Monday, March 11, 2013

Cyclists and Red Lights

Riding on the Embarcadero a few weeks back, I captured a sequence on my helmet cam which I think is educational.

Here's the video

OK, so I approach a red light with another rider (unknown to me) on my tail, and I stop. I am clumsily trying to balance so I don't have to unclip without rolling too far into the intersection. It's a T intersection so there's no inherent danger of rolling into or even past the crosswalk (assuming I know there aren't any pedestrians, and at 1 MPH I am in a lot more danger from a ped than a ped is from me as if we collide, I fall down go boom).

The other rider comes around me and instructs me to run the red light! Scofflaw!

He made a very salient point. He said "This is a good one to blow" because shortly upstream, the bike lane disappears beneath a chain link fence for construction. Cyclists are forced to enter the right "car" lane. This means you are either merging into high speed traffic or you make it in and get the wrath of the high speed traffic that is "stuck behind you". By blowing the light and hammering it past the blockage, we get safely back into the bike lane and mosey on.

When Diana Sullivan was killed on King (extension of the Embarcadero), she was perhaps faced with a similar situation. One possible scenario for her death was that she was stopped at the same traffic light with a cement mixer to her left. If she runs the light, she gets in front of the cement mixer where the driver can see her. Of course, running the light at 2nd and King isn't so clear cut since there is cross traffic.

When Randolph Ang ran a red light on the Embarcadero, he wasn't trying to protect himself. He was in a hurry to get to work.

The different scenarios present an interesting discussion. One thing I think is very important to note - the way we have designed our roads *incentivizes* cyclists to disregard traffic laws in certain instances because the built infrastructure jeopardizes their safety. We ran the red light because the City just let the construction block the bike lane despite the fact it caused a hazardous situation. If we were worrying about safety as much as throughput, the right hand "car" lane would be half blocked off making it impossible for a car to use, with the remainder becoming a regular bike lane.

2nd and King has a similar problem with bad infrastructure - and it isn't even temporary - it is officially designed in!

The problem then becomes that since it becomes commonplace to disregard rules as a matter of self-preservation because you have been given the finger by the people responsible for the roads, why not disregard rules at other times when it's clear that disregarding them is safe? And then it snowballs

If we want more compliance from cyclists, we need to stop designing in situations where compliance means you are put at risk. <.P


Anonymous said...

I agree. Because your needs are not considered you end up don't weird things to stay safe. When I cross Central Expressway from Castro to Moffett, I will often do the opposite of most cyclists. I'll wait until the light is about to change before crossing so that I'm the last one through the intersection. That way I can easily take the lane and take the next left which leads to my home. After one too many close passes, you adjust what you do to stay safe.

It's more complex than simple impatience or disrespect for the law.

Ygduf said...

We should make a list. At Santa Cruz crossing sandhill, southbound, I cheat over in front of left-most proceed-straight lane. On the green left arrow, I blow the red light going straight as soon as the opposing left-turn cars have cleared.

Running that light, in clear view of everyone, just about every day, prevents me from having to cut left across 2 lanes of accelerating traffic to make the left turn at Junipero. Drivers heading straight towards alpine accelerate and drive recklessly fast to make the short green light at Alpine/Junipero.

That whole intersection at Sandhill/Santa Cruz is a death trap. Both directions force you into seriously dangerous situations.

The only "safe" way to proceed, both directions, is to ride right in the middle of the car lane. This is fine and legal, but I might as well be waving a KKK flag for the commuter-driver hate I incur doing this.

Seeds in the City. said...

Very well said. I agree that there are times when it's best for the cyclist or pedestrian (the ones with soft bits on their exteriors, not metal and airbags!) to get through the intersection or street and out of harms way.

beachmama said...

Excellent points. I've not cycled for many years so forget the cyclists perspective.

There's a big who-ha about alternatives to driving. We're even willing to spend billions on a rail system. But we fail miserably when it comes to considering bikes.

Frank Irwin said...

Way back when I got my private pilot's license, it was legal for a pilot to disregard rules in deference of their safety.