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1. Do no harm
2. Do not get harmed
3. Laws of Physics (perfect) trump Laws of Man (imperfect)

And to add, what's the point of impressing drivers with how well we follow the rules if the drivers don't know the rules. It's like chasing a ghost.

Someone named Salmon writing about riding bikes legally is funny. It would be nice if he wrote better.

+1 on Brendan for ethicist in chief.

My ethics on the ground are similar: If a well-designed and maintained bike route/track/lane is available, I'll use it pretty much all the time I'll and pretty much obey the letter of the law.

If there's no decent bike infrastructure available, all bets are off, my safety and that of fellow vulnerable road users comes first, and I don't particular care if somebody who who feels the need to protect himself in transport with a 3,000 pound mobile proto-coffin is annoyed.

I'd gotten repeated "thank you" and a real look of relief when I stop for pedestrians. I don't know if drivers "respect" me but about 98% of them are perfectly polite to me on the road and the least I can do is be polite back.

It is the old malum in se vs. malum prohibitum question. Running a red light -- in a car or a bike -- isn't malum prohibitum. It is an administrative violation and needs to be treated as such.

sorry, "IS malum prohibitum". That is, it is bad because it is prohibited.

I don't understand why red light running is being equated with Idaho stopping. ("Most cyclists choose to not obey red lights and stop signs, and most police choose not to enforce it and some places have chosen to make that legal.") There is no place in this country where it is legal to run a red light with the exception of treating a right on red as an Idaho stop, and proceeding through a red after 1/2 hour if the signal doesn't detect you. Running red lights as it normally is done is simply bicyclists deciding on their own that the law doesn't apply to them. Furthermore, while cyclists advocate for Idaho stop laws, I don't see cyclists having the cajones to ask the legislature to change traffic light laws.

I would not say most drivers in NY have chosen to obey traffic lights. Ergo, there is a point that everyone is breaking that law up there. However, simply changing it would not result in anything positive or even organized.

Not that most folks here have any room to lecture. I know plenty of cyclists who claim to follow the law all the time, yet I fail to see them announce passes, they routinely exceed the 15mph speed limit on many area trails, and they don't hop off their bike where it says walk bicycle over crosswalk.

Furthermore, while cyclists advocate for Idaho stop laws, I don't see cyclists having the cajones to ask the legislature to change traffic light laws.

And yet, I suppose you have no problem with drivers who asked the legislature to limit speed enforcement cameras while speeding.

Selective outrage is fun!

There is no place in this country where it is legal to run a red light with the exception of treating a right on red as an Idaho stop, and proceeding through a red after 1/2 hour if the signal doesn't detect you.

Also, this is incoherent. Can you rework it so we understand what you're talking about. Thanks.

I'd make a distinction between adult cyclists and children. Although I tend to be more on the law-abiding end of the spectrum than not, I do occasionally Idaho some stop signs when conditions are right. But when I'm riding with my elementary-school-aged daughter, every stop sign is a stop, every red light is a stop. And I let her know that when she's riding without me, I expect her to stop. I don't think that kids under a certain age have sufficient judgement to determine when stops signs and red lights can be Idahoed. (and I don't know exactly what that age is, but my daughter is not there yet). If the law were changed to permit the Idaho stop/red light, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't even mention this fact to her until she were older.

I forgot and T: See my Rule #3.

@Oboe: I have no problem with motorist lobbying the legislature to limit speed cameras, nor would I have a problem with cyclists advocating change traffic light laws. It is everyone right to petition the government as they see fit. I think cyclist don't advocate changing traffic light law because of the backlash this would engender. Outrage doesn't figure into it.

Apparently, I had misinterpreted the Idaho stop law. In 2006 or so, it was amended to allow bicyclist to go straight through a red light after stopping. So I suppose it is legal in one state.

What I was trying to say was that I is (probably) legal to make a right turn on red or eventually pass through a red if your bike is not detected by the signal. Whether these exceptions are legal or not, I don't think they are particular relevant to the discussion at hand.

@Brendan I don't get your point. Is waiting for a green now a violation of the laws of physics?

