13 January 2010

Green light for red-light jumping on lethal London Road

Here's another example where a cyclist is much safer jumping the red lights. It's London Road, which runs northwest from the howdah riders of the Elephant and Castle to the trapeze artists and clowns of St George's Circus.

The pic right shows the view looking south towards the Elephant. The cyclist has just jumped a red light. And he's quite right to do so.

Here's why. Going north (right), from the lights, the left-hand lane is buses and cycles only. The rest of the road carries two lanes of oncoming regular traffic.

So what happens if you obediently wait for the green before setting off? You probably have a bus on your tail. And, unfortunately, not all the drivers are patient enough to wait for safety before overtaking you.

Many buses, perhaps finding the oncoming traffic is oncoming faster than they expected, cut in lethally close as they overtake you at high speed (right). Riding assertively, in the middle of the lane, is no use; it only makes drivers more impatient and more liable to overtake dangerously. Roughly speaking, I'd say that if you obey the lights, you get cut up between one in ten times, and five in ten times, depending on how fast a cyclist you are.

We had a very unpleasant such incident on Monday night. A near-death experience. A brush with mortality and a bus's boundary layer. I glimpsed my doppelgänger, riding a ghostly bike identical to mine, and he looked just like me, only older. It wasn't nice at all. And what did the driver have to say for himself? 'I dunno what you're talking about', before slamming the window shut. Anyway, the matter is currently in the hands of Transport for London's email profanity filter.

A few days ago I covered the new cycle lane at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge, whose only effect is to stop cyclists while giving no safety benefit. No wonder cyclists ignore the red there. (TfL haven't done anything about it yet, though they say they're aware and that the current signal phasing is only a temporary measure. Yeah, well, the Eiffel Tower was only a temporary measure in 1889.) But busting a red there is a matter of bypassing stupidity and inconvenience. Busting the red here, on London Road, is actually a safety benefit: you can put a safe distance between you and the assassin driving the wheeled office block behind you.

As it happens, I always stop at reds. Always. It's a sort of pride-cum-PR thing: I have a superiority complex as a cyclist, and want to show that I'm better than those idiot drivers who ignore ASLs and push their luck at the lights.

But my advice for anyone cycling this stretch is, for your own safety, to ignore the reds (if safe to do so, of course). I won't. But in this case you should do as I say, not do as I do.


  1. Good post. It seems that the choice is between expecting all road users to obey the law (including bus drivers who would not then be able to overtake on that lane) or expecting that no one will, which is of course the reality.

    The problem with the 'stop-at-red' brigade is that they forget that complying with the law only works if more or less everyone else does, which they plainly don't.

    Expecting cyclists to stop at red while accepting that bus drivers (for example) will break the law and overtake dangerously is not a viable proposition.

  2. The only trouble with cyclists routinely jumping *that* red is that it appears to be a pedestrian crossing. Which does mean it's unlikely to be dangerous for the cyclist, but could be very inconvenient for the pedestrians!

    Much as I agree with you that it may well be safer here I can't actually bring myself to encourage anyone else to do so. And like you I try to always stop at them myself.

  3. @lnr... hi. Yes, it's a ped and cycle crossing (part of the Elephant and Castle cycle by-pass, so called because cyclists all by-pass it, because it's a bit rubbish).

    Obviously, I'd only expect cyclists to ignore the red if it was safe to do so. I'm talking about stopping at the red, checking no-one's coming across you (visibility is good here), and then proceeding cautiously if it's clear, and not just charging through regardless!

  4. We need a different term for going through a red when there's clearly no risk to anyone to distinguish from 'jumping' which suggests a reckless act.

    Your good with words Rob. Perhaps you can suggest something. I'll throw "negotiating red lights" in to start the ball rolling. Um, I quite like that.

  5. I'll suggest "safety jump".

    I also always stop at red lights - erm, unless I think I'm in danger. Mr Fatneck revving his Porsche behind me, for example.

  6. Safety jump... mmm, not bad at all... any advance on that, anyone?

  7. In the railway world when a train passes a red signal it's termed 'SPAD' or Signal Passed At Danger. "Passing a red" seems a lot less controversial than "jumping", "disobeying" or "ignoring". Some people consider that "jumping" a red only applies to a vehicle in motion that passes a signal when it has just gone red. If you stopped and loked both ways and started again they would maintain would not be "jumping" but perhaps 'disobeying'.

    Passing seems very , well, passive. How about 'Safety pass'?

  8. As the word 'jumping' seems quite popular here, how about 'parachute jump'? Slightly surreal but does have metaphorical implications of life-saving.

  9. I agree that there are times where running the red is safer. Often its due to other vehicles in the ASL, which the police never enforce (even when they are targeting red light jumpers).
    I'll always try and stop at reds, but there are those times where you just have to get out of there.

    London road is pretty awful, what with buses overtaking you going north and cars speeding the other way.
    I think part of the problem is that as its only the buis lane going north, the bus drivers think that means they should have a clear run.

    Bus drivers in London often have a view that cyclists shouldn't be on the road and go out of their way to try and make that happen.

  10. I used to get the bus from Elephant and Castle to Waterloo and it regularly got stuck at 5mph behind some pathetically slow cyclist. So, in total agreement here - pass the red safely and pick up some speed!

  11. I had a near miss on that very bit last week, and reported it to the police and TFL. I doubt anything would come of it though...

    Here was my statement:


    At almost exactly 9:25am on 15/02/2010 while travelling in the very narrow bus lane northbound on London Road in SE1. I was on left side of the lane. There was another cyclist ahead of me in the right side of the lane approximately 20-30 metres in front of me. We were both approaching a traffic island bottleneck. See in Google Maps: http://bit.ly/b5Zmup (approach), http://bit.ly/aYcq2Z (traffic island).

    The driver dangerously sped up so he could get ahead of both me and probably the other cyclist. As he did this I believe he tried to go inside of the cyclist ahead of me, but almost took me out in the process.

    I drew a diagram of this incident: http://bit.ly/b4kMbG

    As we approached the roundabout I took a photo of his bus http://bit.ly/a72tVt

    and also tried to get one of the driver http://bit.ly/9ErCwp. As I did this he saw me and gave me the middle finger.

    I usually find most London bus drivers aware and safe around cyclists but this driver's behaviour was completely unacceptable and dangerous.

    Please feel free to check your CCTV. I was wearing a Khaki green jacket.


    Great blog by the way, I just found it.

  12. This was my response from the Met though...


    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for contacting Roadsafe - London. We are currently carrying out enquiries regarding the information you have supplied below. We hope there will be a positive outcome. Many thank for your images, they will prove useful in our enquiries.


    Roadsafe - London