What Red Light?



I’ve been meaning to add a new category to the blog for a while now and I had an experience on my ride home last night that finally convinced me to take action. So, I added a category called “Tales from the Trenches” and I would encourage people to write well thought out accounts of dangerous or unfair situations you have found yourself in. I don’t want this to turn into a flame war, my hope is we can use it to give motorists a better feeling for the conditions and dangers cyclists face on a daily basis. Perhaps some day, these tales will help convince non-cyclists that we can be well behaved and deserve true equality on the streets.

Without further ado, here is my experience last night…

I decided to enjoy a quiet ride home on the EBBP last night. Aside from the gnats, it was a great time and temperature to be riding. I pull up to the bike trail crossing at Rt. 114 in Barrington, push the light button and dutifully wait for the light to change. On my left is the parking lot for Coleman Realty and I notice two police cars, drivers windows next to each other. On my right, is the back exit from the shopping plaza. As the light changes to red and the walk signal comes up, this car comes whipping out of the back exit from the shopping plaza and blows through, what must have been a red light, because I had a walk signal! I’m riding across the street, pointing at the car yelling “red light”. Once I’m across I shout to the policy, “aren’t you going to do something about that car that just ran the red light?” Their response, “what red light?”. Argh… they must have been too busy eating donuts or talking to each other.


  • sparkjen
    Jun 6, 2008 at 8:57 am

    I often find myself coming to red lights at times when traffic is fairly light, and deciding whether or not it is a good idea to run it (lately i've become a lot better about resisting the urge, but when running late for a train i must admit that i still do it sometimes)… if i see a police car anywhere in the vicinity, i find myself having the following thought process: "oh, there's a cop, i'd better not run it. but wait, will they really care if i do? i seriously doubt it." But the truth is, i wish they would! i really wish that the police officers in providence and the vicinity knew (and cared!) enough about bicycle safety (not to mention the law), to actually pull me over if they see me running a red light. The fact that they don't even seem to care/notice when a speeding car runs a red light is incredibly disturbing.

  • Jun 6, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I totally agree, I really wish cops would care if cyclists were running red lights, riding the wrong way up one way streets, etc. I step back and take a look at some of the things cyclists do and it's no wonder motorists get upset sometimes.

    That said, I still think there is a huge difference between the actions of cyclists and motorists. If a cyclist is stupid and decides to run a red light at the wrong time, the likely outcome will be injury or death to the cyclist. Sure, they would likely cause some property damage in a collision with a car, but except for the rare cases, the driver of a bicycle/car accident is going to walk away without a scratch. I certainly don't advocate cyclists ignoring the rules, but I think it is important to bear this difference in mind when talking about the potential results. Fundamentally, human life is more valuable than any bike or automobile.

  • Jun 7, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    USDOT Director and Bush Appointee Mary Peters announced last year that bicycles have no place in transportation. Period.

    This means you don't have to pay any attention to traffic controls ever again. Motorists are 100% to blame for all accidents anyway.

    Bicycling is an inalienable right, cannot be regulated, and motor code is for controlling motored vehicles, not bicycles. They don't keep stats on damage and death that bicyclists initiate (negligible)… except their own.

    Traffic lights a) don't trip for bicycles, b) don't stay green long enough to clip in and get through intersections, and c) let motorists turn into you while your in intersection. The only time to cross is when all motorists similtaneously have a red light. It's either that or stay put for possibly hours until you can shadow a vehicle through. Ridiculous.

    As it stands, you're expected to obey motor code PLUS 16 other laws. Automotive lobbies cleverly turned the code against the group of people – bicyclists and pedestrians – that it was intended to protect. This is blatantly discriminatory and wouldn't withstand a Sumpreme Court filing.

    So, bottom line, if you want to stay alive, yield for stop signs, slow for red lights, forget motor code, fight to change these insane laws and get some infrastructure improvements so the mental roadnet doesn't force cyclists into cars.

