Should cyclists be allowed to run red lights if it saves lives? That's the question being asked of London Mayoral candidates by the campaign group Stop Killing Cyclists, as part of its '10 by 2020' safety challenge.
More precisely, the call is for candidates to promise to implement a version of what is known as the 'Idaho Law' – named after the US state which introduced it in 1982. This allows cyclists to pass through red lights if the way ahead is clear.
In London, this would allow cyclists approaching a junction and wishing to turn left to continue through a red light and make the manoeuvre. Pedestrians would still have priority.
The question was put to candidates by Donnachadh McCarthy, co-founder of the campaign group, with four of the five candidates answering in the affirmative. Some did have reservations however, such as Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pigeon, who said: "I am reluctant to advocate its comprehensive adoption until I receive clear evidence that pedestrians, and especially vulnerable pedestrians (children, and blind and partially sighted people), would not be adversely affected."
Eight people have been killed while riding bikes in London so far in 2015, the majority of these incidents occurring at junctions and involving trucks or HGVs.
Although the junction design across the UK is less than ideal for cyclists, according to Dr Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer in Transport at the University of Westminster, conditions in London are particularly bad. "High volumes of peak time construction traffic and the difficulty of avoiding many major junctions make the problem worse. This is also reflected in Near Miss Project data where over half of all London near miss incidents happened at or near a junction, which is significantly lower for rural incidents or urban incidents outside London."
Responses online have been predictably mixed. "Introduce an Idaho law over here for cyclists? Won't matter, the morons go through red lights regardless already." commented Andrew Stark. Twitter user Jojo also brings up the regularly misunderstood road tax argument: "#IdahoLaw will only be acceptable when #cyclists pay towards road tax & insurance."
'If Paris can do it…'
"The Idaho Law makes a lot of sense" says Carlton Reid, cycling campaigner and author of the book 'Roads Were Not Built For Cars'. "If Paris can do it then so can London, and many other UK cities, too. It would legalise what is already happening. This, in itself, isn’t the only reason to welcome it because that would, by the same measure, condone law-breaking such as using a mobile phone while driving which is also already a common sight on the streets.
"However, it would recognise that cyclists often have good safety reasons for getting out of the way of red lights. And with the huge growth in cycling numbers in London there’s every incentive for getting as many cyclists as possible through junctions."
Paris and Idaho aren't the only places where such activity is already permitted, with variations on the Idaho Law already active at many junctions in Germany, the Netherlands and Brussels. Trials are also happening in Strasbourg and Nantes, and yielding positive results.
10 by 2020 proposals
The 'Stop Killing Cyclists' campaign group sees the implementation of the Idaho Law as an emergency measure, rather than the exclusive solution to the many and various problems. The '10 by 2020' initiative calls for a number of other actions too, including a network of physically protected cycle lanes, the introduction of 'mini-Hollands' in various London boroughs, and for at least 10% of the Transport for London infrastructure budget to be spent on cycling by 2020, up from the current 1.4%.
With participation in cycling growing, and the Mayoral race hotting up, McCarthy sees this as the ideal time to raise these issues. “The 2016 Mayoral election provides an urgent opportunity to speed up the pace of transforming London into a safer, healthier and more beautiful city, fit for humans aged from five to 105 to cycle, walk and do business in safety."
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