I’ve been cycling to school or to work on a daily basis since I was fifteen. One year, I even held a part time job as a bicycle courier, and cycling became my work. Along the way, I’ve built up the usual set of pet hates. I can’t stand people who cycle on the pavement when there’s a perfectly useable road – especially if they’re riding those stupid chopper stunt bikes. I’ve never minded people who don’t wear bicycle helmets – I personally wear one most of the time, but there’s no law against it, and I don’t believe there should be one. On the other hand, I think people who don’t use bike lights are suicidal idiots – and if I’ve been caught out by my own absent-mindedness and the encroaching winter dusk, I’ll be sure to kick myself thoroughly before cycling carefully home.
Most controversially – and I know I will incur the ire of pedestrians and motorists by saying this – I will jump the occasional red light, where I judge it safe and convenient to do so. Such occasions include, but are not necessarily limited to: when the pedestrian crossing is in use, when it is possible to join the flow of traffic from the side without disrupting it (i.e. at a T-junction) and when there’s self-evidently no-one coming.
If there’s a crusty old pedestrian around to say ‘It’s a red light for you too, you know!’ or a taxi to honk at me – well, I’m afraid that only increases the intolerable sense of smugness that makes us cyclists so generally reviled.
Bella Bathhurst coined a wonderful term for the bicyclists of Britain – feral cyclists. Historically, we were never given much attention, or government provision – we simply got on the roads and started duking it out with the traffic on the traffic’s own terms. Anyone who’s ever had the (still occasionally terrifying) experience of being overtaken by a bus or lorry knows how unequal that engagement is – yet still, we persisted. Nowadays, there are a few more bike lanes – sometimes even dedicated bike paths – but the sensation of being an underdog persists. And as underdogs – where it be the delight of zipping past a full lane of stationary traffic, or cycling with our hands in our pockets, or jumping lights – we’ll take any advantage we get. After all, bicycles are more manoeuvrable than cars – bicyclists can see more – and if a bicyclist collides with a pedestrian, the outcome is likely to be annoyance, at worst minor injury, not fatalities. I’ve never collided with anyone yet, and don’t see it happening unless the bicyclist is being an absolute speed demon and the pedestrian isn’t looking where they’re going.
Part of the effort to cut down on bicycle fatalities is getting cyclists to assert our place on the roads – to stop cowering in the gutters, ready to be knocked silly by the first car door, and ride proudly in the middle of the road. If anyone wants to overtake us, it’s their problem, not ours. I’m careful to judge each case on it’s own merits – I’m no adrenalin junkie – but until we’ve reached the utopia of fully segregated car and bicycle systems, I will continue to jump the occasional traffic light, however much non-cyclists may look down on the practice