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Idaho vs New Zealand – Who stops at red?

So red light jumping and bikes are the new golf, according to Chris Wikaira and Tony Doe. This bothers me on several levels…

First, describing Wellington’s RLJ bicyclists as color-blind, male, racing cyclist, CEOs and executives who have money to burn on flash bicycles and accessories is a form of “othering”. This is the idea that “they’re not like me”, and throughout history this has been the basis for justifying every horrible thing that a person can do, or has done, to another person. The reality is that that person on a bike could be a radio host, your child’s school-teacher, your neighbor, the mayor, or anyone else that’s not so different than you.

Second, I’m not a fan of singling out bicycles when it comes to road safety in general, and red lights in particular. I consider myself a “road safety advocate”, rather than a “bicycle safety advocate”. Pointing out that bicycles run red lights ignores Wellington’s “jaywalking culture” and the most dangerous red light runners in Wellington: Motorists.

It would be one thing if those RLJs were caught while looking for RLJ motorists, but they were all recorded while just passing through that one intersection near the Basin Reserve.

Here’s another RLJ compilation by one of London’s most famous helmet-camera bicyclists. Count the RLJ bicyclists…

Third, when the topic of RLJ bicyclists comes up, the two sides of the “debate” tend to be “it’s fine” and “no it’s not“. This ignores the fact that there are different types of RLJ. Is it OK to RLJ if the road is empty and the traffic-light isn’t sensing a bike? Is it OK to RLJ over a pedestrian crosswalk if it’s empty? Is it OK to RLJ as long as no one gets hurt? Is it OK to RLJ because you’re in a hurry?

For the record here, one of the reasons why it’s not OK to RLJ in a motor vehicle (unless you’ve got flashing lights and sirens) is because a motor vehicle is a steel and glass cage that isolates its occupants from the outside world. Even a motorcycle helmet has a significant effect on vision and hearing. Bicyclists in most of world don’t bother with helmets at all, but even in NZ our bicycle helmets are little more than styrofoam hats that do not impede visibility or hearing. On bicycles, we are much more closely connected to the world around us, and we can see and hear other traffic (this includes other bicycles, pedestrians, skateboarders, etc) much more easily than motorists.

Fourth, and this is really an extension of #3, is that this type of “debate” such as that raised by the radio show ignores the fact that bicyclists can not only RLJ safely, but allowing bicyclists the personal discretion to RLJ can improve safety.

Have you heard of the “Idaho Stop“? Idaho passed a law in 1982 that allows bicyclists to treat “stop” signs as “give way”, and red-lights like stop signs.

Would you believe that the law has been in effect for 30 years, has been attributed to increased bicycling mode-share and the year after it was passed  bicycling injuries were REDUCED BY 14.5% and “the decline in injuries is consistent with the strong indication that the law actually improves overall roadway safety“.

So going through red lights can make bicycling safer? Yes!

For now, the law in NZ doesn’t allow bicyclists any discretion when facing a red light. Hopefully this will be on CAN’s to-do list in the near future. It’s about safety! So let’s stop arguing whether or not it’s OK for bicyclists to RLJ, and let’s shift the discussion to: “Why is it still illegal for NZ bicyclists to RLJ“?

7 Responses to Idaho vs New Zealand – Who stops at red?

  1. Rob

    January 31, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I can’t imagine many non-cyclists would go for it. Although the rhetoric that would be published in letters to the editor would make for amusing reading…. :-)

    • atom

      January 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      All motorists’ arguments against it are variations of: “It’s not fair.”

      They think that because red lights and stop-signs make sense for motor vehicles, this somehow makes it reasonable for bicycles to follow the same rules. I’d like to abide by a 100kph speed limit on an open highway while bicycling, but the physics just aren’t conducive to that one, either.

      People would like to argue that Idaho Stop isn’t safe, but there’s no evidence to support that side of the argument. If someone unsafely blows through an intersection under an Idaho Stop Law, it’s still illegal.

      The important thing is that the law gives riders discretion to do something safely, while still making them responsible if they do something unsafely.

  2. Malcolm

    January 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I’d be in favour of it.

    I think it would actually benefit motorists, as then they would have cyclists slowly moving across the intersections in front of them when the lights turn green. But I suspect most motorists wouldnt go for it, as it “wouldnt be fair”.

    If it was legalised, then motorists would have to stop complaining about it, and I dare say, many would be tempted onto bikes themselves so they could go through red lights too.

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  4. James

    February 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    As a pedestrian, user of public transport, non-driver and non-cyclist, I tend to have a different perspective from either drivers or cyclists on the red light issue. From my perspective, it’s simple – when there’s a green man at a crossing, no vehicles should cross (and that includes turning traffic). In my experience, more motorists run red lights, but a greater proportion of cyclists on the road run red lights than do drivers. Sure, a car will do far more damage, but it’s not pleasant when you’re crossing on a green man and a cyclist sails past 15cms in front of you. It’s downright scary. Don’t run red lights. Please.

    • atom

      February 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      I’m with you, sort of. I’m often on foot and often with a six year-old boy. There’s no excuse for “blowing through” against a light when it causes conflict with ANY other road user (this includes pedestrians) who has the right of way. Under an Idaho Stop law, a bicyclist who causes conflict, such as you’re describing, is clearly in violation of the law, and IMO deserves a fine.

      But if there’s no one around and a clear view of no oncoming traffic (including no pedestrian traffic)… Then there’s not really a problem. It also alleviates the problem of a light turning green and motor vehicles “stuck” behind a bunch of bicyclists getting a wobbly start, AND the problem that some lights just don’t detect a bicycle.

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