London’s Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has footage that it claims shows a majority of cyclists ignoring the red light at a junction in Hackney. But our analysis of the complete video footage from one location shows that most cyclists obey the law.
The LTDA claims that of 170 cyclists who passed through the junction of Hackney Road and Queensbridge Road in the morning rush hour on one day in September, 108 failed to stop at the red light, a staggering 64 percent. At another junction in Camden, 86 out of 194 failed to stop.
But we counted a total of 750 cyclists riding through the junction along Hackney Road toward the city centre. Of 243 who arrived when the light was red, 131 stopped. And of 104 riders entering from the side street, Queensbridge Road, all but 2 stopped at the light.
“Various cycle action and lobbying groups constantly assure Londoners that cyclists are law abiding,” the LTDA says in the introduction to the edited version of the footage. “Apparently it’s only a few ‘rogue’ cyclists who jump red lights and flaunt (sic) the rules of the road...
“This theory is in stark contrast to the evidence that most Londoners witness every day. The LTDA decided to test the theory and discover the truth. We set up a hidden camera at busy traffic light controlled junctions to record what really happens every day on our roads. What we found shocked us...”
To find out if things were really as bad as the LTDA says, we watched all of the Hackney Road video. It shows 750 cyclists passing through the junction, heading towards the centre of London between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning.
112 people failing to stop at the lights out of 750 is a far lower proportion than the LTDA claims, but it's not that simple. And it's still 46 percent failing to stop at the light, so while we could quibble with the LTDA’s conclusion that a majority failed to stop, it’d be splitting hairs.
What the video also shows, though, is the behaviour of riders coming out of Queensbridge Road. All but two of the 104 riders turning right down Hackney Road do so just after the lights change, indicating that they have stopped. If LTDA had positioned their camera elsewhere on the junction, they’d have found over 98 percent of cyclists following the rules, and not had much of a story.
The hour-long video covers 52 cycles of the lights, and also shows 29 motor vehicles stopping in the advanced-stop box, and eight failing to stop at the red light. That includes three extraordinarily hairy right turns into Queensbridge Road such as the one made by the driver of the silver car at about 47:10:
We point this out not to excuse the poor behaviour of the cyclists but to demonstrate that some Londoners seem to have the attitude that the Highway Code is more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.
Why are riders failing to stop at this junction? On the map, it looks like a crossroads, but Horatio Street is a residential, one-way except for bikes, and has very little traffic emerging from it. The risk of a collision from riding through the red light here is negligible. These riders may be breaking the rules, but it’s arguable that they’re doing anything dangerous.
In some parts of the world, cyclists are allowed to ride through junctions like this, or to turn left at red lights. In 2010 the office of London mayor Boris Johnson suggested allowing cyclists to turn left at red lights.
The junction in Camden where the LTDA chose to film has similar issues. In our forum discussion on this video, poster jamesv said: “I cycle through the fortess junction every weekday on my commute and if I were to pick one junction on my route to skew statistics it would be this one - by far the most RLJing cyclists.”
Management guru W Edwards Deming once said: "Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you're getting." If you wanted to design junctions to make cyclists feel it was safe and reasonable to break the rules, these junctions are what you’d end up with.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.