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Red lights, white lines, black tar rivers - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Red lights, white lines, black tar rivers
"I try not to go through red lights but I'm not the Pope," says one of the ninety-three cyclists caught jumping red lights in three hours in central Oxford.

I've often seen cars and buses creeping slowly through a red light, as if they were cyclists who couldn't take their feet off the pedals, but I've cynically assumed that they were just intent on being a yard or two further ahead of the car behind them when the lights change (or that they didn't know how to brake). Perhaps I misjudged them: perhaps they're actually grappling with their conscience.

I wonder if the cars I photograph parking on double yellow lines and in cycle lanes are also trying really hard not to park illegally. I'm trying really hard not to photograph them, but they just keep slipping into the viewfinder. Imagine how hard it would be to avoid it if I had a camera strapped to my head.

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Comments
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: May 25th, 2007 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
aw, you've put that song in my head! :-)
nja From: nja Date: May 25th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Does the Pope stop for red lights? He doesn't have to, surely, being infallible.
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: May 25th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wouldn't infallible mean you *did* stop for all red lights?

Punchline: "Well put it like this. I don't know who the guy is, but his chauffeur is the pope."
ewx From: ewx Date: May 25th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't recall the highway code having a section for popemobiles, in fact. Not that the present incumbent needs one AFAIK.
simont From: simont Date: May 26th, 2007 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I've cynically assumed that they were just intent on being a yard or two further ahead of the car behind them

What always confuses me about people creeping through red lights is that they don't seem particularly intent on being as far ahead as they can, at least if you can go by the fact that when the lights do eventually go green they often take distinctly longer than average to get their car moving properly. One is inclined to think that if they were really in a hurry, they might creep through the light to get a few yards' head start, but would also get moving quickly in order to capitalise on that start.

Though I suppose one could argue that it's precisely because they're not skilled enough to get their car moving within a sensible length of time that they have to compensate for that delay by creeping forwards through the lights instead...
blech From: blech Date: June 13th, 2007 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
If you go too far in front of the stop line, you often can't see the lights, or can't see as many, anyway. I notice this with other cyclists all the time; they creep forward, the light changes, I go, and they're in my way, because they've not noticed and are still stopped.
brightybot From: brightybot Date: May 26th, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Andrew and I saw a car go straight through a red light in Kidlington the other day, without bothering to stop to check the way was clear, even. Maybe the next psychological step from bikes jumping red lights is for cars to do it too. I think he was just a teen racer though.

I can't say I've never jumped a red light, although mostly I don't. I guess you can 'try' not to, but be tempted if the road is completely clear. I know it doesn't make it right.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 28th, 2007 12:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe the next psychological step from bikes jumping red lights is for cars to do it too.

I've seen cars go through red lights; more buses than cars, though. I think it's more to do with the attitude of the person in control of the vehicle than the type of vehicle involved.

I've cycled through red lights at pedestrian crossings when there were clearly no pedestrians around. But I really don't think there's any sense in which I was "trying not to" do it: at the time I think I just thought "fuck it, they pressed the button and then didn't wait for the lights, I'm not waiting for the lights either". I don't do that any more, either. It's really not that hard to make a decision not to do it.
lethargic_man From: lethargic_man Date: May 26th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as a cyclist, I say screw stopping at red lights, if it means I have to go through the junction along with a bunch of *quack*wit drivers intent on either cutting me off turning left, or squashing past me when there's no room.

Of course, not all drivers are like that, but it only takes one idiot to kill me. (And, conversely, I would never go through a red light if the coast were not clear, and it safe for me and all other road users. If pedestrian lights are involved, on green, I often jump off my bike and walk it across, whistling nonchalantly.)

I wouldn't be so vociferous about this if I hadn't been clipped, just the other day, by the wing mirror of a car trying to squash past when there wasn't room. As it happened, I merely wobbled for a few seconds then regained control; but if during my wobbling I'd hit either the kerb or the car in question (no more than a metre or so apart), I could have come off onto the road in the middle of traffic, and it could have been very nasty indeed.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 28th, 2007 12:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sorry that you had such a nasty close shave (and I hope you got the number of the car in question, and reported them!); but speaking as a cyclist, I say that if you don't want to use the road because of the other people on it, then you get off and push until you feel safe to cycle. Or find another mode of transport which which you're more comfortable.

