The psychology of riding on the pavement, and jumping red lights

Plenty of excellent stuff has already been written about the woefulness of the material that has finally emerged today from the Nice Way Code. I’m not going to add to that, because there’s really no need! What I would like to do instead is take a look at the real reasons people cycle through red lights, or cycle on the pavement, because as far as I can tell, those behind the Nice Way Code campaign have dismally failed to grasp what motivates this kind of behaviour.

A clue to where they’re coming from lies in their ‘Don’t Give Cyclists a Bad Name!’ video that appeared yesterday.

As was pointed out yesterday, the red light jumping behaviour being re-enacted in the video doesn’t really correspond to the way red lights are jumped by those motivated to do so while cycling.

We see the actress approaching the lights, and as they go to amber, she gives a ‘determined’ expression, and accelerates –

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 10.35.59

Passing into the junction just as the lights turn from red to amber.

To give this behaviour its official term, this is amber gambling – something motorists do with extraordinary regularity. Stand on any junction where there are significant queues, and you’ll see it happen repeatedly. Indeed, it’s how motorists generally jump red lights; by chancing their way through the junction just after the lights have changed.

However, this is not the way people on bikes generally jump red lights. They do so by inching their way across the junction in stages, using islands in the middle if they are available. (There is an example in the masthead at the top of this blog.) Or, they may choose to pedal through what they know is a pedestrian phase on the lights, when all the lights on a junction are green for pedestrians, and they know no motorists will be driving through the junction.

Obviously this kind of behaviour can be anti-social, and indeed dangerous if carried out with little regard for the safety of pedestrians. But in general it takes the form of ‘creeping’, a slow and progressive trundle through the junction, looking and watching to see where traffic is coming from. There’s a good reason for this slow and careful behaviour; if you’re on a bike, you really don’t want to get hit by a motor vehicle.

So why do it? Clearly a minority of people are doing it because they are impatient. But a much more important reason is, I think, an eagerness to get away from the motor traffic stacked up behind you. This is part of the reason I and many other people dislike Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs). They put you right in front of a revving array of motor vehicles that will be faster at accelerating than you, and eager to get back past you. It’s like being a small mammal placed in front of some fast and angry bears.

Once I’d left the tranquility of the closed roads of the FreeCycle circuit in central London last Saturday, I found myself heading along Horseferry Road, cycling towards a pub for a post-ride meeting with friends. Just before I got to the pub, I caught a red light at this junction –

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 11.15.58

It’s a little hard to see, but on the other side of the junction – where I was headed – there are parked cars, right beside a central island.

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 11.17.46

A fairly typical ‘pinch point’. So as the lights turned green, I pedalled off as fast as I could, a small mammal pursued by a horde of angry bears, all heading into this narrowing gap. Of course they all wanted to get ahead of me before this gap, so I had to fight my out into the stream of bears coming past me.

It was unpleasant. To avoid it, I could (and probably should) have trundled my way across the junction, through a red light (gasp!), while the lights were green for pedestrians. I would have escaped from the junction, and been far away, a good distance down the road at the moment the lights turned green and all the hard acceleration and revving occurred.

This is why so many people jump red lights; a desire for subjective safety, to be away from the fast angry bears, rather than stuck right in front of them waiting for the signal that will release them from captivity behind you.

I’ve chatted with friends about the delicious feeling of cycling through a junction just as the lights turn to amber, because doing so comes with the knowledge that you will have momentary respite from motor traffic being behind you. Rather than ASLs, I’ve often thought that I would probably prefer a box that places me at the rear of a queue of traffic, so that I am the last thing to go through the junction on a given green phase. Why would anyone ordinary person want to place themselves back in front of fast heavy traffic, that has just barrelled past them on the way to the traffic lights?

But it doesn’t seem that the Nice Way Code have paid a moment’s thought to the reasons why people jump red lights. Not only does their video show a cyclist jumping a red light like a driver would, instead of the way cyclists typically jump red lights (as described here), but they seem to have framed red light jumping by cyclists as some kind of ‘cheekiness’, the behaviour of a miscreant child who should really know better. ‘Respect the rules’, says the campaign, as if this was merely a matter of naughtiness.

In other words, the campaign is being presented to those cycle directly from the viewpoint of people who drive, not from the perspective of people who are currently tempted to jump lights while cycling.

The same failure of understanding appears in the Nice Way Code’s treatment of pavement cycling, presenting it as childish, and something you should ‘grow out of’.

Pavement cyclingWill people too terrified to cycle on the road chose to stop using the pavement now they’ve been told it’s ‘mature’ to use the road? I doubt it. The message here is basically ‘man up’; but that’s not going to work on the people who aren’t willing to ride on the road in the first place.

