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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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