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Paris to Allow Cyclists to Run Red Lights

"Griller le feu rouge!" Photo by Vladimir Zlokazov.

Councilors in Paris, France approved a new rule that would allow bicyclists to run red lights. A result of a three-year campaign by cyclists’ associations, the rule comes after road safety experts deemed it a good measure to cut road crashes.

The idea of allowing cyclists to run red lights to decrease road crashes may seem ironic, but Paris municipal authorities believe that it will be an important step in helping to ease bicycle congestion. “It makes cycle traffic more fluid and avoids bunching up cyclists when the traffic lights go green for motorists,” municipal authorities explained.

In the United States, the state of Virginia passed a similar law last July, but most bike safety campaigns in the country have held the position that bicyclists are safe on the road when they follow the same rules as car drivers. Under normal circumstances, all road users carry the inherent trust that everyone will follow the rules, MassBike explains. “Think about that next time you go through a green light: you are putting your trust in hundreds of strangers every day—trusting that they will not run through the red light and strike you. When you violate that trust, the system breaks down.”

Despite what the law may say, it is not uncommon to see bicyclists run red lights and there is a practical reason for this. “Momentum is key for the bike rider, and coming to a complete stop when nobody’s around is hard to justify,” Nate Berg explains in the Atlantic Cities. “But there’s also a danger that the more comfortable we get going green on a red, the more likely we are to relax our reflexes and de-elevate our senses to the four-wheeled threats that surround us.”

But does this idea change when it’s legal for bicyclists to run the red light? Does a rule like the one in Paris change the way “four-wheeled threats” perceive bicyclists?

The new rule in Paris is not necessarily a free-for-all, with chaotic bicycle traffic zipping in between cars to cut red lights. The rule comes with responsibilities and consequences for cyclists, like taking the blame in the event of a crash and yielding to pedestrians, as well as oncoming traffic. And despite the approval of the new rule, its implementation will be on a trial period and only exercised on 15 crossroads, before it is expanded to cover up to 1,700 Parisian crossroads. Until then, red and yellow signs on traffic lights will alert cyclists as to whether or not they can run the red light in designated zones with traffic speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour (about 20 miles per hour.)

Cyclists running red lights has truly become a contentious issue. The rule’s supporters argue that cyclists should have more freedom on the road because the true source of fatal danger is the presence of cars, not other bicycles.

As blogger Josh Hart explains:

“Unfortunately we live in a society where the needs of one class of road user are prioritized at the expense of more vulnerable road users […] The bottom line is that red lights and other rigid, auto-based traffic rules are only necessary to keep the awkward and clumsy movements of cars packed into an urban area from killing and maiming more than they already do. Why should cyclists, who aren’t the cause of this madness, be caught up in the same wide net as cars?  The solution is not to campaign for cyclists’ obedience to traffic lights, but to change the law to better reflect the reality of our transport systems.”

What do you think? Do you believe that allowing bicyclists to run red lights can raise the road safety awareness of car drivers? Share your opinions with us below.

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  • til

    This is awesome, I hope the test phase is going to be a success, and I’m confident that it will be.

    Traffic lights were invented because of and for car traffic only – without cars nobody would have ever thought of them, so I find it unfair to demand from cyclists to strictly obey the traffic lights in the same way as cars have to.

  • Cberthet

    As a pedestrian, I think this rule is very dangerous. if I have the walk sign, who has the priority ? I do not want cyclists to be zooming in front of me when I cross the street with the walk sign.

  • PennyFarthing

    I totally agree that red light running – many, many times, is safer for the cyclist = and better for traffic management.
    It needs to be done carefully, with awareness by the cyclist. However, it can make total sence to change the law. The FRENCH are ahead of Americans on many things transport.

  • Real Deal

     Awesome idea. This should be done in Australia, especially Sydney CBD. I run red lights now because it’s safer for me to do that. Be great if RTA recognised that this is safer and easier for riders AND cars like the French have. If I can get a good 100 metres in front of the traffic then no cars have to overtake me and I get to the next set of lights before the cars do. This is a win/win situation for everyone.
    shorting light cycles will not do it for me, because then I still end up with a bunch of cars behind me that want to try to overtake me which is dangerous. So even if they made the light cycles shorter, I will still ride through the red light.
    The RTA needs to talk to those commuter cyclists that ride every day in peak hour traffic, to get a better understanding of the danger levels and requirements for road rules for bikes. No point in asking a few riders that ride on weekends their opinions because they don’t have the experience to have a valid opinion. Ask those that are in the thick of it every day.

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  • Bambubikebrasil

    Exactly! Make it so that no one needs to run red lights! Dynamic senor traffic systems to make traffic flow fluid!

  • Ant6n

    How about just making traffic light cycles really short, and installing countdown clocks. Approaching an intersection, a cyclist can slow down and time it to cross when the light turns green again.

    It seems that short traffic light signals would also help pedestrians.