you SBH (I’ve a lot of time for stickling) but this is very clever. AD

  46. SBH

    nup, common usage gets to be the excuse for all sorts of crimes. Data are pieces of information. On it’s own one datum means little. Only when it waltzes with its fellows is it really useful. Data is plural, anecdotes aren’t evidence and the plural of caucus is caucuses because its an Algonquin word.

    Sorry for the digression but I so sick to death of the ongoing aggressive assertion of false rights by drivers and dishonest ‘my goodness me’ of dopey peds.

  47. wilful

    Pretty much what others have said, Wiz Aus, Aiden Wilson, michael r james. I’ve run lots of red lights consciously. Often enough it’s safer, it gets me ahead of the traffic. I never would if there was the remotest chance of a nasty surprise. The main reason I don’t is because car drivers don’t like it. Which is giving in to their bullshit in a way.

    I know that I could get fined and I wouldn’t complain to the officer if I did.

    This thread’s anecdata (or is it anecdatum?) seems to confirm that a level higher than 17 % is prevalent.

  48. Geoff Russell

    Nice article … and I too liked “negotiate”. What does “jump a red light mean”? I would have thought it meant to take off a little early to get to the safety of the bicycle lane before the cars charge off? I don’t ever run red lights, but I do take off early on particular intersections because taking off with the cars is really dangerous!

    Councillor Ong clearly misidentifies scary with dangerous … cyclists can scare the living daylights out of sleep walking pedestrians. “I was nearly run down by a cyclist” usually means “I was meandering along thinking about something else when a cyclist passed me doing 15 kph and I nearly fainted”. For their part cyclists should indeed be far more aware that pedestrians may not be concentrating like other road users and ride accordingly.

  49. michael r james

    Noooo, this has nothing to do with the mention of Neanderthals:

    Today’s Crikey Ed.:

    [Seems the loveable billionaire put his foot down in January, clocking 87km/h on one Gold Coast street — 27km/h over the limit. Now he’s putting his foot down on paying the $333 fine.
    The Gold Coast Bulletin reports:
    “The State Penalties Enforcement Registry is chasing Mr Palmer, demanding he pay up. Legal sources say he could be jailed if he continued to refuse to pay the fine.]

  50. michael r james

    John Burke,

    Enough with the slurs on Neanderthals please!
    (Their disappearance broadly coincides with the invention of the wheel–the poor sods were steamrollered by H. sapiens!)

  51. Burke John

    Thank you Michael R James, exactly my thoughts but with eloquence. May your genes multiply.
    Btw the experiments you mention in the Netherlands and Germany are not even new. Unfortunately as far as thinking about cars and traffic you might understand if I say Australia is still in the Neanderthal phase.

  52. Aidan Wilson

    And, much agreed with the post and all comments. I’m a cyclist and run red lights on occasion, but only when I’m absolutely sure that I’m going to pose no risk to any pedestrians, other cyclists, or inconvenience to motorists. In fact, most of the time when I do so, I’m increasing the convenience for cars by getting out of their way sooner so they can have a free ride away from the lights when it goes green for them, as opposed to them having to negotiate me. And as gdt points out, doing so is very often the safer alternative.

    Having said that, I do routinely see cyclists from all subcultures, pro(-wannabe) riders in team kit who don’t want to drop any speed ’cause it looks bad on their Garmin, hipsters on fixies who do it because ‘stopping at lights is OVER!’, commuters who are less cycling-savvy who do it very unsafely because, I don’t know, perhaps because they are on a bike now and think they can reap the benefits re: traffic avoidance in all its forms. On the other hand, I also see the recreational bike users doing very unsafe but legal things, like stopping just in front and to the left of left-turning trucks. I remember one young lady being killed in the CBD doing this legal thing less than a year ago.

    Therefore, the current laws are way off. We need to think about the needs and abilities of cyclists a bit differently than assuming that the road rules for cars should just apply as is.

  53. michael r james

    The real issue is about “ownership” of the huge amount of public space given over to near-exclusive use of cars. Even in city centres where pedestrians outnumber cars by perhaps 100 to one, somehow the prevailing logic remains that the 1% should take priority over the 99% (you see how I snuck that notion in? Occupy Roads!). But it is true.

