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94% of bike riders wait at red lights, study finds

Posted by on June 25th, 2013 at 9:23 am

Wait up? Most people do.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

We’ve all met that person who can’t seem to talk about bikes without complaining about “the cyclists” who are “always running” red lights.

Next time you cross paths with them, you might want to mention a new study suggesting that speeding in a car on local streets is at least six times more common than running a red light on a bike.

Nearly 94 percent of people riding bikes in Portland, Beaverton, Corvallis and Eugene stopped for red lights, a forthcoming Portland State University-based study of 2,026 intersection crossing videos has found. Of those, almost all (89 percent of the total) followed the rules perfectly, while another 4 percent entered the intersection just before the light changed to green.

Only 6 percent of riders were observed heading directly through the red light.

“This level of compliance … it’s higher than I would have expected.”
— Chris Monsere, civil engineering professor and director of Intelligent Transportation Lab at PSU

That compares to, for example, an estimated 36 percent to 77 percent of people who tend to break the speed limit when driving a car on local streets, according to previous, otherwise unrelated research. (See p. 2 of the PDF.)

The new finding on bike safety might surprise bike watchers such as, for example, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who in 2011 mentioned red-light jumpers as a reason to vote against a Portland bikesharing system. The study certainly surprised one person: its author, PSU civil engineering professor Chris Monsere.

“This level of compliance … it’s higher than I would have expected,” Monsere said Monday. “Pedestrian compliance with signals downtown is nowhere near that.”

The videos captured people crossing the intersection during daylight hours, both weekdays and weekends, in various urban and suburban settings. The figures don’t include people turning right against red lights.

Researchers used cameras set up at intersections.
(Image taken from study)

Monsere said few academics seem to have studied how people use their bikes at red lights, so it’s not clear whether Oregonians are unusually law-abiding. Two weeks ago, Chicago’s transportation department touted new bike signals on Dearborn Avenue that it said had nearly tripled stoplight compliance by people on bikes … from 31 percent to 81 percent.

But that pattern doesn’t seem to hold up in Monsere’s study, which found no significant difference in behavior between intersections with dedicated bike signals and those without.

People who run red lights on bikes were less likely to wear a helmet: more than 15 percent of people without helmets pedaled through the light, compared to 4 percent of those with.

“It’s risk-taking behavior,” Monsere said.

Monsere’s study, which he made available in draft form because it’s still awaiting peer review, was jointly funded by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium and Oregon Department of Transportation.

Is it possible that, much like more bikes on a street seem to make it safer for everyone, more bikes at an intersection tend to make everyone more law-abiding?

That’s one theory from Peter Koonce, the City of Portland’s top expert on stoplights. And that’s why he suspects Portland red light compliance is so high.

“You have to have a little bit of gall to pass the crowd and blow the red light when there’s six or seven or eight other people there,” Koonce said.

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117 thoughts on “94% of bike riders wait at red lights, study finds”

  1. Avatar maxadders says:

    When I was young and dumb, I ran all sorts of lights and stop signs. But moving to Portland about a decade ago, something changed. The bike infrastructure here was far better than what I was used to riding in, and it felt like bikes had a place on the roads. Drivers largely expected and respected me. Surprisingly enough, over time this encouraged me to be more thoughtful of others, and nowadays I rarely, if ever, run an intersection.

  2. Avatar sabes says:

    So bikes running red lights are fine because more cars go faster than the speed limit? Great logic! 6% of cyclists running red lights is a LOT. That’s 1 out of every 17 bikes. Imagine if 1 out of every 200 cars ran a red light.

    1. Avatar maxadders says:

      Wouldn’t be surprised if more than 1 out of every 200 cars passing through an intersection did, especially if you could drivers that speed up to make a yellow signal– which is illegal.

    2. Avatar Andrew K says:

      I would make the argument that AT LEAST 1 out of every 17 cars (probably more) speed up for yellow lights. Does that count?

      I think the point of the article, and the study, is that bikes aren’t the only folks out there breaking the law. From a statistical standpoint they are the least of our problems.

      I agree that 6% of cyclists should not run red lights though. Nobody is saying that is ok. Even 1% would be too high. Everyone should obey the rules of the road for the safety of yourself and for the people you share the road with.

    3. Avatar Robert Getch says:

      The danger of those damn bikes! More safe cars! Bikes are the biggest danager facing us right now!

      1. Avatar Craig Harlow says:

        Funny, that FHWA article doesn’t mention bikes.

        1. Avatar Robert Getch says:

          Thats kind of the point. (Text does poorly convey sarcasm, at points. I was hoping that the whole “Bikes are the most dangerous thing” would resonate back to the CitiBikes crazy lady)

          The PDF in the Article does talk about bikes however, but not really as a cause of accidents but details deaths and whatnot. Moderately interesting statistics (but I find it rude to link to a PDF directly)

          1. Avatar Craig Harlow says:

            Gotchya, Robert.

    4. Avatar Gibbs says:

      Have you spent any time in Portland? That kind of risk-taking behavior isn’t exactly unheard of (e.g. I see it on the daily.)

    5. Avatar MaxD says:

      From my observations, I would say the rate of cars running red lights is at least that!

    6. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

      I am happy to stop at lights and think cyclists should stop at lights. But running a light on a bike is nowhere near as dangerous and potentially damaging to the public as running lights in a car. It is comparing too totally different things.

      As for comparison between cyclists blowing lights and cars speeding. A car driving 40 mph vs 35 mph has 30% more kinetic energy and that isn’t even considered actually speeding in common discussion. At 45 mph a speeding car has 65% more kinetic energy than a car driving the speed limit on a 35 mph street. In fact the additional kinetic energy of a car speeding by 5 mph is more than 20 times the actual kinetic energy of a cyclist running a red light a full speed (meaning not slowing down, but riding at a typical average cruising speed for a strong cyclist – 20 mph). So the destructive potential of speeding, even by 5 mph is quite comparable to a cyclist running a light.

      The actual costs of accidents caused by cyclists running red lights is minuscule compared to the costs of accidents caused by motorists speeding.

