Critical Mass and Red Traffic Lights.

We’ve been riding Critical Mass in Leicester now for 10 months and each time we ride we learn more lessons about routes, how to make sure people are safe, what themes people like and if a pun is going to work.
One question that we keep coming back to however, and have never really answered to everyone’s satisfaction, is what to do at red traffic lights.

We make a point on our rides of being law-abiding riders and not doing the things that cyclists so often get criticised for. We don’t ride on the pavement or the wrong way up one way streets.
We also use the phrase ‘We’re traffic too’ to justify our right to ride around the streets and occasionally hold a few people up.

So all of this good work could be seen to be undone when we do go through a red light, but I feel that in the circumstances (and only these) that it is justified.

If I’m riding at any time APART from Critical Mass, I’ll always stop at red light. And I get really annoyed by cyclists (and people on bikes) who do go through them. It is dangerous and antagonistic.

People will debate the moral argument of Critical Mass passing through red lights, but consider the moral obligation to keep people safe on such a ride. That is far more pressing and outweighs such a violation of the law.
Also, the people who might point out our reckless lawlessness may occasionally (or more often) break the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph. Something that there is rarely justification for. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s difficult to make a case for the latter despite it being normalised behaviour these days.
Those people might also want to consider what might happen if we took 200 riders through Leicester and did stop at every red light. How long do you think we would take to pass by then? How many more people would we hold up and piss off?

We take our ‘non-organisation’ very seriously. We ride the routes a few days before the last Friday and think of ways to maximise exposure but limit risk and our likelihood of pissing off the rest of the world.

I understand that passing through red traffic lights as Critical Mass will upset motorists, but it allows our safe movement as one body. Critical Mass only ever feels unsafe when the group does get split and we are faced with what regular cyclists struggle with every day and that is being the underdog on our car dominated streets.
As a single body, a critical mass, that balance shifts in our favour, if only for a moment as we ride by.


  1. I never go through red traffic lights by myself when cycling – but as a mass, then we should do what is safe – critical mass is well-stewarded. It is vital that we continue to promote cycling.

    Cyclists are much safer than cars on the road – for road users and the environment.


  2. Please consider this. I drive on a daily basis either a 3.5 ton Land Rover or a fully loaded VW Van (also 3 tons).
    If I'm approaching a traffic light on green and I hit some higly principled but still soft-skinned cyclist, on a mission crossing a red light. Even at 5 mph there is no contest. I don't want your blood on my bumper and your injuries on my conscience. I'm sure you can cook up a better way to draw attention to your cause – which generally I support. Drivng in Holland is a dream because the state has sorted out the cyclists/motorist interface, and the rights of way are obeyed by all.
    Peter Harvey


  3. Fair point PeterH. But on the CM rides we only ask traffic that has already stopped at the lights to wait a few minutes longer as riders pass through. It's a good-humoured procession that takes place once a month – we always talk to the folk we've asked to wait and explain what it's about. In the scheme of things it doesn't seem a huge deal…


  4. @PeterH – Green light means “Proceed through the intersection IF IT'S SAFE TO DO SO.” It does not mean “GO”.

    Also, If a bus or truck LEGALLY enters the intersection on a green or yellow light, but the light turns red before the vehicle clears the intersection, no laws are broken and you are legally required to wait until the intersection is clear (and your light is green) before proceeding. A large mass of bikes really isn't that much different than a bus or truck, in this sense.


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