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On this side of the Channel, Ken Livingstone says he'll introduce 'cyclist only' phases at junctions throughout London...

Cyclists in an area of Paris are to be permitted to ride through some red lights in a trial of an initiative that could eventually be rolled out throughout France. It has also emerged that there were no cycling fatalities in the French capital in 2011, compared to 16 across the English Channel in the British capital, London.

News of the proposals in Paris, which follow similar trials elsewhere in France, was reported by The Times earlier this week and today the newspaper has reported that Labour’s Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone plans, if he wins May’s London mayoral election, to introduce ‘cyclist-only’ phases at traffic lights at key junctions throughout the city.

Councillors in Paris voted to adopt the trial that will see cyclists in areas around the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th Arrondisement allowed to ignore traffic lights when turning right, or at T-junctions, including where the cyclist is riding along the main road and another one joins from the side.

No duration has been fixed for the duration of the trial, which may eventually be rolled out to another 69 areas throughout the city that are already subject to 30km an hour speed limits. The estimated cost of that would be €550,000, according to the newspaper Le Parisien, which adds that ultimately, the rule could be extended to some 1,700 traffic light-controlled junctions in Paris.

While the right-turn for cyclists received ministerial approval in November 2010, it was only last month that a road sign permitting the manoeuvre was authorised, showing a yellow bicycle on a white field in a red triangle, with an arrow indicating right or straight ahead as the case may be at the junction in question.

Quoted in The Times, Christine Lambert, chairwoman of cycle campaign group Mieux Se Déplacer à Bicyclette (MDB) said that the proposals made sense.

“Traffic lights are not a factor of security. They were installed so that car drivers would let pedestrians cross the road, to regulate the flow of traffic and to moderate the speed.

“But bicycles don’t go fast and don’t make any noise. It’s idiotic to stop for nothing. You waste energy and it slows you down. The best safety assets for cyclists are your eyes and your brain.

“Some people think that the rules of the road should be the same for everyone but that is wrong.”

Not everyone is in agreement, however. One city councillor, Laurence Douvin, commented: “If pedestrians, cyclists, motorbike users and car drivers don’t respect each other, the introduction of these practices could increase the risks in Paris.”

The Times reports that no cyclists were killed in Paris during 2011, compared to six in 2010, but there was a 14 per cent rise in the number of cyclists injured, which was more than 600, attributed to an increase in the number of cyclists.

Factors possibly explaining that startling disparity in the number of cyclists killed in the British and French capitals include the fact that the latter has an extensive network of segregated cycle paths, often wide and two-way as shown in the picture, greater restrictions on movement of lorries in Paris during the day, and higher construction traffic in London due to major projects such as the Olympic Park and The Shard, to name but two.

The police authority for Paris outlined its view that cyclists themselves were responsible for some of their injuries, saying in a statement:
“If cyclists are sometimes victims of dangerous behaviour by other road users, their own tendency to break the rules of the road is too often at the origin of these accidents.”

It added that 5,922 cyclists received fines in the first nine months of the year, more than half of those for failing to stop at a red light, which attracts a fine of €135, with other transgressions including using a mobile phone while on a bike, for which around 500 were fined.

France also benefits from cycling being addressed at national level, with the country unveiling its first Plan National Vélo last month following a round-table conference that brought together cycling campaigners and politicians as well as transport experts, chaired by a senior civil servant appointed by the President himself. Whoever holds that position goes by the rather charming soubriquet of 'Monsieur Vélo' - we suppose if there were an equivalent post in the UK, he or she would be designated the 'Cycling Czar.'  

Quoted in The Times today, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who is the Labour candidate in this May’s mayoral elections, said he planned to introduce a cyclists-only phase at key junctions throughout the city if elected.

“To give cyclists a five-second advantage is a relatively simple thing to do,” he explained. “You’ve got to do it everywhere where there is a risk to cyclists.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

16 comments

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ekynoxe [48 posts] 4 years ago
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And all you need is a pedestrian crossing at the same time, a cyclist knowingly going too fast as he "has the right to turn" and you'll get a properly legalised accident. Not anyones fault, but broken bones or worse.
Utter load of bollocks.

However: specific lights and cyclists only phases, yes please!!

Yes, cyclists are different than cars, and we have some specific needs, but let's not go the other way either and allow cyclists this sort of stuff, because we'll all suffer from legalising practices than only a few will abuse...

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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Excellent stuff.

Cue all the Daily Mail comments that it'll never work, ALL cyclists jump the lights anyway and they don't even pay road tax so why should they get to ignore traffic lights.

