Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Should cyclists be allowed to ride through red lights? Campaigners split on safety benefits

Gregory Kinsman-Chauvet, the founder of Bike for Good, thinks road safety could be improved by letting those on bikes continue through red lights after giving way to pedestrians

Leading cycling campaigners in Scotland have been discussing the potential road safety implications of allowing cyclists to ride through red lights.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday figures from campaign groups such as Bike for Good, Cycling Scotland and Spokes shared differing opinions on the matter, with disagreements over whether such changes were necessary and what safety improvements they would have.

As per the Highway Code, informed by the Road Traffic Act 1988 section 36, cyclists 'must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals' and 'must not cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red'.

This differs from road laws in other parts of the world, notably in some parts of the United States and France where cyclists are permitted to proceed at red lights in certain circumstances, something Gregory Kinsman-Chauvet of Bike for Good believes should be implemented closer to home.

"After reading various studies proving that removing the obligation for cyclists to stop at red lights increased safety, I decided to test it myself," he told the Scotsman's Sunday sister paper, arguing a change of road rules could allow those on bicycles to travel through red lights at specially marked junctions after giving way to pedestrians.

Copenhagen cyclists at red light (Heb, Wikimedia Commons)

"In Paris and Lyon last summer I had the opportunity to experience this and quickly felt much safer on the road. At junctions motorists knew they had to prioritise cyclists and were more cautious — it's time to change mindsets."

However, not everyone agrees, Cycling Scotland's cycling safety manager Simon Bradshaw suggested Scotland's road laws are too different to France's to be compared and questioned if such action should even be a priority.

"There are many actions needed to improve safety for people cycling and we don't believe that permitting people to cycle through red lights is one of them," he said.

"Red lights — and green figures — ensure people can cross roads more safely and confidently. Scotland also has very different rules of the road to France, making it complex to replicate. The recent updates to the Highway Code, if followed, make our roads safer for everyone."

Likewise, Ian Maxwell of the Lothian cycling campaign group Spokes, told the Sunday newspaper he does not believe the matter is "necessary".

red light CitizenM_Glasgow_Hotel_02

"I would like to see all motorists respecting advance stop lines before we try this approach," he explained.

"There is also the question of why this particular priority is necessary. Cycling is already a fast and reliable way of getting through city centres, even if you have to wait at a few red lights."

Just last year Colorado approved a bill to let cyclists ride through red lights with the aim of cutting collision numbers by reducing interactions at junctions between drivers and people on bikes.

The rule change does still require riders to briefly stop at red lights to give way to any vehicles or pedestrians before continuing on their way.

Elsewhere, in Paris, since 2015 cyclists are permitted to travel straight or make right turns through reds when at specially signed junctions, a law change that followed a successful pilot scheme.

> Cyclists in Paris allowed to ignore red traffic lights

"They [red lights] were installed so that car drivers would let pedestrians cross the road, to regulate the flow of traffic and to moderate the speed," Christine Lambert of the campaign group Mieux Se Déplacer à Bicyclette (MDB) said at the time.

"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."

Coverage of cyclists and red lights here in the UK is often a divisive topic, with headlines such as 'Red light Rats!' appearing in the Mail on Sunday after the paper accused 26 "rogue cyclists" of jumping lights outside Buckingham Palace.

The story of last August led to accusations of the article being "manufactured" and "dehumanising" after it was discovered the road was closed to motor traffic and police officers had urged bicycle riders to continue through the lights.

Earlier this month a Deliveroo food delivery cyclist based in Edinburgh spoke out about the pressures of the job and said the struggle to make ends meet leads many couriers to break traffic laws, such as jumping red lights.

> Most delivery cyclists jump red lights and ride on pavement to avoid losing income, says Deliveroo rider

"I do not have any issue with laws, and as a recreational club cyclist, I feel some obligation to not give cyclists a bad name and fuel anti-cyclist attitudes held by many motorists. Riding for Deliveroo, I have the opposite mindset," he said.

"If every road law was to be followed, it could easily add five minutes to a delivery, which would cut my income by 20 per cent.

