Saturday, October 04, 2008

Those Darn Red Lights

There is the usual flap going on in the letters to the editor and blogs right now about cyclists on the streets, with the predictable arc including the most common gripe amongst drivers, that cyclists never stop at stop signs or red lights. There is some truth to this, just as there is to my counter-assertion that motorists don't stop at stop signs or red lights either. Today I got a dramatic demonstration of this.

I was going to Siwek's Hardware over by the Lowry Street Bridge to get some 10" wide cedar siding for my house. It's an odd size, but Siwek's carries things like this. I was driving my pickup truck, since I'd be hauling lumber. I drive north on University and wanted to turn left, west, on Lowry. I signalled. There was someone wanting to turn left on the other side of the intersection who'd blocked up a line of traffic. They were impatiently pulling out of line to get around her, so I waited. The light turned yellow, she turned. I hesitated while a last couple of cars came through on yellow, irritated that they might miss the light, then completed my turn onto westbound Lowry.

A van went by eastbound, pretty fast, I thought, and I looked in my rear view mirror just in time to see a Jeep Liberty come into the intersection on the red (the van had the green, the Liberty was northbound on University like I was). The van caught the ledt rear of the Liberty which carried on through the intersection.

I went on to Siwek's, got my lumber, then came back. The Liberty had got spun around and the rear wheel had come completely off, so that it was sitting on three wheels and a shock absorber. It was some young lady driver, and she was now talking on a cell phone.

The Lesson? Well, the point is that motorists are pretty bad about stopping at stop signs and red lights, bad enough that I am impatient with the constant accusations that cyclists never stop at these traffic control devices.

Also, the van had the green light and the right of way and was probably pretty surprised when the Jeep suddenly materialized in front of them. On a bicycle, this could have been a real shock! I always check intersections because there are sometimes late or oblivious red light runners coming along.

Finally, this chick just blithely sailed through the light and got clipped. She was probably embarrassed, undoubtedly late, her insurance is about to go up and her nice shiny silver Jeep is kind of messed up. But, she is basically ok, well enough to be jabbering away on her mobile fifteen minutes later. A cyclist running that light like that and getting clipped by a van would be badly injured or dead. Drivers are dense and oblivious enough as it is, if cyclists really just ran red lights all the time they'd be dead.

There are plenty of lousy cyclists out there but they're armed only with 30 pound bicycles. There are plenty of airhead drivers out there and they're armed with 4,000 pound steel motor vehicles. Be careful out there.


sjudkins said...

My name is Sarah Judkins. I'm an organizer with a project called the Trek to Re-Energize America. The Trek to Re-Energize America is a bike trip to Washington D.C. to demand real action on climate change. Riders will depart for D.C. from all across the country, leaving from their home states and sweeping up media attention and grassroots support as they go. Upon arrival in D.C. the riders will rally and lobby for action on current legislation by asking their representatives to be leaders in the fight against climate change. A massive number of organized passionate people who have biked across the United States for something they believe strongly in will make for a statement that politicians and media will be unable to ignore.
I was hoping that you would be willing to put up a link or banner for the Trek on your blog to help us spread the word and continue to engage more people across the country. The website is I can send you a banner if you'd like to put one up.

Thanks, cheers,
Sarah Judkins

S. Johnson said...

I added a link to your blog at the bottom of my discussion of running reds and stop signs. I would love some feedback!


Anonymous said...

I swear that is the WORST intersection ever. I'm not sure what it is about Lowry & University but it has been more than once that I have been at Stasiu's and seen a major collision at that intersection.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree. Sure, some folks on bikes break the law and some folks in cars break the law. Which one is potentially lethal to others?

The small but loud anti-bike crowd need a strong dose of perspective.

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mikeweb said...

I live in Brooklyn, NY and when anyone here gives me grief about biking through red lights (AFTER giving right of way to drivers and walkers who naturally have it when I'm at a red light), I tell them this: "OK, we'll make a deal, I promise to stop going through red lights when drivers promise to stop going over the speed limit". There, plain and simple!

Bikes going through red lights and drivers going over the speed limit have one thing in common: they are both moving violations that everyone does but that the police choose to hardly enforce at all.