Weekend Poll: Stop or roll across the top of the T?

Every cyclist knows this situation: You’re biking in the road shoulder or a bike lane across the top of a “T” intersection and there’s a red light or stop sign. Do you stop or do you go?



Those who stop point out:

  • Bicyclists have the same responsibility as drivers and must follow the same rules.
  • We cannot expect motorists to have respect for bicyclists on the road if we continually flout the rules.
  • The police in my town ticket cyclists who run red lights like this!

Those who run the lights say:

  • There’s no safety reason to stop.
  • Cars must turn either left or right; cyclists do not cross their path at all.
  • Cyclists running this light don’t interfere with the right of way of the other traffic at all.
  • The stop bar doesn’t extend into the shoulder.
  • The shoulder isn’t legally part of the roadway, so the stop doesn’t apply to me anyway.

What do you say and what are your reasons?

Top of the T intersection: Stop for light or no?

View Results

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40 Comments

  • August 6, 2010 - 10:51 am | Permalink

    If there's anyone else present in the intersection, I stop. Otherwise, I blow right through.

  • Matt
    August 6, 2010 - 10:54 am | Permalink

    For me, the negative attention from other drivers/pedestrians/cyclists for going through a red – regardless of occasion – makes it not worth it. I understand all the “it's actually safe” arguments, but I think the perception matters more.

  • Bill
    August 6, 2010 - 10:58 am | Permalink

    Of course, if the road had been designed for bicycles as well as cars there would be no problem with riding through. This is the battle we must fight, our rights to travel on roads our taxes finance in a safe manner!

  • August 6, 2010 - 10:58 am | Permalink

    I stop in that situation. There is a part of my commute that is just like that.

  • August 6, 2010 - 10:59 am | Permalink

    BTW if that light were always red, and it required a sensor trigger than I would blow it.

  • mjd74
    August 6, 2010 - 11:03 am | Permalink

    I stop, or at least slow down a lot. But the real problem is that the infrastructure doesn't take cyclists into account. They should add a “cyclists in bike lane do not need to stop” sign.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:05 am | Permalink

    When going north on 9W in NJ I never used to stop. The margin is 10 feet wide at the light. It almost feels like a road to itself. But the police are giving out $150 tickets to cyclist who procede when the light is red. So I now believe stopping is the right thing to do.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:08 am | Permalink

    Duncan Watson said: BTW if that light were always red, and it required a sensor trigger than I would blow it.

    If you put a small magnet on your frame under the crank, it will trigger the road sensors. Road sensors pick up electrical fields from the engine on cars.

  • Anon
    August 6, 2010 - 11:10 am | Permalink

    It would be illegal to blow through it. That said, I wouldn't even slow down in that situation unless there was a police officer in sight.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:10 am | Permalink

    Well, here in Portugal you're not allowed (officially) on the shoulder so… I'd stop at the signal because I would be riding in the lane. If not, I woudn't stop because I'de be riding outside of the system and my path doesn't collide with anybody else's coming from other directions.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:15 am | Permalink

    @Bruce: I've been meaning to test this empirically as a type of bike Mythbusters (I even bought the expensive super strong rare earth magnets) but haven't gotten around to this yet, but given how demand actuated traffic light sensors work, I strongly doubt the magnet does anything, no matter how strong it is.

    The magnetic field generated in the under pavement loop generates a current in conductive objects. On a bicycle, this would be your bike wheel. This current induces its own magnetic field that's opposite of the magnetic field generated by the detector, which in turn changes the resonant frequency of the of the sensor. This frequency change is detected as an inductance change. A magnet does not induce the type of magnetic field that's detected by the field sensor.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:16 am | Permalink

    That's my rule as well.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:18 am | Permalink

    The “actually safe” arguments aren't valid. I've seen too many times that someone making that left turn goes wide to the right (and into the bike lane/shoulder) to give his fellow motorist more room. I'd much rather stop and be able to tell about it than to end up in a hospital bed (or worse) thinking I was safe.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:21 am | Permalink

    We rarely correctly conceive of how much of a delay a 30-60 second red light is. It's red, I stop. It turns green, I go. Rarely does it make a significant impact on my ride in my car or on my bike.

