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Design Matters

July 15, 2013

James D. Schwartz, a Toronto blogger who writes The Urban Country, uses a recent trip to illustrate how, as he puts it, “Bad Design Leads to Bad (Scofflaw) Behavior.”

While the protected bike lanes were wonderful and comfortable, the traffic signal design, which was designed for motor vehicles, made it awfully tempting to break the law and run red lights.

For example, while riding down the 9th Ave protected bike lane at a relatively slow pace, we hit red lights at almost every intersection.

Obeying the law would put bicycling on par with walking pace, since a bicyclist would need to wait for a full 3-phase signal cycle to complete at almost every block.

Thus, it was no surprise to me that most bicyclists safely passed through a red light when the intersection was clear.

Other bicyclists rode fast enough that they could hit most green lights, which are timed for motor vehicles traveling at about 50 km/hour.

In the eyes of onlookers, red light jumpers are “scofflaw” cyclists. But it is bad design that creates incentives for bicyclists to jump red lights.

Even as a tourist  in New York, I surely wasn’t going to sit at red lights all the way down 9th avenue, so I safely and courteously jumped my fair share of reds over the weekend.

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