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Displaying enviable common sense, French officials evolve intersection laws for bikes

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 9th, 2012 at 11:39 am

New signs in Paris that tell people
on bikes that they can roll through
certain intersections under certain
conditions.

If you only read the media accounts, you'd think that officials in the French capitol of Paris have just given people on bicycles a free pass to wantonly roll through red lights with reckless abandon.

The Oregonian's website reads,

"Hey, Portland bicyclists, want to run red lights? Move to France. Seriously. It's legal there now."

Saying that the new law comes only after, "a fierce three-year campaign by cyclists' associations," the UK-based Telegraph writes:

"Paris cyclists given right to break traffic laws: Breaking traffic rules, almost a national sport in France, has just been legalised – but only for Parisian cyclists."

But beyond the sensational headlines, the new law in Paris makes a lot of sense.

A local citizen activist sent me a translation of the ordinance by a French-speaking friend. The friend looked into the details and here's what she found (emphasis mine):

"While the French press is reporting that cyclists can now run red lights, the details are far less salacious. At intersections that have the special signs specific to this regulation, cyclists can turn right at red lights. At T-intersections, where there is no road to the right, cyclists will be allowed to go straight through the light. Cyclists must yield to pedestrians, and can not go through intersections when people are crossing the road. Right now the city is testing out the policy at a few intersections. If it is successful, they will expand it to intersections in 30 km per hour zones. I don't think they have installed any of the signs yet, but they are going to be posted in 15 intersections in the 10th arrondissement."

If you read French, here's a news story with more information.

I would love to see Oregon revisit the "Idaho Stop law". In 2009, a similar law struggled in the legislature. Biased media coverage in The Oregonian (published the same day the bill got its first big hearing in Salem) wasn't solely to blame for the bill's failure, but it didn't help.

I especially like the T-intersection provision. There are places in Portland — like on SW Naito — where allowing bikes to continue through T-intersections would improve efficiency at no cost to safety.

It's clear that most laws governing how vehicles handle intersections were written solely for automobiles and it's long overdue that our laws begin to reflect the vast differences between bicycles and automobiles. It's unfortunate that bias against bicycling tends to dominate efforts to do just that.

— For more background on Oregon's effort to pass a similar law in 2009, read our "Idaho Stop Law" archives.

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Comments
  • 9watts February 9, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Yes to common sense.
    Yes to nuanced signage/rules/understanding.
    Yes to more great stories like this.

    And as far as the media coverage you review, it is pretty clear to me that those who write the salacious headlines haven't ridden bikes in traffic very much or they'd display a more nuanced understanding of the issues.

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    • Spiffy February 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      it's pretty clear that those who wrote the stores didn't even read the new law...

      so wait, they probably did and are just choosing to print the portions that will get them the most clicks... which means presenting it as an us vs. them scandal with only partial information so that people will assume the worst...

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  • Noisette February 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    In France, it is unlawful for anyone, bike or car, to turn right against a red light.

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    • cycler February 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      That's also very common in urban parts of MA- not every intersection, but most are signed that way. It's a pedestrian safety measure.
      In actuality coming to a complete stop at a red, yielding to pedestrians and then turning would be just as safe, but "right turn on red" is commonly understood to be WITHOUT stopping, which is ridiculous in an area with lots of pedestrians.

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    • Robert February 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Same in NYC. It's about the only traffic law that drivers consistently obey.

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  • Spiffy February 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    wow, the media is really trying hard to turn it into some kind of scandal...

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  • Indy February 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    > I especially like the T-intersection provision. There are places in Portland — like on SW Naito — where allowing bikes to continue through T-intersections would improve efficiency at no cost to safety.

    Other than having to dive out of the way of bikers on Naito as I make my daily walk around the promenade, you are absolutely correct.

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    • John Lascurettes February 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      This is not where Jonathan is referring. Not on the shared MUP, but rather in the bike lane in the street of Naito heading north.

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      • Ali February 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm

        Which is where I've nearly been hit by bikes that don't stop, or even slow down, for the red lights.

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        • k February 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

          As a bike rider, that sounds great and all, but you're not just stopping for cars, you're also stopping for pedestrians, of which there are tons on Naito. Especially around Saturday Market.

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    • Randall S. February 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Why would you be walking in a bike lane on the street?

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      • JRB February 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

        You miss the point. People are complaining that when pedestrians have the green light to cross Naito, cyclists traveling north on Natio are ignoring their red light and proceeding putting the pedestrians at risk. I am in favor of cyclists not having to stop at T-intersections where there is no automobile cross traffic BUT they must yield to pedestrians. That's what these folks are upset about, as I would be if somebody on a bike blew a red light and nearly clipped me while I was attempting to cross the street with the light.

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        • are February 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

          neither the french experiment nor the idaho stop law would permit a cyclist to proceed where a pedestrian had right of way. nor does the existing right on red law, but see where that gets you.

