Right turn on red is legal, chump

My GPS captured this move I made during my bike commute on Wednesday night.

I’m traveling north to south (top to bottom in this image) along San Jose 1st Street.

Bicycle u-turn

I was at a full stop at the intersection with Karina, where the red light can be very long, with about a zillion people making a u-turn from northbound 1st onto southbound 1st Street. As I made the right turn, a guy standing at the corner waiting for the light admonished me not to run the red light.

“Right turn on red is legal in California,” and I went on my merry way. The U-Turn is also legal, and then another right turn (this time with a green light) and I’m on my way.

For whatever reason, I know some cyclists get uptight at “cheater” moves like this. I don’t really know why — perhaps they feel a little guilty about a bike’s superior mobility for these kinds of situations? Or they’re worried about enraging somebody? But I don’t really know — I do know I’m lousy at judging others motivations.

I also had a 15 to 20 MPH tailwind. It’s not real possible to go super fast on 1st Street with the heavy traffic and multiple stops, but the wind enabled me to beat the VTA light rail train from Montague Expressway to downtown for the first time ever. This is difficult to do — while frequent stops slow the train, they travel about 40 MPH from Tasman Drive to about the Civic Center Station, and they get preferential green lights. The traffic signal often changes to red immediately after the train passes, which means if you drop even a little behind the train you’re stuck at the red light as the train continues another three or four blocks down the road.

Busy light rail

Bikes are allowed on Santa Clara County VTA light rail. There’s theoretically a limit of 8 bikes per car, but nobody ever enforces that. Since trains along 1st Street run every six to ten minutes, bumping is never a problem. These days I usually catch light rail in the morning, mostly to avoid showering at the office. I’ll bike the seven miles to downtown San Jose in the evening.

Biking is faster than light rail along 1st / 2nd Streets betwen Japantown / Ayer station and south of Downtown to about Diridon Station and the Children’s Museum. Sometimes even running is faster than the light rail through downtown. Still, service is frequent, and it’s handy to get out of the rain and sit to post to Facebook or Reddit or whatever.

File this under 30 Days of Biking.


  1. Hey Richard….I’m totally with you on the right turn red light deal.  I do it all the time and don’t find it wrong, illegal, dangerous, or anything else.  I only do it in situations where I feel it’s safe, and it usually happens on deserted roads that don’t have traffic.  Just wanted to let you know that I’m down with you on this one.


  2. No problem with that move here… done safely, why not? Hell, depending on circumstances I might do that in my car!

  3. Good analysis. I’m not sure I would have done the same, but your logic deserves respect and seems absolutely legal, if a bit unconventional. Irritating would be a dweeb that simply rode straight through the red without interrupting his/her cadence. Your move is an entirely higher universe.

  4. i don’t think the VTA gets preferential lights thru downtown, does it? It always seems stopped to me. but then again, today, while driving on santa clara, i experienced waiting for the train to go thru — and i had a red — for the first time.

  5. Did you hand signal the right turn?  Just asking, it would explain if the guy couldn’t guess which way you were going to go.

  6. The reason the light there is so long is because of the huge queue of u-turning cars doing the same thing. They come from Brokaw (the next major street southeast of my intersection), make the right to avoid waiting at the light, u-turn at Karina, and then go right to get on Hwy 101.

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