I write this in response to a comment posted by reader Freedom Bikes:
"I saw this on a bicycling forum. Any truth to this?
'A lot of forward thinking bike communities (L'ville, KY for instance) totally advocate running reds/stops safely and have quantifiable data as to why it is safer to do so.' "
Nope, that's pure urban legend. One prominent bicycle advocate in Louisville (my friend Jackie Green) urges cyclists to ignore red lights and stop signs "when safe." All of the relevant local government officials, and all of the local bicycle safety instructors, and everyone on the board and staff of Bicycling for Louisville, disagree with him. Jackie sets forth his "as soon as safe" doctrine for leaving intersections, regardless of the presence of stop signs or the phase of traffic signals, here. He justifies it with a list of snippets from news articles about chain reaction car crashes that injured or killed innocent bystanders. Neither Jackie nor anyone else has performed any analysis of the relative safety of running red lights and stop signs "safely" versus obeying them. The anecdotes shared on his website merely show that cyclists and pedestrians sometimes get hurt by motor vehicles struck by other motor vehicles. They do not show any differential in danger between intersection and non-intersection locations or between whether or not the bicyclist or pedestrian was stopped at an intersection when hit.
Kentucky traffic law clearly requires bicyclists to obey stop signs and traffic signals in the same way as motorists must. Given the frequency with which motorists complain to me about bicyclists running stop signs and red lights, it seems to me quite likely that this behavior contributes strongly to the anti-bicyclist sentiment that leads to road rage assaults against bicyclists.
According to the League of American Bicyclists, 8% of car-bike crashes resulting in injuries are caused by the bicyclist running a stop sign or red light. Focusing on getting out of the intersection quickly will inevitably result in bicyclists spending less time evaluating the traffic conditions, more mistakes, and more crashes. At a stop sign or red light, I have much greater concern about getting hit by vehicles who have the legal right to go (that is, the cross traffic) than by the vehicles who have the legal obligation to stop (that is, the ones behind me).
Jackie bases his revisionist view on a Louisville ordinance stating that the traffic law applies to bicycles "... except those provisions of this traffic code which by their very nature can have no application." Even in the unlikely event that a bicyclist could get a judge to believe that the stop sign and red light laws by their very nature have no application to bicyclists, the Kentucky code contains no such provision and the local ordinance cannot supersede the state law. A bicyclist in Kentucky who crashes while running a stop sign or red light has thrown away most of her or his legal rights by having run the stop sign or red light.
If you've read this blog over the past several months, you know that I am no fan of stop signs and traffic signals. I consider other means of traffic control more appropriate in a majority of circumstances. With the well-informed and experienced bicycle advocates of Portland, Oregon seeking an Idaho-style yield-and-roll law for bicycles at stop signs and turning right on red, I am inclined favorably toward that option. Kentucky law clearly prohibits rolling through red lights and stop signs, though, and I believe in the benefits of everybody following the law.
When we make up our own rules, others on the road do not know what to expect of us. This results in confusion, chaos, and destruction - especially for us, the most vulnerable road users. When motorists feel compelled to abide by inconvenient traffic laws and bicyclists ignore those laws, motorists understandably resent our behavior. Angry, resentful motorists are not good for my health as a bicyclist! Even with their flaws, our traffic laws are worth following. We can't expect motorists to obey speed limits when we can't bother to obey stop signs and red lights. To borrow a slogan from San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we need to "Give Respect to Get Respect." That starts by obeying the laws - as they are now, not as we wish they were. Cleaning up the scofflaw reputation of bicyclists will go a long way to strengthening our hand when we go to the state legislature to reform the traffic laws.