Recently an article ran in The New York Times Opinion Pages by Randy Cohen.  The author makes an argument that while running a red light may be illegal it is ethical by his considerations, as his actions could only injure himself.  He invokes Emmanuel Kant and continues to note the exceedingly great differences between bicycles and vehicles of the internal-combustion engine variety.

“But bikes are not cars. Cars drive three or four times as fast and weigh 200 times as much. Drive dangerously, you’re apt to injure others; ride dangerously, I’m apt to injure myself. I have skin in the game. And blood. And bones.” [complete article here ]

A followup article to this was posted in The Atlantic‘s focus section Cities, about why cyclists actually run red lights.  The top three reasons being “the need to turn, the failure of a signal to recognize them at an intersection, and the absence of others on the road.”

A bicycle is not a car, no question about that.  In Massachusetts, for instance, a bicycle has the same rights and responsibilites as a car upon the roads.  It took a lot of people a very long time and adovacy to get this type of law passed.  Why would people fight to have a bicycle classified as a vehicle when it came to road laws?

A lot this has to do with grey areas.  When you’re not quite pedestrian and not quite car where do you fit? Mr. Cohen’s NY Times article mentions Copenhagen and Amsterdam where bicycles receieve their own classification and (even sometimes) specific traffic light timing.  Vehicular classification has been regarded as a victory because it at last recognizes a cyclist’s right to the entire road, legitimizes and protects it in the eyes of the law, and protects cyclists more than no recognition at all.

In an interview with BostonBikes, local bike attorney, Josh Zisson replies:

“There are these things that a lot of bikers do that make us all look bad, whether it’s running a red light, going the wrong way on a one-way street, or riding too fast on the sidewalk,” he says. “If we’re going to ask for these infrastructural improvements and ask to be taken seriously, we need to show that we can follow the rules. The rules do apply to us, for the safety of everybody.” [complete article here]

It is not that difficult to stop at red lights, put your foot down.  As cycling becomes more prolific across the nation and the world, the time may come when the bicycle classification of road user becomes its own category.  As I witnessed in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China a few years ago, where prominent bicycle infrastructure was found everywhere – enough bikes make a difference.  Riding conscientiously and with the simple effort of better manners can carry us for many miles and years toward increased infrastructure, so cycle commuting may become even stronger in the future.

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