I would never go through a red light if the coast were not clear, and it safe for me and all other road users

In other words, "I'm a better road user than everybody else, so I'm qualified to make a judgement about when I can break the law; those other bad road users have to abide by the law because they're too stupid to do anything else."

Yes, other drivers can be fuckwits. But you don't have to be a cyclist to get carved up dangerously by other drivers: should car drivers be at liberty to go through red lights, or drive on pavements, if they think that doing so is safer for them than having to deal with other drivers?

And even if it's safe for you to go through the red lights, what about the people who see you doing it and think "bloody cyclists, always going through red lights"? Aren't you just reinforcing the sort of attitude to cyclists which contributes to the disrespect from other drivers that you're complaining about? If I see a cyclist going through a red light (even if I am perfectly safe - e.g. looking out of my office window), I don't think "Regard the noble warrior of the road! He's obviously thought very carefully about whether it's safe to go through that red light, and is surely acting for the greater good of humanity rather than out of any selfish desire to get to his destination sooner," I think "Oh look, another fuckwit who thinks the law doesn't apply to him."

if during my wobbling I'd hit either the kerb or the car in question (no more than a metre or so apart)

If there was only a metre between car and kerb, you must have been fairly close to the kerb to start with. Perhaps if you cycled a bit further out cars would be less likely to think there was room to "squash past"?
lethargic_man From: lethargic_man Date: May 28th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sorry that you had such a nasty close shave (and I hope you got the number of the car in question, and reported them!)

Nope, because I was too busy keeping my bike under control at the time.

but speaking as a cyclist, I say that if you don't want to use the road because of the other people on it, then you get off and push until you feel safe to cycle.

That'll be never then, in London. In Edinburgh, where I used to live, I abided by the Highway Code and encountered a driver who would put my life at risk a few times a year. In London it's almost once an outing. There are junctions in London where the motor traffic routinely reacts to a red light by speeding up to get through it—even when the pedestrian light at the same place is on green. Cycling in London has turned me into an aggressive road user. I'm not proud of it, but it is, unfortunately, somewhat of a necessity.

In other words, "I'm a better road user than everybody else, so I'm qualified to make a judgement about when I can break the law; those other bad road users have to abide by the law because they're too stupid to do anything else."

I didn't say that. But I place my own personal safety above keeping strictly to the Highway Code. When there was an upsurge in cycling in London after the 7 July bombings (as if cycling in London didn't involve higher risk!), there was an article in one of the broadsheets—the Independent or Sunday Telegraph, I forget which—offering advice for new cyclists, in which the author explicitly encouraged people to break the Highway Code, by saying if they only had one set of lights, to have them on flashing, as it makes you considerably more visible to motorists. I do the same myself; I'd rather be visible and in contravention of the Highway Code than knocked off my bike and injured or even killed.

Yes, other drivers can be fuckwits. But you don't have to be a cyclist to get carved up dangerously by other drivers: should car drivers be at liberty to go through red lights, or drive on pavements, if they think that doing so is safer for them than having to deal with other drivers?

Motorists are not at risk of such severe injury if hit by another motorist in urban traffic. (Also, I did not, and do not, advocate anyone going along the pavements.)

And even if it's safe for you to go through the red lights, what about the people who see you doing it and think "bloody cyclists, always going through red lights"? Aren't you just reinforcing the sort of attitude to cyclists which contributes to the disrespect from other drivers that you're complaining about?

Unfortunately, in London it's too late for that. I appreciate that it's a bit of a vicious cycle, but I'd rather put my own safety first than be a martyr.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 28th, 2007 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
the author explicitly encouraged people to break the Highway Code, by saying if they only had one set of lights, to have them on flashing

Personally, both as a regular cyclist and as an occasional car-driver, I've found flashing bike-lights distracting and impossible to judge distance from; but they're still better than nothing, and I wouldn't want to argue with the expert advice of the broadsheets.

