Red Light Surprise

Yesterday as I approached a light on Mass Ave it turned red. The cyclist ahead of me rode blithely through it. I came to a complete stop. That was apparently a very unexpected move to the cyclist behind me…

Red Light

Should this really be that much of a surprise?

However, this is why I sometimes signal when stopping at a red. Of course then the cyclist would be confused about what I’m doing with my hand… right before crashing into me just the same.

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  • Cin City Clyde March 8, 2012   Reply →

    I normally follow all stop lights, and at least slow down to a walking pace for stop signs.

    There are some triggered lights that can not detect a bike. So I wait a minute, then until the coast is clear, and go on through. Fortunately, through my persistance, most of the lights on my short route have been fixed.

    As for the one time I ran through stop signs (plural) at speed. Riding home, I saw the gun and heard the shots. I also found out that I can push myself to 25 MPH with a full load of groceries in my bags.

  • Dave March 8, 2012   Reply →

    I almost got rear-ended three times in one day the other day, stopping at stop signs or lights. I still think the majority of people on bicycles in Portland do behave responsibly most of the time, but there are those few…

    Basically, I observe mostly the same behavior in people driving. Most of them in Portland behave pretty responsibly, and the minority I see doing stupid things.

    I thought it was a great anecdote – a couple years ago, we tried to pass an “Idaho Stop Law” in Oregon, which would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as Yield signs – that is, if there is no conflicting traffic, they could roll through slowly, but if there was conflicting traffic, they must stop and yield right of way. (This is already how most people both on bicycles and in cars treat stop signs anyway)

    In any case, one legislator was staunchly against the law, until a friend of his made a comment that there’s nothing more annoying, when driving, than a cyclist who obeys all the laws. After that, he flipped his vote to a “yes”. Unfortunately, it still didn’t pass :-/

  • Jimmi March 8, 2012   Reply →

    The real fun comes in stopping for a red light, sprinting on green to catch the jumper then stopping again at the next one…

    • John March 8, 2012  

      Omg yes, ever notice that the people that run reds rarely travel faster than 20mph?

    • n March 8, 2012  

      yes, I hate that! I stop at the red, slow person with rusty chain runs the red light. Green light, I pass them. Repeat until I catch two green lights in a row…

    • Marianna March 8, 2012  

      20?! That’s pretty charitable.

    • John March 9, 2012  

      I’m not a good speed judge when people are much slower than I am, I usually crise between 25 and 35 mph depending on terrain and traffic

    • dukiebiddle March 9, 2012  

      Average cruising speed on a race bike is between 17 and 18 mph. Being able to cruise consistently at even 25 without drafting would qualify you as almost a guaranteed winner of the Tour de France.

    • John March 13, 2012  

      I don’t use a race bike, I use a fixed gear with a high gear ratio (and brakes). in a sprint on flat ground I have reached 45mph. 18mph is roughly what all geared roadbikes cruise at, those bikes are built for endurance, mine is built for speed. At a racing cruise I am going those speeds.

    • Invisible Visible Man March 9, 2012  

      Red light jumpers are generally less fit than those who stop everywhere. I take off like a sprinting track cyclist and sweep past the dawdling light jumpers at 20mph.


  • Phil Lindsay March 8, 2012   Reply →

    Anyone running into anyone is stupid and bound to get hurt on their bike. If they don’t run into you stopping they’ll probably get doored or right hooked because they assume they’re invincible and their way is the right way. If you ride in the city you have to assume that anyone can get you at anytime. Folks hitting you from the rear are pretty rare overall as only 3% of bike accidents with cars are from cars coming from behind. One might think that bike riders would try to respect their own. That said, there are cars and pedestrians who often do similarly dangerous things. It’s just part of our ‘scofflaw’ culture. Me? I don’t always stop at lights, but there are some lights I always stop at. The whole thing requires using common sense. How to change our scofflaw culture? That’s one of life’s unanswerable questions.

  • Justin Winokur March 8, 2012   Reply →

    I stop at red lights, but I will go through them, after I stop, if it is safe to do so. I basically follow the Idaho Stop rule. Stop signs are yield and red lights are stop. With that said, I will always yield to pedestrians and those who have the right-of-way.