  • Jun 9, 2008 at 5:44 am


    Are you serious? You are actually advocating that bicycles ignore traffic control signals and stop signs? This sounds like a terrific way to get yourself hurt or killed. Where do I start…

    Yes, Mary Peters did make a statement about bicycles and transportation, but the entire context was with regards to where the money to support bicycle infrastructure comes from. Personally, I don't agree with her comments and believe that bicycles should be included in any transportation planning and, in particular, a line item on all transportation funding. However, she did not mean for her statements to say bicycles have no place in transportation, it was all about funding.

    There is no possible way that motorists are 100% to blame for all accidents. I've seen way too many cyclists take needless risks and actions that place motorists in a situation where they either need to react instantly or aren't left with enough time to avoid an accident. In general, I do believe that motorists need to have more respect for cyclists and realize the dangers cyclists face every day. I tend to ride very defensively and I still find myself in dangerous situations, purely because a motorist doesn't feel a need to give me adequate room or just needs to save that 10 seconds they will gain by cutting me off.

    There are very few traffic lights I can't trip with my bike. You need to know where to place your bike (directly over a portion of the induction loop, the buried metal square in the road) and ride a bike that is suitable for city transportation. Sure, if you are riding a high end, carbon fiber bike, then you may not have enough metal on the bike to trip traffic lights. If this is the case, then you might want to consider getting a different type of bike after the Providence potholes have caused the carbon fibers to fail. If you can't get clipped in fast enough to make it through a light, might I suggest you not ride without clips? Seriously, I've never had a problem getting clipped in fast enough to make it through a light. While I'd love to see us have separate lights like many European cities (where the bike lights turn prior to the automobile lights, so the bikes have some extra time to make it through the intersection), there is no way I can advocate suggesting cyclists run through red lights. Other than the fact that it's illegal, it's also just plain dangerous here in RI. When is the last time you actually saw a light turn red and not see at least one more car come through?

    As for the extra laws, I've never sat down and counted them, but there are plenty of laws that apply to motorists and not to bicycles/pedestrians. One of the most favorable for bicycles is painted crosswalks. Legally, motorists are required to stop for pedestrians AND bicycles in painted cross walks. Yes folks, this means you legally have the right of way when crossing the road on all those bike paths AFTER you come to a stop at the stop sign. Unfortunately, most motorists are either don't understand their obligation or just don't plain care. Even worst, most police don't seem to care and are unlikely to ticket motorists for such law breaking. I truly don't believe we need more laws, we just need to enforce the ones we already have on the books!

    This silly bickering between us (cyclists) and them (motorist) needs to stop! We both need to learn how to get along, respect each other, and share the resources we have. My sincere hope is that cyclists can take the role of the elder sibling, take a more mature approach to the efforts and show the motorists we can behave, safely, and responsibly. Once we do, it will be hard for them to defend their actions and cyclists will gain respect.

    My bottom line… ride like a vehicle. Try to share the road and, when possible, stay out of the way of the faster motor vehicle traffic. First and foremost, do everything you can to ensure your own safety, assert your rights to the road, the entire road, when necessary. Respect motorists and ride legally.

  • Jun 9, 2008 at 8:33 am

    The silly bickering you hear is your own brainwashing by automotive interests which back LAB "cyclist education" and not "motorist education", which totally neglects to tell them they are supposed to avoid killing bicyclists and pedestrians. Traffic code says ALL laws apply, PLUS 16 additional, which I'd be happy to enumerate. And, ha, ha, we now need to carry around electromagnets to trip lights. Wake up!

    You misconstrue. Cyclists need to watch their back, for sure. But you can't bike "legally" when the laws weren't written to apply to you, and the infrastructure is specifically designed to marginalize you, and you can't compete vehicularly.

  • Dick
    Jun 9, 2008 at 9:12 am

    There is a primary law here that cannot be ignored here no matter how "right" any of us want to be:

    Force = mass x acceleration and cars weight a heck of a lot more than cyclists.