Pavement cycling is fairly common on this bit of road in Horsham.


It’s the principal route in and out of the town from the north, and one of the few routes over the railway line that divides the town. How many people currently cycling on the pavement here might be persuaded to ride on the road by a campaign that tells them they are immature? None at all.

It would have been more useful to ask people who do cycle on the pavement to dismount and walk when they are around pedestrians; but that would have involved thinking about this issue from the perspective of the people this campaign is trying to target, instead of one that simply assumes people who ride on the pavement are fully-grown children who need to be shamed into being more ‘mature’. This attitude is quite prevalent among cycling groups, who think people on the pavement need to ‘grow up’ and get on the road – I hope this aspect of the campaign hasn’t emanated from the groups lending their support to the Nice Way Code.

So, in summary, the two kinds of cycling misbehaviour that the Nice Way Code is trying to change haven’t been understood in any sensible or meaningful way. It leads me to believe that they have only been included in the interests of ‘balance’ – and indeed presented from the perspective of  motorists – purely in order to create the impression that ‘all users’ are being targeted by the campaign. Pretty miserable stuff.

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61 Responses to The psychology of riding on the pavement, and jumping red lights

  1. Chris says:

    You may be right that people are jumping the red light on the junction you describe out of a concern for their safety, but the overwhelming majority of those I see jumping red lights on my commute are patently obviously doing it only because they want to get to their destination faster. It’s selfishness, pure and simple. Doubly so because they’re almost invariably plodding along at 10mph or less, forcing other cyclists to overtake them time after time each time they get back in front at the next set of lights. Triply so because they’re just getting the rest of us a bad name.

    • Ian says:

      My suuspicion is that motorists do much more ‘amber gambling’ than cyclists ever would. I don’t drive often, but I’ve just been in a car (with a friend, so can’t be too critical) – she wentr through two sets of lights on amber, and was far from alone). So should all drivers be re-christened ftang ftang Biscuit Barrell or some such?

    • I think part of this comes down to the sense that when you’re on a bike, you’re much closer to being a pedestrian than you are to being a car. People have got used to crossing roads against the lights, because people are impatient, and traffic light sequences often prioritise cars, meaning you have a long wait. So some people will behave like they would if they were on foot, even when they’re riding a bike. After all, they won’t do as much damage as a car, and they can’t go as fast, so why shouldn’t they keep going, if it’s clear to do so?

      It’s very frustrating, but I think in part it’s a response to the fact that we still don’t plan and design for bikes, and treat them like some kind of weird minority group; so it’s not surprising that some people don’t feel they should obey rules that weren’t designed with them in mind.

    • Chris, I ride through Hyde Park every day. Most of the people jumping lights sound like they’re more from your side of cycling – racing along, and then speeding through junctions that have been red for a while. I roll across a number of the junctions for precisely the reason that Mark elaborates here, on my big cargo bike, averaging probably less than 15mph.

    • RedBeauCycle says:

      Likewise, agreed. In particular when so often it is the pedestrian phase people jump, creeping (or indeed, charging) in front or behind pedestrians who are crossing. Unlikely to kill someone, but the selfishness (in precisely the way Chris describes) makes my blood boil.

    • Rob says:

      I agree too, although I imagine I see this type of behaviour more on my commute because those who fear for their safety at junctions are on the bus or train rather than their bikes.

  2. cyclestrian says:

    I’ve often thought that the psychology behind both these misdemeanours is related to the legality of said manoeuvres when dismounted. If lights are red, I can legally walk my bike across and resume cycling the other side of the junction. Likewise, I can legally push my bike on the footway.

    Laziness leads cyclists to begin red-running and pavement-riding. They may start with good intentions, pushing in these circumstances. This becomes a late dismount – riding up the kerb, or onto a pedestrian crossing area before dismounting. Finally, cyclist realises its easier **and no less dangerous** just to continue riding.

    Aside subjective danger to others, it could be argued that cycling at 5mph is no more dangerous than jogging at 6mph. You are quieter, take up less space and arguably in more control than when pushing. I have often thought that it should be legal to operate a bicycle at pedestrian speed wherever pedestrianing would be allowed. As I believe is the case in Japan and Korea, for example.

  3. Mark says:

    I followed someone this morning who approached a red light and they just went through the red and turned left without stopping. They weren’t cycling though; they were driving a 2+ tonne lorry!

    • Phil says:

      Yes I have seen similar actions.
      Last week just up from Kings Cross a 16-tonner rolled across a red light onto a box junction simply because he was busy using his mobile. Pedestrians had to jump back onto the kerb. To pose the same danger on a bicycle would have takenen 160 average size cyclists, all crammed into the same area of the truck and would also have to be stacked 4 or 5 high. Even then, the point of contact with the road would be evenly spread unlike the double axles of the truck.
      While I do not condone unnecessary red-light jumping by any road user, the above incident is testimony of the lack of perspective that many anti-cyclist seem to have.

