Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Stop at the red light

Posted by Lee | November 18, 2009 | 7 comments so far

I saw something quite unusual today as I walked from Waterloo to my firm’s London office and perhaps is a sign that cyclists can no longer ‘expect’ to be exempt from the same laws that plenty of motorists fall foul of every day.

Walking across Blackfriar’s Bridge I was aware that an unusually large contingent of cycling commuters (no better indication needed that the economic downturn is forcing some people to take to their bikes regardless of roadworthiness) had stopped at a redlight – let’s face it there are always the odd few that will go through them. A few paces further on and it became clear why.

A female police cyclist (POLICE emblasoned right across her backside was a nice touch!) was lying in wait to catch unwitting perpetrators jumping the lights. Sadly for her though, she hadn’t reckoned on how quick they were speeding past her and how quick they put the hammer down thereafter when she shouted “Oi” rather loudly. Jumping off the pavement into the road to stop a crim cyclist, probably wasn’t the most logical thing either – the traffic lights were red for a reason Mrs police lady, ma’am!

That is not an anti-authority remark, just an observation that they may need to review their stinger tactics (or recruit heavily!).

Further along the road, I did witness her colleague dishing out a ticket to a chap on his rather neglected road bike, though for what offence I do not know. So is the ‘humble’ cyclist now the focus on new persecution, do the police see the inevitable rise in the number of cyclists on our capital’s streets as an easy (I say easy!) way of meeting stringent targets they are no doubt forced to meet, or is it simply that as a cyclist you should be observing the same laws as every other road user has to in that situation?

Quite possibly it is all three, it is certainly the latter. I would well imagine (and I’d support this view) that the Police probably see this as a way of also educating the cycling fraternity at large of the dangers to them and other road users.

There’s no doubting that as cyclists we remain one of the most vulnerable groups of all road users (why is it then that so many still don’t wear helments? – mini rant) but in my view when you are on the road you should be expected to observe the rules of the road regardless of whether you are on two wheels or four. That said, I know of a recent incident involving a cyclist where they have ended up the aggressor in the authority’s eyes despite quite clearly being the innocent party. So perhaps cyclists just can’t win either way?

So what do you think? Personally, I would happily dip my own genitalia in burning chip fat before cycling through London (I was knocked off my bike three times on a previous (reasonably safe you’d think) commute to Esher) so I can’t comment, but I know there are a few of us out there that do. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but anything that ultimately deters the risk takers and the madmen, has got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?


About the author

As Baz Luhrmann said in his Sunscreen song: look after your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone. Well, until they do finally give up the will to live and screech to a halt like a knackered bottom bracket, I'm just going to keep riding because that's what I love.

Whilst I'm more full time parent and part-time biker these days, I still make the best of the time family life affords me, even if the fitness yo-yos massively.

I ride a Cotic Soul, which is currently single-speeded, and also a 2010 Trek EX-8 for drier times.

We are a pretty lucky bunch to live in such close proximity to the Surrey Hills, which gives us an embarrassing amount of trail choice. Some of my all time local favourites have sadly now been 'decommissioned', but with the likes of BKB, Summer Lightening and China Pig, there's still plenty to smile about whichever way you turn.

There are 7 comments on ‘Stop at the red light’

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  1. James says:

    Best to dismount then walk the bike through the red light and jump on a little further down the road. Is that OK??

    I did watch a programme the other day and the police were getting tougher on the cyclists that break the law.

  2. KC says:

    I try to commute up to Kew once a week and generally I avoid running the reds. I found that as my fitness levels improved I became more and more assertive in my riding but I have wound this back recently. Assertion had morphed into aggression as I tried to beat the traffic to once again break the hour for the 20 mile hike. This is fruitless and dangerous since the traffic density changes daily.

    So, in summary, riding to work is challenging even if you wear hi viz, flashy lights and you are moderately assertive. However, if you choose your routes and know where the risk areas are it is quite a buzz. I have only had one minor incident this year which was being startled by a deer in Bushy Park after dark!

    Stay Safe!

    Oh and as a car driver and motorbiker I kind of welcome the crackdown on red light runners.


  3. JohnT says:

    Hi all,

    I commute by (road)bike through London, 125 miles a week, straight through oxford circus (from ealing to liv st. and back) have been doing this for over a year and touch wood haven’t come off the bike yet! I am a genuine believer that city cycling is as dangerous as you make it, and i take the view that due to the sheer number of miles I do, if i start taking risks it will only be a matter of time before i end up eating curb so in general I stop for lights and abide by the law. If you are alert most ‘accidents’ are forseable. You do have to be ascertive, but I’m trying to stop this become aggresion (which can sometimes be a struggle when your hearts doing 180 and your life has just flashed before your eyes!)

