The other day I was waiting at a red light while a flood cyclists passed by me in every direction. It was a particularly long red, and car traffic was lower than normal. And I’m glad there has been such and increase in biking. However I witnessed several close calls because no one was operating by the same set of rules:


It seemed their main concern was to get from A to B in the shortest, quickest way possible. But it got me thinking about the mindset. There is vehicular cycling, and then there is a more pedestrian approach…



However if you’re just out to get places as fast as possible and not willing to rest on a red, you may just be on a collision course. Stop at a red light sometime and watch what almost happens.


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  • mech1 August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Wow this is really cool!

    I thought that this kind of silly cycling is popular in just my country (Czech Republic in the middle of Europe). But seems that it’s worldwide illness?!
    Two of them maked me laugh – lycra cool enough and the flying one :-DDD
    Seriuosly I see those kinds at my daily commute.

    Anyway thank you! Love your job. Pretty nice. Wish I can comment my experiences in the same way you did …

  • Frank August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I recognize this situation. Here there are lots of cycling clubs who purely go for speed. Thinking everybody will / must give them right of way. They give cyclist a bad reputation if you ask me.

  • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012   Reply →

    My attitude: there are laws and rules of the road, and integrated cycling techniques that take advantage of those road rules to make cycling very simple and very safe. It’s not all that burdensome to learn the law and follow these rules and guidelines – and doing so could save one’s life.

    I’ve been cycling for 40 years and over 20,000 miles, and in all that time and distance I’ve never once had a crash on the road. That doesn’t happen by chance. It happens through cycling visibly, predictably and carefully, and using the rules that all road users are familiar with.

    • Connor December 25, 2012  

      I’ve been road cycling for 3 years and over 25,000 miles, I ride both ways. If you don’t crash on the road, then you’re probably in a better place to cycle than me. There are times in which I have been forced to blow stop signs because some guy in a massive 4×4 is chasing me yelling “SPANDEX FAG” Really loudly and trying to run me over. I’m in Orange County, CA. This place rocks.

  • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012   Reply →

    By the way, the cyclist who’s ‘following the law exactly’ is not. He’s too close to the curb. The law in almost every state expects cyclists to take the lane on narrow lanes like the one in the cartoon, to avoid close passes and to remove the threat of right hooks. If that were a real truck, that cyclist would most likely be in the truck driver’s blind spot and would be in danger of being crushed if the driver chose to turn right. On a multi-lane roadway, a cyclist following the law exactly would have been in a position in the middle of the right hand lane.

    • Jen T August 2, 2012  

      Ian Brett Cooper, I am glad you pointed that out, because I would definitely pull way out of that driver’s blind spot, but in Mass, he’s not breaking the law. Mass bike law is pretty short of actual content. In Mass, the laws pertaining to cycling are all in one short series of sections – MGL ch. 85, sec. 11B-11E. Two of those sections deal with helmets, one deals with fines for violations, and only one – sec. 11B – deals with actual traffic laws. http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter85/Section11B

      The law is skimpy; basically, it says bikes have to follow standard vehicular traffic laws, except that bikes “may” (not must) travel on the right of traffic. You must signal, and you may (though most people don’t know this) ride on sidewalks outside of a “business district” (not defined anywhere) unless it is otherwise marked, and if you are doing so, you have to give ROW to peds and signal when passing them, etc. The rest of the section discusses when you can ride in a pair versus single file, stuff to do with baby seats and other bike passengers, stuff about how to park your bike, not carrying stuff without a basket or rack, not holding on to a car and getting pulled, rules about lights and reflectors, rules about brakes, and stuff about accident reporting.

      Basically, the least useful bike law ever. That is literally all there is. I would like to see MassBike do more lobbying for a real, substantive bike law that takes into account what is safest for cyclists, pedestrians, and cars, and recognizes that bikes are not just itty bitty cars, nor are they just fast pedestrians, and so a specific law tailored to bikes is needed. Which reminds me to email them.

    • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012  

      @ Jen T: You’re right – he’s not technically breaking the law. Not the letter of the law. But in my view, he’s breaking the spirit of the law, which aims to keep road users safe.

      As you rightly point out, in MA, the law has no provision requiring cyclists to ride farther right. And this is what I was referring to with my assertion that he wasn’t riding according to the law. You do not have to ride far right in Mass.

      As for the idea that MA law is not useful, I completely disagree. The fact that MA law for cyclists is the same as for other vehicle operators makes it the most cyclist-friendly in the country (see http://ianbrettcooper.blogspot.com/2012/01/invictus.html ). Massachusetts and Indiana are the only two states in the union that don’t have any language in the law requiring cyclists to take up a particular position in the road. This allows cyclists themselves (not government bureaucrats who usually do not cycle) to decide what road position is safest.

      Trust me, as a cyclist who used to ride in Somerville and Wakefield, MA, and who now rides in Maryland, you folks in Massachusetts have by far the best cycling laws, because the law does not discriminate.

    • Ralph S. Sturgen August 2, 2012  

      @ Jen T: MassBike has been active over the past several years. There is no longer an “as far to the right as practicable” law – making use of the full lane legal. Bicyclists are no longer required to ride single file. We may operate our bicycle (defined as a vehicle) on any street, road, way, etc., except for limited access highways which are marked to prohibit bicyclists.

      Each municipality is required to define their business district. Thus it cannot be defined in the state law.

      In general, to frame the discussion as a matter of “cars” and “bicycles” is not useful. [Right now my car and my bicycle are both doing what those vehicles do when there is no driver pushing on the pedals: nothing at all. They are just sitting there.] If the discussion is framed as a matter of “drivers” who are expected to follow the rules of the road and the laws (no matter their vehicle), the discussion becomes simpler and more useful.

      I find myself puzzled by your comment “the least useful bike law ever”. Would you please give examples of the things you would like to see included? [This is an honest request, not a challenge.]

      [As you may guess from my e-mail address, I am a cycling instructor certified by the League of American Bicyclists.]

    • Jen T August 2, 2012  

      Hi Ralph! No, I know, I didn’t mean that to come off sounding so critical, I was still drinking my coffee. I appreciate all of MassBike’s efforts, and I have carefully followed all the changes in the law. I would just love to see a push to make a big a change – I know starting with smaller changes to those obviously problematic laws was the way to go, but there still needs to be a major overhaul, and I feel like there is finally some momentum to push for it!

      Re: business districts, that phrase appears in many bike laws, and I get that it is defined by the municipality, but it’s a pretty unhelpful designation. Why not just do what some other states have done and always allow riding on sidewalks but REQUIRE yielding to pedestrians, audible signalling to pedestrians, and following the same rules and regs as pedestrians? And then just have municipalities indicate if they prohibit cycling on sidewalks through sigage, a /la Cambridge. That’s what Idaho does (and I am going to come back to their law): http://www.lostrivercycling.org/idcode.html. Then there is no ambiguity – like a right turn on red, it’s allowed if there is no sign prohibiting it.

      As far as changes, see the below. Though obviously, one huge problem any state has is informing people (all people) about what the law is. So as much as I would like to see these additions, I understand it might be more worthwhile to focus on informing people about the current law.

      I would like the law to explicitly say bikes can take the lane. I mean, obviously a lot of these things I am suggesting are implied under the umbrella of the first sentence of section 11B: “Every person operating a bicycle upon a way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section…” And most laws have something about “as far to the right as is practicable.” As a lawyer, I understand why that phrase is there – laws written too specifically are trouble, because they leave no room for exceptions for safety, are hard to follow, etc. But I think a little more detail as to what is practicable and not, and an explicit note that taking the lane if the cyclist intends to turn or if the shoulder is unsafe would be great. That’s why the phrase “including but not limited to” was invented (as in, “a cyclist must ride as far to the right of a lane as is practicable, but may ride near the center of the lane when it is not practicable to ride to the right. Such circumstances may include, but are not limited to…”).

