The ‘Golden Rule’ of Cycling

Background Reading


The other day a simple question was put to the ChainLink crowd:

Running Red Lights & Pedestrian Cross Walks
Posted by KidZero on August 2, 2013 at 2:49pm

I am a casual commuter bicyclist. I ride to work down Milwaukee via my bike or the 56 bus. (Bucktown to West Loop)
One thing I notice during my commutes is that at certain “T” intersections 19 out of 20 bicyclists will not stop at the red light and pass through it. It doesn’t matter if there are pedestrians at cross-walks or incoming traffic. Some will not even slow down.

Personally, it drives me crazy. I find it to be completely irresponsible, dangerous and discourteous at these times of day. It wouldn’t concern me as much if it was not during rush hour. However, we are talking about people trying to use the crosswalks and cars attempting to drive normally and merge onto busy roads.

Example: Milwaukee & Wabansia – This intersection has 2 crosswalks across Milwaukee. It has a day care & public library. Foot traffic is high with parents/kids/strollers and commuters. Bicyclists do not stop even if there are people crossing or traffic coming onto Milwaukee. I have seen them swerve around strollers and disregard any safety concerns. Personally I have almost been hit once, saw 2 near collisions with strollers and people held up from crossing because of a stream of unconcerned bicyclists.

Example: Milwaukee & Noble – This intersection has one highly used crosswalk across Milwaukee. It is by a school with a lot of student pedestrians (with a crossing guard) and a good amount of senior citizens. Again, Bicyclist run this red all of the time even if there are people crossing. Personally, I have seen near collisions with groups of students, 3 seniors and cars making left turns.

If this was a rare occurrence I wouldn’t be posting. In fact, this issue alone prompted me to create an account and post at Chainlink.

I want to understand WHY people think this is okay and don’t think it is a danger to themselves and others?

  • Why can’t they stop?
  • Why do they not care about the safety of others?
  • Why do they not care about the rules of the road?

The mindset is what I’m looking to understand. Right now I just think they are selfish a-holes who value their time/safety/space more than others. On days with near collisions I even get angry to the point of yelling. (I saw an old woman missed by nearly 3 inches.


I want to be proven wrong and have an understanding of why this happens.


Some of the responses were thoughtful, others not-so-much. One got into such a stilted blather-mode it was hilarious. One need never over-think these things:

Reply by SlowCoachOnTheRoad 18 hours ago
You seem extremely upset about this (enough to open an account and post). I can think of several reasons: a) you are worried about all the near-misses and concerned about potential accidents; b) you are less familiar with the use of biking transportation and don’t understand what you see; c) you wish you could drive the same way as those you are upset about (I think this is called reaction formation, when you take on the opposite feeling as the one you originally feel because that one is too threatening to acknowledge); d) you are not really a casual commuter bicyclist but someone pretending to be so you can take on bikers here on the net (maybe you already take them on with your automobile); e) when you see laws broken, no matter which, it really upsets you (this is what Lawrence Kohlberg called Stage 4 morality – it goes up to 6 – the kind in which rules and laws must be followed without question). My guess is you are just concerned about the safety of others, but also you want so much to be the honest citizen that when others aren’t, it pisses you off (“why do I bother keeping so meticulously to the rules when others so flagrantly disregard them?”).

The best answer I can come up is that most biking behaviors were acquired from experience. People on the south side are more paranoid than people on the north side – they each have different expectations about safety, neither are inherently right or wrong, they both respond to different situations. Most bikers will at least stop at red lights and only move on if there is no cross-traffic at all. Incidentally, the law does state that bikers must stop at red lights, so we all should, but once we’ve done that, we should take other factors into consideration: a) it is an advantage to stay a bit ahead of cars so you can place yourself sufficiently to the left that they don’t take advantage of you and thereby jeopardize your own safety; b) stop signs are not even stopped at by cars – also about 19 out of 20 (as you stated about bikes) slow down but don’t actually stop, so bikes do the same, they brake a bit as they approach and if there are no cars coming across, they just move on; c) bikes can see traffic in all directions better than cars so the decisions they make are often more informed; d) the Wicker Park neighborhood probably has the greatest proportion of cocky white people who think they are oblivious to danger and more narcissistic (but I speak of a greater number, not of all residents, obviously) – but would that not also be because of their age? Have you considered that most teenagers and young adults also are more sure of themselves, and to a degree that makes them more vulnerable to bad decisions and consequences – so this could also be a matter of human development that has been well studied by psychologists. But you are right, we all see bikers who make bad decisions and many of us are not always pleased about them. It is like the anarchists at a protest who go around smashing windows because they are not privy to democratic decision making and give the protest a bad name – they think they are free but really they are behaving like the Black Shirts in Nazi Germany.

So, don’t necessarily assume all bikers are irresponsible, however we all have to be careful on the road if we don’t want to be another statistic. And that is going to mean being aware of how cars will take advantage of you or even hate your existence, and that may mean sometimes taking over the lane or biking in an assertive way. But I do agree that the more responsible we bike the better the name we will give ourselves.

Whoa, big fella! You are making this far too complicated. Here is a bit of shorthand that works in every situation. And it is easy enough for even a child (or a 20-something ChainLink brakeless fixed gear rider) to understand…

The ‘Golden Rule’ of Cycling

Never demand of others what we are unwilling to do ourselves. Strong reactions to ‘bad behavior’ in cyclists has nothing to do with the age, gender, race, socio-economic position, religion or hat-size of the complainer. It has everything to do with ‘fairness’.