    There is definitely a fine line. I take safety seriously but I don’t consider it unsafe for me or the world around me if I go through a red (after stopping) with no cars comming.

  • Brian Ogilvie March 8, 2012   Reply →

    I’m with you. Here in Paris I notice more cyclists who obey red lights, but there are still plenty who seem to think they’re meant for motor vehicles only. I haven’t been hit by one, though. I hope your bike wasn’t damaged!

  • Cathy March 8, 2012   Reply →

    On behalf of Mass Ave pedestrians, THANK YOU!

  • John S. Allen March 8, 2012   Reply →

    Wow, another Boston cyclists who stops for red lights! A tip of the helmet to you.

  • pamela blalock March 8, 2012   Reply →

    I thought *I* was the only cyclist who stopped at red lights in Boston! I commuted downtown for a year, and can’t count the number of times I was almost rear ended by other cyclists when I stopped for a red light. The amazing thing was that the part of my commute where I had the most trouble was right near Faneuil Hall, a very congested area with loads of traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian – a place where not stopping at red lights is very likely to result in a collision. Glad to hear there are others!

  • Wandering Woman on Wheels March 8, 2012   Reply →

    Boston Bikes Update and the question of enforcement
    March 8th, 2012 at 9:47 am

  • Wandering Woman on Wheels March 8, 2012   Reply →

    ok the link didn’t post, see Boston Cyclist’s Union site for article

  • demimismo March 9, 2012   Reply →

    That happened to me, with the consequence of one very very expensive campagnolo carbon brake lever broken. Fortunately the cyclist was fair and didn’t asked me to pay (something I was specting).

  • Vocus Dwabe March 9, 2012   Reply →

    This seems to be very much an Anglo-Saxon thing, like wearing silly plastic hats. During eleven months of daily cycling in the Netherlands, with thousands of bikes on the streets at peak hours, I witnessed only one very minor collision: front wheel spokes tangled in someone’s rear mudguard; no damage; both cyclists remained upright.

    Personally, I don’t bother with the slowing-down signal which I learnt for my driving test in 1967 (forearm flexed up and down from the elbow with palm pronated). Hand signals ceased to be part of the UK driving test some time in the 1980s, so I doubt whether many people nowadays would know what it meant. Instead I just slow down gradually when coming up to lights and hope that anyone behind me will have the sense to do likewise. Our self-styled Vehicular Cyclists are very proud of “taking the lane” to slow down motor vehicles behind them – for their own good, naturally – so they can hardly object if I do the same to them.

    If they do object, magisterial calm is very disarming: also feigned surprise that they would even so much as think of running a red light. And if they run into the back of my 21kg Finnish Army bike, then I think I know which party is likely to come off worse.

    In most European jurisdictions a vehicle which runs into one ahead of it is automatically judged to have been at fault because the driver should have been paying more attention. Likewise vehicles in front are under no obligation to alter their behaviour in respect of those behind them since they have a better view of the road conditions ahead.

  • Invisible Visible Man March 9, 2012   Reply →


    How do you signal you’re stopping? Is it the arm flapping thing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone give that signal on a bike.

    Personally, I like to signal straight ahead (palm facing forward, looking like I’m pushing the air). I think I’m the only cyclist in London using this signal. It occasionally gets sarcastic remarks from the motorcyclists who’ve mistaken the advance stop area as a place meant for them. I tell them that if they don’t want to know where I’m going they can look away.

    I’ve nearly got hit by other cyclists running lights for which I’m stopping. I once got knocked off by a cyclist running a red light when I was crossing a road on a cycle path (with the lights in my favour). “I didn’t see you,” he said. “There was a red light to tell you to stop,” I replied. I argue strongly for cyclists to follow road rules in this blogpost: The only time I’ve knocked off another cyclist was also a result of red light jumping. She cut across in front of me to turn left while the lights were red. The lights changed, I started, she came across my path, she landed in the road. To her credit, she admitted it was her fault.

    On the other hand, I often see cars going through red lights for which I’ve stopped and I’ve had a number of near misses with cars that were just going too fast to spot the traffic signals. While the red light jumping cyclist did only minor damage, all of those instances could easily, easily have been fatal.

    Your lightness of touch and drawing talent, as ever, bring the situation humorously and poignantly to life, Bikeface.