    And of course even worse than being always forced to give way to cars is that half the time you as a pedestrian are forced to give way to …nothing. Waiting endlessly at a series of lights that refuse to be responsive to roads empty of cars is beyond irritating, it reveals the contempt the planners have for anything except cars.

    In small towns or town centres in Germany and the Netherlands they have experimented with removing all traffic lights and putting the legal onus on car drivers to drive safely and avoid pedestrians and other users of public space. (Cyclists already do this.) In reality this already happens in the interstitial zones at the edges of pedestrian malls and freight delivery access zones–and where the truck drivers (mostly) do take care because they no longer have legal priority on their side despite their physical domination.

    In the last 5 years or more I have become a militant pedestrian. Like the cyclist negotiating red lights I too negotiate them (though in practice I often cross at the legal 25m limit), without putting myself in danger, or indeed inconveniencing cars. (Regrettably there are a subset of idiot pedestrians who seem suicidal. Well, I am a professional geneticist so I say let Darwinism have its way.)

    To those who think it is ignoring the “law of the land”, on the contrary, it is a reassertion of our natural rights. People need to stop and let the blinkers fall from their eyes and ask, how did we allow it to come to this. That we gave up our right to a huge fraction of the public land and public rights of way to 2 tonnes of metal, travelling at speed, usually conveying one person and putting everything in its path in mortal danger.

  54. Aidan Wilson

    @SBH, come one, data is such a mass noun these days, so ‘data is’ is fine.

  55. gdt

    Any commuting cyclist will have gone through a red light at some stage, simply because the sensors have failed to detect their bike. That’s only going to happen more: aluminium and carbon fiber frames get cheaper every year; and there’s less and less of a “bike” to detect as their weight falls. Those road-facing pushbuttons for cyclists are a godsend.

    Every mode of transport has its weaknesses. For cars that is speeding. For bikes that going through lights. The reason cyclists are tempted to blow lights is simple: starting a bike from zero takes as much energy as cycling 1Km. That is, the 10 traffic lights in the 2Km of Adelaide’s North Terrace saps 5Km more effort than it would without traffic lights.

    The other issue with stopping is what happens when the lights go green. Trucks have a huge blindspot to the left front and sides, and having a truck pull up alongside you whilst you are waiting at the lights carries a considerable risk to the cyclist. I always push forward into the pedestrian crossing when that happens (illegal), but if there is no safe zone ahead of the stop line then jumping the lights (illegal) or taking the footpath may be the safest action (illegal). Staying where you are doesn’t work if the trucks turns left (you are legal, but dead). As you can see from the (illegal) notations, the road rules aren’t a good guide to the optimal behaviour for the cyclist.

    Essentially, the road rules are written by car drivers for car drivers. As a cyclist it is best to broadly obey them, but break them willingly if following the rules leads to risk-taking. A good example is the “as far left as practicable” rule. Follow that rule on enough roundabouts and you die. Rather get yourself in the centre of the lane prior to the roundabout and ride directly through the roundabout in a straight line (then you are faster than the cars through the roundabout, you spend less time in the roundabout, cars which don’t see you and enter still have 4m of space before they hit you, you are more visible in any case because drivers are looking where they expect cars and that’s where you are).

    I am always amazed to see the “hand signals” in the Learner’s Permit book. Those “hand signals” work well from a car. They don’t work at all well from a bicycle — the hand signal for stopping is simply dangerous. Cyclists have another set which work well from a bike, as used by professional and weekend cyclists throughout the world for communicating intentions to each other. If those signals were listed in the Learner’s Permit book then inexperienced cyclists might actually use them, as they’d be practical.

    This isn’t at all to endorse breaking the rules in a way which increases your risks (such as blowing every red light because you aren’t hard enough to put in an extra few Km of effort).

  56. SBH

    ‘data are’ please Alan – it’s the little things.