@I forgot, I think @Brendan is saying that stopping for lights and signs slows you down and that it's more efficient to ride straight through. I'm more concerned about the laws of physics when I get hit by a car, personally.

Thank you, @Washcycle, for what is (in my opinion) one of the better-reasoned summaries of the issue to come out of the last 24 hours. I wasn't particularly pleased with any of those articles at NY Times, Atlantic Cities, or Reuters, believing they do little more than unnecessarily add fuel to the fire.

I take a somewhat differing position. What’s important, to me, is to find the right justifications for one mode to operate under different laws than another mode. The wrong justifications only add to anti-bike, anti-ped, anti-transit, and even anti-car sentiments.

When I hear something like “we should be allowed to run red lights because no one is around”, many readers here may hear that positively from a bicyclist, but what if it came from a motorist? In an urban environment – where there is higher traffic of conflicting motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians; and generally poorer sight lines – I believe it can be particularly hazardous for anyone to roll through right on through.

So what makes cyclists different? Along with pedestrians, they have a faster capability to respond to a threat: they can decelerate more quickly, reverse more quickly, and move left or right more quickly. Motorists tend to be poor at reversing and turning left or right is of little use in a pending angle collision, so basically motorists only have one option: move forward. To me, that is where the justification can be found; not in rolling-through but in permitting stop-and-proceed.

Another thought is whether our law needs to differentiate between what is illegal versus what establishes liability. For example, if we permitted stop-and-proceed to cyclists & pedestrians without risk of fines, but establish that if a collision occurs as a result: liability is likely to fall upon the person crossing against right-of-way.

Now I do concede that continuing through a red can be justified in cases where the signal does not appear to be functioning properly. Many jurisdictions already have this on the books for motorists in cases where waits exceed 5-6 minutes, in spare rural area, after due prudence given toward the safety of proceeding, etc. But I do think that if an actuated signal is not designed to detect bicycles: continuing through red can be acceptable.

On a slight tangent subject of stop signs: I actually have a bit of a windshield perspective in my questioning of our need for so many stop signs to begin with. Could a degree of greater equitability and tolerance be achieved if more stop signs were replaced with yield signs, in line with how some Canadian regions & much of the rest of the world control their intersections? Of course, our current misuse of yield signs could also be an issue that may reduce any gains. But a few test cases of replacing stop signs w/ yield signs have found either little or positive changes in behavior, so it might just be possible...

Overall I think it's important to remember that *every single mode* is rife with violators, with my own choice-of-poison being to be a prolific jaywalker. Does the design need to change? Does the law need to change? Do we need to change? Or is the status quo OK? And for any changes: what justification is there to discriminate among one mode versus the other?

I understand that (1) people of all stripes break the laws regularly, (2) following the laws re: biking doesn't guarantee driver respect and (3) claims of anarchy breaking out from excusing jaybiking can be overdone.

Y'all need to understand that (1) that others break the law has not worked as an excuse, like, ever, (2) there is no principled rationale for deciding that you are entitled to pick which laws to observe and which not to, and (3) I'm mighty suspicious of either the truthfulness and reasons behind claims that following the law makes you less safe, particularly if the rider does what I do, which is to never, ever share the lane at a red light.

(1) that others break the law has not worked as an excuse, like, ever,

I don't see anyone using that excuse. It's more an objection to the standard trope that cyclists are terrible scofflaws. On what scale. And can't we just replace the word "cyclists" with "everyone"? If someone ran around saying that "Christians frequently speed" would that be a fair distinction?

(2) there is no principled rationale for deciding that you are entitled to pick which laws to observe and which not to,

During the winter, I use bike trails that close after dusk. I do so because it is safer and faster and the rule is completely redonkulous. I feel like that is pretty principled. I also didn't register my bike when that was required.


(3) I'm mighty suspicious of either the truthfulness and reasons behind claims that following the law makes you less safe,

Well, there is that British study that drew that as a conclusion. People may be wrong, but I doubt they're lying.

what I do, which is to never, ever share the lane at a red light.

Which is actually illegal in certain jurisdictions on certain roads.