However, I think there's a big difference between using a different type of light (after all, any light on the road, flashing or otherwise, is likely to be an obstacle/hazard) and behaving in a way that other road users can't be expected to predict. Or do you think that all London drivers/cyclists expect everybody to ignore red lights? In other words, is every London junction effectively a no-right-of-way crossroads, where everybody advances cautiously whether the lights are on red or green? I can't say I've ever noticed this effect when driving in London (it must have been very obvious that I was only a visitor to the city, as I stopped at red lights as if I'd been out here in the sticks!) but I've only done that a handful of times.

There are junctions in London where the motor traffic routinely reacts to a red light by speeding up to get through it

Big deal: this happens everywhere (in Oxford, the buses are particularly frequent offenders). I don't see why it should mean that you have to go through red lights.

(Also, I did not, and do not, advocate anyone going along the pavements.)

What, even if the alternative is being on the road with all the dangerous car-drivers? Dude, don't be a martyr!

That'll be never then, in London.

I thought you said that the justification for your illegal and irresponsible behaviour was that it made you feel safer ... and yet you still "never" feel safe when cycling? That's very sad. Perhaps you should try walking, or taking public transport. (Please stay away from driving, though.)
lethargic_man From: lethargic_man Date: May 31st, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think there was any call for that kind of response. Perhaps I should have made clearer that when I say I go through red lights, I always stop and give way first, and mostly (though not always) going through red lights for me means proceeding when the lights for the other direction are changing, so I can get clear of the junction ahead of the motor traffic. At any rate, I resent being lumped together with the sort of cyclist who, frex, plough straight through red lights without stopping to check it was safe for all concerned; and I resent being addressed with a level of sarcasm bordering on insult. If you can't hold an argument civilly, I'd rather you didn't say anything at all.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: June 1st, 2007 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Your original comment ("screw stopping at red lights ... *quack*wit drivers") didn't portray you as a civil road user: nor does going through red lights.

You may resent being lumped together with irresponsible cyclists: then don't break the Highway Code.

You may fear motorists not seeing you as they turn left: then drop back. Other people's bad driving gives you *no extra rights whatsoever*.
j4 From: j4 Date: June 1st, 2007 10:31 am (UTC) (Link)
If you can't hold an argument civilly, I'd rather you didn't say anything at all.

Beautiful! The classic last resort of someone who starts an uncivil argument and then doesn't know how to back down.

I sincerely hope that you get caught and fined for going through red lights, not least because I'll be very interested to see whether "but I break the law so carefully!" convinces the police to make a special exception for you on account of your elite cycling skills, or whether "oh but I just don't feel safe otherwise!" makes them feel so sorry for you that they waive the fine.

If you don't want to be lumped together with idiots, don't behave like an idiot; if you can't cope with sarcasm or rudeness, don't make halfwitted blustering comments on strangers' livejournals; and if you can't cope with road traffic, get off the fucking road.
lethargic_man From: lethargic_man Date: June 1st, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Look, I didn't mean to be uncivil, and I didn't mean to be blustering (and I didn't regard you as a complete stranger, and didn't mean to troll). I explained in my initial post why I was putting it the way I did; and maybe I shouldn't have posted when I was so narked. If the way I posted got your hackles up, I apologise for it.

And I never claimed to have elite cycling skills. The only reason I act the way I do is because in 4000 miles of cycling in Edinburgh and 2000 in Newcastle (not counting when I was little), I never got knocked off my bike once; whereas in 7000 in London I've got knocked off twice, and just recently came within a squeak of it a third time. I'd love to live in a world where I could keep to the Highway Code in London as fully as I did in Edinburgh and not feel I was putting my life on the line. But until the standard of driving here improves, I'm putting number one first; because I'm not prepared to pay the penalty of hopitalisation or death for keeping to the strict letter of the law.
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