Four NY Post reporters (four!) took to "busy city intersections" yesterday to count the number of cyclists riding through red lights, and wouldn't you know it—almost every one of them looked the red light dead in the eye like, "Not today, bitch!!!" and pedaled on through anyway.
The tabloid set up shop at three busy (but largely unidentified) intersections between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., noting a total of 1,006 cyclists who encountered a red signal, with 796 of them proceeding on through.
One such busy intersection was in Central Park, the site of the crash between a speeding cyclist and pedestrian Jill Tarlov, who died of her injuries on Sunday. The Post does not bother to differentiate between casual riders cautiously checking each direction before ignoring the light and the cavalier spandex-coated road warriors who treat public spaces like their personal velodromes. But why would they? The report does note that some bikers "were observed slowing down, looking both ways before going through," though they don't specify how many.
The issue is not so much that cyclists are "breaking the law"—laws are not inviolate, as the plodding road toward legalizing marijuana and ferrets have taught us. The Idaho stop, as we've written repeatedly, is the idea that cyclists can treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign. This has a certain logic: traffic lights are timed for motorists, not cyclists. Obeying every red light on a bike results in a far greater percentage of stops during a bike commute than a drive.
But the real reason why cyclists don't stop at lights may be that they feel more attuned to their environment than a driver ensconced in his or her metal bubble, and can easily determine whether or not it's safe to proceed. A careful, respectful cyclist knows when it's appropriate to pedal through a red light, just as a careful, respectful driver knows when it's appropriate to drive through a yield sign. It's impossible to argue in favor of anyone—driver or cyclist—barreling through intersections like the road is theirs and theirs alone. Also, these outfits.
At the same time, all cyclists need to be aware that their numbers are growing; that they're no longer the marginalized fringe group they once were in NYC. Bike lanes have proliferated, and riding in the city is safer now than ever before. Still, it's easy to indulge in bitterness—every journey, no matter how brief, is a desperate fight for space, be it jockeying for room next to meandering SUVs and randomly opened car doors or cursing cops parked in bike lanes.
Everyone needs to pay attention and be careful on the chaotic streets of NYC—cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. But let's not let media coverage of last week's tragic Central Park crash obscure the fact that reckless driving is still, by an overwhelming margin, the leading cause of traffic fatalities and injuries in this city. If tabloid coverage of this issue was proportional, the Post would have to run about 1,000 stories on drivers running red lights for every cyclist hit job it publishes.