    There is no significant time gain by running the light. What we have here is a case of “gotta-get-there-itis”. I've seen people on the highway make some incredibly risky moves in order to be an extra 20 feet up the road. Totally not worth the time reward.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:23 am | Permalink

    I agree. There is – in this particular scenario – a low safety risk. However, I want to be a good cycling citizen. If I stop when I don't really need to, it projects a law-abiding message.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    It's simple. It's the law, you stop. End of story.

  • August 6, 2010 - 11:38 am | Permalink

    I would treat it like any other stop sign: slow, look for traffic, stop if there is traffic, go if there's none. Most traffic lights in my area are not triggered by my bike, so tend to go when the way is clear rather than waiting for a light that will never change. But I would still pause, or at least slow down. Even though I understand that it /shouldn't/ be possible for a driver/cyclist collision, there's always the possibility that a driver will make wide turn that temporarily puts them into the shoulder. In that case, who's at fault? The driver who shouldn't have gone into the shoulder, or the cyclist who should have stopped at the light? Rather than have to answer that question, I'd stop and check. There's no logic in ignoring the rules of the road on the assumption that everyone else is going to follow them. We know that's not the case.

  • Murali
    August 6, 2010 - 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Imagine if cars used that logic.

    Sure, you can selectively apply the law based on subjective judgement. It works. Except when you mis-judge.

    It's better that everyone follow the law.

  • Dominic
    August 6, 2010 - 12:18 pm | Permalink

    The lane that the cyclist is traveling in (the bike lane) does not have a limit line, and therefore is not required to stop. Treat it as a yield.

  • August 6, 2010 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    @Dominic: In California, at least, vehicles are still required to stop at red lights even when the stop bar is missing. It can be argued that because the shoulder isn't part of the legal roadway, the red light doesn't apply, but I know the local police don't see it that way.

  • richard.
    August 6, 2010 - 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Just because some officers are writing tickets doesn't mean they are right. The lane looks as though a stop is not required, with the stop line not extending. I'm assuming that to be a bike lane vs a shoulder. If it is a shoulder, then a stop is required. If it is a bike lane, then the city should provide an answer as to if a stop is required or not.

  • August 6, 2010 - 12:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a shoulder, not a bike lane. Specific location is southbound Central Expressway underneath the Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View, California. In California, there are requirements about pavement markings that define a bike lane, which might make a difference because of California's mandatory bike lane law.

  • August 6, 2010 - 1:45 pm | Permalink

    In these situations (and there are a couple of these that I routinely encounter) I generally stop, so as not to confuse any poor, hapless motorists who might be around. If the light doesn't change *and* there's no vehicles coming, then I'll proceed. But I err on the side of (a) presenting a friendly, law-abiding image of cyclists to cars, and (b) not getting a citation.

  • Jeremy
    August 6, 2010 - 1:51 pm | Permalink

    All the reasons given for both sides are true. I, for one, stop. There is an intersection much like this on Foothill where San Antonio joins. I stop, for what I consider, safety reasons. The white line marking the shoulder/bike lane there has noticeable wear from the left turning car's tires swinging wide around the turn. As with many things on the road, eventually I'd be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I can only ride safer by putting myself in situations where there is less risk.

  • BykMor
    August 6, 2010 - 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I run one of these lights almost every day.
    I believe “Same roads, same rules, same rights… but different”. We are different than cars. There are certain things that we will never be able to do to be the “same” as a car, so there comes a point when it becomes silly to say we have to behave exactly the same.

    I also believe in perception, so I'll often make it a point to slow down, look around, make sure any drivers know that I know I'm running a light… albeit safely. They may be able to say, “Dang cyclist, running a light.” But they won't be able to say, “That cyclist wasn't paying attention.”

    Stay safe,
    BykMor

  • Murali
    August 6, 2010 - 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You can say that all cars must stop but bicycles can be excepted because cars are more dangerous. But that is a false argument because it is not complete. Intersections do not just contain cars and bicycles, but also pedestrians.

    I will guarantee you that most cyclists who approach the intersection with the intention of running the light (or stop sign) only scan it for cars. I have witnessed many instances of cyclists nearly hitting pedestrians because they were only looking at the cars. (You will not see the gorilla if you are paying attention to other things.)

    The best course of action for all (cars, bicycles, pedestrians) is to not enter the intersection on a red light. Your assessment that it is safe for you to do so may be erroneous.

