So red light jumping and bikes are the new golf, according to Chris Wikaira and Tony Doe. This bothers me on several levels…
First, describing Wellington’s RLJ bicyclists as color-blind, male, racing cyclist, CEOs and executives who have money to burn on flash bicycles and accessories is a form of “othering”. This is the idea that “they’re not like me”, and throughout history this has been the basis for justifying every horrible thing that a person can do, or has done, to another person. The reality is that that person on a bike could be a radio host, your child’s school-teacher, your neighbor, the mayor, or anyone else that’s not so different than you.
Second, I’m not a fan of singling out bicycles when it comes to road safety in general, and red lights in particular. I consider myself a “road safety advocate”, rather than a “bicycle safety advocate”. Pointing out that bicycles run red lights ignores Wellington’s “jaywalking culture” and the most dangerous red light runners in Wellington: Motorists.
It would be one thing if those RLJs were caught while looking for RLJ motorists, but they were all recorded while just passing through that one intersection near the Basin Reserve.
Here’s another RLJ compilation by one of London’s most famous helmet-camera bicyclists. Count the RLJ bicyclists…
Third, when the topic of RLJ bicyclists comes up, the two sides of the “debate” tend to be “it’s fine” and “no it’s not“. This ignores the fact that there are different types of RLJ. Is it OK to RLJ if the road is empty and the traffic-light isn’t sensing a bike? Is it OK to RLJ over a pedestrian crosswalk if it’s empty? Is it OK to RLJ as long as no one gets hurt? Is it OK to RLJ because you’re in a hurry?
For the record here, one of the reasons why it’s not OK to RLJ in a motor vehicle (unless you’ve got flashing lights and sirens) is because a motor vehicle is a steel and glass cage that isolates its occupants from the outside world. Even a motorcycle helmet has a significant effect on vision and hearing. Bicyclists in most of world don’t bother with helmets at all, but even in NZ our bicycle helmets are little more than styrofoam hats that do not impede visibility or hearing. On bicycles, we are much more closely connected to the world around us, and we can see and hear other traffic (this includes other bicycles, pedestrians, skateboarders, etc) much more easily than motorists.
Fourth, and this is really an extension of #3, is that this type of “debate” such as that raised by the radio show ignores the fact that bicyclists can not only RLJ safely, but allowing bicyclists the personal discretion to RLJ can improve safety.
Have you heard of the “Idaho Stop“? Idaho passed a law in 1982 that allows bicyclists to treat “stop” signs as “give way”, and red-lights like stop signs.
Would you believe that the law has been in effect for 30 years, has been attributed to increased bicycling mode-share and the year after it was passed bicycling injuries were REDUCED BY 14.5% and “the decline in injuries is consistent with the strong indication that the law actually improves overall roadway safety“.
So going through red lights can make bicycling safer? Yes!
For now, the law in NZ doesn’t allow bicyclists any discretion when facing a red light. Hopefully this will be on CAN’s to-do list in the near future. It’s about safety! So let’s stop arguing whether or not it’s OK for bicyclists to RLJ, and let’s shift the discussion to: “Why is it still illegal for NZ bicyclists to RLJ“?