    • Greg Collins says:

      Every single day I ride in Horsham I see drivers it traffic lights in the town centre or pedestrian crossings, Sometimes alone, sometimes at the end of a queue of cars for whom Amber does not mean stop but rather ‘gun it’….

    • pm says:

      I’ve been nearly run down twice in the last month by RLJing motorists, while crossing (with green man) as a pedestrian (sans bike). Car the first time, a motorcycle the second. On both occasions it wasn’t even ‘just after the lights changed’. Motorists jump reds more than they admit (including to themselves).

      I never jump reds on the bike, but I do sometimes do the ‘jump off/dash across as a pedestrian/remount’ thing. Wonder if, with the passing of time, I’ll evolve from that into a fully-fledged RLJer? I just want to keep the moral high ground for ranting angrily at motorists though.

  4. Mark Hewitt says:

    The people who made the adverts were likely not cyclists. The people in charge of designing the road space are likely not cyclists. So cycling will continue to be misunderstood when the powers that be don’t understand either.

  5. Will says:

    Great post. I agree that cycling brings out very human reactions and thought processes that are lost when one gets behind the wheel of a car.

  6. I jump red lights here in the US very rarely, but when I do it is normally either at a T-intersection, where there would not be any cars crossing my path (specifically at one location where my going through the intersection first gives me a head start in front of car traffic before a merge, like you described). In other instances, it is on small residential streets with red lights where I jump only if there is no traffic and if I have stopped first.

    I have seen lots of bad behavior and reckless cycling, just like I see reckless motorists, but at least the cyclists aren’t going to kill anyone.

  7. I’m currently on holiday in Utrecht, NL, I’ve hired a cargo bike for my two kids and I’m observing all the time the differences. There are lots and lots of traffic lights here, about a third take their chance and the rest obey the lights on the whole, is what I’m seeing.
    What UK roads have created – something you just don’t see in NL are Spartan Cyclists – lycra, track bike, helmet cam and hi-viz. They exist to survive, they are a reaction to the roads. They cycle to get there quickly, alive and with the minimum of fuss. They are bitter, defensive and strong.
    Traffic lights in the UK are predominantly designed for 4 wheeled vehicles, they don’t take bikes really into consideration, the advanced stop line is a nod at cyclists but hardly anything more than that. Unless roads are designed for all users, you can assume that the user that isn’t really catered for will improvise in the absence of thought for them. The highway code is mainly to stop cars from killing and injuring things, including cyclists, who are mainly mentioned in the context of “this is how to stay alive”. Expecting cyclists under the current conditions to obey is to expect fish to follow shipping regulations in the English Channel.
    Here in Holland I’m seeing no Spartans, no fixies, just people, these are the people, all ages and abilities who in effect would be the ones riding on the pavement. Afterall, who likes having cars wizz past you? who likes moving away from the lights only to be forced into the gutter?
    NiceWay is really is like taking all the embarrassing bits of racial discrimination the British ever doled out on the rest of the world and us saying, “well chaps, lets just jolly well get along” instead of putting in legislation that protects people against all forms of discrimination. Our roads, like our society need things to work for everyone (unlike society though, the roads need a bit of aparthied) and real consequences when somebody gets hurt. I know I’m preaching to the choir so I’ll shut up and enjoy my holiday in the land of two wheels.

  8. Greg Collins says:

    People RLJ on bikes because they can. They see other cyclists do it and think it confers some advantage to them over the rest of the traffic. The ‘angry bears’ scenario doesn’t account for the fact that RLJ-ers RLJ even when there aren’t cars behind them. Basic selfishness, not fear, seems to be the RLJ-ers motivation. But then I speak as an ex-RLJ-er.

    The road you’ve highlighted; top end of North Street. I ride it both ways, peak time, most working days. No reason why any competent cyclist can’t ride on the road there. Sit in primary and twiddle your way up and over, the vehicles won’t pass and no one will get steamed up about it ime. Whilst folk perceive this as a dangerous piece of road it is actually safer than what comes before or after it. Anyway, three evenings ago I saw a pavement rider, adult, helmet, head-to-toe hi-viz (yuck), on a decent quality bike not a BSO, heading north, force/scare a pedestrian off the pavement into the road there whilst I was coming the other way, (on the road in primary with several cars behind me). Basic selfishness, not fear, seemed to be the cyclist’s motivation.