      The change I would most like to see is this: I would like the law changed to reflect the fact that stopping my 15-pound bike (or even a 40-pound Hubway, when I am on that instead) is much easier than stopping my car, and I have greater visibility on my bike. To that end, I would like us to follow Idaho (I had thought it was Minnesota above, I was wrong), for the reasons laid out in this article: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/07/20/bikes-are-not-cars-why-california-needs-an-idaho-stop-law/. Idaho let’s cyclists treat stop signs as yields, and red lights as stop signs: http://www.lostrivercycling.org/idcode.html (see section 49-720).

      Ideally, and this is probably not practicable, I would like there to be a requirement that cars yield (when possible) to a bike that has signaled its intention to merge into the lane, as when having to go around a car parked in a bike lane or to avoid an obstacle or to make a left – basically the equivalent of cars having the yield to pedestrians (or on a lake – the rowboat yields to the canoe yields to the sailboat – the bulkiest, least-likely-to-be-damaged thing should always have the onus to yield). I understand that is probably asking a lot and is a better place for education and not law. And we should be yielding to pedestrians! even when it is annoying! I hate it when people don’t stop for pedestrians.

      I totally agree that the discussion should be framed around “drivers” but a car is not a bike is not my two feet.

    • Steven Goodridge August 2, 2012  

      I noticed that too; never stop curbside at a red light beside traffic that might turn right, especially trucks, which will trail to the inside of the turn and take you out. When going straight, always stop ing the center of the general purpose through lane to wait for the green light. If the lane is wide enough to share side by side with other drivers, or if there is a curbside bike lane, wait until you get to the other side of the intersection before you move to the right again.

      Lots of people get hurt by right turning trucks and buses by stopping and waiting curbside at red lights, thinking they are doing the right thing. This happens especially often to women who want to follow what they think are the rules and be good citizens, while many men just run the light rather thay waiting in the right-hook danger zone. But the best lawful approach is to wait for the green light while in a position farther left, in line with other through traffic.

    • bostonperson whohasbike August 2, 2012  

      unless I know I can get out front, I never stop immediately to the right of the first car at a light – I typically stop where the second car can see me but slightly behind the first car – it’s safer because I can let the first car do whatever without being in their blind spot, and the second car can see me so they’ll be more likely to let me go before they turn. I ALWAYS stay behind trucks and buses at lights.

      for left hand turns (non-turn lanes) I just take the whole lane b/c I don’t want someone passing me on the left or turning with me on my right. If people pull up behind me and honk I just assume they are morons.

      also – I hate cyclists who run red lights on trafficky roads – especially if they blow through a line of pedestrians. I secretly want someone to clothesline that self-absorbed jerk when they do that.

    • Dave August 2, 2012  

      Oregon law states that you must ride ‘as far to the right as practically possible’ or something like that. So essentially, it’s up to everyone’s interpretation at the moment what that means, and of course, the person on the bike, and the person in the car behind them may have different ideas as to what is practically safe – not to mention a judge in a courthouse. It’s not illegal to take the full lane, but if you are determined to be ‘impeding the reasonable flow of traffic’ when you potentially could have been (in someone’s eyes) getting out of the way safely, you might still get in trouble. There is a lot of room for interpretation.

    • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012  

      In practice, what the law means is determined by a police officer and then finally by the judge in a court. Sadly, police officers and judges tend not to be cyclists, so they are often ignorant regarding what is safe and practicable for a cyclist on the road. This is further complicated by the fact that cycling safety is often unintuitive – what looks safe (i.e. riding in the gutter or on the sidewalk) often isn’t, while what looks dangerous (i.e. riding well away from the curb) is often safest.

      This is why cycling advocates are trying to get ‘Far Right’ laws overturned in the 46 states where they exist.