    SBH: Completely agree about the little things – and appreciate being picked up when it looks like I’ve erred. I think common useage is on my side in this case. Be that as it may, I decided long ago to to treat ‘data’ as singular because ‘is’ sounds right to my ear and ‘are’ sounds wrong. All my grammar decisions are based on my ear. I’m a committed ‘data is’ man. AD

  57. Richard Scott

    It’s difficult to see how a UK survey, notwithstanding its selection bias and presentation of evidence, is going to be a good guide to Australian cyclist behaviour. On a tangential note, I think the non-detection of cyclists by the light controller is about the only valid argument for cyclists behaving differently to other road/footpath users. I negotiate the same set of CBD lights each day (on a bike path/road intersection, with dedicated cycle signal) – sometimes as a pedestrian, sometimes as a cyclist. The biggest danger I encounter is cyclist-on-pedestrian, with both making poor choices about when to cross. Some cyclists decide they can run the lights as part of a sweeping fast turn without considering pedestrians, but pedestrians look intuitively only for cars – so I approach the intersection carefully on both modes.
    There certainly is a small subset of cyclists who want the best of three worlds at any given intersection – use the green as a normal road user, hit the footpath and use the green-man to override cars (and scatter pedestrians) or just ignore all signals and manage their way through. That seems a very egocentric approach. On the city-fringe parts of the route, the main culture seems to be to follow all the lights, even in the absence of motorised transport.

  58. Karl

    And to add to that I see many vehicles blatantly running through red lights and almost mowing down pedestrians in the city every single day during my lunch hour. I know what i’d prefer to be hit by if it came to the crunch.

  59. Karl

    I’m much the same Alan, on a bicycle I have only run the rare red light when I’ve been sitting at an empty intersection for ages and it wouldn’t switch and there was no button to manually induce a green to cross. In any normal circumstance I always stop for red lights, I even stop for amber instead of trying to gun through as I am worried about not making it though in time. 57% sounds like an absolute beat up. Not at all surprising though considering it’s source..

  60. Burke John

    Negative feelings from drivers are engendered at the very thought of a bicycle on “their” roads. Perhaps cyclists are too nice and perhaps a little naive to expect motorists to enter into reasoned debate on road sharing issues. I’m sure the very idea is an anathema.

    Personally I run as many red lights as possible on my bike especially without a helmet and a finger up to the mindless road-raging drivers. The interesting thing is that following abuse concerning these glorious practices I have actually persuaded motorists to rethink their position. I have never been able to achieve this in any slight matter by quoting statistics or reasonable argument at the outset.

    The only reason we require traffic lights in most situations is for cars so another good reason to start getting rid of them before they crash our economy

  61. hk

    Many walkers have also occasionally crossed against the lights or jay walked when presumed safe. We make sure no cyclists, trams or cars, particularly police cars are nearby.

  62. Wiz Aus

    I have to admit I do it too often, but honestly the only reason I feel bad about it is because it’s the sort of thing that gives cyclists a bad name and engenders negative feelings from drivers. But I also accept if some bored and pesky cop decided to book me for it I wouldn’t have any sort of excuse to offer.

    You could I suppose argue that traffic signals are supposed to be sequenced to enable smooth flow of traffic at automobile speed (50, 60, 70 km/h), hence it’s unfair on cyclists to have to stop at every red light when they can only manage half that speed. Except of course it mostly occurs in areas where cars struggle to match bicycle speed, and further, I’ve never really seen much evidence of smart traffic light sequencing in Melbourne in general. Honestly I do it purely because it seems silly to have to wait there when there’s absolutely no risk I’m going to hurt anyone by crossing, and almost certainly less risk I’ll get hurt myself than just when riding along normally. I’d say at the very least it should legal to turn left on a red light on a bike (actually having driven in the US a fair bit where even cars can do the equivalent right-hand turn, I wouldn’t object to allowing allow vehicles to do this).

  63. michael matusik

    N=1, this morning so YES

  64. IkaInk

    Good article, although I’m surprised you didn’t mention the common cyclist complaint that bicycles often don’t trigger the light sequences. If you’re riding a bike at 3am the choice is often between running the red, mounting the footpath to push the pedestrian crossing button, or waiting until a car turns up to trigger the cycle.

  65. cck

    You’re dead right on the terminology. Cyclists negotiate a red light. In fact, I’d argue it is safer for a cyclist to negotiate a red light than to career through a green light.

    If the light is red, I’m expecting cars/pedestrians to cross in front of me and I’ll look out for them. I then also get a head start on cars waiting at the lights, who will then have more time to get around me when they catch up.

    If the light is green, I’m not expecting the car that runs the red going the other way. I’m not expecting the cyclist to look straight at me and step out (because I’m not a car – they do this). I’m not expecting a car to turn left over the top of me. I am, though, expecting to not be given any room.

    Not that I run red lights, of course.

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