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jazzdude [71 posts] 4 years ago
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@ekynoxe your comment about pedestrians, it's no different from a pedestrian crossing elsewhere, if they don't look first then they are to blame. And in the US all traffic can turn right on a red so no reason it shouldn't work here.

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TurboJoe [71 posts] 4 years ago
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At the risk of sounding stupid.........

Wouldn't it be 'turn left' in the UK's case? Or am I missing something?

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mikese13 [10 posts] 4 years ago
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The big difference being that France is very open to cycling and they embrace it. Where as London just sees it as a pain in the arse. I had the opportunity to ride from London to Paris last year, and as we rode around the Arc de Triomphe, cars stopped to let us go. There was only 10 of us, not a huge horde, but all the way from Dieppe to Paris, cars were tooting/waving/applauding. Ok, so it was the weekend of the Paris stage of the TDF, but I doubt even if Cav wins the green Jersey and Wiggo comes home with the yellow, we will never be able to take cycling into our arms and give it the hug it deserves. We as a city (can't speak for the rest of the UK), are not built for it. We are not Christania/Amsterdam/Paris or Berlin. A shame really.

I was in the car the other day, and remarked to a cyclist who had just rode through a red light that, although I was a avid cyclist, what he had done was breaking the law and it's quite possible that he could end up being another cycling 'death statistic'. His answer to this was that it was a 'free world' and that he could do 'whatever he wanted'. Well, with arseholes like him on the streets, how are we going to win the affection of the general public?

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carl j [23 posts] 4 years ago
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Maybe it's just that on the continent, both drivers and cyclists have more respect for each other? Personally, I think in Blighty drivers' attitudes are way off beam compared to our Euro counterparts - but cyclists could also do better. To polarise it, you either get thick, ignorant drivers, or self centred cyclists.

There are days where I've run out of anglo-saxon vocabulary when I try to explain to a car driver just how I felt about their part in my near death experience. But ultimately I do myself no favours.

It doesn't matter what laws you put in place, what lights you can ignore - it has to start with car drivers understanding - with some real visceral examples - just how a mistake on either 'camp' will always result in a cyclist coming worse off.

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Ush [669 posts] 4 years ago
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mikese13 wrote:

I was in the car the other day, and remarked to a cyclist

That always goes down soooo well, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the situation.

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Yemble [40 posts] 4 years ago
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jazzdude wrote:

@ekynoxe your comment about pedestrians, it's no different from a pedestrian crossing elsewhere, if they don't look first then they are to blame. And in the US all traffic can turn right on a red so no reason it shouldn't work here.

It's not everywhere in the US, just some states (or cities?).

But yeah it works just fine.

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Grumpyoldbiker [16 posts] 4 years ago
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At risk of stirring things up, I think Christine Lambert has correctly summarised the key issues, and the French proposal shows a true understanding of the relative safety impact of cyclists and red lights.

Cyclists who jump lights are annoying, but in general they don't cause any accidents and they don't kill or hurt anyone. In terms of the overall impact on road safety, this issue is on a par with drivers throwing rubbish out of their car windows. It gets quoted because it rightly offends our sense of fairness and is seen as "breaking the rules" and "queue jumping." BUT it is NOT a big safety issue. It is a complete distraction from the real safety issue on the roads which is that MOTOR VEHICLES KILL. Any road safety initiatives or legal proposals that get hung up on issues like this will fail to improve safety.

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ekynoxe [48 posts] 4 years ago
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Yemble wrote:
jazzdude wrote:

@ekynoxe your comment about pedestrians, it's no different from a pedestrian crossing elsewhere, if they don't look first then they are to blame. And in the US all traffic can turn right on a red so no reason it shouldn't work here.

It's not everywhere in the US, just some states (or cities?).

But yeah it works just fine.

Yes I agree with you guys, but the pedestrians in that case are doing it at their own risk and they are not allowed to do so. If they have a green light for a crossing, they certainly should not have to worry about the careless cyclist screaming past them because he's allowed to jump the light. Hands up anyone thinking this is NOT going to happen.

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Alan Tullett [1566 posts] 4 years ago
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“Traffic lights are not a factor of security. They were installed so that car drivers would let pedestrians cross the road, to regulate the flow of traffic and to moderate the speed.

“But bicycles don’t go fast and don’t make any noise. It’s idiotic to stop for nothing. You waste energy and it slows you down. The best safety assets for cyclists are your eyes and your brain.

