A Red Light for Road Rules

In a car or on a bike, I don’t advocate running red lights but as a cyclist sometimes you have to. Find out why as I put it to RMS and NSW Police to respond.

Dear RMS,

As someone who holds a car license but cycles more than I drive I know the one thing motorists hate most is cyclists running red lights.

I stop at red lights where possible. I say where possible as the vast majority of traffic lights fail cyclists.

A part from most lights being ‘dumb’ i.e. timer based without regard for day of week or time of day or inter-connected with other lights that adjust dynamically to ease congestion they rely on induction loops to trigger a change.

Obviously it is not feasible (economically or operationally) to replace every set of traffic lights to cater for cyclists so we need to look more closely at the rules.

Take for example, one of my weekend training routes (Darlinghurst to Woolooware Bay using as many cycleways as possible). I don’t even get as far as 500m before I encounter the first set of traffic lights which is red (corner Liverpool and Victoria St). This set of lights gives priority or defaults to green for through traffic on Liverpool St.

A group of cyclists making a left turn on red with no traffic to trigger induction loop. Source: Police Media.

At 0530 on a Sat morning (out to avoid traffic) my options are to stop and wait for a car to come and trigger the signal (there is not enough metal in a carbon bike to trigger the loop) or proceed through the red light. I get as far as the next set of lights on Burton and Victoria and same situation. So again, I have to proceed through on red. The same goes for the next set of lights at Victoria and Oxford. 3 sets of traffic lights in the space of 800m all of which I have had to proceed through on red.

The list goes on, right turn into Lenthall from Todman, straight through at Dalmeny and Gardeners, straight through at Coward and Botany, Coward and O’Riordan, Coward and Bourke then finally onto the Alexandria Canal cycleway. No more red lights to run for a while but that’s a total of at least 8 red lights in 8km before I even reach a cycleway.

I consider myself a safe cyclist and I cycle responsibly yet my behaviour is considered illegal and could result in fines.

As a motorist, I have also witnessed cyclists proceeding through on red but I have to say in most cases this has been across the intersection or at the intersection ahead (with no cars in the same direction as the cyclist to trigger the loop).

I don’t think it is reasonable for cyclists to have to wait for traffic to arrive from behind to trigger a signal change. In the early hours and on back street routes to avoid major roads, there may not be any traffic for 10 or more minutes.

Labeled a ‘Rule Breaker’ by the Courier Mail. Cyclist runs red in absence of traffic to trigger induction loop.

Unfortunately, for bystanders and traffic which has right of way (a green signal) watching a cyclist proceed through a red light reflects negatively on all cyclists, as the on lookers (notably those who do not cycle) do not ‘get it’ i.e. they do not give thought to induction loops, carbon fiber frames or whether or not there is other traffic present to trigger the lights to change etc. They just see red (literally and in the sense of anger).

Obviously, there is no excuse for the very few cyclists (in comparison to motorists) who run red lights when there is traffic present / a signal change triggered in the direction they are traveling.

The strategy I adopt is a combination of a ‘Stop’ and/or ‘Give Way’. Crossing major roads e.g. where the legal speed is 60 kmh or more, I will ‘Stop’ then proceed through when safe. Through areas where the legal speed is 50 kmh or less and/or or making a left turn, I ‘Give Way’.

I would like to know what position and direction RMS and NSW Police is taking to address this failure in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to road rules and road users.

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