London mayor floats plan for cyclists to turn on red – and why it won't work

Mayor's red light plan for cyclists dismissed as kite flying exercise

by Tony Farrelly   April 15, 2009  

red traffic light.jpg

Yesterday Boris Johnson London's 'cycling mayor' floated a proposal to let cyclists ride through red lights when turning left – in a bid to cut down the number of accidents at junctions involving cyclists and lorries. Judging by the response they are already stopped at red.

No formal proposal has yet been put forward but the Mayor has written to the Depart for Transport (DfT) to suggest a trial scheme allowing cyclists to turn left at red lights so long as they give way to pedestrians. Any such scheme would require a change in the law, so were it to happen in London the way would be open for such a change to be rolled out nationally. However, given that parliamentary time and will would be required to make such a change it is not likely to happen any time soon.

The theory behind the proposals is that cyclists would be able to negotiate left turns at junctions ahead of cars and lorries. The latter are a particular cause for concern, as has been mentioned on last week HGVs are responsible for a disproportionate number of the cycling deaths on British roads and these fatalities are particularly concentrated in cities. In 2007 HGVs were involved in the deaths of 32 of the 136 cyclists killed on British roads despite only accounting for only 6.5 per cent of the vehicle miles travelled on British roads, and most of that mileage is travelled on the motorway network. In London the situation is more extreme nine of the 13 cyclists who died on the capital's streets were hit by HGVs.

We spoke to the CTC and London Cycling Campaign and both were fairly under-whelmed by the plans. While welcoming anything that would increase safety for cyclists they saw this more as kite flying exercises rather than a concrete proposal for change.

It was also pointed out that while Boris was fond of headline-grabbing initiatives such as this one and doing away with bendy buses funding had been cut for infrastructure projects which would make a real difference to cyclist's safety in London.

Speaking to the Guardian, Roger Geffen, the campaigns and policy manager of the national cyclists' organisation CTC, said: "I would be happy for cyclists to turn left on red if there was a way in which it could be done by meeting pedestrians' needs, but it doesn't make any sense dreaming up policies that are never going to happen."

From a practical point of view letting cyclists turn left on a red light doesn't seem to take account of the way traffic behaves.

  • Allowing cyclists to filter left will potentially put more of them in the danger area at junctions, when the lights turn to allow the rest of the traffic to turn left.
  • Left turning cyclists will need to be on the inside of the junction or face either getting to the front of the queue and having to turn left directly across the queueing traffic – now knowing when the lights are going to turn allowing that traffic to move forward or;
  • having to turn much further out into the junction and contending with traffic that is already moving through the junction on green or;
  • not being able to turn at all because the traffic moving through the junction is going too fast.
  • Drivers and cyclists moving through busy intersections on green will also have to be on the lookout for cyclists turning in to their stream of traffic from the left – given that cyclists will all be occupying the same road space this is likely to be more of a problem for cyclists moving through junctions than cars, lorries or buses.

Back to the drawing board Boris!

6 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Don't we all do it anyway?

It's not just about the size of your cog.

TRs Blurb n Blog's picture

posted by TRs Blurb n Blog [270 posts]
15th April 2009 - 11:39



hammergonewest's picture

posted by hammergonewest [105 posts]
15th April 2009 - 11:51


not in Chiswick, apparently stopping traffic offenses by cyclists is the number one priority for the local police force as voted for by the people of W4.

posted by guidob [57 posts]
15th April 2009 - 12:53


Can't see it making any difference, some people do it anyway, some can do it safely some not. Whatever colour the lights, accidents are often down to people not assessing situations safely enough, drivers or cyclists.

Ruthe's picture

posted by Ruthe [50 posts]
15th April 2009 - 12:56

1 Like

this is such headline grabbing nonsense. it'll do nothing to further cycling in london, or anywhere else. the people that jump the lights now will carry on jumping them, the people that don't will carry on waiting. all it'll serve to do is make idiot-boy johnson's head a bit bigger cause we're all talking about him again

purplecup's picture

posted by purplecup [232 posts]
15th April 2009 - 16:03

1 Like

There have been proposals for ALL vehicles to be able to turn left on a red light. In the US drivers are allowed to turn right on red, unless a sign says that it's not allowed.
I saw another cyclist nearly get pulped yesterday on the way home as he ran a red light. Luckily for the guy on the fixie, the white van man in his Transit was paying a little more attention.


posted by OldRidgeback [2331 posts]
16th June 2009 - 13:33

1 Like