      As a parting shot, I’m pretty sure at least 1 out of 200 cars do run red lights technically, although mostly early in the phase trying to beet the yellow. That is why some want red light cams issuing tickets.

      1. Avatar RWL1776 says:

        What about the mental cost, which is immeasurable, to the person driving the car that t-bones and kills a bicyclist that blew thru a red light? I almost did just that last month, and it would have been me living with the PTSD of killing someone. Have you ever witnessed someone die? I have, and it sucks. It was a suicide, no one else was hurt, but I saw it first hand.

        I saw this same rider just yesterday: grungy BMX bike, yellow baseball cap with blue bill, wearing a skull bandana over his face, cruising down Front St. at the Saturday Market area. He obeyed NO traffic signals, blew thru 2 red lights as I observed him bobbing and weaving thru traffic.

        He does not realize he was almost killed recently. And I would’ve paid the price mentally while he paid physically.

        1. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

          You ALMOST hit? How close was it? Just asking. I hear a lot of “almost” from drivers and its funny, but when they are blaming cyclists a 6 foot miss is an extremely close call and when they are excusing motorists “an inch is as good as a mile.” Seriously, I have often had cars honk and freak out at me when I knew they were there and knew I had time to cross WAY before they even had to slow down. I’ve seen messengers in NYC ride at 20 mph and I’ll even call it “break neck speed” right through red lights and slip between the bumpers of two cabs with a couple of feet on each side. Now if this was actually as dangerous as it looks there should be messengers littering every intersection on 6th Avenue and there aren’t. After watching for a while I saw they actually are skilled at what they are doing and they do it fairly safely – compared to things like mountaineering, stock car racing, rock climbing, etc… Now I agree they shouldn’t and I stopped doing anything similar myself.

          The broader point though is that as a driver in a car we all take on that responsibility. We are driving a literal killing machine. A car is every bit as dangerous as a gun, by some measures, a lot more dangerous than a gun. In fact when it comes to carelessness would I rather be around some one who is careless with guns or someone careless with cars (ruling out intentional violence) it’s actually a pretty close call. Back to the point, by driving a car we are accepting that we are operating a big, destructive and potentially harmful machine that can kill people. Good people, driving like everyone else unintentionally maim and kill children, senior citizens and people of all ages who are walking on sidewalks or in crosswalks all the time. WE as drivers are responsible for driving in a manner that allows us to see hazards and respond and keep our speed in check and pay attention. Yes, often times (but no where near always) a pedestrian or cyclist makes a mistake that contributes to the accident, but that is what we accept by driving. We could kill someone. Every time we get in the car to drive to the store, we might kill somebody.

          If you can’t handle the stress of that, you should opt out. Drive less. Buy a bike. That is what I have done and part of the reason why. I won’t accept blaming the motorists PTSD on the victim. It is part of the territory of operating an automobile. And the fact that you bring it up is precisely the sort of perverse entitlement our society has twisted itself into providing for a set of driving behaviors and transportation policy that is dangerous and unhealthy and inefficient.

        2. Avatar dr2chase says:

          If the mental cost is truly “immeasurable”, why are you still driving? No inconvenience is too great to avoid an “immeasurable” bad outcome, is it?

          1. Avatar rusl says:

            The point is that he is navigating a deadly machine around the city and doesn’t want to be responsible for the obvious consequence of that action. It’s hypocrisy for a driver to not advocate all bikes a pedestrians always be off the road. We need an adult playground of bumpercars for these people so they can do their dangerous sport out of the centre of public life. Roads and streets need to be safe from the threat of a car being used on them. We need safe transportation, not cars. Why would any of this matter at all if it wasn’t all to keep the cars rolling and drivers from being held responsible for their dangerous sport activity…


        3. Avatar Oliver says:

          “Grungy BMX bike, yellow baseball cap with blue bill (ie no helmet), wearing a skull bandana over his face”

          You have not described a cyclist. You described a disaffected youth on a bicycle.

          There is a difference.

          And no amount of peer pressure from cyclists (because he’s not a member of the peer group that rides bicycles responsibly) Much like the homeless, who also ride bicycles, they do not give a damn about social conventions, or social niceties.

          1. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

            I’ll take of the challenge of presenting the other side of this.

            Yes, he is a cyclists. He is a person on a bicycle. Homeless people on bikes are cyclists. Little kids on the sidewalk with training wheels are cyclists. Old ladies on vintage schwinn step throughs with baskets are cyclists. Just as the punk in the 3 colors of primer Acura Integra with the thumping bass driving 20 mph over, running yellow / pink / red lights is a motorist.

            This kid (as described) is a bad cyclist, and he isn’t indicative of cyclists in general, but he is a cyclist. In 3 years he’ll probably have a drivers license and be a motorist because he will be driving a car. He will still be a disaffected youth who isn’t part of peer group who will be susceptible to social conformity and safe behavior.

            This is why motorists and cyclist should really be on the same side. Dumb punks with no sense are dumb punks with no sense and I’d rather have them on a bicycle than in a car. As drivers and cyclists we should want decent facilities so that even homeless people and dumb kids can do better at figuring out where to ride reasonable safely.

            1. Avatar Help says:

              “This is why motorists and cyclist should really be on the same side.”

              This is off topic a bit, but what has the cycling community, in particular this one, done to be pro-motorist or hell, just better understand driving? You want to take away lanes (road diets), fight against more and better roads (CRC), and blame motorists regardless of facts.

              1. Avatar dr2chase says:

                I dunno, maybe a whole bunch of us are also licensed drivers who own and drive cars. How many thousands of miles do you log on a bicycle each year? Those of us who do both, know more about this than you do.

              2. Avatar dr2chase says:

                PS – and when I ride my bike, no matter how terribly I ride it, it is almost impossible for me to kill you in your car, or even hurt you very much. If I ride my bike through your neighborhood, it’s much less likely that I will badly hurt your child if he/she “darts” into the street. If I ride my bike to the same place you are driving, I won’t take your parking space. If, in the 1970s, I rode my bike to work (and I did), I won’t take the last gallon of gas from the gas-rationed service station. And today, unlike yesterday, because I rode my bike to work today, when I travel home I won’t take up *the whole road* with my vehicle — you’ll find it easy to pass me, and I won’t be adding one more car to the girnormous traffic jam that usually occurs.

