This morning as I was riding to work with my daughter on the back of my Xtracycle, I saw a young guy behind me working very hard to catch up. Now, I have an electric assist, and I ride a bike every day, so between legs and motor, I can move pretty fast when I want to.
Anyway, he finally caught up with me once I stopped at a red light, behind a car. Of course, he didn’t bother to wait at the light – he had to pass me. So he rode around the car and through the red light, avoiding oncoming traffic.
Now I’m no “safety nanny”. But this made me really mad. Not because I was worried about his safety – but because cyclists who run red lights make drivers mad. It gives all cyclists a bad rap. And as a result, it impacts my own safety on the road, because drivers are more likely to do obnoxious things because they are mad at cyclists.
So, just for fun, after the light turned red and we pulled out, I accelerated up the next hill and passed the guy. As I passed him, I said “Running that red light really made me want to pass you”. Boy, did he seem infuriated. I could see him straining the limits of his strength to try to catch me. What was he going to do, try to get into a fist fight with a mom and her daughter? Anyway, we had no troubles staying a safe distance ahead. And when we turned off down a side street (where we usually do), as he went past he yelled something like “eat my…”. Fortunately, it was too far away to hear.
Ever wonder why car drivers sometimes hate cyclists, and post negative comments whenever there is a cycling story? Just look at the above. Not only did the guy blatantly run a red light with cars waiting, but then he got angry when I said something (I didn’t use any bad words, or yell at him) – and then he yelled stuff at us that was unfit for a child’s ears.
When cyclists run red lights and stop signs, they are in general greatly increasing the risk to their own safety – all the accident statistics show that this is one of the most dangerous things to do on a bike. But what is worse, it makes drivers angry at all cyclists, because to many drivers, we are all the same (which, if those folks took a few minutes to think about it, would realize we are not).
Are there exceptions to this rule? Sure, occasionally. There are two cases where I will run a light/stopsign. The first is when I wait at a light (usually left turn) and it does not detect my bike, so I never get a green. If I wait for a whole cycle without getting a green light, I’ll run the red. The other case is in a neighborhood I ride where there are a bunch of stop signs just as traffic calming devices (traffic very infrequent) – there is almost never a car waiting at one. If there is any car around, I stop. If there is not, I slow to a crawl, carefully look both ways, then proceed through. But it is not only me doing this – I see cars do this all the time in that neighborhood too…
In the end, the golden rule for cyclists is to respect other road users. If we use our brains to try to occasionally give a positive impression to drivers, it will improve the conditions for cycling for all of us.