I run red lights. Stop signs too. Not just sometimes, but often. When I do it, it is because I view it as the safest way to approach traffic conditions. I do not do it to simply thumb my nose at the law; and let me be clear, in Illinois running red lights and stop signs on a bicycle is against the law. Bicyclists in Chicago can and do get ticketed for doing so. (So far, I've be lucky in that regard.) I do not do it to be cool. I'm a 40-something year old, dad and lawyer. I ain't cool. I do it because I love to ride in the city and surviving Chicago's congested streets in my opinion sometimes requires disobeying the rules of the road.
Any city cyclist will tell you that the name of the game is staying alive; to not get poleaxed by the much faster, much heavier, fully mechanized vehicles with which we must share our streets. That means doing whatever possible to just stay away from cars, trucks, buses. Controlled city intersections often provide the bicyclist with a good opportunity to break away from traffic, to acquire that little cocoon of space so prized in the urban street scape. For example, when I commute to my office in the Loop I travel in the southbound bike lane along Milwaukee Avenue, make a left on West Kinzie Street , then turn right into the bike lane at North Wells. The route is reasonably comfortable, until Wells crosses Wacker Drive. At that point the bike lane ends and I, and many other commuting cyclists must share the one-way street with motor vehicles underneath the "El" tracks.
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At that point riding anywhere but in the main lane for traffic is undesirable to say the least. Both shoulders are guarded by "El" track support columns, parked cars and rough, uneven pavement. Between Wacker Drive and the alleyway that accesses my building's bike room I cross three controlled intersections, West Lake Street, West Randolph Street and West Washington Street. I slow or stop at each, but take any opportunity -- within the bounds of reason and sanity -- to traverse these cross streets when the light is red. Doing so allows me to get away from motor vehicle traffic behind and adjacent to me. Illegal? Yes. But reasonable and safe in my opinion. The goal is to say away from motorized traffic whenever and where ever possible.
Here is what the intersection of Wells and Washington looks like:
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My approach is certainly open to valid criticism. Some may argue that if I, and other bicyclists, want to be treated like traffic we should act like it by obeying the rules to which other roadway users must submit. I have been a proponent of the "We Are Traffic" slogan often used by bicycle advocates. Indeed bicyclists are entitled to use the road, equally entitled as a matter of fact to use it just as are cars and trucks. This is what I think the slogan was originally meant to emphasize. However, the angry enemies of bicycles have attempted to turn the "We Are Traffic" slogan on its head, to pick nits with every occasion a bicyclist fails to act as a motor vehicle in a given situation as an excuse for railing against cyclists. To these would-be strict constructionists of decal slogans I would say, we are traffic, but we are not cars. To require people on bikes to lumber around the city like a 2,000 lbs vehicle is to ignore reality, and, as I've attempted to demonstrate, to prohibit them from exercising a safe and reasonable approach to congested conditions, to selectively contravene traffic signals.