    • Ian says:

      I don’t know Horsham, but I do know there are plenty of places near me that I don’t find especially scary and am happy to ride. But I’m probably archetypal MAMIL – road bike, good fitness, lots of experience, 20 mph + is not a huge deal on the flat. I do know that the same places scare silly some folk who are maybe on the point of starting to cycle, would like to cycle to work and so on. Not sure telling them that we scan do this, so can you is helpful. I’m certain that telling tjhem to grow up will not help cycling uptake.

      If they ride considerately,. stopping for the (very few pedestrians), and slowly build ftness, speed and confidence, why would that be a terrible thing? Proper separated provision would be better, but since Godot is likelier to appear on the streets of Inverness, I’m not clear that waiting helps anything.

      • Greg Collins says:

        I agree that IF they pavement ride considerately then all would be well and good. But too many of a certain type of male, rail commuting, London working “cyclists” ride their bikes on the pavements in my home town just like they drive their cars on its roads. Selfishly.

    • Paul Smith says:

      Likewise I go over the railway bridge almost everyday, and in the last couple of years I’ve had just 2 or 3 incidents. Either people overtaking into oncoming traffic, or beeping behind me. Pretty good out of several hundred journeys along it. But I’m doing 20mph or more and taking primary.

      But think how it feels to the timid cyclist, who has done no training, doesn’t know of primary, and to whom the concept of deliberately positioning yourself to discourage overtaking seems barmy. They cycle along in the gutter – close pass, after close pass after close pass. I wouldn’t wanna be on the road along there if I was only doing say 8 mph in the gutter.

      • scsmith4 says:

        Never mind the timid rider with no training doing only 8mph. For a well-built (padded) woman on a sit-up bike I can shift, easily doing 12-16mph. I clock up thousands of km a year on my bikes. I’ve had training. I know about primary, and secondary, positions. I use them when I need to. But I’d much rather not have to, or feel like I’m supposed to travel at top speed or get off the road just to appease drivers.
        Only road warriors want to be in this conditions. The rest of us want to travel with as little stress as possible – and until we’re all considered properly, that often means breaking the rules and annoying people who have no sense of our experience.

        • Fred says:

          I totally agree about the “I’d rather not have to”, just because cycling faster can make some situations more bearable doesn’t mean that’s OK, and no amount of cycling prowess is going to keep you safe in a collision. Dangerous car centric roads kill experienced cyclists as well as less experienced ones.

      • Greg Collins says:

        If you can do 20mph from a standing start at the end of Hurst Road you’ve better legs than me Paul! But what role does training have to play in providing an answer? Without the infrastructure, which we’d probably all like to see even if we wouldn’t use most of it, is it really smart for an adult to swing a leg over a bike and cast off without a clue into the gutter?

        • Paul Smith says:

          When I’ve got a car on my back wheel I don’t hang about, the bridge is a sprint every time, especially with the surface it has on it now! 😉

          Training obviously has a big role to play at the moment, and should be required in schools IMO, but it can only go so far and if pushed too hard I think might put people off. If mass cycling is your aim, with decent infrastructure, should training really be needed to ride a couple of miles to the shops? I’d hope not.

    • Hi Greg –

      I didn’t discount the impatience/selfishness angle. I’m just pointing out that there’s another element – an important element – to red light jumping that the Nice Way Code people don’t seem to understand.

      I’d agree that the bridge is probably safer than the roundabouts at either end, both objectively and subjectively. But then again you’ll see people on the pavement in these areas too. And of course you can ride in the road, well out from the kerb going up the hill, to discourage silly overtakes. But how many people are ‘competent cyclists’? A fraction of one percent of the population. You won’t catch any of my friends or relatives riding in the road there. I’m fit, fast, and ‘competent’ but on my heavy bike it’s a struggle to maintain 10mph up there, so I tend to avoid it when I can. What does that say about the rest of the population?

      Obviously you are going to have anti-social idiots like the one you describe riding badly on the pavement, but to suggest that the females I often see trundling along on the pavement there are doing so because they lack the ‘maturity’ to ride in the road doesn’t really stack up.

      • Greg Collins says:

        Agree the maturity angle is as lame as everything else in the Nice Way Code. Frankly the NWC folk don’t seem to understand anything at all. As to my anti-social idiots… well they seem to make up a significant % of the folk I see on bikes in London and Horsham. In fact I have a theory that folk who work in London see so much lousy riding there it gives them permission to do the same when riding at home, especially on the commute home from Horsham station. (You of course are a shining example!)

      • farnie1 says:

        Not only does it not stack up, its really really f’ing offensive.