“Some people think that the rules of the road should be the same for everyone but that is wrong.”

The most intelligent thing I've heard in a long time.

To be honest if you turn left on red at traffic lights in Cambridge, even 99% of car drivers aren't bothered if you do it sensibly. Going across moving traffic, which I see some people doing, is another matter however and what really causes the problems. Most accidents occur, and this was clear when I looked at an accident map of Cambridge and is common sense, when people turn right.

To avoid pedestrians stepping in front of me I've even changed my route and avoid going to work through the centre of town and take a longer route through parks. This also avoids a lot of traffic lights. Naturally, I'm lucky to be cycling in the cycle capital of Britain. I've cycled in London a long time ago and that is a whole different ball game (to mix a metaphor).

The main problem in Britain is narrow roads and it was this difference that is also highlighted in the article. Any problems I've had with traffic in the past have come from a couple of busy narrow roads it was difficult to avoid. One of them had a cycle bridge built to deal with it. Problem is, it is very difficult to change the basic layout of a town or city.

However, we should remember that deaths on the road are much less here than France and Spain, which are keen on cycling as a sport, and even The Netherlands, who are more sensible drivers. I've cycled in Spain a bit and that felt more dangerous than here.

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WolfieSmith [1317 posts] 4 years ago
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Spain can be good god cyclists as well. Majorca tends to have bike signs at the top and bottom of even minor climbs to warn motorists that they might just meet cyclists on a cracking hill. An idea that could work here - after all there are enough of those 'Think Bike!' signs littering scenic roads now so that motorcyclists can roar past you on a Sunday morning.

I sometimes turn left on a red - it's a good idea from the USA. Can you imagine UK drivers handling the 4 way stop sign though? They'd be a fight every five minutes! : D

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Edgeley [325 posts] 4 years ago
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0 fatalities in Paris sounds good. But I suspect that the Paris being described here is just Departement 75, inside the Periphique, which is a pretty small space, with few big lorries making deliveries, etc. What are the fatality numbers for the surrounding departements, 94, 95, etc, which would much more approximate to London.

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Simon_MacMichael [2449 posts] 4 years ago
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Good point, Edgeley, will have a dig around

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Bez [591 posts] 4 years ago
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Whenever I've heard people defend RLJing in the UK it's because they claim it's a necessary safety measure.

Yet Paris has shown that even without allowing RLJing a zero fatality rate is possible.

Surely this simply serves to disprove the British RLJers' claims?

The only justification for permissive RLJing would seem to be to prevent cyclists having to wait a bit - hence why the French are allowing it primarily for right-turns, where car/cycle flows do not mingle.

Let's not confuse this with Ken's suggestions, which are quite different in both motive and implementation: They're about safety and would apply not just to right turns.

Back to the previous point, then: This is apples and oranges; the addition of a "pre-phase" for cyclists is very different to permissive RLJing for the same-side turn. And since Paris proves that safety can be achieved without any of this, London must therefore be overlooking other solutions, such as shared space (aka "naked streets") and a culture of respect for cyclists, scooterists etc.

Footnote: As for Lambert's ideas that bicycles are not fast and that eyes and brain are the best safety features, I would invite her to spend a day using pedestrian crossings in central London. I frequently seem to have near misses on pelican crossings with idiots on bikes who treat it as some sort of challenge to dodge the pedestrians without having to touch the brakes.

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Simon_MacMichael [2449 posts] 4 years ago
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In my *very* limited experience of using a Velib' in Paris, I was really pleasantly surprised by the consideration shown by motorists to me - anything but the stereotype of French drivers.

I was heading to Porte Maillot for the TDF route presentation and decided, for reasons that should be obvious to most road.cc users to undertake detour via Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysees.

Rue de Rivoli is one way, east to west, with a kerbed single-width cycle path running along the north side. It's punctuated by right turns, first time I approached one, I slowed right down, looked over my left shoulder for traffic turning right, and was gobsmacked to see a motorist waving me on. Same happened at each of the subsequent right turns.

This was at the tail end of morning rush hour, delivery vans too for the various businesses on Rue de Rivoli were parked between the cycle lane and the road, leaving the way clear, with people making the deliveries clearly looking out for cyclists.

Place de la Concorde was a comparative breeze (certainly compared to say Hyde Park Corner), as was the Champs-Elysees (obligatory salute crossing the line, we can always dream) - in fact the worst part of the whole experience was trying to find a free space to dock the Velib' afterwards.

Like I said, very limited experience, but a very pleasant one.

Apart from the rain.