                You’re welcome.

              3. Avatar JAT in Seattle says:

                Pro motorist is hard to concretely define, but I’d say I’m pro-motorist when I take the lane through intersections, thus eliminating the danger to motorists of right-hooking me. Road Diets (which aren’t strictly speaking implemented by this cycling community to which you allude) improve the flow of motorist traffic by creating dedicated left turn lanes and lanes and obviating the need for motorists to change lanes to get around slower moving cyclists…

                But you’re right, it is off topic, so what was your point?

          2. Avatar Oliver says:

            You make very good arguments Paul, and I can see the validity from a certain perspective but I’m going to have to disagree anyway.

            (sorry if you’ve heard this) but when it comes to cycling, besides some DNA I have nothing in common with the guy riding on the sidewalk downtown against traffic with no helmet and no lights, crossing against the signal on his way to make a drug deal. Not that prior illegal behavior on his part excuses the negligent driver who runs him down should he happen to be operating his bicycle legally in a bicycle lane. The same way as when I’m driving my vehicle, I have nothing in common with the street racer, or automotive vandals who tear up parks or fields with their cars.

            That kid, if he continues to ride a bicycle for the next 10 years or so, may very well grow out of his anti-social behavior. But he certainly isn’t going to listen to me, an old guy on a fred-bike give him advice. They’ve heard the advice. 20 years ago I was guilty of blatantly running stop lights and riding where I felt, but I was a ‘rugged individual’, and not part of a culture or community, not of cyclists at any rate.

            This person does not care, if I fight or argue for infrastructure or cyclist safety or whether I stop or do not stop etc. This person does not care what I think about how they should conduct their life. If at some point they are able to (re)join society they may start recognizing it’s customs.

            You can see however that people like RW1776 are always ready to point at me, and say “but you cyclists”every time a car drives off the road and kills someone on a bicycle. I have to reject that. While it may very well be you and I-cyclists It’s not me and the teenager or the homeless guy-cyclists. It just isn’t.

            1. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

              My response is that you, Oliver, are a mature, psychological and emotionally normal adult and one who rides a bicycle sometimes. The disaffected anti-social teen is a DAST who sometimes rides a bicycle. The homeless guy is (possibly) a maladjusted possibly addiction plagued or psychologically fragile person who rides a bicycle. What you and I have in common with them is that we are human beings with rights and dignity who happen to ride bicycles sometimes.

              I don’t know about you, but I’m probably about 10 bad decision or a few really bad days away from being one of the homeless guys and I’m about 20 years of successive good days away from being a dumb punk on a BMX bike. So, in a sense, those guys are me.

              Finally the mark of an oppressed and disenfranchised minority is believing that “If we only behave well enough, people will treat us better.”

        4. Avatar Scott says:

          Stop driving There is no way to guarantee you won’t hit a child chasing a toy into the road. The cost to your fragile mentality would be immeasurable and I don’t want you to go through that.

        5. Avatar are says:

          in case rwl1776 thinks the comments suggesting he stop driving, to which i have already given thumbs up, are somehow facetious, i just want to add to the verbal queue here. driving a car is an inherently dangerous activity. if nothing ever happens due to your inattention, you still have the problem of someone else’s inattention. i drive only the very occasional zipcar or car2go, and only for very essential errands for which my twelve-foot bike trailer is inadequate. and i know plenty of people who do not drive at all, precisely because they cannot accept the risk of hurting someone. you might give this some thought.

        6. Avatar Mindful Cyclist says:

          I was this guy maybe over 25 years ago now. I was young, I was bullet proof, I did things for the thrill of it. Heck, I did things then (without a helmet even!!!) that would possibly have parents get a visit from Child Protective Services if they were letting their kids to things like this now a days on a bike.

          This whole story showed up on this blog because people overgeneralize when they see one cyclist break the law and apply it to all cyclists. That young kid you nearly hit is going to have some very choice words for me if I tell him to ride his bike respectfully. It would be no different if you told a 16 year old kid in a modified compact to drive respectfully.

    7. Avatar Randall Sewell says:

      There’s no imagining it needed: I’d say easily 1:200 cars run red lights/stop signs. I’ve almost been twice by motorists running completely red lights, and I see drivers run recently red lights all the time.

      1. Avatar lyle w. says:

        Yeah, and that’s not even getting into cellphone usage, which by any objective measurement is exponentially more dangerous and reckless than almost anything else you can do on the roads short of drunk-driving.

        Stand on any busy street corner anywhere in the city and closely observe the cars and their drivers riding by– you will be very hard-pressed to not see someone talking or texting on their phone within ten seconds, and frequently will see 2, 3 or 4 cars drive by in succession all on their phones.

        1. Avatar colddirt says:

          I saw a guy the other day eating a bowl of cereal (I assume, because it was early in the morning) doing 55-60 mph on 205 – beat that!

        2. Have you seen the Mythbusters episode that was banned by cell phone carriers for years? Cell phones are easily worse than drunk driving.

    8. Avatar sbrock says:

      They do !!

    9. tonyt tonyt says:

      Sabes, Michael never said bikes running lights was “fine” so to paraphrase you, great fabrication! Michael’s article simply addresses the reality of perception: that bike riders are the scofflaws and car drivers are the poor put upon law-abiding masses. Anyone who pays attention with anything resembling objectivity can see it and this study supports that.

      Drivers and bikers will break the law in ways that their form of transportation favor. It’s human nature. The point here is that the notion that bikers are worse than drivers is simply a lie. That’s it.

    10. Avatar Brian E says:

      I read that Beaverton ticketed over a million dollars last year on their red light cameras. So, it seems that people run red lights in Beaverton.

    11. Avatar Richard says:

      Actually, if you watch intersections, you will see that far more than 6 percent of motorists actually DO run red lights. As a cyclist, I fully expect to have one vehicle race through the red light at the end of the cycle. But I witness every day the second, third and even fourth car blow through the light placing themselves, cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists at extreme risk. Two wrongs (or thousands of wrongs) do not make a right. But the point of this article is that the perceptions people have of cyclists as horrible scofflaws does not hold up under real scrutiny. And as I often say as a cyclist, if I make a mistake, I get hurt; if the motorist makes a mistake, I get hurt. So guess who is paying really close attention?