  9. Neil Jones says:

    A difficulty here is in the generalisation. To take two examples in relation to riding on the pavement:

    (a) I sometimes use a road on the outskirts of the town, with a 50 mph speed limit, which runs along an airport perimeter. The traffic is fast, and at some times of day heavy, and the road is not particularly wide. There is a pavement, which is not shared use, but on which pedestrians are uncommon. I cycle on the pavement, and feel that despite the illegality it is a sensible thing to do.

    (b) I regularly cycle in the town centre where there is a short section of one-way priority street. Traffic in one direction is required to wait until there is no traffic coming in the other direction before proceeding. This, and traffic lights further along, regularly causes queues. I see large numbers of people on bicycles bypassing the queue by riding on the pavement. The pavement is narrow (enough for two pedestrians to pass, but only just) and several shop doors and entrances to premises open directly onto it, out of which people may step, not expecting a bicycle to be coming along the pavement and unable to see it before going out of the door. A broken pelvis caused by a collision between a person riding a bicycle on the pavement and an elderly and frail shopper stepping out of a shop could be fatal. Many of the people on bicycles riding on the pavement at this location do so at much the same speed they would use on the road – faster than walking or jogging pace. I do not cycle on the pavement in this location and regard doing so as irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It is not very pleasant to cycle through the one-way priority section with traffic from the queue squeezing past, but I think the answer in this location is that if you don’t want to have that experience (or feel that remaining in the queue is a waste of time) you should get off and push the bike on the pavement.

    It doesn’t seem to me to be immature to cycle on the pavement in case (a), but I’m much less clear about case (b).

  10. Neil says:

    Junctions, such as the one you described, should have bike-only green lights that go on before the motorised traffic for enough time to clear the ASL.

  11. From work, I can look out on a signal controlled junction in the centre of Edinburgh (and not infrequently do), so I can confirm that you are correct in your analysis of cyclists jumping the red lights. The majority of cyclist don’t RLJ, but those that do, mostly do so very cautiously because they don’t want to come into conflict with other road users. Very rarely do I see a cyclists racing towards an amber light and charge through red, yet this is a common driving behaviour.

    Watch the lights for two or three phases and you are pretty much guaranteed to see a driver (of all classed of motor vehicle) drive through the lights after the have gone to red. The driver see the amber light, ignores Rule 175 of the Highway Code, and instead of stopping they accelerate (often beyond the speed limit) through the junction. This is a particularly dangerous behaviour for all, and yet we never hear of the motoring lobby condemning it or saying that it gives all drivers a bad name.

    Personally, when I am cycling, I stop at red lights (and have three occasions in the last year had cars overtake me, and nearly hit pedestrians crossing with the wee green man). When I am driving, as I approach a green light I take my foot off the gas as I get the last point from which I can safely stop if the were to change and cover the brake. If the light changes to ambers, I come smoothly to a stop before the stop line, if the light remains green, I proceed looking to make sure that it safe to do so. This was a technique which I used to teach when I was a driving instructor, I wonder how many others learned to do it.

  12. Watdabni says:

    This discussion on light jumping has some (very limited) validity at junctions because of the safety factor but most red light jumping by cyclists is not about safety but saving time. This may be at junctions but is particularly obvious in other situations such as controlled Pelican and Toucan crossings. It is entirely normal for most cyclists to ignore lights at these crossings altogether leaving pedestrians and, sometimes, other cyclists stranded because they cannot, or dare not, cross. Once at a crossing close to my home I counted 17 cyclists whizzing by. The green man had flicked back to red by the time it was safe(!) to cross and so we were stuck for another cycle of lights. This was extreme; the highest number I have counted otherwise at this crossing was 11 but the average is three or four on each occasion. Similar things happen at zebra crossings; the motor traffic will be stationary but many cyclists do not even slow down. On the one occasion, someone stopped a cyclist who tried to force his way across a Pelican crossing despite there being around 15 people (including me) crossing the road, he replied that traffic lights do not apply to cyclists. This is not an uncommon view. I came across the same views in our Bicycle User Group at work. The explanation from the individual concerned? She said that she thought it must be all right because nearly all cyclists do it. My point is that this misconception appears not to be limited to a few. It seems the actions of a few idiots suggests to other cyclists that bad behaviour such as light jumping is all right (even legal!) if one is on a bike.
    My personal view is that, whilst there are a very few situations in which jumping a red light might be understandable it is never right and, in most cases, wholly wrong and illegal. Everyone inconvenienced by such acts is annoyed and upset. It is but a short step from there to believing all cyclists behave the same way. Don’t do it.
    Having said all of that, I am also in complete agreement with those above who seek proper cycle infrastructure here. Cycling infrastructure is dreadful in this country and this sort of misbehaviour is, perhaps, understandable but it does not make it right. We need the public (including motorists) on our side and we are not helped when many cyclists upset the very people whose perceptions we are trying to change.