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  • wsbob February 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    If Oregon were to look at a law allowing bike roll through at specific stop sign regulated intersections on a case by case basis, indicated by specific signs on the order of the french signs illustrating this story, that might be something to consider.

    Idaho stop laws probably don't stand much of a chance of passing in Oregon.

    In Oregon, is there a general public bias against biking for transportation on public roads? Some it seems, due to a continuing lack of public awareness that many people biking do in fact contribute to funding road maintenance and construction. Is bias of this type responsible for what seems to be the widely held feeling of the Oregon public that bikes should stop at stop signs in the state? I don't think so.

    Everywhere I go, I listen closely to what people that drive say regarding bikes as part of traffic on the road with motor vehicles. There's a lot of uneasiness on the part of people that drive...about being able to see people on bikes...fear that a person on a bike will come to close or pull abruptly into the path of their vehicle....fear that someone on a bike will not stop at the stop signs. Except for here on bikeportland, or at bikeforums which I also read, I don't run across peoples comments expressing the view that a road user exception should be given to people that ride bikes, allowing them to roll through stop signs.

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    • 9watts February 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      "There's a lot of uneasiness on the part of people that drive...about being able to see people on bikes...fear that a person on a bike will come to close or pull abruptly into the path of their vehicle....fear that someone on a bike will not stop at the stop signs."

      This reminds me of the fears one hears (used to hear) about gay people. Lots of ill-considered ideas swirling around based mostly on ignorance of what people on bikes (gays) are like and what the world might look like from their perspective.

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      • dan February 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

        Meh, people should learn to drive and to bike: yield the right of way when it's not yours. Take the ROW when it's yours.

        If everyone could just agree on those simple rules, things would work a lot more smoothly.

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  • Chris February 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    This conversation feels remarkably insular.
    Stoplight/Redlight behavior by cyclists is either #1 or #2 of cyclists biggest PR issues. What the French do or what is legal in Idaho have nothing to do with it.

    It only takes a few cyclist blowing stop signs and red lights to polarize motorists (and the Oregonian) and make the likelihood of a law expempting cyclist from stop-signs exactly zilch.

    I'm not trying to be a buzz-kill... I'd just suggest we put our efforts elsewhere.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      I hear you Chris. But I refuse to let the false narratives of haters dictate the way forward.

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      • 9watts February 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

        stop light blowing (however defined) may be cyclist's #1 PR issue with certain vocal and even influential demographic categories, but I wouldn't concede the point so easily.
        We used to hear that gays (or blacks) weren't supposed to be so flamboyant (uppity), that they shouldn't rock the boat, should know their place, etc. One can surely overdo the analogy, but I've long felt those who get hung up on the stop sign blowing issue have been allowed to blow it completely out of proportion to the threat it poses, compared to a thousand other traffic issues, most of which have to do with speed and cars.
        It certainly rankles, but it has almost zero bearing on the real dangers that traffic as we know it poses to everyone. It is I think a classic example of a red herring.

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        • JRB February 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm

          I think you overdo the analogy. I don'tthink the ire directed at cyclists ignoring basic rules of the road, as ridiculous as those rules may be when applied to bikes, is remotely close to the harassment and injury done to African-Americans or gay men for exercising their basic human rights. I think your point is stronger without such analogies.

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          • 9watts February 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm

            My point with the analogy was with the +attitude+ on the part of those judging behavior of others, not the +harm done+. I in no way mean to suggest any wider equivalence.
            It is the sense that the majority (white, straight, in cars) in these instances *knows* what the minorities should do/how they should behave/what their proper place in society is; passes judgment on their infractions in a manner that reveals I think lots more about the judger than the behaviors at issue. I realize it is a risky analogy and am open to hearing how it falls short.

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  • Jonathan Gordon February 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I would love to know more details about the cyclist advocacy tactics/strategy that helped to make this happen. We had some grass roots support for the Idaho Stop Law (see local activist Spencer Boomhower's video here) a few years ago. I wonder if a targeted campaign that plays the long game (i.e., 3 years) would work here in Portland.

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  • Chris February 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    9watts
    "There's a lot of uneasiness on the part of people that drive...about being able to see people on bikes...fear that a person on a bike will come to close or pull abruptly into the path of their vehicle....fear that someone on a bike will not stop at the stop signs."
    This reminds me of the fears one hears (used to hear) about gay people. Lots of ill-considered ideas swirling around based mostly on ignorance of what people on bikes (gays) are like and what the world might look like from their perspective.

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    So... you are saying that motorists should NOT be worried at all about seeing or hitting cyclists?

    Huh.

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    • are February 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      motorists should be concerned that at any moment something might enter what they imagine is their clear path and moderate their speed and alertness accordingly. bicyclists are no more likely to suddenly lurch into your path than yeti. okay slightly more likely. no more likely than pedestrians or children chasing stray balls. if you are fearful of hitting something, slow the hell down. if you are not fearful of hitting something, start paying better attention, because you should be.

