Red lights. They aren’t that hard.

I am not surprised, therapy story although still disappointed, neurologist to see this kind of logic defending not only the decision to run a red light but fight it in court.

Was riding from the gym to work one fine November morning down Congress Ave. Got pulled over by a motorcycle cop and another cop in a patrol car. They gave me a ticket for running a red light. I tried explaining how it wasn’t dangerous since I stopped at the light, prescription looked for oncoming traffic and pedestrians, then proceeded. Nevertheless, I got a moving violation and a $275 ticket, just like if I was driving a Chevy Silverado at speed.
I sent in my ticket pleading not guilty and waving pre-trial hearing.
I got a court date.
I went to court.
The case was dismissed. Not sure if it was because the officer didn’t show up or what. My online case summary says “Dismissed Insufficient Evidence”
Overall, I’d say my in-court experience was very good. The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes. I would recommend anyone who received similar tickets to do the same. I was tempted to just pay the fine and move on with life, but glad that I didn’t. Traffic laws shouldn’t be black and white/ bikes are cars.

Grow up, kids. There is no moral justification for you running that red light that doesn’t apply to any of us when we drive, yet I’m sure that most of you, save one idiosyncratic former colleague of mine, don’t want cars doing it. And every time you shoot back with some moronic drivel about how “bikes aren’t cars”, you make it harder to protect the rights of bikes to be on the roadway. “They aren’t cars; you admitted it,” they’ll say, “so get the hell on the sidewalk”.
(by PabloBM on flickr)

I spent years fighting for bicycle facilities and accomodations and basic rights on the Urban Transportation Commission. Many times, we lost a battle we should have won, because idiots like you made it easy for neighborhoods to argue their reactionary case (i.e. Shoal Creek). Whether you’re a racer in bright plumage who doesn’t want to get out of your clipless pedals or a budding young anarchist who thinks the law doesn’t apply to you, it was often your fault when stuff like the Shoal Creek debacle happened. Neighborhood nitwits would make the case that we shouldn’t prioritize bicycle treatments over on-street parking, for instance, because ‘those cyclists don’t care about other road users’ anyways. And it worked, because they were right: you idiots don’t care about other road users.

Don’t feed me the crap about how you can’t hurt anybody with your bike. It’s not true; I almost wrecked a car ten years ago trying to avoid killing an idiot just like you who ran a light across 24th.
(Yes, in case you’re wondering, it was being ganged up on by the Juvenile Anarchist Brigade in a discussion just like this one that finally chased me off the austin-bikes list after years and years of contributing there – after not being allowed to fight fire with fire. Thanks, Mike Librik).

So you, unnamed wanker on the austin-bikes list, are the second recipient of my Worst Person in Austin award.

Congratulations. And comes in a close second for backing him up on this one.

24 Replies to “Red lights. They aren’t that hard.”

  1. I’m with you. I’ve even wound up swerving almost off the road on my bike because someone on a bike was running a red, which is a special kind of irony.
    There is, however, an exception to this rule, IMO: red lights that only trigger on sensors. Most of the lights along Comal, for example, cannot be triggered by a bike and will not cycle on a timer (as far as I can tell). I do feel justified in running those. As far as I’m concerned, if the light won’t cycle for me, it’s broken.

  2. Yes, of course, but the same obligation applies as with cars: make sure the light’s really broken first. (Yes, it happens with cars; there were a few lights where I grew up that sometimes wouldn’t detect from certain approaches).

  3. I saw the original posting and I bit my tongue electing not to respond. My feelings on the matter reflect yours. I am not saying the original poster is a bad person. But he can’t expect to have the rights of motor vehicles without accepting responsibility.
    As far as red lights not tripping. The city of Austin is *VERY* good about fixing this. You can call the city’s 3-1-1 number or submit a ticket online. I submitted one online and got the light outside my office park fixed. In the meantime a cyclist can wait for a car or dismount and use the crosswalk.
    What would you (being readers of this blog) think of Texas adopting the “Idaho Stop” law? This allows cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. I think I would like it, but it could backfire when a motorist doesn’t understand the law.