  13. radii8 says:

    I am a cyclist and DO like ASLs for to avoid breathing in motorists exhaust. It’s the reason I particularly take issue with motorcyclists sitting in the ASL, too.

    Regarding pavement cycling, in Westminster a number of inexperienced cyclists cycle on the pavement because they can’t figure out the one way system. In my opinion, if Westminster opened up key backstreet routes so they are two-way for cyclists only much of the pavement cycling would stop.

  14. radii8 says:

    I agree, also, that a bicycle phase on the lights after pedestrians have crossed would eliminate a lot of the red light jumping. .

  15. Chris says:

    Isn’t it strange how many different – but equally strongly held – views there are on this subject ? As with so many aspects of road use and etiquette, everyone feels that they are “in the right” – even when they are clearly disregarding the rules of the road. And for every anecdote lending weight to one point of view, there is an alternative bolstering the other.

    My feeling is that the crime is not so much “jumping” red lights or cycling on the pavement per se but doing so without proper observation, forethought or consideration.

    I almost never cycle on the pavement, but I sometimes go through red lights on my regular commute from East to Central London. I do this at traffic lights which I have been through literally thousands of times, whose sequences I know instinctively, when I feel that there is an opportunity to place more space between me and the surrounding traffic. I do so at modest speeds, with my eyes wide open, and an awareness of where pedestrians and other road users might appear from. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t feel that this is irresponsible.

    However, more I often stop at red lights, from which vantage point I inevitably see a whole range of driver inattention, discourtesy and bad behaviour, including texting, reading the newspaper, eating breakfast, applying make-up and (pet hate) inching forward alongside me while the light remains red, so obscuring my vision of the side roads.

    I also quite often see other cyclists labouring their way past me to the furthest possible point where they can stop, out way beyond the stop line, so that (a) they can’t see the lights change and (b) they force me out in front of the traffic to overtake them. Many of the cyclists I see every day are simply not focussed on what they are doing – they have poor observation skills, are unable to perform lifesavers / shoulder-checks before pulling out, and they do not realise that high-sided vehicles obscure their view of the road ahead. It is by teaching and emphasising underlying skills like these, not by promoting meaningless ideas of “niceness” or by insisting on pettily literal interpretations of the Highway Code, that cyclists will become safer both for themselves and for other road users.

  16. A signalised junction will have an optimum time where all movements get their green signal. If new movements (cycles) are catered for, then there are two implications;

    1) Overall signal cycle time will need to be increased to cater for the new movements and so it will take longer for each movement to get its go, be it traffic, pedestrians or cycles. Queues, congestion, waiting times etc increase for all.

    2) Keep the signal cycle time the same and reduce time for certain movements. I assume that this would need to be motor traffic as pedestrians are already marginalised. This means that motor traffic will have its capacity reduced in favour of cycles – I wonder how acceptable that will be politically and amongst drivers!

    Actually, I think the signal staging could often be simplified and also allow pedestrians to cross in one go, rather than with the staggered layout so often seen. Perhaps pedestrians can get a green man at all positions, then cyclists getting a green signal at all positions (cycle scramble?) and then traffic movements.

    Keeping cycle times constant, but giving time to pedestrians and cycles would start to become more equitable and where cycles and pedestrians outnumber vehicles, more priority could be given.

    Whichever way you cut it, there is only so much signal time pie to go around and that will mean political decisions!

  17. Ben Holroyd says:

    I used to ‘amber gamble’ all the time on my previous commute, although mainly because around here the lights don’t detect bikes, so I would be waiting around for a car to pull up behind me to get the lights to change. On my current commute I just jump the only set of lights outright as I’m on a minor road which hardly ever has any car waiting so I’d be waiting for the lights to change forever.
    I would wait for the lights if they actually detected me though.

    • Fred says:

      I spent 7 minutes at the lights in Belsize Park at 4am once – I felt like a right idiot when I realised they would never change. Luckily no one ever saw it.

      • There’s a light on my commute that a fellow cyclist swore blind would never change for bikes – the Surly Long Haul Trucker I ride triggers it without exception 🙂 Something to be said for a heavy steel tourer, maybe…

        • Fred says:

          There’s a great one in Leyton – the lights change when you press the button, only there isn’t a button on the traffic island the bike lane leads to. I love the box tick mentality where that ‘counts’ as a bike lane even through it is a total joke!

  18. Sara_H says:

    Excellent article. I’ve been for a ride today with a friend who rode some of the route on the pavement. Not because she’s naughty or immature but because as a woman in her mid forties who’s just taken up cycling, she’s terrified of traffic. Would this campaign push her on to the road or stop her cycling? The latter I’d say.
    Poor campaign all round by the nice way code. It makes my blood boil.