    I my travels I have spoken with many, many motorists about cyclists and what the U.S. Open Cycling Foundation's goals are re. cars and cyclists coexisting.

    What I find speaking with motorists about sharing the road in urban and suburban settings is that they are frightened by cyclists. None of the probably 80 folks I have spoken with about this across the country wants to hit a cyclist…ever. OK. There was one F150 driver in Leucadia who threatened to shoot me because he didn't want me on the road…but that's California for you.

    In general, I have found that motorists think we are unpredictable, therefore unsafe to share a road with. So being predictable, thinking and using hand signals is – I believe – key towards beginning to foster an easier coexistence.

    If, for no other reason, because F=ma.

  • haideej
    Jun 10, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Mark, i couldn't agree with you more. it is the cyclists who blow through red lights, with cars around who have the green, and do other dangerous and obnoxious things that make us all look bad. the cops around here don't seem to enforce the law in regards to either bikes or cars breaking the rules. that is the main problem. in portland, OR where i lived for years, bikes got tickets all the time. and i imagine cars did too, since i rarely saw people going through red lights and stop signs like i do here. its a different culture, but it can be changed. bike education, motorist ecucation and police education need to happen hand in hand. i actually feel pretty respected a lot of the time on the road. most cars give me a wide berth, i havnt been yelled at in a while. if we all rode respectfully, i think eventually we will get the respect we deserve.

  • haideej
    Jun 10, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    i just reread alan's first comments and wanted to address some of it specifically.

    he said "bicycling is an inaleniable right" and can't be regulated. huh? that's one of the most ridiculous things i've ever heard. bicycles are vehicles, with a right to use the same road as other vehicles. and as such, we have the responsibility to follow the rules. yes, some people bend and break the rules, putting our, and other people in cars, well-being at risk, but if everyone broke the rules because some people do, there would be chaos. again, back to the need for education of all parties involved re the law.

    and how does yielding at red lights and slowing at stop signs help you stay alive? at best, it gets you to where you're going faster. at worst, it puts your life in jeopardy and gives all cyclists a bad name.

    absolute nonsense.

  • Jun 11, 2008 at 5:36 am

    Motor code was written specifically to control motored vehicles. The momentum that motors provide creates all the danger on roads. Bicyclists and pedestrians cause no offense, pose no threat at all. A bike is more like a sneaker than a car. By definition a bicycle is a "conveyance" not a "vehicle". Just because automotive interests have everyone cowered into submission is no reason not to fight the cruel injustice of having laws designed to protect you turned against you.

    That you witnessed bicyclists being given tickets boggles the mind. Who would pay them? What could they do to you for not paying them? Revoke your bicycle license? They don't license bicycles because they don't represent a threat to life and limb.

    Yes, meanwhile you have to obey these stupid laws which mostly don't apply until activists get them changed. That's a long range goal. But when roadnet turns against you, you might have to tweak your response.

    Take, for example, bridges. Technically speaking, you can walk a bike anywhere (except on banned highways), which mean walking it across Henderson Bridge. But I'm never going to spend 10 minutes walking what I can bike in 2. I bike across completely banned bridges, too, instead of submitting to 75 mile detours. I've crossed vacant lots, cut through parking lots, gone through construction zones, jumped onto sidewalks, lifted bike over guard rails, ridden against traffic, all because the roadnet illegally squeezed me out. I've ridden with policemen and state officials who've done exactly the same.

    The law mandates "complete streets", yet throughout Rhode Island and particularly Providence there aren't enough. The fine point it that as long as they provide an "alternative", a major thoroughfare need not be "complete", which means adapted to accommodate cyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users as well as motor vehicles. If traffic planners wanted you to obey traffic laws, they would've included you in road design, no?

