Rules for Bicycles and Rules for Cars

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 28, 2012

French newspaper Le Monde reported on April 27 that Paris has introduced a special traffic signal that allows cyclists to turn right on red. Turning right on red is not normally permitted in France, but a number of French cities have piloted this rule change as part of a general move to make road design and traffic rules more appropriate for cyclists and pedestrians.

Much like the Idaho stop, which allows cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs, this change recognizes that the current rule was designed for motorized vehicles.

The Le Monde article notes that some will say this just legalizes the bad behaviour of cyclists and will endanger pedestrians or lead to more accidents. However, the Ministry of Transport is used to these sorts of objections and has responded to them point by point.

The French highway code was originally adopted back in 1921 to regulate motor vehicle traffic and is not adapted to other road users.

As in Canada, traffic lights and regulations are designed for motor vehicles and not for bicycles, which are light, manoeuvrable and have better visibility.

In fact, Paris is following Bordeaux, Nantes and Strasbourg, all of which have piloted right-turn-on-red for bicycles for several years. Their experience has shown that separate rules for bicycles do not pose any danger.

Alain Jund (the Mayor's assistant for urban design in Strasbourg) points out, "waiting for a red light is riskier for a cyclist than turning on red, particularly if a truck is also turning right".

There have been no accidents due to this rule change in the cities that have adopted it, and it typically saves about 6 or 7 minutes for a cyclist on a 5 km journey.

It is interesting that in France it is the Ministry of Transport that is educating the general public about the importance of adapting the traffic rules for cyclists and pedestrians.

Here in Canada, governments of all levels are still in the mindset of the 1920s: the rules should be designed for motor vehicles, and other road users are accommodated only in as much as they don't interfere with the real 'traffic'.

When are we going to see our Ministry of Transport taking the lead, rather than defending the status quo?

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Wholesome (registered) | Posted April 28, 2012 at 17:02:29

You won't find the MTO being proactive unfortunately. The road is only for cars...

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By progressive (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 01:14:02

WOW how progressive they are, allowing right turn on red for bicycles. That is your great leap in making cycling better? We have had right turn on red for years for everybody and it really hasn't changed anything.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 03:40:53 in reply to Comment 76320

Since you have clearly missed the point of this article, please allow me to explain it to you.

The point of this article is to give an example of a city that has looked carefully at the current traffic rules and decided that in some cases different rules should apply to cyclists and motorists.

Similarly, many narrow downtown streets in Paris allow bicycles to travel counter-flow, cyclists are allowed to use most bus lanes and they have installed bike boxes at many traffic lights. A similar example would be adopting the Idaho stop rule for stop signs in Hamilton.

In the European Union they have decided that right turn on red in dangerous and it is prohibited in all countries. North America (which generally allows right turn on red) is exceptional internationally.

Despite your claim that there are no problems, right turn on red is particularly dangerous for pedestrians, so our choice is bad for both pedestrians and cyclists!

I'm not sure why some readers object to considering examples from other cities, especially as these same readers are the first to claim that something (like cyclists treating stop signs as yield signs) would never work.

How can we improve if we don't learn from examples elsewhere? Or do you really think Hamilton is already the best it can possibly be?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-04-30 04:01:35

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