Big problem, cyclists jumping red lights in London. Not necessarily the “Lycra” brigade. Real people in proper clothes!

Would I like to see just how bad it is? Yes. So this morning I joined a police operation to ‘nab red light jumping cyclists’.Location posh Belgravia, junction of Ebury And Eccleston Streets, SW1, near Victoria Coach Station and Belgravia Police Station.

The concern here is the risk cyclists pose primary school children who have near misses crossing the road to reach Eaton Square School on the corner. Quite often cyclists sail straight through the red, without checking left or right.

I joined Sgt Herrett and PC Nigel Lewis who, with two other officers, was on a mountain bike. Two community officers were also on mtbs.

By 8.20 we had the junction staked out. Despite the six officers being highly visible in their bright yellow jackets the number of cyclists – and drivers – contravening traffic regulations had to be seen to believed.

Here’s what happened. The junction of Ebury St and Eccleston St is controlled by lights, but they have a rather short pedestrian phase. The junctions include a decent segregated cycle lane and advance stop lines. Eaton Square Primary School is on the corner. Opposite is La Bottega Delicatessen, where two guys taking coffee on the pavement outside watch the operation.

And we’re off.  At 08.20 and 10 seconds a gent in neat shirt and tie, pressed trousers with cycle clips and riding a fold up has jumped a light and is stopped by yellow-jacketed police officer.He’s given a talking to and when the officer fills out a form the rider makes mobile phone call.

Meanwhile, another rider in Ebury street is checked for crossing the white line, as a bunch of 11 riders all queue up at the red, eyes darting right and left, clocking the cops.

Then a woman runs the red and turns left. When stopped, she says I always do that there because it’s safe, but not at the next junction where it’s not safe. At 08.23. Another rider jumps the light to cross Eccleston Street – straight through until: “Oi”. Booked.

“On any given day between 8.30 and 10.30 I could book 20 or 30 here,” Sgt Herrett tells me, shaking his head and smiling at the wonder of it all. I make notes and look up to see two more cyclists stopped, being dealt with by four officers. While this is going on, two vans cross the junction and a woman cyclist makes a dash for it against the red, gets clean away.

The driver of a 4×4, which pulls into advance stop line box, finds a policeman knocking on his side window. Another talking to. Yet another car does same thing in Ebury Street, the driver looking indignant at being scolded, told to back up.

A spokeswoman for Eaton Square School was greeting children as they arrived. She told me: “We welcome the police doing this. But cyclists are only part of the problem. The green man phase on the lights is too short.”

I tell Sergeant Herrett and we both timed the light. When the green man lit up an adult started to cross and got halfway before losing the green. Imagine attempting that with a child in a pushchair, another dragging their heels?

There’s no end to the action. A girl on a smart Danish bike cut through on the wrong side of keep left sign and is stopped, given  a warning. She  looked bemused. Across the road another bloke is stopped – insisting it was green. It was red, the police tell him. The fella ribbed the police for not doing more important police work, like chasing robbers!

Police Sgt Herrett told me: “On any given day, between 8.30 and 10.30, I could book 20-30 cyclists…

“Local people tell us that there main concern is not with serious crime, but little things, like dog fouling, cycling on the pavement, through red lights, inconsiderate driving….”

The operation was timed out at 09.30. We went back to the police station for coffee, stopping on the way to enquire of a lorry driver whose truck was blocking a side road. He moved it a bit, created a bit more room and we strolled on.

PC Nigel Lewis read out the results of the morning’s work. “10 people were stopped and spoken to about contravening the red light and three people were given a fixed penalty.”

“Some people didn’t realise they had to stop on a white line, at the red light. Some went straight thro, made no attempt whatsoever to stop.”

Will policing cyclists at junctions become a routine? “We’ll be doing this monthly. We do on a daily adhoc basis when we see it. I imagine other (police) teams will do so as well.”

He says the hope is that by doing so, they will educate cyclists. “I think it’s a large proportion of cyclists doing this. In  a 10-hour shift, I will certainly see 50 doing it.

“At that particular junction, up until we started this quite recently, people would just ride straight through. Whole groups of 10 at a time, just going straight through.”

What about drivers stopping in the cycling box, they looked a bit knarked when you spoke to them. “Yes, because they are contravening the white line, the first one, the primary one, which means they then go into the cyclists place.

“And this is another reason why cyclists – they say – are getting ahead of them. So everyone is getting ahead of each other. Everyone is being pushed forward and forward and forward.”

One of the cyclists stopped this morning was Bill. He preferred not to give me his full name. Bill, 28, tee shirt and shorts, riding black Cannondale mtb with discs and slicks. What happened there, then? Why do you think you were stopped?

