Just one in ten cyclists jump red lights in rush hour, according to a survey of six junctions in three major cities – London, Manchester and Birmingham – conducted by The Sunday Times [£]. One junction in Manchester had the highest proportion of riders riding through red traffic lights, while at a location in Birmingham, not one cyclist did so.
The newspaper monitored a total of 777 cyclists at the junctions concerned between 7.30am and 8.30am on Wednesday and Thursday morning last week, with 78 breaking the law either by riding through a red light or, in some instances, mounting the pavement to get around it.
Here are the junctions surveyed, together with the total number of cyclists and the percentage of them that rode through a red light.
November 6 No. of % ignore cyclists red light London Threadneedle Street/Mansion House Street 160 6.9 Manchester Moseley Road/Wilmslow Road 138 13.8 Birmingham Alcester Road/Wake Green Road 38 15.8* * One cyclist rode through red light; five others mounted pavement November 7 London Aldgate/Leadenhall Street 253 12.3 Manchester Whitworth Street/Oxford Road 160 6.9 Birmingham Smallbrook Queensway/Hurst Street 16 0* * 8.00am-8.30am
According to the newspaper, “in Manchester almost one in seven people were willing to run a red light in order to steal a march on motorists.”
It’s likely, however, that some ignore red traffic lights for safety reasons; last year that very junction, where Wilmslow Road meets Moseley Road, was named the most dangerous for cyclists in the city, with 25 riders injured there since 2006 according to government data analysed by law firm Levenes.
Wilmslow Road, and its Curry Mile in particular, are regularly highlighted by riders and cycling groups as being particularly hazardous to riders.
Daily cycle commuter Andrew Pilling told The Sunday Times that most cyclists at the junction did comply with the law, adding: “I’d say the main problem is cars and vans cutting across [you], not looking for people on their bikes. As a cyclist you have to be careful. If I was hit by a car, it’d be me that came off worse.”
In April this year, Manchester City Council said that the very junction on Wilmslow Road surveyed by The Sunday Times would be the first to benefit from £200,000 investment aimed at improving the safety of cyclists including cycle lanes and cycle-only traffic light phases. The works are due to be completed by next March.
At the time, Manchester Wheelers vice-president Viv Slack told the website Mancunian Matters: “The Wilmslow Road area is a popular route for many cyclists but always feels fairly dangerous with cars and buses pulling in and out of parking spaces and side roads, often without checking mirrors or indicating.”
In Birmingham – where the low number of cyclists also highlights how that city lags behind London and Manchester in terms of levels of cycling – only one rider out of 54 actually rode through a red light.
The fact that at one junction in the West Midlands city, five others felt the need the pavement to avoid a red light and turn left suggests that its existing layout does not take account of the way cyclists negotiate it.
The Sunday Times also commissioned a survey from YouGov that showed that one in four cyclists – 24 per cent – “ think it is acceptable to go through a red light if they can see the way ahead is clear” and around one in five – 18 per cent – admitted having “jumped a traffic light in the past six months.”
Headline figures in such polls are often misinterpreted, leading to the impression that red light jumping among cyclists is more common than it actually is since, in this example, for instance, it would include those who regularly ride through red lights, as well as people who might do so just once or twice a year.
Six in ten of all the people polled, including those who don’t ride, said that they believed “it was common for cyclists to run a red light,” and nearly eight in ten – 78 per cent – agreed that those doing so should be prosecuted.
Roger Geffen, campaigns and police director at national cyclists’ organisation CTC, told The Sunday Times that there were some junctions “where it’s safer in practice” for riders to ignore red traffic lights due to the danger posed by other vehicles.
“The solution, however, is not to condone red light- jumping,” he added. “It’s to redesign the junction so that cyclists do not get put in a situation where there’s a conflict between what is safe and what is legal.”
While a look at the comments section of any local newspaper story into cycling will reveal plenty of comments attacking riders who jump red lights as presenting a danger to other road users, as will as allegations that everyone on bikes does do it, such behaviour is a factor in just 2 per cent of incidents in which a cyclist is seriously injured.
That was the finding of a 2009 Transport Research Laboratory study into police reports compiled for official government road casualty statistics. The most common causes of a cyclist being seriously injured were motorists failing to look properly, or a cyclist being driven into from behind.
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.