    12. Avatar David Anderson says:

      So by your logic speeding in a 1 ton vehicle is not a significant safety violation but running a red light on a 20 pound bike is just as dangerous to all parties as running a red light in a 1 ton vehicle?

  3. Avatar Paul Hanrahn says:

    bikes running red lights are not better than cars breaking the speed limit, but they dont kill 33,000 people a year in this country either

    1. There’s “better” and there’s “less bad”. Bike running red light < speeding car in terms of hazard to others.

  4. Avatar PdxMark says:

    LOL @ Sabes… Just wow… 30-70% of motorists exceed the speed limit… Observationally, a car runs a red/yellow light at the end of a stop light cycle in Portland far more often than cyclists run full red lights… And there’s still the indignation about bikes… The inability to reconcile rampant motorist traffic violations with raging attitudes about lesser violations by cyclists is easy to dismiss as a silly, illogical, crankiness…

    1. Avatar Help says:

      “Observationally, a car runs a red/yellow light at the end of a stop light cycle in Portland far more often than cyclists run full red lights.”

      They are completely different things. Why are they being compared? The equivalent is how many cars treat a stop light like a stop sign and go when the “coast is clear” even though the light is red? It’s damn well less than 6%.

    2. Avatar Help says:

      “Observationally, a car runs a red/yellow light at the end of a stop light cycle in Portland far more often than cyclists run full red lights.”

      They are completely different things. Why are they being compared? The equivalent is how many cars treat a stop light like a stop sign and go when the “coast is clear” even though the light is red? It’s less than 6%.

      1. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

        They are equally illegal.

        Further, the way cars run at the beginning of the red is actually more dangerous. They speed up and cross their fingers and hope nothing is coming. Slowing and waiting for cross traffic to clear and jumping the light would be safer than blasting blindly through and hoping to get through before anyone has a chance to get in your way. This is extremely dangerous and frequently causes accidents. Just yesterday a family was hit in a crosswalk with the signal by an SUV running a just turn left turn signal. If cars actually stopped and proceeded after stopping when clear, that would be far safer than accelerating before they even reach the intersection hoping or assuming it will be clear when they get there.

  5. Avatar jeff says:

    when looking at stop lights only, yes, compliance is high.
    I doubt the numbers would hold if examing stop sign compliance…probably closer to inverse actually…

    1. Avatar Andrew K says:

      How much do you want to bet the level of compliance would fall dramatically for both cars and bikes when comparing stop lights with stop signs?

    2. Avatar Dan says:

      Making bikes come to a complete stop at EVERY stop sign makes barely more sense than having pedestrians come to a complete stop at every stop sign.

      I always come to a complete stop at 4-way intersections (okay, perhaps not COMPLETE stop when there’s nobody else there). But at a T intersection where I’m on the top of the T and not crossing any lanes of traffic, is there any point to stopping? I look for bikes coming into the bike lane and will hold up for them, but that’s unusual. Same thing with any stop sign where I’m making a right turn — slow down, check for bikes, proceed.

    3. Avatar albyn says:

      I recently spent 20 minutes counting cars/bikes running a stop sign in my neighborhood. 1 of approximately 20 cars actually stopped for the stop sign, about half slowed to about 5mph, most of the rest slowed to 10-15mph. Some blew through without slowing. I can’t say much about the bikes, only about 5 or so bikes came through. 1 blew through without slowing, the others slowed to a near stop. I have absolutely no doubt that in residential neighborhoods, cars are at least as likely as bikes to run stop signs, and much more dangerous when they do.

      1. Avatar Help says:

        Well that’s scientific and without bias.

    4. Avatar are says:

      i challenge you to stand at any stop sign for ten minutes or half an hour, especially in a residential neighborhood, and watch the actual wheels of the automobiles. compliance is very near zero.

      1. Avatar Help says:

        What is it for bikes?

        1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

          What does it matter? The gist is not that “because you do it, it’s OK for me to do it”, it’s that neither “group” (motorists nor cyclists) has a leg to stand on when it comes to accusing the other of being lawbreakers. EVERYBODY IS A LAW-BREAKER! What cyclists get tired of is being accused of being scofflaws by their fellow scofflaws (non-cycling motorists), and having those fellow scofflaws further suggest that cyclists “deserve what they get” in the way of injuries or death because they are all such scofflaws. Drivers want cyclists to quit rolling through stops and lights, cyclists want drivers to quit speeding and talking on cell phones, and to start following some of the right-of-way rules around crosswalks and bike lanes. I’ll bet half the stuff drivers think is “lawbreaking” by cyclists is actually legal, but they can’t be bothered to know the rules of the road they are sharing. Look in the mirror, Pot–you are the Kettle!

  6. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

    My stop light behavior has improved as a result of riding in Portland. Although I am getting older and more responsible too … maybe.. (ask my wife). Also, I behave better with lights and stop signs in Portland than in Vancouver. In Portland, lights are sometimes timed well for bikes, are on set cycles and don’t need a trigger, or have a bike sensor and the bike ways and such are making getting around easier. On the green ways signs are being turned in places. Also, the biking culture and knowing other cyclists are seeing me either as an example (to the young and hip) or as a “comrade” to the cycling cabal I tend to think twice before jumping a light. In Vancouver it isn’t quite there yet. For the bike haters, I don’t ever “Blow lights” or stop signs. I slow, make sure the road is clear and proceed safely and 96% of the time if there is even any car on either road nearby I go ahead and complete foot down stop and wait. But I ride a lot in late evening, early morning or on weekends and often am at a red light I can’t trigger or a stop sign with no one in sight. If a tree falls in the forest and all that…..

    When I go to New York City my cycling behavior is different than in either Portland or Vancouver. I stop at more lights than most cyclists there (now). I am happy to see that more cyclists are stopping at lights in NYC. However, I ride in the outer parts of Queens and into Long Island a lot where there is nearly no cycling infrastructure and a lot of bad road design especially literally thousands of traffic calming 4 ways and lights that can’t be triggered on a bike and old lights that go through cycles all night with no traffic on either road….

