Street fight: cyclists vs motorists
'All junctions are potential points of conflict, whatever the signals say'
Always jump lights
Hackney GP, Dr Douglas Carnall
A friend of a friend was killed on his bike at a junction on the Holloway Road a few years ago. He had waited for a green light. A motorist ran the red. The lesson: presume nothing, because presumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. All junctions are potential points of conflict, whatever the signals say. All movement through them should be cautious and characterised by gentle acceleration or deceleration. The cyclist has to have enough vigilance for everybody. More than a quarter of cycle road deaths are caused by vehicles turning left across them. If you make a presumption of momentum at all traffic signals, then overtaking queues of motors on the right, dominating the central space of junctions where everyone can see you, is more logical – even if the drivers hate you. It’s the one that doesn’t see you that’ll kill you.Why do we cycle through red lights?
First, the laws of physics. The amount of kinetic energy lost in braking from 15kph to 0kph is the same as the amount of kinetic energy required to accelerate from 0kph to 15kph. This is the same amount of energy lost to friction by a cyclist travelling 70 metres at a constant speed of 15kph. Those 70-metre sprints add up. And waiting for green means this effort is in close proximity to the exhaust pipes of motor vehicles. I’d be willing to bet that cyclists who skip red lights receive lower doses of particulate air pollution.
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The history of road design (to date) has been for the most part a process of making life easier for the motorist. I enjoy putting myself in places that challenge that. The designers of naked streets, such as Kensington’s Exhibition Road, agree that eye-to-eye negotiation may be safer than blind obedience.
Many signals on cycle routes have very short phases for onward travel across the main road, which seem designed to habituate cyclists to lawbreaking. For example, at the Angel, following the cycle route south of the main junction means waiting for three signalled junctions 50 metres apart. If you wait for all the lights it takes seven minutes to clear the junction. Ignoring the lights, it’ll usually take less than a minute. Do pedestrians always wait for the green man?
Deliberate law-breaking is not to be indulged in lightly, but I’ve yet to get a ticket. To my fellow cyclists who have, I say, ‘If you’re not paying enough attention to spot the cops, you’re not paying enough attention to jump the light.’ And ALWAYS give way to pedestrians. ALWAYS.
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