  4. Stop signs as yield signs makes sense, but red lights as stop signs makes no sense at all. It would make more cyclists try to cross streets where drivers are going full speed. If someone doesn’t check sufficiently just once, they’re dead (or maybe the driver is dead from trying to avoid them). Plus, a car can get across an intersection from a stop faster than a bike can. Are we just holding them back to protect pedestrians?

  5. Hahaha, nice! Sorry M1EK, this is one of those points we disagree on. I’m all for running red lights, stop signs, any anything else impeding my forward momentum as long as it doesn’t cause traffic to slow down or divert because of my action. If it counts for anything I did warn people: “break the law (even if it’s ‘safe’) and be prepared to get a ticket”. If running a red (or supporting someone who did) makes me the second worst person in Austin for the day, you must have had a really great day yesterday. 😉

  6. This argument would be a lot more convincing to me if drivers routinely obeyed the traffic laws, but they don’t. Some bikers don’t obey stops, but almost no drivers obey speed limits (both groups disobey other laws to varying degrees). The vast majority of drivers are going at least 5-10 mph over the limit most of the time. This is so common that cops clocking speeders ignore them and people driving the speed limit or under piss off the drivers behind them.
    Given that, I think comparing the harms caused by these infractions is a good way to determine which is a bigger problem. There is anecdotal evidence of bikers breaking laws and causing accidents, but I think the actual number of deaths is statistically insignificant. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for a large percentage of the population. I don’t know how many involved breaking the law, but a substantial portion of motor vehicle fatalities involve aclohol and most probably involve speeding.
    The bottom line is that I think the argument that bikers break laws so we shouldn’t improve bike facilities is pretextual (you never hear “people on that highway are speeding, so we shouldn’t add another lane until they start obeying the law”). I think most people that make that argument think spending money on bike facilities is a waste, but saying that isn’t PC, so they use “bikers break laws” as a cover.

  7. 1. Speed limits are set via a mechanism that’s so prone to NIMBYism that they’re fundamentally a joke. Despite that, speeding is mostly under control, and nobody argues that they shouldn’t get a ticket if they go 80 while driving a Prius because they’re polluting so much less than the other cars on the road.
    2. Yes, it’s an excuse – but if you remove excuses, you make it harder to hold on to the position. The reason the excuses were so effective is that they were TRUE: bicyclists on Shoal Creek WERE not stopping for red lights and stop signs all friggin’ day long.

  8. Oh, and:
    3. Much of the effort to keep and grow bicycle transportation rests on the argument that bicyclists have a right to be treated as traffic on the road. (“get on the sidewalk”, “No, I’m where I’m supposed to be”). This argument is dramatically weakened when bicyclists don’t think they ought to be subject to traffic control devices.
    4. The same junior anarchists who run red lights and stop signs would obviously be speeding if they could.

  9. Shili, aren’t you presenting a bit of a false dichotomy? You can’t compare cyclists running lights to automobiles speeding, as if they were opposite sides of the same coin.
    You can compare cyclists *speeding* to automobiles speeding. I think you’ll find that, in most situations where cyclists can manage to routinely exceed the speed limit (5 and 15 mph roads and ramps), they do so.
    The proper conclusion regarding speed limits is that a significant percentage of people, cyclists *and* drivers, speed at those times that they can.
    Now, the proper comparison is cyclists running red lights to drivers running red lights. Some drivers (but not a lot) do this, and municipalities crack down on it when detected (and detection is sometimes purposely prioritized by use of red light camera).
    Some cyclists run red lights, too. They should and are similarly cracked down upon when detected. And prioritization of detection would not be unusual or discriminatory.

  10. I think it’s silly to pretend that the fact that bikes and cars legally share the same roads, rights, and [for now] laws indicates an equality or sameness between them. The whole issue is how these very different forms of transport can share these roads peacefully. One of the best ways to improve this relationship is to build proper bike facilities, lanes, etc.
    To me, an “Idaho Stop” law makes a lot of sense. For cars, the inconvenience of stop lights is alleviated by the fact that signals are timed such that they should hit green pretty often; this is not true for bikes. Cyclists also do not have the convenience of highways to travel across town sans stops. These are inequalities that exemplify that our infrastructure is targeting the needs of drivers in such a way that is often quite discouraging to would-be cyclists.
    As a cyclist and a driver when need-be, I am sensitive to how my cycling behavior influences surrounding drivers’ opinions and sympathy towards cyclists. Although I am certainly guilty of “Idaho Stop” behavior, I never do it when there are oncoming vehicles, only when the road is clearly empty. Honestly, I think drivers are more frustrated at cyclists having this “advantage” (even though they are risking the same ticket) than they are intimidated by the dangers posed by such riders.
    Sidewalks, for various obvious reasons are not remotely safer for cyclists. And considering that what seems to anger drivers most is being slowed down by cyclists taking a lane, the obvious solution is to build proper bike lanes, free of raised sewers and potholes.