    A lot of cyclists don't even know by law that they are supposed to use the travel lanes. You OWN the right 1/3 of a travel lane. You are NOT supposed to ride in the gutter, parking lanes, or right of the solid white line defining edge of travel lane, and never need to get out of the way of motorists except to save yourself. Bicyclists just do this out of courtesy. Bicyclists are far more courteous than necessary sharing this common real estate known as a public thoroughfare. And when you need to turn left, you must assume the left side of travel lane(s), stop for oncoming traffic, then turn. People who haven't read these laws are always amazed at how dangerous this sounds.

    There are many notable places where you just can't do this: Rts 1, 2 and 146, each 2 x 2 high speed travel lanes, not banned to bicycling, with left lane exits, wide shoulders cyclists use at their peril, and no alternatives given or marked. So you're cruising along at 15 mph in Charlestown and want to make a left turn; "vehicular cycling" would have you merge with 65 mph traffic. Go for it, Lance! A guy was killed last year there who wasn't even turning. This lack of concern for cyclists is horrifyingly real and illegal under federal and state LAWS.

    So road planners, motorists, and public officials can all break laws, but bad, bad bicyclists need to be told ad nauseam what to do. I don't think so. By riding you figure it out fast yourself or die trying. Ah, there's the rub… only a few do die, compared to 44,000 motorists/yr, the nation's 3rd leading cause of death (and leading cause among juveniles). Nader called motoring "unsafe at any speed", but being right or smart isn't a priority these days.

  • Jun 11, 2008 at 5:46 am

    I might add an explanation. Under the United Nations Bill of Human Rights and Preamble to the U.S Constitution, you have the right to leave your home, go out, make a living, visit church. This definitely includes walking or biking under your own propulsion. But you DON'T have a right to motor around. This is a privilege you keep by not killing people, by obeying laws, by paying fees, by sharing roads with humans, pets, mobility impaired folks. When you see motorists beeping and cursing people in wheelchair users, you'd like to be able to take their plates and recommend their licenses be revoked. Much more of this is bound to happen, now that bus ridership is at an all time high, which mean more people are walking.

  • haideej
    Jun 15, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    last point cause i think this craziness should end, meaning i will not be responding to anything else alan posts. portland oregon, where they give the tickets, is the number one city for bicycling in the nation, and has been for years. they have many miles of designated bike lanes on the roadways, lights that allow only bikes to cross at high bike traffic areas, even more signed "bike boulevards" in addition to striped lanes, and are constantly working to make biking easier and safer for everyone (city dept. dedicated to it, with multiple staff people, ordinances and regulations etc.). hmm, yes, it is mind boggling, in a good way. drivers and bicyclists, in general, respect each other, and the cops take notice of what both are doing. the fact that RI cops and state officials break the laws while on bicycles is not cause to justify citizens doing the same. it is cause to take action, lead by example and slowly but surely gain the rights we deserve via the high road.

  • Jun 16, 2008 at 5:26 am

    Sure, if you're paid to deny bicyclist their rights, then you don't want to hear opinions to the contrary. About the only thing that makes cycling better for bicyclists is lots more doing so, paint on the street that says loudly, "Bikes belong", and restrictions on motoring. Bicyclists ARE unpredictable, which is a strength. Turning them into uniform puppets actually detracts from motorists awareness of them, marginalizes them, gets them KILLED. Bicyclists are traffic, just like walkers and motorists. Quit trying to push us off the streets!!

    I pity motorists, who, after buying a vehicle to speed around, find out that 90% of RI's roadnet only permits 25 mph traffic (unposted limit). I do that on my bicycle a lot. When are they going to enforce THOSE laws?

  • Paul Klinkman
    Jun 21, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    All protest is a delicate balance between not being seen/heard and ticking everybody off too much. Random insults at motorists, in the form of running red lights, are no good because they tick off random people.

  • Jun 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Good point, Paul. Randomness is why I want to change laws. Bicyclists, pets, walkers and wild animals should be restored their inalienable right to use the public space known as streets unrestricted.

    Motorists are MOSTLY irritable, stuck in cages, paying through the nose for the dubious privilege of creeping around at 25 mph. They hate the fact they must share roads, but they do have plenty of alternatives available to them, including PATIENCE.