Wash: Thanks for the excellent summary. You helped me see some of the points I had missed in Cohen's argument.

FWIW, according to this link http://theathleteslawyer.com/2009/07/06/bicycle-injuries-145-lower-a-year-after-the-idaho-stop-law/ injuries went down by 14.5 percent the year after the Idaho Stop (for stop signs, I think) went into effect.

I read somewhere that the red-light version of the Idaho Stop law was motivated, in part, by a desire to avoid the expense of retrofitting all traffic signals to recognize bicycles. This strikes me as unusually smart governing.

Finally it is worth mentioning that Gandhi said "be the change that you want to see in the world." This is one of the reasons that I continue to ride in my own private Idaho. I hope someday that everyone else will be invited to join in.

There may at times be a principled argument for determining that in unusual circumstances, the circumstances, not the operator, dictate non-adherence. That would be traffic control devices that do not work, etc. We are not discussing unusual circumstances, but whether jaybiking as a normal operation mode is ethical or not. If the rationale for non-adherence expands beyond the unusual, then the appropriate response is to push for a change in the law.

"the appropriate response is to push for a change in the law"

FWIW, cycling advocates on Oregon have been doing just that, though it's been a while since the most recent big effort:
http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2009/04/idaho_stop_is_a_go_for_bicycle.html

However, I disagree with your implication that pushing to change the law is "the" appropriate response. I argue instead that a range or responses are needed. It is well-known among sociologists that social change movements are most effective if a range of actors, representing both reasonable and radical points of view, are all pushing to solve the same problem. To oversimplify, the radical actors get a lot of attention and, if the cause is worthwhile, the sensible voices eventually get listened to. Quoting Susan B Anthony, "Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. "

I still think the interesting thing about this whole debate is how once again we're engaged in a microscopic examination of just why cyclists are scofflaws, and What Is To Be Done.

Sorry, I reject that framing.

Here's a topic we can all agonize over for a while: Why is it Pakistanis are always jaywalking? How do they expect to be allowed to use our crosswalks if they can't be bothered to obey the law? And let's not hear that "everyone" does it, either. Because that's no excuse at all.


Wasn't it sparked by an ethicist writing in the NYT that it was okay for cyclists to be scofflaws?

@MattBK: See Rule #2 (don't get hurt) which comes before Rule #3 (physics trumps man).

what I do, which is to never, ever share the lane at a red light.

Which is actually illegal in certain jurisdictions on certain roads.

Washcycle, is that really fair? I assume you're referring to the "ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe and practicable" language. In Maryland and Virginia, there is enough wiggle room in the exceptions and in the word "safe" that I don't think a cyclist could justifiably be ticketed for occupying a lane while waiting for a red light to turn green. As for DC, the keep right language was taken out of the regulations entirely. Is there some other regulation that I'm missing that would make this illegal?

My point is not that you break the law, but that the law isn't exactly written to make cycling safe. Cyclists are ticketed for riding in the center of the lane - even in Maryland.

And if you figure that's always a case of misapplication of the law, then in NY State you can't take the lane if there is a bike lane available. Stopping at a light in a bike lane to the right of a car is functionally equivalent to sharing a lane.

"Stopping at a light in a bike lane to the right of a car is functionally equivalent to sharing a lane."
I agree, sorta.
If you are in this situation, you should pull forward so the driver realizes that if he turns right he has to go through you. Generally you won't have any problems out accelerating him anyway. If he is making a right turn, but not signalling, sometimes the driver will turn on his signal. In that case, I move to the left so he can turn right on red behind me.

If his signal is on, but he is not in the bike lane, never pull to his right in the bike lane. Stop behind or pull around him to the left.

Right hooks are a big problem with bike lanes, and why, IMHO, sharrows are generally preferable. Drivers do not realize that they should turn right from the bike lanes. Often bike lanes are not dashed appropriately to indicate how right turns by cars should be made. Furthermore, even by the manual, the dashes are so short that if a driver were to merge according to the dashes, the chances of a right hook are still high.