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    • 9watts February 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      The rhetorical strategy I hear in what wsbob relays of these conversations is that people on bikes are unpredictable, make things dangerous, confuse what used to be straightforward, etc. I don't appreciate the tone of the remarks, the suggestion that life before we had to deal with these minorities was easier/better/the way it should be.

      Their worry is misplaced. If they drove defensively, accepted people on bikes as deserving of road space there would be no need to worry.

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      • wsbob February 10, 2012 at 1:17 am

        "The rhetorical strategy I hear in what wsbob relays of these conversations is that people on bikes are unpredictable, make things dangerous, confuse what used to be straightforward, etc. ..." 9watts

        Nope. I did not say people on bikes are unpredictable or make things dangerous. What I said...you can re-check my comment...is that what I've heard people driving cars express, is uneasiness "...about being able to see people on bikes...fear that a person on a bike will come to close or pull abruptly into the path of their vehicle....fear that someone on a bike will not stop at the stop signs. ..."

        Lots of people on bikes in traffic out here in Beaverton, doing all that geeky stuff like amply signaling turns and stops, making their bikes visible with lights and reflective gear, to other road users, actually stopping at stop signs and looking out for pedestrians. People driving cars get along just fine with them.

        It's the cyclists that aren't following the rules of the road...and there seems to be plenty of them...that are the source of the uneasiness with regards to bikes in traffic, amongst people that drive.

        I think, if people that drive feel this type of cyclist would be people they could not rely on to exercise due caution under the provisions of a roll through stop signs exception for people that bike, there's little chance of people that drive supporting a proposal for a law that would provide for a roll through stop signs exception.

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  • Robert February 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    If anyone wants to see a classic example of media bias against cyclists, read some of Andrea Peysers columns in the New York Post. She makes no effort to conceal her contempt for cyclists. It's a Murdoch publication so no real surprise that the paper is openly hostile to anything that could be termed "liberal."

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  • joel February 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    of course, if youve ever spent a goodly amount of time riding in paris (i have), you realize that, almost as much as in amsterdam, all bets are off as far as how drivers (and cyclists) actually behave (as compared to the law). as a messenger, its one of my favorite places to ride, even before the bicycle improvements over the last decade - if youre willing to ride assertively, on the offensive, drivers respect you for it, and yield accordingly - and the cops, for the most part, ignore you as long as your violation isnt egregious or hazardous to others. most american cyclists (even experienced ones) riding there seem to have trouble with this. in my mind, what this will effectively do is give the okay for traffic cops to ignore behavior they already ignore, for the most part :)

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  • Opus the Poet February 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    There is a proposal to the CUTCD (the group that writes the MUTCD) for an octagonal red sign with a yield triangle inside the outline with a bicycle symbol in the yield triangle. This sign would have the meaning "motor vehicles stop, bicycles yield" for installations where stop signs are used as traffic calming to reduce motor vehicle speeds in areas where it is otherwise impossible to calm traffic with the budget allowed (they have the money for stop signs and that's about it). I know there is such a proposal because I sent it in. You can thank me if it goes through...

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  • Jack February 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    "Paris cyclists given right to break traffic laws".

    The editor who approved that headline should be fired immediately.

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    • JRB February 10, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Just a bit self-contradictory isn't it. Sure to enflame, though, which I am sure was what he or she was after.

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  • Buffalo Dave February 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    The thing is riding a bicycle in Paris is ok, but stopping at the red lights can really suck! We've got a crazy scooter/motorcycle starting block at every red light (lane-splitting is tolerated so all 2-wheelers can sneak up to traffic lights). I hate sucking scooter exhaust at those wonky 3-way intersections so this piece of legislation simply legitimizes what every Parisian cyclist already does for the sake of keeping up with the flow of a fast-paced and overcrowded metropolis.

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  • MarkB August 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I remember a book that came out some years ago, something about "All I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten (?...)" Too bad there's no place like 'the little K' to learn the basic rules of adult conduct.

    Like:
    1.) Nobody cares how grown you think you are; to be considered GROWN, you have to do THE RIGHT THING, NOT WTF you please.
    2.) Grown folks don't need a special reason to do right.
    3.) Rules are for EVERYBODY -- not "everybody ELSE".
    4.) CONVENIENCE is no excuse. You're not that special, not that important.
    5.) Disregarding the rules is OK ONLY IF: it will save your LIFE, or that of your loved one(s); OR: the law is so wrong, civil disobedience is the only way to bring attention to its repeal.

    Without doing the digging myself, I can only assume that these 'red-light' laws apply AFTER making a token stop to CHECK FOR TRAFFIC, on wheels or feet.

    I've only lived ONE place where pedestrians did not have ABSOLUTE ROW.....

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