    • Jeff C August 2, 2012  

      Taking the lane is still an act of courage in Boston (though drivers have become much less road-ragey when I do this in the last couple of years).

      I always tell myself that when somebody behind me in a car honks at me when I take the lane I’m just going to slow down to punish them for their lack of patience and respect but I also realize that cars can easily turn into weapons in the hands of a drive at wits end.

  • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Cycling with a smile helps too, though it’s not required by law.

  • Katie August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I saw a cyclist run a light this week across Mass Ave, and watched as he expressed his shock and indignation that he was almost hit by a mini-van, who had the green light. /facepalm

    • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012  

      I guess it’s fortunate that cycling is a very safe activity (with a lifetime risk of death that’s nearly half that of driving), so that the vast majority of us can get away with a lifetime (actually many lifetimes) of doing stupid things on a bike. But sometimes I wish wish that the world would give a slap on the wrist, a little scare or an ‘almost hit’ to folks who do stupid things that could get them killed. But 99.99% of the time, it doesn’t, so they never learn to ride safely.

      I have to keep reminding myself that the fundamental safety of cycling is probably a good thing, despite the fact that when I see people riding foolishly and giving cyclists a bad name, my heart skips a beat and my blood pressure rises.

    • Miranda August 2, 2012  

      Likewise, I saw my first bike-on-bike crash on Mass Ave near MIT a couple weeks ago. I was stopped at a red light where there’s a huge crosswalk, and another cyclist rode past me and plowed right into someone crossing in the crosswalk with a bike. (I didn’t see if he was riding in the crosswalk or walking his bike across.) Neither of them appeared to be injured, but it looked rough and I think bent the front wheel of the bike that was crashed into.

  • Phil LIndsay August 2, 2012   Reply →

    All those are true. Myself I do plenty of jay-biking, jay-walking and jay-driving I suppose ;-)… BUT that said, there are places in my daily ride I’d NEVER break a traffic law since I’d probably be dead by now if I did it on a regular basis through some of the intersections where I pass… When I go somewhere new it is a rare event that I don’t comply with the traffic laws… Sadly the Commonwealth and most local governments haven’t addressed the educational aspect of riding and it is lonnnnnnnnnngggg overdue. Thanks bikeyface for showing us all what we look like when we just go for it. When you think about it it’s amazing more folks aren’t killed on the streets when they’re riding like that. You’re the best!

  • The DC August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Some of those types really irk me…like the one riding against the grain on the wrong side of the road…Spiderbiker (riding up the wall) IS cool though,LOL! Crap,now I have that song stuck in my head…”Spiderbiker,Spiderbiker,does whatever a Spiderbiker does….Can he swing,from a web? No he can’t,he’s just a biker…Look out! Here comes the Spiderbiker!” 😛

    the DC

  • Greg August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I follow one simple rule when jaywalking/biking, which happens to be the same rule I’ve been following since I learned how to walk:
    “Stop and look both ways before crossing”

  • Randy August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Especially in town, I feel like if I act like a car and obey all the car rules, then the car tribe will look upon me with approval since I’m doing what they do. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make them a little more smiley and trusting of the bikeyface tribe.

  • Sean August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Do you think more cyclists would follow the rules if they –

    – had safe places to cycle? (infrastructure)
    – actually knew the rules? (education)

    While I do agree that some bike riders flaunt/ignore the rules I have real troubles with this idea that we (cyclists) need to police other cyclist behaviour.

    Have any of you spent any time really watching what car drivers do? Answer – many simply ignore the rules as well yet there is no call from “driver advocacy groups” to self-police and clean up their act – and more importantly, a 5000lbs car is way more dangerous than 200lbs of bike/rider.

    I wouls submit that if cities had more safe bike infrastructure and education campaigns for all road users these “scofflaw” cyclists would start to play nice and follow the rules.