"My normal 'Roo' daytime income averages £10-12 per hour. To reduce that by 20 per cent is therefore not realistic. Most Roo cyclists will, like me, not follow all road laws."

What do you think? Should cyclists be allowed to ride through red lights in certain circumstances? Would a change in the rules improve road safety for everyone? Is a change even necessary?

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

Add new comment

126 comments

Avatar
w jones | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

No we should obey the highway code, keep the red but why not have a purple light for bikes to go just after the red and just before the amber green for vehicles..??

Avatar
mdavidford replied to w jones | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Or just this?

 

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to mdavidford | 3 weeks ago
1 like

mdavidford wrote:

Or just this?

We've got some traffic lights here in Bristol that have a special cycle green light that lets cyclists go earlier.

It seems expensive to alter all existing traffic lights, so I'd be in favour of a law change so that traffic lights are treated as "Give Way" for cyclists.

Avatar
brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

mdavidford wrote:

Or just this?

We've got some traffic lights here in Bristol that have a special cycle green light that lets cyclists go earlier.

It seems expensive to alter all existing traffic lights, so I'd be in favour of a law change so that traffic lights are treated as "Give Way" for cyclists.

AFAICS it lets DeliverUberFoodWhoosh drivers on motorbikes to go earlier, too.  Just like the ASL boxes are apparently for them, too 

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

brooksby wrote:

AFAICS it lets DeliverUberFoodWhoosh drivers on motorbikes to go earlier, too.  Just like the ASL boxes are apparently for them, too 

You've got ASL boxes where the paint hasn't worn off, or that aren't already full of cars and vans??

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

It seems expensive to alter all existing traffic lights, so I'd be in favour of a law change so that traffic lights are treated as "Give Way" for cyclists.

You could just apply a template over the existing green light masking it so it just showed a cycle.  Red, orange, green for cycles only.  In fact that would improve things a lot...

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to w jones | 3 weeks ago
1 like

w jones wrote:

No we should obey the highway code, keep the red but why not have a purple light for bikes to go just after the red and just before the amber green for vehicles..??

or let cyclists go on red and amber?

But if the question is shoudl the highway code be changed to allow cyclists to proceed with care on red lights (stop, look and go if clear), then simply saying "obey the highway code is ignoring the question"

Benefits - cyclists starting ahead of traffic is safer. Remove risk of cyclists killed by left turning HGVs. I'm sure the number of cyclist KSIs caused by setting off and then being squashed by an HGV far exceed the number of KSIs caused by cyclists jumping reds. All those sensor controlled lights to not need to be fixed to detect bicycles.

Avatar
Wheelywheelygood | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Yes let them ride right through but only when Theres a bus or articulated lorry coming this would reduce the numbers of crazies on bikes and make the roads safer

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Wheelywheelygood | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Wheelywheelygood wrote:

Yes let them ride right through but only when Theres a bus or articulated lorry coming this would reduce the numbers of crazies on bikes and make the roads safer

Mods (if any): we are all accustomed to there being a fairly, ahem, tolerant approach to trolls around this neck of the woods, but even by the usual relaxed standards prevailing here someone calling for, and apparently relishing the idea of, cyclists being killed, even if it is in jest, must be a bit too much to be allowed to stand? You report too often on tragic real life cases of cyclists being killed to regard this sort of thing as acceptable, surely?

Avatar
wtjs replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Mods (if any): we are all accustomed to there being a fairly, ahem, tolerant approach to trolls around this neck of the woods

Agreed- the fantasist nutter in question is indeed advocating policies designed to result in increased numbers of cyclist KSIs. He ought to be banished.

Avatar
perce replied to Wheelywheelygood | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I must admit in my more cynical moments to have doubted whether you are a wheelchair user. But then I brush the idea clean out of my mind and realise you would have to be one really sick individual to come on here pretending to be disabled. Shame on me.

Avatar
brooksby replied to Wheelywheelygood | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

Wheelywheelygood wrote:

Yes let them ride right through but only when Theres a bus or articulated lorry coming this would reduce the numbers of crazies on bikes and make the roads safer

Rod Liddle - is that you?