  19. fred says:

    There’s another issue here – kinetic energy. e=mv2.

    If you’re forced to cycle at the speed of traffic, to be safe – say 20mph, you lose 4 times as much kinetic energy coming to a stop as you would at 10mph. Which you then have to regain. Maintaining an environment where people on bikes need to move at the speed of motor traffic creates huge incentives to jump lights. If cyclists feel safe at a comfortable speed, they’re much more likely to stop.

    • Fred says:

      I agree with this, where people have protected lanes they tend to cycle more steadily. Taking away the cars is a game changer for cycling and on many issues this points to what the underlying problem actually is – real and recognised danger from motor vehicles and lack of segregated cycling facilities.

      P.s Isn’t it e = 0.5 mv^2 (pedantic but you still lose 4 times as much energy so your point stands).

      P.p.s Two freds!

  20. Fred says:

    I have to wonder how many KSIs these guys are prepared to accept as the side effect if people actually got off the pavements and cycled the many horribly dangerous roads there are out there. Or maybe we should all give up cycling in which case the NHS can look forward to obesity, heart attacks and type 2 diabetes for everyone.

    By attacking the cyclists and not the reasons cyclists jump the lights, all they do is discourage people from taking up cycling and they are a barrier to better cycling. I obey the rules but I am one of the faster cyclists out there, so can cope better with some of the awful conditions on the roads (for instance CS2 – superhighway of death – twice a day).

    The less able & most vulnerable are often the people who have most to gain from cycling and if that means they cycle on the pavement a bit to avoid a killer junction I think it’s the junction which is the problem, not the cyclist.

    I really think we need to lobby hard for inclusivity in cycling, our councils have a duty to ensure what they provide is accessible by everyone. It is plainly obvious that what passes for cycling infrastructure is largely un-used by the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, who are the people who have most to gain from cycling.

  21. paul gannon says:

    This is an enormously complex issue with lots of different aspects. One point that doesn’t seem to have been made in this list so far is that British traffic light systems are designed purely in terms of motor traffic.

    I think it has changed now, but it used to be the case that the legal regulations required traffic lights (and indeed other signs) on cycle-only paths and cycle tracks had to be the same size as ‘ordinary’ traffic lights, far too tall and much larger (and more expensive, etc) than needed. But, even if this rule has changed and smaller cycle lights (of the sort we see in Europe all over the place) it still stands as a good metaphor for the whole inappropriateness of the motor-centric traffic light system.

    Interestingly, there is little debate in this country over whether pedestrians should obey traffic lights and very little enforcement indeed (unlike Germany for example) of any ‘jay walking’ regulations. It is accepted, more or less sub-consciously, that obeying traffic lights makes sense for motor vehicles because it sets a predictable environment for other drivers, but it is seen as absurd for pedestrians to stand at a red light when they can see that the road is entirely clear.

    This binary approach is well established and part of our road culture. But cycling is problematic because it has been squeezed off the roads by official policy, but won’t die and indeed is showing alarming signs of re-invigoration. But there is no established culture that determine whether we as a society view bikes as more like motors or more like pedestrians.

    If we had a proper set of cycle networks in our cities and towns we would also need a cycle-centric traffic control system, with advance ‘go’ phases for cyclists at mixed junctions, ordinary traffic lights on busy cycle tracks, ‘amber flashing’ lights at points where it is reasonable for cyclists to make up their own mind about whether it is safe to go ahead while warning to look out, phased lights which give cyclists continuous green through a series of lights if they travel at 13mph, and so on. The approach should be to create a system that rewards responsible cycling.

    The message to the ministry of transport, local authorities and the police should be that they have deliberately set out to drive cyclists off the roads using road design to exclude provision for cyclists – but it is now time for them to accept have failed. Enforcement alone is not a solution and we need to tell them that they must come up a cycle-appropriate approach to cleaning up the mess they have created.

  22. Simon says:

    If I can ride on the pavement or RLJ safely and without scaring pedestrians then I will do. The other day I shuffled through the red light on Gray’s Inn Road (just opposite the place where the guy on the Boris Bike was squished a few months ago), and was berated by a guy on a bike sitting just to the left of a big van signalling left. He was legal, I was safe. Generally it’s quicker, safer and more pleasant to RLJ in most circumstances; so I’m going to keep on doing it.

    People who gun it through a crowd of crossing peds are total cocks, though.