  7. Avatar Peter Micahelson says:

    When I’m sitting there in the rain like an idiot waiting at a red light I just get mad that it even exists. It’s only there because of the polluting and murderous autos. Why should I be inconvenienced, because autos are dangerous? Basically, I feel that bikes should not have to wait at red lights at all. For bikes, red lights should be a stop sign, and stop signs should be a yield.

  8. Avatar Travis Fulton says:

    It’s nice to have stats, but it’s so frustrating to have them blown off by a person firmly entrenched in his/her viewpoint. Whether you’re talking about climate change, genetically engineered food or water fluoridation people will ignore the number and discount it as being biased or a result of bad science. It happens on both sides of many issues unfortunately. Still, though, these numbers are heartening and I’m glad that we have another positive bicycling statistic.

    1. Who’s blowing off stats, Travis? If there’s anything in the post above suggesting that 6 percent is insignificantly small, I’d like to correct that. I think we only want to point out that many people commit traffic violations regardless of mode, and that it’d be silly to sideline entire modes of transportation because of a minority of individual scofflaws.

      1. Avatar Spiffy says:

        Who’s blowing off stats, Travis?

        a person firmly entrenched in his/her viewpoint.

      2. Avatar davemess says:

        I think he was directly more at people like “sabes” than at you.

      3. Avatar Craig Harlow says:

        Michael, I think Travis was addressing @Sabes.

    2. Avatar Travis Fulton says:

      I was just making a general point about how stats and study results are often discredited by some people with opposing views on emotional topics. This behavior is frustrating especially regarding issues that involve people’s safety and health because some will just discount a study and go on believing what they want in the face of facts that suggest otherwise. Just the venting of a slightly bitter ex-activist. Facts don’t seem to change opinions…emotional appeals…politics, blah blah blah. Sheesh, I should go for a bike ride.

      1. Avatar davemess says:

        At the same time there are actually people who can understand and interpret the flaws in studies. Science (and I guess you can include these types of studies in those) is never black and white, and never really “proves” anything. There are caveats and flaws in almost any work. But when you start to have multiple and then many papers corroborating the results they start to become more valid.

    3. Avatar Ryan says:

      This is no surmise, Travis. Most people are not educated enough to know what academic journals and articles are. For many people, simply referring to a study that their local news column summarized for the masses is the real deal.

  9. Avatar benschon says:

    Rates of red light compliance for both types of road users seems like a fair comparison. In this Virginia study, 13% of motorists ran red lights.

    1. Avatar Nate says:

      Not quite the same I don’t think – looks like 13% of _light_cycles_ had light-runners. Not 13% of drivers. (i.e. Each light cycle may have had 20 cars roll through, and in 13% of those cycles, the last car through was during a red light.)

      1. Avatar Nate says:

        As I think about that more, however, it only slightly diminishes the statistic:
        1765 light cycles were observed, meaning 1765 “last car” drivers had the opportunity to obey the law and stop when the light turned yellow and then red. 13% of them did not.
        I think they aren’t quite the same figures, but notable all the same.

        1. Avatar benschon says:

          But isn’t amazing to think that in about 1 out of 7 light cycles–maybe every 5 minutes–a driver will run the red and put lives at risk?

          1. Avatar Paul in the 'couve says:

            Yes, and totally corresponds with what I actually see on the road both when I drive and when I cycle. I’d also posit that the rate would be even higher if it wasn’t for the fact that if the first car to reach the yellow hits the brakes, everyone behind them has to stop. I’m confident that if it wasn’t for the 70% of drivers who are very conscientious the other 30% would run even more red lights.

  10. Avatar BURR says:

    I regularly see more motorists than cyclists run red lights in the downtown area.

  11. Avatar Jeff says:

    “People who run red lights on bikes were less likely to wear a helmet: more than 15 percent of people without helmets pedaled through the light, compared to 4 percent of those with.”

    The anti-helmet lobby is always waving around the seemingly bogus argument that it’s the helmet wearers who are taking the risks. This would suggest otherwise.

    1. Avatar dr2chase says:

      Unfortunately, it also trashes the validity of any study that finds that unhelmeted cyclists are overrepresented in the set of people with head injuries — if they appear 4x more often than they should, that is entirely consistent with their red-light running.

      1. Avatar pdxpaul says:

        Not so. Too many variables to even begin to make that leap. I agree, there was some editorializing in the article about risk-taking, but it is not academically honest to start filling in a narrative associated with a hypothesis that was not studied.

        Regardless, if you don’t want to wear a helmet, that’s fine, but trying to get others to take theirs off is irresponsible. This message brought to you by a billionaire bike helmet shill (NOT! they don’t exist). I just think helmets are cool and have saved me from several TBIs.

        1. Avatar gutterbunnybikes says:

          Actually the data suggests that in areas with maditory helmet laws, head injuries increase. Just recently there was this link in the Monday roundup that no one read cause Bike Share NYC started .

          Great article, my only complaint with it is that they state that helmets do reduce deaths, however manditory helmet laws drop ridership rates by roughly 33% reguardless of the location in the world. The rate of loss in ridership isn’t enough to compensate for the drop in death rates, thus your more likely to die biking when riding after the maditory laws take effect.

          Persoally I think helmets are dangerous, I think (matter of opionion here) adding another 10″ of circumfrence to your head isn’t a good thing it interupts your bodies involantary reactions in responce to your incident. Not to mention the fact that the helmet lip can get caught and whip you around in ways you wouldn’t be without it. And no one ever mentions the dozen or so kids that accidently hang themselves while wearing them as well.

          BTW…I stop at all lights.

          1. Avatar Robert Getch says:

            This article far from proves a point that helmets are bad/risky. It lightly implies that making helmets mandatory reduces ridership and may increase risky behavior (which I believe is more that people doing risky behavior do a bit more to protect themselves, such as BMX riders) which discounts the fact that the helmets better protect from higher speed impacts or risky impacts then the light ones anyway. The notion that you’re more “likely” to die unclear; chances are if you pull straight data right away the ratio may look higher but if you gather data similar time periods they would be similiar to what they are today. If ridership drops, incidents drop as well because there are less things to get into collisions. For example, if you have 20 riders and two get into accidents each year you would more likely see with the half the riders get into one accident because the opportinuties are lower (this of course ignores about 1000 other variables, just using it to form a light point).