    • Dave August 2, 2012  

      I really agree with this – I feel like a lot of people break rules simply because the rules either don’t make sense, or put them at an distinct disadvantage in some way. I don’t see very many people run red lights here in Portland, and when I do, it’s usually to get a jump start on fast traffic that otherwise would not let them in, or it’s when there is literally no traffic around, so there is no reason to just sit and wait for the light for 2 minutes. In the second case, I see people walking do this all the time, and I do it myself when walking quite often. If I can determine that it’s safe to cross on red, I will.

      Of course, I’m not advocating just willy-nilly breaking rules – I think generally you should make an effort to know what they are and try to follow them. But, I do think that if A) the law took people walking and biking into account more and B) our infrastructure (including signals, timing, etc) was better, we would have much fewer problems with people breaking the law.

      It’s like with people locking bikes to cafe tables and trees and things – if there’s no bike racks, where do you think they’re going to park? As soon as you put in bike parking, guess what? No more bikes locked to cafe tables. If you make it easy to follow the law (by making the law sensible and adding infrastructure to support it), people will follow it, mostly (there’s always a few exceptions no matter what group of people we’re talking about).

  • Steven Goodridge August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I try to set a good example for kids, including my own kids, who pay more attention to actions than words. Running red lights teaches kids that cyclists aren’t really expected to follow the traffic laws and/or that running red lights makes them more grown up. When kids try it, they get killed. Lawful cycling is easier to perform safely and is good practice for operating other vehicles in public spaces.

  • Steven Goodridge August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Here’s today’s story about the danger of riding up beside a bus that may turn – it’s from the UK, so instead of a right hook, it’s a left hook:

  • Marge Evans August 2, 2012   Reply →

    love it “he’s so cool the laws of physics don’t apply”. on another note, I hate it when people want to tell me about the “jaybikers”, I don’t ride that way so I can’t be expected to be responsible for every irresponsible cyclist.

  • Paul Johnson August 2, 2012   Reply →

    In Portland, this also applies to motorists.

  • Wandering Woman on Wheels August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I see so many cyclists run red lights that now when I stop, I turn around to make sure no one on a bike is about to crash into me. They still fly around me, much to my chagrin, as I wait at the light next to patient drivers doing the same. Do they think they know something we don’t? That it is POSSIBLE to cross? But not usually safe. I know riding a bike can make us feel invincible, as we did when we were children, but why risk a collision? Not to mention why piss off drivers unnecessarily?

    I do sometimes ride along in the crosswalk to get across, if that is safer, in places like the Jamaicaway at Pond St., across from the Pond/Boathouse.

    I also ride on sidewalks when I ride from the North Station T, dodging pedestrians as I cut through the Garden, and along and over the river to my job in Cambridge. There are sharrows by the Museum of Science, but the lanes are too small, the pavement hazardous with grease and bumps, and cars travel at freeway speeds. Same thing when I ride on Hyde Park Ave…I don’t! Many people treat Hyde park Ave like a racetrack (literally, you will see 2 cars or motorcycles racing on a regular basis). I have seen many, many motorcyclists do high-speed wheelies. I feel safer on the sidewalks, though I hate the bumps and broken glass. So I either ride on the sidewalk or cut through the quiet neighborhood side streets of JP’s Bourne district, to get to and from my home in Roslindale.

    The only time I MIGHT run a light or stop sign is if I am going home late night, when there is no traffic within a 1/2 mile, on a main street where I’d just as soon not be a sitting duck alone on a corner when a car full of guys drives up next to me at the red light. Better to keep in motion, and also maybe use those quiet side streets and even quiet one-way side streets to avoid such encounters. I have good intuition, and I generally will go whatever path feels best at the time. Otherwise I pretty much follow vehicle laws.

  • Ethan Fleming August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I see cyclists run red lights all the time. I don’t mean to sound to negative but it upsets me because I feel that when one cyclist runs a red light it makes all cyclists look bad. I have also lost count of how many times Im stopped at a red light and another cyclist passes me through the red light and gets hit by a car that had a green light.

