Yesterday The Times published an article by Assistant News Editor Lech Mintowt-Czvz in its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. http://tinyurl.com/7jwfhxz
The piece was his justification for making a personal decision at each red traffic light as to whether he was right, as a cyclist at the head a queue of traffic, to set off a few seconds before the light changed, regardless of the legal requirement to wait.
Despite having being once prosecuted for anticipating the green, then fined and sent for cycle training, he says he intends to do it again if it keeps him safe.
I think his justification is weak and I think that his publishing it is tactically wrong.
My reasoning is as follows.
The first point is one he recognises: without a social contract based on law being generally obeyed, social life becomes difficult. Moving in traffic demands a minimum level of trust that what should happen generally does or at least should happen. There are more than enough hazards already without arbitrary but personally advantageous decisions becoming the norm.
My second point of concern is with his suggestion that the Highway Code, in effect, is insisting he should run the “risk of being maimed or killed by an inattentive driver” by waiting for the green light to show. He knows that such deaths have occurred in London. Advanced Stop Lanes can put a cyclist just ahead of a lorry whose cab is so high that the cyclist cannot always be seen (either ahead or to the side) . So his policy, decided in advance, is to set off early and avoid death by being faster through the junction than the lorry if circumstances demand it.
“Recently I approached a notoriously dangerous junction I knew that in half a second the lights would switch, that the other lanes were already at red and had stopped. I ran the red light. videos showed me how little lorry drivers can see of cyclists from their cabs.”
An immediate counter to this is that there are alternative and safer ways of avoiding the problem. The Highway Code does not insist on getting to work ahead of the crowd. It tends to suggest considerate and cautious behaviour. One suggestion I would offer is to avoid the pole position in the first place. If timely eye contact with the driver seems unlikely or impossible, I would simply wait well behind such a vehicle, in the “primary position” and not in the lead-in lane to the ASL (assuming there is one). If I don’t feel confident of being able to make a safe crossing at lights, because of traffic volume or junction design common sense suggests I should dismount and find a safe place to cross on foot. It seems to me that counting on my own strength and speed to out-cycle a lorry with an unsighted driver (if that is what Lech Mintowt-Czvz is doing) would incur unnecessary additional risks of its own while achieving little gain in journey time.
My third point is the tactical issue that arises from the context of the article: it was written as part of a newspaper campaign for cycling in cities to be made safer. By trying to defend the frequently-made accusation that cyclists “always jump red lights” he has been guilty of the classic error of feeding the trolls. He has thrown bait to the flippant and thoughtless by engaging them in their own chosen swamp.
In much better news, I notice that this morning’s Times has a refinement of the issue, one already normal in The Netherlands and called for by cyclists generally, the cycle-only phase at major junctions. http://tinyurl.com/6w38rez Challenging the Highway Code is the last thing cyclists need to be seen doing at this promising stage in the debate.