With the weather finally turning nice and more people commuting by bike, I thought it would be a good time to discuss biking through the red lights. I do it occasionally, but under pretty specific circumstances. Some people, God love them, don’t blow through any reds, and some people seem to barely notice that there are conditions (let alone the red itself) that might warrant not going right now.
First off, if you don’t want to ever blow a red, that’s awesome. It can be dangerous. It can mess with pedestrians. Even if it is safe, it’s still illegal. In a city that doesn’t jay walk much, I can understand the urge to sit at those lights. Also, one of my favorite things about riding a bike in the city is the interactions you get with other bicyclists while waiting for the light to change. They’re usually short conversations that don’t get much beyond “where are you going?” but it’s still fun to talk to like minded people for a minute or two, and you’ll miss a lot of it if you go through the light.
That said, I blow red lights occasionally. I also jay walk in much the same way: be safe and don’t be an asshole. So the main question is not when do circumstances warrant it, but when don’t they: Don’t ever go through a red if there’s traffic.* Assume they can’t see you. Even if they can see you, they quite reasonably aren’t expecting you to blow the light when they have the right of way. But even if you can reasonably guess how fast the next car is coming, and that you can make it, don’t blow the light. If traffic is coming in that circumstance, there’s still a good chance that you’ll force them to hit the breaks or slow down by taking their foot off the gas. If they have the right of way, they shouldn’t have to do that. Bicyclists demand that cars share the road; we ought to extend the same kindness to drivers.
Even when there aren’t cars around, you still have an obligation to be safe and not an asshole to pedestrians and other bicyclists. If there’s a reasonable chance you might hit them, just stay put until everyone is clear. If the pedestrian at the curb is looking like she might cross, but you’re not sure, stay put. Hell, get off your bike, so they know you aren’t going until they’re done.
After that, I say go for it.
* You wouldn’t think this advice would be necessary, but it kind of is.