Jumping Red Lights

So, I’m on a longer-than-usual weekend ride, and I come to a “T” intersection.  I’m going to turn left, off a narrow two-lane road onto a busy, four-lane arterial.  But I’ve got a red light.

I stop, and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Geez, this is a long light!  Maybe I can goose it up a bit.  I walk the bike over to the stop light, and push the button to display the “Walk” signal.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Finally, the cross traffic gets a red light.  But my light doesn’t turn green.  The traffic moving from my right to my left has a left turn arrow, but no one is turning left.  So everyone is stopped at the intersection.

I’ve got two cars waiting behind me.  They’re both going to turn left with me.  I want to get out in front of them.  Oh, the hell with it.

I push out into the intersection and make my left turn.  I’m a good fifty yards down the road before the light where I was waiting turns green.  By the time those cars catch me, I’m safely in the right lane, and signaling a right turn for the next corner.

About an hour later, much the same thing.  Another “T” intersection.  I’m planning another left turn, and once again the light isn’t changing.  So once again, I pull out into the intersection, complete my turn, and I’m well down the road before any cars can catch up to me.

Proponents of vehicular cycling urge cyclists to ride as they would if they were behind the wheel of a car.  That means I’d have to stay in my place until the light goes green.

But from a personal safety standpoint, it made more sense to me to get a jump on the cars.  And both times, it worked just the way I had hoped.  I put distance between myself and them, and I think the drivers behind me might have appreciated that I wasn’t in their way, either.

And notice, I did not jump ahead at a red light where I was traveling in the same direction as the rest of the cars.  I would never do that.  I made these moves only at “T” intersections.

Was I wrong?


  1. Robert says

    I’ve never been shy about violating traffic laws if there’s no good reason to obey them. I include driving a motor vehicle as well as riding my bike.

  2. Andrew M. says

    The problem at a lot of intersections with traffic lights, at least in southern NH where I live, is that the lights are triggered by sensors buried beneath the pavement. Unfortunately, cyclists are not heavy enough to trip the sensors, so you have to wait for a car to come along (which also means positioning yourself so the vehicle can reach the sensor near the intersection). Otherwise, you wait forever or until you figure out that you have to jump the light.

  3. ramonh says

    We have this problem as well during our 5AM rides as there are very few cars on the road. We check right, we check left, if there are no cars anywhere near the intersection, we discreetly run the light. If we see cars anywhere near, and by that I mean within 50 yards, we come to a full stop. It has worked well for us.

  4. Barbara says

    Like ramonh, during an early morning ride, like a commute to work, I will discreetly run the red light if I’m not able to trip it and there are no cars in sight. I’m not in the habit of doing that during normal daylight hours however. I feel like(perhaps foolishly sometimes) my following the same rules as the cars communicates respect to them and therefore makes them more likely to respect me.

  5. says

    I had the same problem today. I stood alone in the left hand turn lane and the light simply would not switch for me. After the light had gone through its cycle three times, I gave up and crossed when it was safe to do so.

    When I get cars behind me in a lane like this, I encourage them to move close behind me to trigger the sensor. Most drivers are trying to be courteous and give me my space, and my gestures for them to move closer only confuse them. Sigh!

  6. Tim says

    Even the LAB endorses your action if the light is malfunctioning. Was it just an inordinately long light or was something wrong with it. While unlawful it probably wasn’t unsafe. Although you have to wonder what the drivers were saying about you.

    • says

      The lights were not malfunctioning – they were just long, because the streets I was turning onto were major arterials, and the streets I was turning from were less-traveled two lanes. I contend that not only was it not unsafe, my move made me safer by getting me away from cars. I’d like to think the drivers were saying, “Well, at least he’s getting out of our way.”

  7. says

    For me, my comfort level depends on the intersection and the amount of traffic. I’ll wait for a reasonable amount of time, but if the light just won’t change, I’ll proceed through it. Our road sensors here in Louisville supposedly sense metal, not weight, making it easier to sense when a cyclist is at the light. The sensor plates under the pavement show a “T” shaped seam in the road – by placing your front bike wheel at the top part of the T, that’s supposed to trigger the sensor as I understand it. Seems to work most of the time, although there are some intersections where it just doesn’t work.

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