  • August 6, 2010 - 3:12 pm | Permalink

    In the general case that's a very good point. I've seen this as well: Pedestrians almost getting whacked by a scofflaw cyclist (and motorists, too…)

    In this specific case: This video was shot on Central Expressway in Santa Clara County, California, where pedestrians are prohibited. The discussion that prompted me to post this was another Santa Clara County location: Foothill Expressway at San Antonio Road, where pedestrians are also prohibited. I'm the lone doofus who usually stops there while everybody else blows by me.

  • Murali
    August 6, 2010 - 4:04 pm | Permalink

    What you say about no pedestrians at those intersections is totally valid. But it is dangerous to selectively apply the law. Do you really expect the subjective judgement to be correctly performed each time at each intersection? While evaluating multiple sensory inputs.

    At some point a pedestrian will get hit and the cyclist or motorist. will say “I thought there would be no pedestrians there, oops”.

    I will agree with your point if you will accept that it is okay for a car to go through a red light if there is no one else at the intersection. Would that be okay? With clearly no one else in sight and it is obviously safe, is it okay for a car to not stop?

  • Ghostrider
    August 6, 2010 - 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I glued an old hard drive magnet to the bottom of my shoe and placed it over the induction loops in the road surface. It DOES “seem” to work…but perhaps there is a bit of placebo effect.

  • RLewandowski
    August 6, 2010 - 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Driver are lucky I'm out there trying to better my health and lower everyone's premium. Cyclist should also get special rules/laws to promote less use of our natural resources.

    Randy from Minneapolis

  • pedantichrist
    August 7, 2010 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    {At some point a pedestrian will get hit and the cyclist or motorist. will say “I thought there would be no pedestrians there, oops”.} That would make the cyclist no better than the average motorist, something that would make most of us recoil in shock. Wouldn't it? :¬¨)

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  • Bopop
    August 7, 2010 - 8:04 am | Permalink

    I have had excellent results by stopping with both of my wheels on the tar strip of the sensor. If the light doesn't respond, I will go through when conditions allow it, then contact the city and report the problem intersection. They will send out an engineer to turn up the sensitivity on the sensor.

  • twothirds
    August 7, 2010 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    I stop on foothill for fear of local cops with nothing better to do. I run it on central after doing a quick scan for cops (and cars/peds/whatever).

  • August 7, 2010 - 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Would it make you feel better if I darted two meters to the right and rolled through on the crosswalk/sidewalk, as is my right under the law?

  • August 7, 2010 - 8:03 pm | Permalink

    How funny. That's exactly what I do on Park @ Meridian in San Jose, CA.

  • August 9, 2010 - 10:15 am | Permalink

    Agreed. It can be very hazardous to run the red in this situation. There is an intersection in Redmond, Washington that I used to drive a 60 foot articulated bus through every day. Here is a link to Google's Street View: http://j.mp/92JWqo

    In this example, there is actually a bike lane *without* a stop bar which makes it legal (I think) to *not* stop at the stoplight. Despite that, I would recommend stopping there if the vehicles coming from SR 520 have a green. When you are making this turn, especially in a bus, you lose sight of the bike lane in your mirrors – It is impossible to see a cyclist at many points in the turn. In addition, with 2 lanes turning left like this, vehicles frequently lose their lane position and encroach on the shoulder or bike lane – a recipe for disaster if you casually run the red.

    In short, just stop. It's not worth the extra time.

  • AL Seattle
    August 9, 2010 - 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I ride through two T-intersections (or more, depending on the route I take) every day. My main T-intersection has me riding up the long perpendicular roadway that hits the top “T.” It's essential to stop – there are pedestrians and cyclists crossing when the person decides to ride through the red light of the top “T!” I have had several close calls because of this – stop at the red light, you are putting people in danger.

    The other “T” is on a major truck route. I stop at the top of the “T” at the red light because frequently 18-wheelers go roaring through on their green and they often veer into the bike lane to make the turn. If a cyclists runds the red light at the same time a truck is turning on the green they could be squished; I've seen too many close calls to count.

  • murphstahoe
    August 9, 2010 - 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I run *that* stoplight frequently. There are exceptions – sometimes when I get to that light it's green – in which case I don't run the stoplight.

  • murphstahoe
    August 9, 2010 - 3:37 pm | Permalink

    So if a left turning car turns too wide on green, runs onto the shoulder, and kills a red-light running cyclist, who is at fault?

    If that same left turning car turns too wide on green, runs onto the shoulder, and kills a cyclist who has been standing on the shoulder for 5 minutes fixing a flat, who is at fault?

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