I had the option of having a nice quiet end to the year on this blog, shying away from controversial posts and stimulating passionate discussion. I’ve decided not to take it by confronting a perennial issue that’s bound to get the juices flowing: “should cyclists obey traffic lights?”
For a start, I’m not entirely sure of the legal situation – I assume that cyclists on the road are classified as vehicles and are therefore legally obliged to obey traffic lights. I guess that they have the option of dismounting from their bike and then pushing it across the intersection on the pedestrian phase (something I’ve actually seen someone do with their scooter on Queen Street once!) but otherwise I assume that cyclists are meant to follow traffic signals like drivers. Be interesting to check whether this assumption is correct or not.
Secondly, I can obviously see the attraction of blasting through a red light for a cyclist. They’re relatively unlikely to cause harm to anyone but themselves (pedestrians aside) so they probably feel that it’s OK to do so. Plus our lights generally are set on stupidly long phasing so if you miss the lights you need to wait forever – even if there aren’t many cars travelling by.
However, set against that – and notwithstanding the legal issues – I think I find myself falling on the side of cyclists obeying the signals, because of courtesy more than anything else. We desperately need motorists and cyclists to “get on better” on the road as there are far too many accidents involving cyclists at the moment. Part of that is through providing better infrastructure for cycling, part of that is through driver (and cyclists) education and part of it is through a cultural shift so that there is greater awareness and respect between all road users.
I don’t generally think that having cyclists ignore traffic lights assists in developing a greater level of courtesy and respect between all road users. It is something of a “I expect you to do everything you can to respect me on the road, but I’m not going to show the same level of courtesy to you” vibe that seems to result from cyclists ignoring traffic lights that doesn’t help. Furthermore, in locations where there are a number of pedestrians having the unexpected occur (such as a cyclist whizzing by on a red light) is pretty dangerous and incredibly unnerving.
I am really keen to get a better understanding of what the “cycling community” thinks about this issue, whether other people agree with me and what suggestions there might be to improve this (or perhaps it’s not really an issue at all). That should keep us going for a while.