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Wheelywheelygood | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

(Noting this whole new conversation seems to be due to thread resurrection by a bot / revenant - appropriate...)

Clearly you believe in the "safety in numbers" hypothesis and are trying to boost the number of wheelchair users, yes?

Avatar
Steve K | 1 year ago
6 likes

On the subject of early release lights, a random thing some other cyclist do that irritates me...

Some cyclists roll past the stop line, so they can't see the early release lights, just the main lights.  Which then means they don't move off when the early release lights change, and just get in the way.  Rolling past the line seems worse that pointless (in general, and specifically in these circumstances).

Minor rant over. 

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Steve K | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Agreed, especially when they have the nerve to then look offended and sometimes even remonstrate ("Did I ask for your help mate?") if you call out, "It's green now" to encourage them to get moving.

Avatar
jaymack | 1 year ago
0 likes

Jumping red lights whilst very temptingly is just daft. If it's a matter of cyclist versus motor vehicle there is only going to be one winner and it ain't going to be the person on the bicycle. Your family will be more thankful that you've come home safely than they would be that you're top of the leader board.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to jaymack | 1 year ago
3 likes

jaymack wrote:

Jumping red lights whilst very temptingly is just daft. If it's a matter of cyclist versus motor vehicle there is only going to be one winner and it ain't going to be the person on the bicycle. Your family will be more thankful that you've come home safely than they would be that you're top of the leader board.

What a stupid thing to say.

The entire point of cyclists treating red lights as stop signs is that it leads to better safety. I don't know why you think that a cyclist v motor vehicle collision needs to be clarified when there's less chance of that happening if you allow cyclists to go through the junction when they choose rather than forcing them to go at the same time as those motor vehicles that you think are winners.

What's a leader board got to do with this discussion?

Avatar
jaymack replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
0 likes

You may never been hit by one of our fellow cyclist jumping a red light desperately trying to get a good segment time. I have and it really, really hurt, the cyclist was bashed up badly too, a bag caught in his front wheel really did have the effect my O'level physics suggested it would. I've also been in the position of trying to comfort a dying motorcyclist that really all was well, not to move and await an ambulance 'cos he'd taken the chance of nipping through a light that had just changed. It's not really an experience that leaves you. I'd love to say that it's always 'two wheels good', but trying to gain those few moments aren't worth the risk be they simply to get to work, to the station or home. If another cyclist wishes to take the risk then it's up to them but it may be more than their life that is changed

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to jaymack | 1 year ago
4 likes

jaymack wrote:

You may never been hit by one of our fellow cyclist jumping a red light desperately trying to get a good segment time. I have and it really, really hurt, the cyclist was bashed up badly too, a bag caught in his front wheel really did have the effect my O'level physics suggested it would. I've also been in the position of trying to comfort a dying motorcyclist that really all was well, not to move and await an ambulance 'cos he'd taken the chance of nipping through a light that had just changed. It's not really an experience that leaves you. I'd love to say that it's always 'two wheels good', but trying to gain those few moments aren't worth the risk be they simply to get to work, to the station or home. If another cyclist wishes to take the risk then it's up to them but it may be more than their life that is changed

There's also plenty of times that cyclists have been killed by vehicles as they both move off from the green light together. The entire point of trying to amend road rules is to improve safety and initiatives like the Idaho Stop have improved safety for cyclists over in the U.S. so it seems perfectly logical and desirable to see whether we can take advantage of the same rule changes.

Just because you've seem some idiots on the road doesn't mean that road laws are perfect and nothing needs to be done - what we want to do is move towards Vision Zero to reduce traffic fatalities to zero. I don't understand why you seek to oppose that.

Avatar
JustTryingToGet... replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
5 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

jaymack wrote:

You may never been hit by one of our fellow cyclist jumping a red light desperately trying to get a good segment time. I have and it really, really hurt, the cyclist was bashed up badly too, a bag caught in his front wheel really did have the effect my O'level physics suggested it would. I've also been in the position of trying to comfort a dying motorcyclist that really all was well, not to move and await an ambulance 'cos he'd taken the chance of nipping through a light that had just changed. It's not really an experience that leaves you. I'd love to say that it's always 'two wheels good', but trying to gain those few moments aren't worth the risk be they simply to get to work, to the station or home. If another cyclist wishes to take the risk then it's up to them but it may be more than their life that is changed

There's also plenty of times that cyclists have been killed by vehicles as they both move off from the green light together. The entire point of trying to amend road rules is to improve safety and initiatives like the Idaho Stop have improved safety for cyclists over in the U.S. so it seems perfectly logical and desirable to see whether we can take advantage of the same rule changes.

