Let’s go run some red lights

Manhattan Bridge
Cyclists on the Manhattan Bridge at dusk.

A little about my biking style: I’m definitely not an aggressive rider, but I generally agree with concept of the “Idaho stop”–if the intersection is safe and clear, I’ll run the red light on my bike. First of all, it’s convenient. But it also aligns with my personal philosophy that there should be a different set of rules for bikes than there is for cars. Biking is transportation of the future! It’s clean, it’s healthy, it’s minimalist. And so I think bikers should get preferential treatment–like tax breaks and the right to run red lights (when the intersection is safe and clear). You can call me a socialist if you want to.

So way back in August I rode my bike into the city of San Francisco. The day I arrived I had the privilege of riding with native San Franciscan, Jack, who had also spent a few of his recent years in New York City. Once in the city we stopped at a red light at a T intersection. We were at the top of the T, going straight,  and there was no traffic coming from the other side–which is to say, it was a very clear intersection. So, following my personal biking philosophy, I ran the red light. And Jack said, “This isn’t New York City(!)–we don’t run red lights. We’re having so much fun here that it don’t matter if you have to wait for a red light.”

And now that I am actually in New York City and often riding my bike, I can say from experience, oh my how the New Yorkers run red lights! Where is everyone going? Is someplace giving away a limited amount of free beer? I didn’t get the memo.

Sure, there are all kinds of bikers here. I saw a man riding with two little kids in a seat in the backseat. He was understandably less aggressive, as are plenty of other people. But generally I feel like the odd one out, waiting there for the light to turn green.  The local cyclists won’t even come to a stop at the stop light, they’ll roll forward into the intersection until they can see past the cars parked on the street. If the intersection is at least partially clear, they’ll continue forward. If traffic is too thick to get through they’ll hover in the middle of the intersection or they’ll ride in little circles until a gap presents itself. Then they’ll slip through.

I still have a lot to learn about New Yorkers (and San Franciscans for that matter) but from what I can tell so far, it’s not so much that that San Franciscans have more fun, it’s just that fun means something different to New Yorkers.

Observation continues. I’ll keep you updated on my findings.


  1. I agree cyclists should get preferential treatment and if you are stopped at a red light for a pedestrian crossing that no one is crossing then there’s no harm in skipping the light. Sadly Genevan police disagree with me and after getting a very expensive ticket when I first started cycling here I’m now ridiculously conscious at lights (conscious of whether there are any police in the vicinity :)).

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