  11. I don’t have a problem with ticketing people that break the law. People that run lights and people that speed are both breaking the law. I think prioritization of which lawbreakers to ticket should be based on the harm caused (I see no reason to limit this to cyclists/drivers running red lights; it seems reasonable to me to compare all potential applications of law enforcement resources). I think drivers speeding causes more harm than bikers running stops.

  12. Well, here’s the context:
    Cops already prosecute speeding well beyond its danger. (Police spend more time writing speeding tickets than solving crimes).
    We just put up red-light cameras to catch cars/trucks running red lights.
    And, now, that cops are finally thinking about writing tickets for cyclists running red lights, we have a cyclist bragging about beating a ticket, and a blogger talking about how noble he was for doing so.
    Does that help?

  13. Re: There is no moral justification for you running that red light that doesn’t apply to any of us when we drive
    Uh…. how about the fact that if you run a red light in a car you’re apt to kill someone, if you run a red light on a bike you’re only apt to kill yourself? I think that’s plenty of justification to be able to run ’em on bikes but not in a car!

  14. Timmyz, that’s a very common retort. It’s full of crap.
    About 10 years ago, I nearly destroyed a very nice car, and nearly caused significant injuries to myself and another driver (and substantial damage to his car) because a juvenile anarchist ran a red light across 24th. I swerved into oncoming traffic knowing that I’d probably have killed the cyclist (making a quick determination that the financial loss and injuries to myself and the other motorist would be better than killing somebody, no matter how much he would assure people that he looked both ways and didn’t see anybody coming).

  15. “And, now, that cops are finally thinking about writing tickets for cyclists running red lights, we have a cyclist bragging about beating a ticket, and a blogger talking about how noble he was for doing so.
    Does that help?”
    I don’t agree w/a lot of you say, but I agree w/this, a lot.

  16. Running a red light or a stop sign on a bike endangers other cyclists. How can anyone honestly believe that he’s putting only himself at risk?
    Most of my close calls and my only accident requiring medical attention have involved other cyclists disregarding traffic laws — running red lights, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding at night without lights. Clowns.

  17. M1EK, I don’t understand how you can think that cops already prosecute speeding well beyond its danger (compared to bikes running stops) or that speeding is mostly under control (while you presumably think bikes running stops is not under control). Why is it ok for cars to break the law by speeding, but not ok for bikers to run stops?

  18. Shilli, speeding is already heavily prosecuted. Do you disagree with that? (The fact that it still doesn’t work shows something important: that speed limits are set too low for political reasons in many cases, but that’s another issue).
    Bikes running stops is not under control because it’s a far more dangerous activity to disregard traffic control devices, and because (until recently), it was rarely if ever ticketed.
    Have you ever seen me here lionizing somebody who knowingly (excessively) broke the speed limit, went to court, and beat the ticket because the cop didn’t show up (even though he was guilty as sin)?
    I put running red lights up with excessive speeding – like the guys who go 90 once in a while on Mopac. It’s certainly much more serious than going 70 in a 65 (or going 45 on roads like Spicewood Springs west of Mopac, which were underposted due to neighborhood pressure, not for engineering or safety reasons).

  19. People get tickets for speeding, but, as you say, it doesn’t do much to keep people in general from speeding. I disagree that means that limits are set too low – I would argue that it means most roads are too wide and have too many lanes.
    That said, just like cops ticketing speeders doesn’t stop speeding, I don’t think cops ticketing bikers is going to stop them running lights. Also, I don’t think cops ticketing bikers (or even bikers not running lights) is going to stop people who don’t want to improve bike infrastructure from saying “I once saw a biker run a light, so we shouldn’t build bike lanes.”
    In both cases, I think the answer is to design roads (including bike lanes) in such a way that the physical layout encourages drivers and bikers to proceed safely. I think there are some good ideas out there about how to do that, and some people are trying to implement those here in Austin, but they are generally outvoted by people who want big roads so that they can drive everywhere as fast as possible. Even when we get bike infrastructure in Austin, it seems to be designed with the foremost priority being not to slow drivers at all (e.g. the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, where there are about 5 stops in a quarter mile so that drivers can get in and out of the Austin High parking lot without stopping).