    • Jeff C August 2, 2012  

      Wow – bad luck follows all of those in your general vicinity eh?

  • go left August 2, 2012   Reply →

    Cool is catching up to one of these intersection offender and ever so nonchalantly power pass him, turn and give him the look.

  • Ian Brett Cooper August 2, 2012   Reply →

    I try not to get too upset about cyclists who break traffic laws. They are, after all, mostly endangering themselves. We humans have a desire to cheat built into our DNA. If we can get away with it, we’ll cheat. The only way to stop cyclists running Stop signs and red lights is to increase enforcement – and that’s just not going to happen in today’s lean times.

    What bothers me much more than cyclist scofflaws are motorist scofflaws. Motorists drive around in 1ton+ vehicles that can actually do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people, yet they flout more laws than any cyclist: they speed, they drive drunk, they text, they talk on the phone, they apply make-up, they shave, they tie their ties, they search on the floor for dropped earrings, soda cans, phones, etc. – all while moving at speeds that can easily kill.

    The widely held notion that cyclists are the biggest problem on our roads only holds true as long as we apply blinkers when it comes to motor vehicles. Cyclists kill maybe a handful of people per year worldwide. Motorists kill over a million!

    The whole reason motorists don’t get the same right to use the road that cyclists get is because in the 1900s, people got so angry at the carnage motorists caused on the road, that they petitioned government to take away their rights to use the road. Government responded by taking away those rights and reducing motorists to mere privileged road user status.

    So let’s never forget that a motorist’s license is not an advanced driving diploma. It is a demotion, a mark of censure: driver’s licenses are a reminder to us all that motorists cannot be fully trusted on the road.

  • Jonathan Krall August 2, 2012   Reply →

    “no one was operating by the same set of rules”

    Bingo. The rules don’t make much sense to many cyclists so they make up their own. But, as you point out, they all come up with different rules.

    If the Idaho Stop law is ever widely adopted (Stop Sign becomes Yield Sign and Red Light becomes Stop Sign for bicycles), I expect that efforts to get cyclists to behave more uniformly might have more success. Mandatory bicycle education for anyone who wants a drivers license would also help.

    • Paul Johnson August 3, 2012  

      I really hope the Idaho Stop doesn’t get more widely adopted. In Idaho, people now just dive past stop signs as if it’s a free flowing intersection (not even as a yield), and when you call ’em on this, they just shout back “bikes don’t have to stop, asshole!” Likewise at red lights: “If red lights are now the same as stop signs, and bikes can roll stop signs, I can roll a red light!”

      If it’s safe to yield, then the sign needs to be changed to a yield sign for everyone. The midwest has no problems posting four-way yields, and when everyone’s on the same page, it really helps quite a bit for everyone to know what to expect. Stop signs in other regions tend to be far too overused, despite the MUTCD recommending stop signs to be applied only in locations where a full stop is absolutely required for safely entering an intersection, favoring the Yield sign for most unsignaled intersections.

      That said, I’m a bigger fan of the Oklahoma Stop: Stop and Yield signs still apply, but solid red lights may be treated as a stop sign, with directionality of arrows still applying, for all human powered vehicles and any motor vehicle requiring a motorcycle endorsement to operate. For the same reason as my dislike for the Idaho Stop and it’s problems, it would be nice if Oklahoma had stricter standards for detection loops and enforced them, so anything smaller than a Smartcar could be detected consistently, but at least it gives the option for escaping a stale red that won’t trigger.

    • Ian Brett Cooper August 3, 2012  

      “If it’s safe to yield, then the sign needs to be changed to a yield sign for everyone.”

      Hear here! I saw a Yield sign the other day – it was the first I’d seen for years. I thought they must have stopped using them altogether. I get so tired of 4-way stops used as traffic calming measures on streets that don’t see a car in hours. It really annoys me, especially when they come in a valley, making me lose all my momentum before a steep hill, when I can clearly see that there’s no traffic for a mile in each direction.

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