            The article acknowledges but disregards the fact that 15 years ago concussions were frequently undiagnosed, and while there was an increase in concussions it does not bring up at all the impact of collisions where there were major injuries and, while not killing the rider, left them permanently disabled. For example an increase to concussions might be the result of a reduced number of other head related injuries or bodily disabilities. With all the changes to medical science, types of injuries, etc you also have to remember ridership is up which makes straight totals disingenuous.

            The article does acknowledge later on that the helmets reduce brain trauma in 90% of riders but takes issue that it’s not eliminated (or could do better). It even repetitively points out that the helmets prevent catastrophic injury and death well but not other types of injury but makes little mention that it increases the danger (other then anecdotal data about cars passing closer) and seems to press the idea that helmets are good and should be worn but we need to demand improvements from the industry.

            And as a matter of opinion I believe that my old helmet saved my life (and my face) when I hit the streetcar tracks on Grand last year. I flew off my bike going about 16 and landed on my side with my head smacking the ground second cracking the helmet and the lip and angle kept my chin off the ground as I slid to a stop.

            I also stop at all lights.

            1. Avatar gutterbunnybikes says:


              Lots of great data on the data. If you come away with nothing else, at least realize that the main proponents of helmet use don’t have anything to back up thier claims either.

              Toss in the fact that most (please note that I did not say all) in the industry that make the helmets really don’t care as evident in the article I linked to earlier. (oh wait they some super secret in the works……sure they do).

              It’s ironic that just about everyone ever tested by independent testers like Consumer Reports fails horribily.

              I do actually believe that helmets can help under certian circumstances, like falling over when you (I ride platforms) can’t unclip fast enough at the intersections while stopped at that light, or kids who just sometimes fall over . Once high speed impacts are involved thier usefulness declines rapidly.

              Truth is you can’t even rely on personal evidence. Just becasue a helmet is tore up or compressed in your accident doesn’t mean it saved your life, the only way to know for sure be to recreate the accident without said helmet and see what the outcome would be.

              Under all the same logic, helmets should be worn in automobiles as well. As should a 4 point harness system.

              What is clear through all the data is that more cyclists makes the roads safer for cyclists. And the data also screams that helmet use causes declines in ridership.

              BTW – I’m not a sport cyclists at all nor do I follow the sport, but even I know helmets have gone from maditory to optional in the Tour de France next year. Can’t be a good sign if even the pro’s are going to start giving them up.

              1. Avatar jered says:

                From the time I’ve spent on the track in cars with proper safety equipment I’d back 4 point harnesses in all cars – way better at keeping you in the car than the current seat belts and you can’t get your phone out with a harness on. I’d back proper racing seats as well – seats meant to keep you safe in the event of a crash – of course a high percentage of Americans would have trouble getting into a proper racing seat. Though last track day at PIR my mechanic was brining my car so I rode my bike to PIR with my auto helmet on – not very comfortable…

              2. Avatar Robert Getch says:

                That’s not true, Consumer Reports gave most a “good” rating (and has only tested 13 adult helmets mind you) but only one passed their most stringent test, the Specialized Echelon helmet. TL;DR your point about Consumer Reports is wrong.

                Your point about the industry not caring is good, and we should demand better by using our money to buy from innovative companies however a lot of companies don’t care about the products they pump out.

                The personal evidence I have is (in my judgment) fairly accurate. While it may not have saved my life I know my head and face would not have fared well and most likely worse than my body which had layers of clothing ripped off and scars on my hand and shoulder. So your right, I may have survived, but with a bloody cut up face instead. I’m not going to debate some pseudo point that maybe I would have lifted my head or some crap (like people who will “restrain” things in a car accident)

                I would point out that cars are designed with head control in mind and wearing a helmet most likely is not factored in except in racing situations. I’m also not advocating that we ask cyclists to put on huge layered clothing with goggles and what not; it’s one thing that says “protect your head, at least a little bit”. Bikes don’t have crash response systems, airbags, etc etc. Also depending on mode we require or ask different things, like Motorcycle riders generally wear helmets.
                I do also acknowledge that in other countries headgear may be low with less injuries but this is the United States and we should deal with the realities as they are, we have bad infrastructure, problematic road users, and a high rate of comparative incidents.

                Finally, you say they help sometimes then why not just wear the thing? Why argue that it doesn’t help *frequently* enough. I’m not at all for making them mandatory right now but I’m not going to go around throwing out junk to get them off peoples head or suggest its better off.

                BTW- Where is the source on that Tour thing, there was minor exceptions, but generally a helmet was still be required from what I could find; admittedly I did not look hard.

          2. Avatar davemess says:

            Ah the helmets are dangerous argument……..
            I did find that article odd that the author seemed a little surprised and upset by the fact that helmets didn’t eliminate and prevent all concussions.

        2. Avatar dr2chase says:

          No, there are not too many variables to make the very tiny hop that this correlation between helmetless riding and stop-sign-running trashes the conclusions of studies that rely on the relative occurrence of helmets vs not in head-injury victims.

          I am not saying “aha, this proves helmets are useless”. I am saying, “aha, the studies that we thought proved helmets were useful, don’t actually prove much at all”.

          Our choices are not just “proven safe” and “proven useless”. We also get to pick “not sure, still needs more study if we care enough about the answer”.

      2. Avatar Chris I says:

        But one can’t assume that the two are related. Nothing in the data would support that. Unless all head injuries occurred due to red light running.

        1. Avatar dr2chase says:

          But we can’t conclude that helmets are safe, either, since there is this clear correlation of no-helmets with a behavior that we strongly suspect is not safe.

          Before, from the no-helmets side of the argument, there was a lot of hypothetical nitpicking about differences in behavior, changed target size of the head, preventing skull fractures vs preventing TBI — but it’s largely hypothetical. But with his interesting correlation, suddenly, it’s not. That’s a real live confounding factor there.