Maryland also requires that you ride in a bike lane when one is available, but both the New York and Maryland laws have the same exceptions that allow you to leave the bike lane to avoid unsafe conditions. If I ever get a ticket (either for not being as far right as practicable or for not being in a bike lane) while sitting in the lane at a red light, I would enjoy fighting it in court. It would be interesting to see if the court would substitute its own judgement for mine on the question of what is an unsafe condition.

There may at times be a principled argument for determining that in unusual circumstances, the circumstances, not the operator, dictate non-adherence. That would be traffic control devices that do not work, etc.

But this is exactly the situation we're in. And I'm not being glib. This morning I ran at least 3-4 red lights.

I'll give you two examples. I ride through Lincolnia, and the intersection of N. Chambliss, Lincolnia, and Beauregard:

http://goo.gl/maps/u0ppA

I'm on Chambliss running south, but the light doesn't trigger unless you're in 3000 lbs of metal (it's slightly more efficient for cars!), so after waiting for a few minutes, I run it.

Coming back home, running east on Independence, I run the light at 4th street SW so I can turn left onto Maryland Ave. If I didn't do that I'd be sitting stopping in the middle of eight lanes of car traffic with people screaming at me.

From the "windshield perspective" everything works fine. But anyone who spends any time walking or riding a bike, it is profoundly broken.

The problem with a system of signals and regulations that do not work for cyclists and peds is that you *must* ignore many of them in order to stay safe. And once you start doing that, ignoring others for convenience becomes second nature.

I can say that I really like the thought of being permitted to "Idaho stop" when on bike, but I typically think the reasons are two-fold.
* stop signs force the road user to slow down to make the choice to give right-of-way binary -- there is a far smaller window of time to judge "who gets to go first?" The yield allows a road user to say, "if I go a little faster, I'll get to the intersection and will proceed through it; the other guy will not have to wait for me, but will have to slow down only a little." The consequences of both road-users trying to speed up to beat the other are , obviously, more dire. Further, I've never met a driver that wanted to slow down for a cyclist. They seem to do so only reluctantly. (Even the ones that are nice about it!)
* the other consideration is in writing the law for enforceability. The police patrolman must decide an easier choice of giving right of way, or failing to stop. A yield at the same situation presents a much grayer area.

Of course, none of that says that other states couldn't write in the laws to make stop signs Idaho Stops for cyclists, just that the reason why we don't use the laws here and the politicians at the Capital Building (or DC Council) haven't considered the idea.

For the Idaho stop at the light, I keep coming up with practicality problems. What do we do with long lines? I'm allowed to go through when its clear, but the drivers are stuck. Do I wait behind the drivers? Split the lanes and filter through?

Do I wait behind the drivers?
Nope.

Split the lanes and filter through?
Yup.

oboe, the lights I use have become better. I typically console myself with the idea that a driver that comes up behind me must wait til it turns green, too. Lets me imagine I am in a state with Idaho stop on red! Teehee.

er.. let's me imagine more easily promoting Idaho stop on red....

need more coffee.

oboe, the lights I use have become better. I typically console myself with the idea that a driver that comes up behind me must wait til it turns green, too. Lets me imagine I am in a state with Idaho stop on red!

As with a lot of things, the problem is not so much the inconvenience as the inconsistency. There's nothing worse than sitting at an unfamiliar light for 4 minutes waiting for it to change, then realizing that it's one of these drivers-only signals.

It's enough to drive one to scofflawism...

washcycle, do you mean to say that in Maryland, cyclists are being ticketed for violating the "stay as far right as practicable" bit of the law for a shared lane? or do you mean that cyclists have been ticketed for being in the center of a lane when there was a cycle lane?

I can understand why a patrolman might give a ticket in the second case (not that I'd agree with it. I can imagine someone not wanting to be clipped on lanes like those on Westbound Shady Grove road), but I can't imagine the first case not being fairly easily defended. Might take a trip to the local courthouse, though. The judge might even start giving an over-eager officer some dirty looks and advice.

washcycle, do you mean to say that in Maryland, cyclists are being ticketed for violating the "stay as far right as practicable" bit of the law for a shared lane?

Yes. That has happened, but I haven't heard of it for several years. So, I wouldn't say that it is happening now.

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