Posts Tagged ‘red lights’

Argument #6 Against Critical Mass: Running Red Lights

April 25th, 2010 by hughillustration


In talking to commenters on this blog, and to people critical of Critical Mass for many years, I have begun to hear the same arguments over and over. I find myself saying and writing the same things in response, making the same points over and over.

So this week I am taking what I consider the 6 best and most common arguments against Critical Mass, and try to give them each a fair answer — one answer per day. (In Dave Letterman style, we’re counting backwards, starting with #6.)

First up: Running red lights! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Argument #6: Critical Mass does not stop for red lights. This is not just illegal, it is also immoral.

This is by far the most common criticism of Critical Mass. We hear this from passers by, from the police, from blogs and newspapers. Everyone, it seems, agrees that we should stop for red lights.

Critical Mass does not run red lights just because we can. Actually, the front of the ride generally stops for red lights (allowing the rest of the ride to re-group). However, when a light changes in the middle of the ride, the cyclists generally continue through, and this is done for one reason: Safety.

By staying together in one group, by remaining a dense mass of bicyclists, we can avoid accidents. When we do stop for lights, we find cars and motorcycles get caught up in the middle of our ride, and this is when accidents can happen. By displacing cars completely for a few blocks, we are able to enjoy a safe ride through San Francisco.

You might also be interested to know that Critical Mass has, on at least one occasion, ridden “to rule,” stopping for every light and taking only one lane of traffic (in response to a police crackdown in August of 1997). Surprisingly, the result of this tactic was a Critical Mass that was longer and slower than ever, and this ended up creating even more disruption to motorized traffic than usual. The police backed off as they realized that the best way to minimize the impact of Critical Mass was to allow it to pass quickly.

Is this legal? Probably not. However, we are not the only scofflaws on the road. Most motorists break the law every day, several times a day, when they drive 5-10 miles over the speed limit on most roads. If you believe the law must be obeyed by everyone, at all times, then perhaps you should start by examining your own behavior.*

Is it moral? If keeping people safe is a prime moral goal, our running of red lights is more than justified. We have not had a serious accident on Critical Mass for over 17 years (knock on wood), and this is in part thanks to our habit of staying together through red lights. Meanwhile, thousands of people die each year because motorists are driving over the speed limit. If the police want to enforce the law in order to maintain public safety, it is clear where they should start.

Next up, Argument #5:Critical Mass is counterproductive. It angers motorists and the general public, who will then be less likely to support bicyclists and bike issues.

* Am I saying that scofflaw behavior from one group makes it OK from another? No. What I am saying is that motorists who self righteously declare that bicyclists need to start obeying the law in order to have their concerns heard are being hypocritical. Your failure to drive the speed limit is far more common, and sadly far more deadly, than our failure to stop for red lights.

Here’s the rest of the series:
Argument 6: You Don’t Stop for Red Lights
Argument 5: You’ll Spark a Backlash!
Argument 4: Delaying Others is Rude!
Argument 3: You’re Angry!
Argument 2: I Saw An Incident!
Argument 1: Critical Mass Doesn’t Change Anything!