    Recently I have also tried to avoid being agressive toward other road users unless they really really deserve it, as otherwise it will just alienate more and more people and continue the ‘them and us’ road mentality… just saying like ‘look out’ rather then ‘what the F*%$ are you doing you idiot!’

    There is some SHOCKING drivers out there, but equally there are ALOT of stupid cyclists who do cycling as a whole no good by cutting every light going and weaving between pedestrians (who’s right of way it is).

    I think the police should take a more active role in educating all road users, but the only thing i would add is that this should include pedestrians! I know we dont have rules like in the states (j-walking is illegal etc) but still it should be pointed out to pedestrians that often they are in the wrong too.

    Finally I have to say that most of my worst experiences have been involving cabbies. Many of them are great, but some of them are increadibly agresive, gobby, rude and basically feel that they own the road and us cyclists have no right of way in any circumstances.



  4. tim says:

    A slightly unworkable idea, but it’s heart is in the right place. Worth signing I say.

  5. Andy from Guildford says:

    Over here in Guildford, the Police are clamping down on cycling on the footpaths for no other reason then the amount of people who complain. I am also a car driver and motorcyclist, and I don’t see why anybody should be allowed to jump red lights. Maybe the Police should get more officers on bikes, and out of cars. Wouldnt that be nice 🙂

  6. joe says:

    Not been on a ride with you chaps yet but was just gently looking over the site and saw this article so thought I’d add my own tuppenth.

    I’ve commuted in a lot of different cities and that includes Edinburgh and London.

    In Edinburgh the running of red lights is perfectly sensible… there are less cars or pedestrians to watch, the lights run green to red automatically and often not because of the weight of traffic of pedestrian crossings, the light is red for no apparent reason.. so I used to check traffic and ride on through. I believed it an acceptable risk.

    In London its a bit different, more traffic, more people and more risk of loosing yer life. You need spiderman senses to survive! I admit though even here I do occasionally run red lights. But again I do it having checked the percieved risk to danger.

    It reminds me a lot of a chat I had in Germany with a work colleague. i asked her why Germans wait at pedestrian crossings for the green man even when they can see in both directions that there is no cars and you have time to cross the road. I’d seen a lot of Germans doing this. Her reply is its how they were brought up and it sets a good example to children and other road users. My reply was the question … isnt it better to teach children how to weigh up risks for themselves, how to look both ways, assess the situation and then decide if they should cross.

    I dont claim either is the only ‘one true way’ but I do think its basically in our own hands to decide our fate. If I think the light is safe to run chances are I will.

    As for coppers nicking me then they can go for it and I’ll ask them to come on my commute every day and give tickets to the 20 odd car drivers who nearly kill me every week. They really are trying to halt the symptons and not cure the virus.


  7. Andy C says:

    Not been on a ride with us chaps yet, Joe? Then you haven’t lived!

    Well that’s ‘bigged up’ the chaps, big time. You’re most welcome next time you have a spare Sun morning or Wed evening in the North Downs area. You won’t see me for a while though due to my hand having lost an argument with a tree 🙁

    If we take responsibility for our actions, which is your summary position, then we can’t complain if we’re caught breaking the law even if we think there are worse offenders out there. I drive at 80mph on the motorway, I can’t complain if I get nicked, though I would feel hard done by.

    There are a number of issues with jumping red lights, though like you, I occasionally do so when I think it’s safe. Aside from the safety and legality issues, the other main one is the effect on the attitude of other road users.

    Cyclists are perceived as a very ‘poor relation’ by many motorists, and skimming past pedestrians at 15-20mph on crossings as they jump red lights loses us that ‘vote’ too. You may not do that, but I have done so in the past (when much, much younger) and I still see it happening today.

    I think if you slow for a red light, look carefully, then whizz across without cutting anyone up, that’s a sort of ‘least worse’ option, and something that I still do. If there’s a lot of people about I may actually sit there patiently and wait for the light to turn green (old age?).

    My view is that all motorists should be forced to ride a bike in their local area for a certified 5 (or maybe 10) hours as part of obtaining a licence. This would give them an appreciation of the need to maintain momentum, as well as highlighting the hazardous impact of car behaviour on the cyclist, and may get them to realise that it’s not nice to give a cyclist 2 feet of room when travelling at 40mph.

    I know this is unlikely to ever happen, but it’s my view and something I would introduce if I was Prime Minister, as well as getting our clocks onto European Time for lighter evenings (possibly representing the Monster Raving Loony Party).

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