Bike Blog: To Run A Red

Behind the wheel, I obey traffic laws. On my bike, I pay respect to one law and one law only: survival. If I stop at an intersection, it’s because I’ll get hit if I don’t; beyond that, a red light just means I’d better look both ways before blowing through it.

And that’s as it should be, according to Alex Marshall, a fellow at the Regional Plan Association in New York. A few days ago, Marshall wrote a post for – a blog that covers “The New York City Streets Renaissance” – in which he asserted that bikes really should be allowed to run red lights:

“. . .Here's my point. Given that most traffic controls were put into place solely for the benefit of drivers, why should the rest of us have to obey them? They're not helping us. In fact, they're impeding us.

What we may need to move toward is some sort of system where cyclists, non-motorized scooter riders, skaters or users of any other kind of self-propelled vehicle are exempted or partially exempted from traffic controls. It could be understood that a red light is there to control the car or truck, not everyone else.”

The post caught the eye of New York Public Radio host Brian Lehrer, who invited Marshall on his show to discuss the idea of exempting bicycles from certain traffic laws. So far, over a hundred people have commented on Marshall’s original post, some in favor and some opposed.

The Bike Blog thinks the man’s got a point. Traffic laws just don’t always apply to the situation of an urban bicyclist. There’s no law, for example, allowing for riding on the right of moving cars – even though bicycles are doing cars a favor by letting them pass. Why not recognize the fact that biking is simply harder and more dangerous than driving on the one hand, and a public service on the other – a bicyclist means one less car holding up traffic and spewing emissions. Reward bikers by easing the rules for them.

On the other hand, bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam seem to have more, and not less, rules of conduct for bicycles – largely because there are so many of them on the streets.

What do you think?

-- Isaiah Thompson

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Isaiah Thompson

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