Cyclists running reds? Tut, tut …

Anyone who’s been reading the London news the last couple of days will have heard that cyclists are getting a bit of bad publicity because of the tendency of some to pass lights at red. We all know that this is dangerous when you are driving a car or, indeed, a train, as we saw at Paddington in 1999. When a cyclist runs a red, the most that can usually happen is that a lot of people will go tut-tut and get really miffed that someone is getting ahead. They’ll be particularly narked if they are sitting in a long jam.

Unless, of course, there are kids around, and the lights are at a crossing near a school - as has been happening recently in, no doubt among other places, Stockwell. In one incident, as Lech Mintowt-Czyz reported in the Standard last night, a four-year-old boy was thrown backwards into the railings as a cyclist “just hurtled through the red light”. Clearly the cyclist was going too fast as well as running a red light, because if he had been going at a decent pace he’d have seen that it was a pedestrian crossing and that there were kids around.

Meanwhile, in the City of London, the police force there launched a ten-month crackdown, handing out 1,294 penalty notices to errant cyclists, giving them the choice of a £30 fine or a road-safety course. Most chose the course. Of course, you wonder why no scheme of this sort has taken place anywhere except in that tiny, extremely wealthy and sparsely-inhabited enclave north of London Bridge, which has its own police force (London has, or had, two other eccentric police forces, one of them concerned with the Royal Parks and the other with Kew Gardens). Obviously the City Police does not have muggings or burglaries to deal with, and there is clearly no terrorist threat either.

Anyway, ITN had a feature tonight, partly set near the school in Stockwell where the young boy was hit by a stupid cyclist. The trouble is, they then showed another junction, with a bendy bus - a number 25, if I remember rightly - which does not go near that particular school. They showed one cyclist slowly pull up to the mouth of the road, stop, and turn left. No harm done. Another shot straight across the junction, also with no ill-effect.

I’ve written about this issue before so some people might think they’ve heard it all before. But anyway, cyclists run red lights for a number of reasons unrelated to being indifferent to knocking children down. To start with, it’s in cyclists’ interest to be pulling away when motor vehicles, which can sometimes leap forward if the drivers’ clutch control isn’t good, are stationary. Second, while advance lines are sometimes painted so that cyclists can stop ahead of the cars, cars often stop in them. I wonder how many drivers are pulled over each year for sitting in the cyclists’ stop area?

But the overriding reason why cyclists running reds for the most part is a non-issue is that cyclists travel more slowly, are less heavy, and can stop faster, than any motor vehicle. A cyclist hitting a pedestrian has a fraction of the damage potential of a cyclist being hit by a motor vehicle which, perhaps, ran into him while trying to merge lanes after a set of traffic lights. Besides which, cyclists are often endangered by the stupid behaviour of pedestrians who run out into roads without looking because they can’t hear anything coming (I once saw a cyclist knocked off at West Croydon Bus Station after hitting pedestrians who ran across the road).

The point is that reckless cycling, like reckless driving, has to be taken seriously, and it can’t simply be reduced to whether the cyclist was breaking the rules. Cyclists often pass red lights, and break other rules which are clearly made with motorists in mind, for their own safety: it’s safer not to be around moving motor vehicles. The risk to pedestrians from a cyclist at normal speed is a fraction of that posed to a cyclist by a car, to say nothing of any larger vehicle (like, for example, the truckers who speed down Lower Marsh Lane in Kingston, a narrow road which is also an advertised and signposted cycle route). By all means pull over the idiots, but if the police force is wasting people’s money on busting cyclists for harmless, petty rule infractions, there is obviously other work that’s not getting done.

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