Just because you've seem some idiots on the road doesn't mean that road laws are perfect and nothing needs to be done - what we want to do is move towards Vision Zero to reduce traffic fatalities to zero. I don't understand why you seek to oppose that.

Had a muppet nearly do me in this morning doing exactly that. I'm in front at the red light, muppet stayed on my back wheel through the junction... on crappy road surface and despite the right turn we were heading into being chocka... the arsehole had no where to go but decided to drive like a dick for shits and giggles. It would have been safer for me to ahead before the light turned but I don't jump red lights*

*actually I have jumped that red light a couple of times, 4:30am, no other soul around and the sensor doesn't pick up my bike so doesn't turn green for me.

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
4 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

There's also plenty of times that cyclists have been killed by vehicles as they both move off from the green light together.

Indeed there have been, but I do think that's a better argument for early release lights for cyclists that allow them across a junction whilst all other traffic is held (we have quite a few in my neighbourhood and they work brilliantly) rather than allowing cyclists through a red light and across an active lane.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

Indeed there have been, but I do think that's a better argument for early release lights for cyclists that allow them across a junction whilst all other traffic is held (we have quite a few in my neighbourhood and they work brilliantly) rather than allowing cyclists through a red light and across an active lane.

We've got some early release lights here in Bristol and they do seem a good idea although I don't know if they delay motor traffic by a small amount or whether they use the gap in timing between the different directions. They're better than nothing, but I think the decriminalisation of cyclist RLJing would achieve the same or better results with a zero cost outlay (depending on whether it's just decriminalisation or changing all the junctions).

The junction at The Triangle (Clifton, Bristol) has just one lane of merging/active traffic, so going straight ahead can almost always be performed safely (note the early release light): https://goo.gl/maps/BECd1irX3yR6n97u5

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
4 likes

I can see how the Idaho stop can work on basic crossroads or T-junctions, I would have less faith in it at highly complex junctions. Below is one of my local junctions (Camberwell Green) that I cross three or four times a day from various directions: as you can see, there are up to six lanes of traffic from each direction, further complicated by special rules for buses etc, it's not an environment into which it's safe in any way for a cyclist to go through on red, indeed I've seen several cycllists hit or be hit by cars there doing just that. Since they introduced early release lights for cyclists, 95% obey them (I think people don't mind waiting a little if they know they'll get a safe release in return) and there are virtually no incidents except those caused by the local hoppers whipping through on 30mph scooters.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

I can see how the Idaho stop can work on basic crossroads or T-junctions, I would have less faith in it at highly complex junctions. Below is one of my local junctions (Camberwell Green) that I cross three or four times a day from various directions: as you can see, there are up to six lanes of traffic from each direction, further complicated by special rules for buses etc, it's not an environment into which it's safe in any way for a cyclist to go through on red, indeed I've seen several cycllists hit or be hit by cars there doing just that. Since they introduced early release lights for cyclists, 95% obey them (I think people don't mind waiting a little if they know they'll get a safe release in return) and there are virtually no incidents except those caused by the local hoppers whipping through on 30mph scooters.

I agree - complex junctions can have vehicles moving from unexpected directions so it can be safer to wait for a green light. It does however raise the question of why the junction needs to be so complicated and whether it could be redesigned, but that's a much tougher problem than making ordinary junctions safer for cyclists.

Avatar
OldRidgeback replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
0 likes

I hate cycling thru that junction tho I often do on the way to Peckham BMX track.

Avatar
Brauchsel replied to Rendel Harris | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

It's a horrible junction from pretty much any direction. 