“Because the PC’s here I’m not going to say I went through a red light. To my eyes the light was green as I approached it. Someone was in the way so I rang my bell … and I was stopped, in my mind, slightly unfairly.” (Slightly?)  “I can understand why the police are doing this, there are some reckless cyclists out there. (But not me)

“In that instance I think it was in my favour but I’m not going to contest it.” So you say the light was green, the police say it was red. “Yep.”

“I think what the police are doing here is giving a short sharp shock to cyclists. I think it’s a good idea on the whole but in this (my) case I disagree with what they said.”

Bill, who rides eight miles to work and has done so every day since he was 18 (about 10 years) showed me his battle scars. Dark spot on arm, scars on legs. “Sent sprawling on the floor by a bad driver.”

So, to sum up. Clearly nearly everyone is in too much of a hurry. Men and women of all ages on all sorts of bikes. Fold ups, mtbs, hybrids, big wheel Dutch bikes, road bikes, fixies. Oddly enough, those stopped looked really intelligent. Clearly, they have thought this through and decided that red lights, white lines are a barrier to progress to be treated as advisory or ignored. Ditto everyone else on the road if they so much as cause him or her the slightest delay.  Inconveniences on the conveyor belt of life.

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  • Mike

    Whatever happened to the TfL study about turning left on red? I don’t mean head down full pelt but treat it as a give way. Too many cyclists have been killed turning left by cars/lorries not seeing them or just too impatient and not giving us room. Surely it’s better to turn left if it’s safe and be around the corner before the traffic reaches the corner of the junction.

  • Owain

    I just got back from a weekend break in London. I couldn’t believe the chaos on the roads with cyclists, cars and pedestrians. My observation while sitting in a nice cafe by a road junction by Paddington Station, was that the main problem was with pedestrians crossing the road without looking when the road lights were still green for traffic. In an hour I must have seen at least 20 near misses where the cyclist had to swerve to avoid the pedestrian as pedestrians cross by relying on listening for vehicle noise. No doubt if the pedestrian had been knocked over, the cyclist would have got the blame and it would be assumed that the cyclist ran a red light. Can you imagine the press reaction if the Police tried to give a warnings to pedestrians! Unfortunately reactionary Police tactics to mainstream press hysteria can inflame the situation with some drivers thinking its fair game to take the law into their own hands against cyclists.
    Thankfully my commute is much more scenic in the Welsh Valleys and mostly safer.

  • sean

    What danger exactly is posed by the cyclists? where are the stats to back it up. Last time I looked approx 3000 deaths per anum by the motor car and 1 by pedal cycle.

    How about nicking all the school run mums for driving while using their mobiles.

    Cycling through red lights is neccessary in London and indeed often safer as the cyclist gets out of the way of motor vehicles.

  • philthehill

    Fair play, if we want respect on the roads, abide by the rules. Everybody’s just in too much of a hurry!!!

  • Frank Eastwood Queensland Australia

    The mind boggles. We have the same problem in our cities but we are 30 years behind in traffic conjestion.

  • Tel

    I never would have dreamt of running a red light on a bike until moving down to London. Maybe that says something about the sheer quantity of lights stopping you practically every 150 yds. The frustration of continually hitting red after red after red is the reason cyclists do it. My test is this :

    If you hit a red and it would be perfectly possible to dismount, walk across the junction without obstructing traffic and get back on then there’s no practical difference between doing this and taying on you bike and doing the same thing. But if it’s not safe, or you’re not experienced you shouldn’t do it.

    I also drive a car around London. Never once felt the need to jump a red, or get pissed at a cyclist jumping a red. If it makes no difference to me as a driver then who cares. Cars are a totally different minset : you’re already a prisoner in a big steel box – red lights aren’t going to change that!

    Now pedestrians who step out an amble across the road deliberately looking the other in a silly pretence that they haven’t seen you – that’s what gets me annoyed…

  • James Pellatt

    I agree with Julian, for too long cyclists pushing through red create more bad feeling from drivers, it doesn’t get us anywhere in the long run.

    I think that we should seriously think about licensing for bikes, but here is the plus side instead of charging us for it we should get a deduction on our road tax for cycling. That way there is an incentive to ride, BUT we get hit if we break the law. The more we cycle the less we will need to jump the lights.

    Also we cyclists should pay each other a bit more respect, don’t push in front if you think the person ahead of you is quicker, it just creates more danger for everybody when they pull away and overtake you after the lights.

  • julian

    now I usually get really fed up with the police harrassing road users to raise money for the treasury but……………… I completely agree with this.

    I’m a 15 year commuter in london and cyclists running lights is totally counter productive. you can just read the car driver’s mind when another cyclist ignore the rules of the road “f*** them” is usually first.

    we the cyclist can only gain the high ground if we follow the rules, then and only then will we get the respect and attention we deserve. I speak as a lycra clad, sportive rider and a car driver too.

  • Ken Evans

    Haven’t the Police got anything better to do ?