European Cities Allowing Bikes to Run Red Lights

Thursday, February 09, 2012 - 11:30 AM

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user domat33f)

While running a red light on a bike in the U.S. could cost you upwards of hundreds of dollars, several European cities have amended laws this month to permit the practice, mostly for safety reasons.

In Paris, where bike share began and cycling is rampant, the municipal government decreed it legal for cyclists to flat out run red lights, according to The Telegraph. Several reasons were cited. According to officials and public documents about the law, the goal is to reduce bike backups clogging intersections. Cyclists are slower with less control as they accelerate from a stop, making them more likely to swerve or fall into a car lane.

Likewise, a crowded gaggle of them waiting for a green light means they will pack closer up against cars in more dangerous proximity once everyone starts moving at different speeds. Plus, drivers of cars densely packed together waiting for a light may have lower visibility of a cyclist up ahead in a lane over. In all, when there are too many cyclists waiting at a red it becomes a danger.

So, in Paris, bikes can now go straight through a red light or turn right on red at certain pilot intersections when adhering to certain conditions.

Cyclists who grill red lights, as the previously-ticketable act is known in French, will have to yield to any oncoming traffic and, of course, pedestrians. They also must make room for entering traffic turning. Any accidents occurring while they are crossing will be deemed their fault. If the pilot plan is a success, the rules will take effect on 1,700 Paris intersections. The law change was made after a three-year campaign by cycling advocates and following a report that predicts this plan would increase road safety.

Several smaller cities in France have already implemented these rules and in a set of surprisingly similarly timed moves, other cities across Europe have also taken steps recently to let bikes blow through reds this month.

A parliamentary committee in Belgium suggests using new signage to indicate certain intersections where cyclists don't need to stop at red lights. The logic there is to increase the flow of bikes and prevent dangerous and time wasting clogs where too many cyclists are waiting for a green light. They would be allowed to make right turns on red on certain streets as well and signage for cars would bestow additional rights for bike riding in the center of some traffic lanes. Stockholm, Sweden has been considering allowing right on red since last year.

Part of the safety danger is that cyclists are safer in motion and ahead of cars, so an alternate solution is to give cyclists their own traffic lights. That's what is being debated in London.

After 16 cycling deaths in England's capital last year, the city is considering new signals for bikes at busy intersections. One proposal reported by the Guardian would give cyclists a early start on cars.

The issue has come to a head as the city has seen 10 percent yearly growth in cycling coincide with several high profile cases of turning trucks hitting cyclists as both pulled out of an intersection simultaneously.

In the U.S., at least one state has taken similar action, but for different reasons. Virginia made it legal for cyclists to run red lights last year, but only after they wait two minutes. Bikes are too light to set off trigger sensors to change the lights there.

If all these laws pass and take effect, students of cycling will have fresh case studies and new data to determine what policies for sharing the road are safest. For now, American cyclists will just have to continue  stop at red lights or risk tickets.  According to this study, that's what almost two thirds of them do anyway.


Comments [4]


Yup, this all seems like a good idea, but it's a controlled situation, and these european cities already have facilities in place that protects and shields their riders from the perils of sharing streets with automobiles. This includes separated lanes, complete and well-thoughtout facilities and infrastructure, as well as an educated and involved community that have agreed that a bike culture is a viable system to support, both with money and use. 

When someone says that another country is allowing their citizens to "run" red lights - it isn't the same situation, and these "other" country's priorities in relation to bicycling are radically different than here in the US

Here in Denver the recent enforcement of bike laws by DPD that you have been hearing about is due mostly to a desire on behalf of the authorities is to protect the lives of the riders, and to create uniformity and predictability on our woefully underfunded and inadequate system we have inherited. Unlike what many cyclists will claim, this enforcement isn't to harrass or annoy riders. 

What this enforcement should announce to anyone reading this post is that it has become a large enough issue, that more can be done - NOW. Strike while the iron is hot.

The question at this point is whether or not the bicycling community will step up with a determined and unified voice - to help to create a plan and a demand a program to influence those that can affect change, or fall back into the easy position of whining and finger pointing. 

The choice is yours. 

May. 27 2012 11:12 PM

As a daily commuter I think this would be something to implement in a lot of cities and states. I know that I have done it when waiting to make a left on red. We dont set off signal triggers and can be sitting there until a car happens to make the same turn. I have a bike like this that I use daily

Mar. 28 2012 04:07 PM
Bob Shanteau

There is no such thing as a "car lane" on a city street. It's a "travel lane", and a bicyclist is entitled to use it.

Act like the driver of a vehicle you are and you need not fear being squeezed between moving cars and parked cars or the curb. And if motorists don't like your riding in the lane, tough. Your safety trumps their convenience.

Feb. 23 2012 04:10 PM

Well as long as people running the lights are safe I just got some new safety gear. I try to use it all the time you never know what can happen.

Feb. 14 2012 11:50 AM

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