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Is it worth jumping red lights?

July 20, 2010

More on cycling – if this isn’t of interest to you then I’m sorry, but I do it (almost) every day, so it figures large in universe of things I think about.

It’s widely known that cyclists (especially in London) jump red traffic lights. It’s also widely known that the Metropolitan and City of London Police forces are clamping down on this practice and issuing £30 on-the-spot fines.

The publicity surrounding this made me wonder what difference, in terms of journey time, it might make.

So I conducted an experiment, and then observed other cyclists.

First, my experiment: I timed myself cycling to work. I took my time, cycled at a reasonable speed, and stopped at every red traffic light.  (OK there was a red cycle-lane light where, by pulling out onto the main road, I could go through a green light and by-pass the red one, but apart from that one I stopped at every red and waited to set off again until the amber light showed.)

If you’re not familiar with UK traffic signals – our lights go Red+Amber before going Green.

The next day I pedalled like fury, and went through most of the red lights I encountered (when I considered it safe to do so).

The difference, in my 25 minute commute, was 3 minutes. Does that seem worth breaking the law and potentially putting my safety and that of other road users at risk? IMHO no, it doesn’t.

Following my recent experiment I followed two different cyclists on my route to work. Each of them jumped most of the red traffic lights (while I was following, I waited until it was legal to proceed) and when they turned off into what I presume was their place of work I was no more than 30 yards behind – maybe 10 seconds?

I’ve followed each cyclist twice now with the same results.

I want to be clear, I’m not criticising them – they can cycle however they want. If they want to break the law and risk their own safety on the way to work, it’s up to them. But what I can say is that doing so shortens their journey to work (over the section that coincides with mine) by about 10 seconds.

My conclusion is that unless your life is in danger there is no need to jump a red light, cycle the wrong way down a one-way street or cycle on the pavement because it doesn’t actually make very much difference to your overall journey time.

If you get a thrill from doing so, or if you can justify the few moments saved by the good you do in making the world a better place, solving world hunger and banishing malaria in the time you save, then by all means carry on – just make sure that the road is completely clear of cars, buses, trucks, taxis, pedestrians, motor cyclists AND other pedal cyclists before you do it.

Oh, you’d better make sure there are no policemen around either or you may find yourself paying £30 for the privilege.

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