  20. I’m with you on roadway design, but that doesn’t change the fact that limits are underposted for many of the roads we’ve got, on the questionable contention that a sign can make people drive much slower than is obviously safe.
    Traffic control devices are a radically different animal. We all use assumed behavior by others in order to operate efficiently – we don’t stop at every single green light to see if somebody’s coming. If we had to do that, the whole system would come to a grinding halt (yes, even for cyclists).
    Agreed completely about the Lance Armstrong Stopway. I have an open item to go take some pictures and write a blast about that one.
    But there’s no traffic control treatment I can imagine which allows bikes to treat stop signs and traffic lights differently than do cars which doesn’t open up the whole can of worms (“I’m a good driver, why can’t I treat a red light as a stop sign too?”). The moral case is severely lacking, and the practical case is stupid: most cyclists who think they know what to do 100% of the time on those intersections are fooling themselves – they’re making bad assumptions about how far away a car would have to be to get to the intersection before their bike clears.

  21. Finally:
    “I once saw a biker run a light, so we shouldn’t build bike lanes.”
    isn’t the statement. It’s
    “bikers constantly blow stop signs and red lights”.
    Which is TRUE, and far more damaging to the cause.
    I ‘once’ saw a driver run a red light. Doesn’t change the fact that 99.9999% of the times I have seen somebody run the middle of a red cycle (or just blast through a stop sign), he’s been on a bike, not driving a car.

  22. Hearing that my name (Mike Librik) came up on the “Bake Sale of Bile,” I have trudged in to clarify two things about Mike Dahmus’s stormy exit from the mailing list, of which I’m the administrator.
    1. “…it was being ganged up on by the Juvenile Anarchist Brigade … that finally chased me off the austin-bikes list after years and years of contributing there …. Thanks, Mike Librik”
    But which party “chased” him off the list? Was is the red-light-runners with whom he was arguing, or was it me, the list moderator, who personally agrees with Mr. Dahmus about the red lights thing?
    It was neither. Dahmus resigned, unsolicited, voluntarily, after I asked him (yet again) not to call his opponents “delusional.” I was still reminding him “after years and years” of the list rule against insulting other members. “Attack the idea, not the person.” Mr. Dahmus got fed up with this lecture and resigned on his own.
    2. “after not being allowed to fight fire with fire”
    What Mr. Dahmus considers a measured rebuttal looked like an escalation to myself, previous moderators, and many list members. (I guess we are all delusional.)
    Dahmus wasn’t the only list member to challenge an argument by attacking the intelligence or sanity of its promoter, but he was the most indignant when asked to stop. He is quick to shovel on the “bile,” as readers of this blog can appreciate.

    Mike Librik, LCI #929
    Easy Street Recumbents
    (512) 453-0438
    5555 N. Lamar Blvd, #C127
    SE corner of Koenig & Lamar
    Behind the herb shop that faces Koenig
    Austin, TX 78751

  23. Readers should be aware that the argument is, of course, a load of crap – Librik let stand a post from another contributor that was a vile, personal, attack on not only myself but on my record of service, and would not accept my response, which although heated, was primarily an effort to educate said ‘contributor’ as to my years spent on the UTC trying to make things a little better for cyclists around here.
    There was no ‘request’ not to call the list member in question ‘delusional’; the post was simply rejected out of hand, and, yes, the adjective was critical to making the point. As in, “it would be (delusional) to claim that [I] never did anything for cyclists after I spent 5 years on that commission fighting for [you]”.
    And, by the way, his representation of himself as primarily agreeing with yours truly is highly inaccurate. If one was to attempt to find a position closer to the one he truly espoused, it would be the one held by Shilli in these very comments. (Previous moderators, on the other hand, were members of the ‘juvenile anarchist brigade’ to which I referred).

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