Monthly Archives: November 2011

Inequality at traffic lights

I hear lots of people grumbling about cyclists going through red traffic lights (although there are no reports of cyclists killing anyone by doing so).

I have grumbled before about the large number of drivers who race through traffic lights as or even after they change to red. Nobody seems to care about this or notice it.

Yesterday riding home from Leicester General Hospital I was reminded how law breaking drivers make traffic lights scary for cyclists.

Due to parked cars partially blocking narrow roads cyclists frequently need to “take the lane” so that aggressive drivers don’t try to squeeze through gaps that are not large enough for you and them. This is unfortunate as it frequently makes them more aggressive as the (wrongly) believe you are holding them up.

As an aside there are two key reasons why a cyclist taking the lane is not holding drivers up are:

  • there is likely a queue just ahead. If the cyclist were not taking the lane then the driver could go faster for a few metres before slamming on their brakes (and watch the cyclist fly past).
  • any delays are caused by the parked cars or the road designers who have not left space for the cyclist. Blame them and not the cyclist who is the victim of their behaviour.

Anyway the real scary bit for a cyclist when being tailgated by an aggressive driver is when you come to traffic lights. The default behaviour of drivers when they see a traffic light change is to put their foot down, to race the red. That instinct appears strong enough that they will do it even if just behind a cyclist.

Many many times I have stopped at a red light only for a car that was behind me to accelerate, overtake and rush through the lights on red.

There are few things more frightening than to hear a car behind you accelerate just as you start to stop for a red light.


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