Just out of shot, 100m or so up the road coming in from the left, is a lights-controlled pedestrian crossing which illustrates why cyclists and red lights are such a hot-button topic and why I'm not convinced leaving red lights to cyclists' judgement is currently wise. It's heavily used, and is right outside the leisure centre so is often used by small children and their parents. A majority, and usually a large majority, of cyclists will breeze through it on red regardless of whether people are crossing. The lights are clearly visible from both directions, and it's not people sneaking through a light that isn't yet "established".

It's one I cross several times a week, often with a small child, and it drives me fucking mental to see cyclists endangering people with that selfishness. For what it's worth, I think I've seen a motor vehicle run those lights perhaps three times in ten years: I went very vocally fucking mental at them because it is of course even more dangerous. 

Avatar
brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
2 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

Rendel Harris wrote:

Indeed there have been, but I do think that's a better argument for early release lights for cyclists that allow them across a junction whilst all other traffic is held (we have quite a few in my neighbourhood and they work brilliantly) rather than allowing cyclists through a red light and across an active lane.

We've got some early release lights here in Bristol and they do seem a good idea although I don't know if they delay motor traffic by a small amount or whether they use the gap in timing between the different directions. They're better than nothing, but I think the decriminalisation of cyclist RLJing would achieve the same or better results with a zero cost outlay (depending on whether it's just decriminalisation or changing all the junctions).

The junction at The Triangle (Clifton, Bristol) has just one lane of merging/active traffic, so going straight ahead can almost always be performed safely (note the early release light): https://goo.gl/maps/BECd1irX3yR6n97u5

Ah, I remember when there were all those wands there to mark out extra footway and a cycle lane... angry

The early release lights are, IMO, generally a good idea - they give cyclists an opportunity to start moving and establish themselves in the lane before the motorists look up from their phones and put their foot to the floor.

Only downsides are (1) food delivery motorcyclists/scooterists, who think a bicycle ASL is for them, and (2) the rare attentive motorist who sees a green light and their hindbrain tells them to hit the accelerator before the rest of their brain realises that its the bicycle early release light...

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

Wonder what happened to those wands, brooksby?

I really don't think this is a big issue - a more useful one would be that junctions are not convenient for anyone except motor vehicles and many don't even feel safe. (Here's how to fix that - different routes, no juction at all, not stopping at junctions and roundabouts [Dutch-style, UK style] ).

I'd slightly favour "early release" / "advanced cycle release" lights over "cyclists treat red as a stop sign"  Again I think this in the "marginal gains" category and certainly won't encourage more cycling.  Having seen how late and how fast motor vehicles can come through junctions* I'd probably stick to the lights anyway.  I suspect it won't decrease the amount of casual abuse directed at people cycling either.

I suppose the counter-argument is that such a change clearly says to cyclists "fix light issues (e.g. not being detected) yourself - but it's on you to look out for yourself and it's strictly 'proceed with caution' at all junctions".

If fiddling with lights a more convenient solution for cycling might be to add a "cycle scramble" / all-ways green phase.

* And that's absolutely fine of course because it was not safe to stop, the speed they were going, or the red was not "established"...

Avatar
Backladder replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
5 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

hawkinspeter wrote:

There's also plenty of times that cyclists have been killed by vehicles as they both move off from the green light together.

Indeed there have been, but I do think that's a better argument for early release lights for cyclists that allow them across a junction whilst all other traffic is held (we have quite a few in my neighbourhood and they work brilliantly) rather than allowing cyclists through a red light and across an active lane.

But that would delay motorists by many thousands of milliseconds, no amount of road safety is worth that!

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

hawkinspeter wrote:

There's also plenty of times that cyclists have been killed by vehicles as they both move off from the green light together.

Indeed there have been, but I do think that's a better argument for early release lights for cyclists that allow them across a junction whilst all other traffic is held (we have quite a few in my neighbourhood and they work brilliantly) rather than allowing cyclists through a red light and across an active lane.

As long as the red ligt is treated as a stop (and give way) rather than just ignored there should be no issue crossing an active lane.

This law would save addressing all the junctions controlled by sensors which simply do not detect cyclists, which can be an issue outside of peak times.

Pages

Latest Comments