  • cycler March 9, 2012   Reply →

    You know, maybe I should get one of those “brake” signal generator lights that I’ve been coveting. They sense the front wheel slowing (from the change in generator current) and get brighter for a couple of seconds.
    I’ve been wanting one, but have a perfectly good generator light already, and don’t NEED a new one. I sure do want though.

  • John_in_NH March 9, 2012   Reply →

    I have to say I have never had this happen. I did once have a women riding behind me on Western Ave in Cambridge (just before the god awful bridge) ask why I was stopped. Granted I was further back than the crosswalk since a very large SUV was splitting the lane and I was unable to move any closer without them scratching up my mirror or my arm.

    I muttered something about too many people being in a rush and that they should slow the hell down (this was my old man on the porch moment shaking my cane at the whippersnappers on my damn lawn). Thankfully she didn’t hear me and we moved through the light once it changed.

    I typically coast to a stop so it is clear I am slowing since my pedals are not moving. I can also accelerate faster than anybody else at the light (even the cars, which most cyclists can if in the right gear) so I usually catch up to the college student with their seat too low, a rusting chain, and headphones who just ran the light, pretty easily. (ok yes generalizing here)

    Nobody knows what your hand signals mean, they are meant for DRIVERS when there were no turn signals or brake activated lights on the car (back in the 1930’s maybe?), its why you use your LEFT hand which would hang out the window while driving. How about we stop using this antiquated system sometime. (rant done!)

    On another note I love the brake lights for bikes idea, with integrated front and rear lights one of my rear lights flashes before I come to a complete stop and then holds steady, which I find works nicely (I have two battery powered PB lights one on flash one on steady as well) The ones that brighten up before a stop are a great idea!

    • Vocus Dwabe March 11, 2012  

      “How about we stop using this antiquated system sometime.”

      The edition of the UK Highway Code which I used for my driving test 45 years ago still had marvellous 1920s drawings for hand signals featuring a man in a bowler hat sitting in a Morris Bullnose, and the driver of a horse-trap signalling with his whip. (I also seem to remember that there was a section concerning “bodies of troops on the march”). They kept the hand signals until the 1980s because early direction indicators – little illuminated arms that came out of the side of the car – weren’t very reliable. The signal for turning left was always a bugger when you were taking your test: you had to stick your hand out of the window – right of course in Britain – and perform a circular motion as though you were wiping an imaginary pane of glass. The turning-left signal to oncoming vehicles was to raise your left hand in what I think you call the Cigar-Shop Indian “How!” gesture. I never, ever saw anyone do it.

      “I love the brake lights for bikes idea”

      If they disregard traffic lights, what makes you think they’d take any notice of a weedy little lamp on the back of your bike? As James Thurber observed, “those who are hell-bent usually end up getting where they’re going.” Myself, I tend to look on red-light jumping as evolution in action.

  • ssactuary March 10, 2012   Reply →

    I do not necessarily stop at all stop signs/lights, and I’m ok with that, but seriously… Whether or not you stop at lights/signs shouldn’t change whether you are watching where you are going. Even though I may not stop, I still keep control of my bike and can keep from running into people or things.

  • Phoebe March 13, 2012   Reply →

    I’m with you, sister! For this reason, I’ve gotten used to looking ahead, to both sides, AND behind me when slowing to a stop at red lights (or slowing to a s l o o o w okaygo! at stop signs.) I’ve been rear-ended by a very apologetic bike-sister while I was trying to avoid the slowest ped ever, and once I was chewed out by a different bike-sister when I stopped short for a ped in a crosswalk.

    Hmmm… I noticing a theme. ;^)

  • Amelia March 13, 2012   Reply →

    Phew. I thought I was the only person stopping at red lights. It’s never occurred to me that I may get rear-ended. Probably because I spend my time at the stop light watching other bikers zip by me through the light and I’m too focused on feeling like a loser for stopping.

    • RSK April 13, 2012  

      Despite my recent rear-ending by a dozy cyclist (who was more interested on chatting on her phone than looking where she was going) I’m much more at risk of being rear-ended by taxis, buses and white van men who are running lights.

  • Diane March 14, 2012   Reply →

    I read somewhere that women usually follow directions more and that’s what gets them in accidents. Weird huh? But yes, I stop at red lights.

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