  12. Avatar CPAC says:

    Bravo to Monsere and PSU. This is precisely the kind of scientific study we need to help educate politicians scared by anecdotes.

  13. Avatar ScoBu says:

    When my red light turns green, I look both ways for those cars blowing through their yellow/red light. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens enough where I’ve learned. It is also why I don’t try to time hitting green lights at full speed. You need that half second to let the intersection clear.

    Oh, and I do this when driving a car or operating a bike.

    1. Hear hear. Near every day, I am caught by the red light at NW Broadway and W Burnside (heading south on Broadway). And near every day, when the light turns green to cross burnside, there is a car coming through the intersection there against the red.

    2. Avatar Mindful Cyclist says:

      It’s called defensive driving. It was one of the first things I learned when I took driver’s ed classes. I extend it to my bike since it is also a vehicle.

      And, it would be one of the first things they would teach people on bikes if we actually provided some training like we do driving.

  14. Avatar pdxpaul says:

    I wonder if this study will make it into the Oregonian?

  15. Avatar Chris I says:

    I have witnessed cars blowing through stale red lights at speed on NE Sandy at 52nd (just east of Laurelwood Brewery) on three separate occasions. Not sure if it is the size of the intersection, the signal configuration, or just impatient Washington drivers trying to bypass I-84 traffic, but it is absolutely terrifying when it happens. All three times it was just as I was about to enter the intersection. I now look both ways at all intersections, whether i have the right-of-way or not.

  16. Avatar Ryan says:

    I come to a complete stop at red lights, look both ways, and proceed through the red once it is safe. I refuse to wait at red lights if I don’t have to. I am safer running red lights because there is a large buffer zone, car free, that I have control of. Running reds also limits the jostling for position with revving, speedy cars who hit the gas ASAP on the green.

    1. Avatar PdxMark says:

      Thanks Ryan. Many of us appreciate the driver disdain and animosity we get for your choice. Not.

      1. Avatar dr2chase says:

        I doubt that red-light running has much to do with disdain/animosity. As near as I can tell, it is tribal nonsense, and people who decide that they don’t like the on-bikes tribe are just looking for stuff to justify their prejudice — so it if it’s not “runs red lights”, it’s “Lance Armstrong wannabees”, “elitist”, “road hogs”, “didn’t pay road tax”, etc.

        Because, after all, most drivers break all sorts of traffic laws, and they do so with much graver consequences. Do you see them worrying about being regarded with disdain and animosity? Why not? Seems kinda irrational for them not to worry, if this is about respect for the law and safety. (And therefore, I conclude that it is NOT about respect for the law or safety, and the next candidate on the list of explanations is “tribal nonsense”)

        I’m sure people want to argue the point, but please, look at the numbers. Most drivers speed on the freeways, many speed on surface streets. They roll through stop signs, roll over stop lines, play chicken with pedestrians in crosswalks. And per vehicle, they’re about 15x more deadly to others (pedestrians) than bicycles are.

        And from a harm-reduction point-of-view, any time spent harassing cyclists about the law and safety is time not spent harassing the much more dangerous motorists about the law and safety; it’s a net waste of time. Unless, of course, you think that cyclists are over 15x more reasonable and persuadable, in which case it might make sense.

      2. Avatar Ryan says:

        I’m very sorry you believe my running red lights, or anyone else, somehow causes driver animosity towards cyclists.

        For many drivers, it is the mere existence of anything in their way on the road is cause for disdain. This is true for even other drivers!

    2. Avatar davemess says:

      So laws don’t apply to you? Interesting……

      1. Avatar are says:

        nonsensical laws that put me at risk do not apply. waiting in an empty intersection for a light to change makes me a sitting duck.

      2. Avatar Ryan says:

        Nope. A green light does not imply I am safe to cross the street; the red light does not imply I am not safe to cross the street. I let each unique moment in riding dictate how best to react.

    3. Avatar younggods says:

      Also limits the noxious fumes we are choking on from the cars idling.

  17. Avatar BURR says:

    Robert Hurst and BikeSnobNYC have both stated unequivocally that Portland has the most law-abiding cyclists of just about any place they’ve traveled.

    OTOH I can totally sympathize with Ryan, the one thing I hate most is choking on exhaust, and the best way to avoid that is to get out in front of the pack of crazed motorists waiting at the light.

    1. Avatar davemess says:

      So shimmy up the right side of the cars and get to the front of the intersection (and it’s legal!). Problem solved!

  18. Avatar Help says:

    Just like bikes.

  19. Avatar Mindful Cyclist says:

    I have all but given up on throwing out stats or argue with friends or acquaintances that do not ride bikes when I get “you cyclists run red lights/stop signs” etc. Instead, I pretty much give them this standard line:

    “You are correct that there are cyclists that do not follow the traffic laws and it bothers me as well. However, I learned a long time ago that I cannot control other people’s behavior–I can only control my own behaviors.”

    When I say this, I often find I can actually engage people a little bit more about what it is like to ride a bike since I make it clear that I have no intention of getting into an argument and I acknowledge that there are cyclist that do it. I can tell them when they ask “why do you guys think you have to ride so far to the left in a bike lane?” that I do it because of the danger of being doored and they usually understand why we do it then. And, I can often tell them that next time I am at a stop sign and have a foot down waiting to cross, please, please, please just go and not wave me through!!

  20. Avatar TOM says:


    I got a new perspective just today. Coming downhill on 205 MUP (only a couple hundred feet North of where it crosses Springwater MUP) ….there was a chain link fence to my right and a bunch of blackberry runners poking straight out (about 3 feet) just at face height …saw them at last moment ..rider coming the other way , could not swerve into that lane.

    Put my chin down and 3 or 4 of those runners hit the helmet pretty hard …thorns put scratches into the top. If no helmet, those thorns would have raked my face or scalp.

    1. Avatar younggods says:

      It really is a jungle out there. Glad you made it home alive.