  23. Stew says:

    You say that cyclists jump red lights because they are “amber gambling” that is such BS. ive seen them jump red lights when the light has been red for a while and they make no effort to even break. it is worse on crossings when i nearly get run over by cyclists who dont know what those metal things in front of their handle bars are for (wow it slows your bike down) and i have to remind them “ITS RED YOU MORON ARE YOU *****ING COLOURBLIND?!”

    as for riding on the path, a bike is classed as a road vehicle. a pavement is a FOOTpath if people cant ride their bikes yeah they should get off and walk.

    • Ian says:

      Although I take the point that *some* cyclists ride selfishly, just as *some* drivers drive selfishly (and *some* pedestrians walk selfishly), I seriously doubt you’ll ever get “run over” by a cyclist. It would hurt the cyclist, a lot. This is the thing – cyclists may annoy you, but unless you are spectacularly unlucky they won’t kill you . On the other hand the big things with motors will do just that.

      ‘as for riding on the path’ etc. Yes, on an urban path with lots of people I agree. On a rural path with one or two pedestrians an hour, a sensible apprioach to cycling and an alternative of 60mph + traffic driving with as little restraint as possible – you really think riding on a footpath is evil?

      • Recumbent Rider says:

        I haven’t been run over by a cyclist, but I have been run into, and I have had my shopping damaged a number of times (on the same stretch of very narrow pavement). I’ve also been yelled at for not getting off the pavement into the traffic by cyclists when walking on the pavement.

        Most of the cyclist I see jumping red lights (on bike paths/lanes) don’t do it by creeping across, they don’t even try to slow down. But they’re usually not that fast, so I usually pass them before the next red light, and then it’s deja vu all over again. Rather annoying.

        RLJ and pavement riding does make a lot of people hate (and I use that word deliberately) cyclists, including the local police and politicians … Probably not a good idea.

    • inge says:

      Oh yes, cyclist are such evil pests, scum, the lowest of the lowest. So much worse than those law abiding and carefully driving motorist. There is only one solution: give these pedal pumping bastards their own seperate cycletracks with their own traffic lights. THAT will teach them!

    • donk says:

      Stew says: blah blah
      yeah well I once saw a car driver
      We’ve all got lots of stories of road use bellendery, motorists remember the cyclist ones, cyclists remember the motorist ones, tribalism innit.

      Fact is that lot’s of people aren’t comfortable with riding on the roads mixing it up with 2 tonne vehicles because cycling has been marginalised and ignored for so long that the infrastructure and other road users ingrained behaviour can make it dangerous, be that bad drivers or pedestrians wandering willy-nilly over the few bike tracks we do have. This needs to be remedied, something the government don’t seem to be doing – certainly not quickly enough, so many otherwise mild mannered conscientious people are breaking the rules for their own safety. To those people saying “stop it” and “man up” isn’t really going to work.

  24. Pingback: The psychology of riding on the pavement, and jumping red lights | AmicusLaw Solicitors

  25. Pingback: The psychology of riding on the pavement, and jumping red lights | AmicusLaw Speeding Blog

  26. Hein Bloed says:

    I like this one in this context ( In German but you’ll get the contents …

  27. Chris says:

    I haven’t seen the video but I tend to agree with the argument re RLJs.
    Very occasionally when driving I will go through an Amber light because I don’t have time to stop safely (through the lights before I have had time to move my feet on the pedals). In such circumstances I am never the last through, but am followed by usually 2-4 other cars; when walking I usually see at least one motorist who thinks the Amber means ‘speed up, I’m about to go Red’ every time I use a pedestrian crossing. I have never seen a cyclist do so (probably because they wouldn’t clear the crossing fast enough before cars came from other directions). What I have seen (and done myself) is cyclists who know certain junctions well setting off while the light is still on red, in the knowledge that there is a delay of 6 seconds (or whatever) between the pedestrian lights/ lights on the other road/ whatever and their own light turning green, and getting a 3 or 4 second headstart.
    I general I avoid cycling on the pedestrian footway, but for short sections if there is no alternative other than getting off and pushing, and the path is wide/ empty, I take the view that I am less of an obstruction or danger on my bike at a walking pace than I am beside it pushing.

  28. Pingback: » Policy 1: Cycling News Review

  29. Andrea says:

    Here is a video that show quite well the point that Mark is making about the difference between motorists’ RLJ and cyclists’:

  30. John says:

    What I’m seeing here is ‘I run red lights, BUT…’

    There should be no ‘but’. You stop at red lights. It’s the LAW.

    Trying to justify breaking the law, is EXACTLY why cagers hate us.

    • pm says:

      “Trying to justify breaking the law, is EXACTLY why cagers hate us.”

      No, it isn’t (if it were, motorists would hate themselves even more).

  31. Pingback: Sad but true: Childhood bullying is a good preparation for cycling on England’s roads | Helen Blackman

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