    2. Avatar Alex Reed says:

      Did you call ODOT and ask for path maintenance? Dream of a Portland where we can rely on the provision of safe riding facilities rather than having to armor ourselves against the thorns and canes of government indifference 🙂

    3. Avatar dr2chase says:

      That’s why I carry a folding pruning saw with me.

  21. Avatar TOM says:

    dr2chase Most drivers speed on the freeways, many speed on surface streets. They roll through stop signs, roll over stop lines, play chicken with pedestrians in crosswalks. And per vehicle, they’re about 15x more deadly to others (pedestrians) than bicycles are.

    I saw one story where researchers were in unmarked cars tailing Police patrol cars and counting traffic violations . Don’t remember the exact number , but even the Police seemed to ignore traffic rules at a very high rate.

    1. Avatar younggods says:

      From what I’ve seen the police are in their own league in regards to ignoring traffic laws.

      1. Avatar albyn says:

        I had an uncle who was an officer in the California Highway Patrol. While on a family outing some years ago, my grandmother pointed out that he was going 90mph in a 55 zone; his response: “laws are for stupid people”.

    2. Avatar A says:

      I’ve been pulled over on I5 for driving the same speed as the cop. His comment: I can break the law, you can’t.

  22. Avatar Syzlak says:

    I’m certain (there are probably studies covering this) that cities that spend more on cycling infrastructure see fewer traffic violations from bicyclists. Here in LA we are spending over 1 BILLION DOLLARS on expanding 1 MILE of the 405. If we had spent that money on cycling infrastructure the bicycle mode share would skyrocket and I am sure behavior among people cycling would vastly improve.

    On balance, taking into account ALL traffic violations, I think bicyclists must be better behaved than motorists since it is simply easier to get around by bike. I suspect motorists get frustrated and are more willing to bend the rules because driving in cities is so inconvenient, even when the infrastructure far favors motoring.

  23. Avatar Chigger Mortis says:

    Uh, what about stop signs?

  24. Avatar Eastside Rider says:

    When I’m in the crosswalk…
    At a reasonable speed…

    I’m a pedestrian.

    And I can be a pedestrian who is crossing against the light but not obstructing traffic. There’s no “jaywalking” in Portland.

    So if I stop, look both ways, and proceed… in the crosswalk…

    If no one is coming, how is that unacceptably risky? It’s certainly not illegal behavior.

    Is data available on the percentage who stopped, then proceeded against the red vs. simply cruised through with no attempt to slow?

    1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

      “And I can be a pedestrian who is crossing against the light but not obstructing traffic… If no one is coming, how is that unacceptably risky? It’s certainly not illegal behavior.”

      If there’s a red light or a ped signal that says “Don’t Walk”, it’s illegal. It’s not “jaywalking”, it’s “failure to obey a traffic control device.”

      See here (search for 814.010 and 814.020).

      However, the common (and safe) practice of crossing the street “if no one is coming” serves to illustrate the borderline absurdity of applying motor vehicle laws to pedestrians. Of all road users, pedestrians–at pedestrian speeds and without vehicular encumbrances–have the best awareness and most time to react (unless they are “plugged in” to mobile devices).

  25. Avatar TOM says:

    Alex Reed
    Did you call ODOT and ask for path maintenance? Dream of a Portland where we can rely on the provision of safe riding facilities rather than having to armor ourselves against the thorns and canes of government indifference 🙂

    It’s funny you say that …I thought about going back and hacking at the blackberries with my pocket knife. Damned things grow so fast….I was just relieved that the one hitting across my chest didn’t rip my GoreTex jacket. Was doing about 15 and looking down, if even for 5 seconds is a bit weird.

    I’m 6 foot tall and frequently have to duck under foliage hanging over the paths, but the city is sure good about knocking down the poppies alongside SpringWater 🙁

    Won’t even test ride around the block w/o helmet.

  26. Avatar Sho says:

    Good study and sounds about right for the majority of intersections especially those which have higher traffic. Would like to see a study with stop signs.

  27. Avatar paul g. says:

    Jonathan any link to the actual study? Do we know where the videos came from and do we know if we can generalize from behavior at intersections with video cameras to all intersections?

    The problem with generalizing from one set of observations to another is epitomized by this poster who I suspect is also my riding partner, and knows how incorrect it is to generalize from his personal observations of one residential intersection for one hour on one afternoon to make a statement like this:

    I have absolutely no doubt that in residential neighborhoods, cars are at least as likely as bikes to run stop signs, and much more dangerous when they do.

    I agree that this is probably true, but the empirics that preceded the statement don’t provide any support to the claim.

    1. Paul, the actual study is waiting for peer review so isn’t public yet. Two of the intersections were in Eugene, two in Corvallis, two in Beaverton, six in various bike-friendly-ish parts of Portland and one in unincorporated Clackamas County a little bit outside the Portland city line. The busiest Portland intersection was the southbound intersection on Northwest Broadway at Lovejoy, with 1425 bikes observed; the least busy Portland intersection was on North Rosa Parks Way, with 141. The smaller-town intersections obviously had lower volumes: only 21 bikes observed for the study came from the Corvallis sites.

      I don’t know whether there were significant differences in behavior from town to town or place to place.

  28. Avatar amanda says:

    It’s also important to recognize that traffic lights were largely designedand coordinated to regulate car drivers. The are different consequences to running a red ina can vs. on a bike. Infrastructure designed for bike would have very different rules. So it’s somewhat unfair to expect cyclists to remain stopped at a red light in the same way as expect drivers to.

  29. Avatar Ivan says:

    Are these intersection videos from traffic cameras installed by the city/state? If so then the study is certainly not representative of all intersections (and the study authors are probably be the first to admit it, but this summary doesn’t make it clear). Traffic cameras are only installed on intersections with heavy traffic. Cyclists are much more likely to obey a red light at an intersection with heavy traffic.

    As a cyclists who sometimes runs red lights (and I believe most cyclists sometimes do), I can say with confidence that it depends on the intersection. At some types of intersections, I would bet that the vast majority of cyclists would run the light. For example, consider a T intersection between small streets where you are going on the “non-intersecting” side but yet there is a red light.

  30. Avatar Justin says:

    Since this discussion has become active again, I thought I should post the study link:

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