Take A Break

redlightTake A Break: The fact is that bicycles are legally vehicles and you are required to follow all the rules of the road, including stopping at stop signs and red lights (and waiting for the light to turn green before proceeding), yielding at Yield signs, and obeying No Right On Red signs.  Sure, motorists break the rules all the time, but it’s still the law. Some bicyclists feel safer getting through intersections without cars, even when it means running a red light, but it isn’t actually safer than waiting for the light. You might get a few seconds of riding without cars alongside, but the same cars that would have passed you from a standstill at the intersection are now passing you going 30mph or more. While it is unfair to single out bicyclists, who are a tiny percentage of people on the road, we are a growing minority with a very real image problem that opponents of bicyclist rights, bike lanes, bike parking, and other bicycle facilities use as a reason to deny us these things.

And when you stop at a red light where another bicyclist is already waiting, do them a favor “ stay in line and wait your turn. Otherwise, you force faster bicyclists to repeatedly pass you, endangering both of you. Just think of it as enjoying your ride for a few more seconds.

  • Bicycles are vehicles
  • Bicyclists have to follow the rules

Every person operating a bicycle upon a way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way, (2) the bicycle operator shall signal by either hand his intention to stop or turn, and (3) bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance. MGL chapter 85, section 11B http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/85-11b.htm

  • Bicycles must stop at stop signs and red lights

Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign or a flashing red signal indication shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. MGL chapter 89, section 9 http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/89-9.htm

  • Bicyclists must obey yield signs

The driver of a vehicle approaching a yield sign shall in obedience to such sign slow down to a speed reasonable for the existing conditions and, if required for safety to stop, shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After slowing or stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways; provided, however, that if such a driver is involved in a collision with a vehicle in the intersection or junction of roadways, after driving past a yield sign without stopping, such collision shall be deemed prima facie evidence of his failure to yield the right of way. MGL chapter 89, section 9 http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/89-9.htm


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5 Responses to Take A Break

  1. Rob Fine December 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    Waiting at stop lights is ideal but a hard pill to swallow for twenty somethings. Do we need another law to approve of Idaho stops or allow the rule of common sense to prevail? I don’t intend to promote being a scofflaw but want to point out that waiting at red lights may not be the best policy, although it may be a necessary tradeoff from having other rights on the road.

    The role of Police in this campaign could help especially when the officers themselves are on bicycle patrols or recreational riders.
    I am reminded of an excellent video done by the Chicago Police to train police officers on enforcing and educating safe bicycle riding. I was made aware of this via Charlie Dennision.
    It’s called, “Traffic Enforcement for Bicyclist Safety” and is posted on Vimeo at :


    My comments upon viewing : This shows real commitment on the part of the Chicago Police to protect the safety of cyclists. They have numerous laws to cite motor vehicles and consider bicycles as vehicles. The question of cycles going through red lights or doing an Idaho Stop was not addressed and it can be inferred that if it doesn’t endanger other vehicles or pedestrians, it’s not an issue. Cyclists are pretty much expected to stay off the sidewalks, have a light at night, go in the posted direction of traffic and show common courtesy. Drivers on the other hand are held responsible to stay out of bike lanes for maneuvering and parking, slow down when taking left and right turns if a cyclist is their path, excercize precautions when opening any door, and allow a three foot travel lane for cyclists when passing. It seemed essential that for these new rules to become adopted that police officers who rode their bicycle on and off duty become involved in the program as evident in the commentaries made here.

  2. Dianne of Roxbury December 11, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    Yes. Thanks for speaking out on this. I would like to add my thoughts. Over the last 7 years I’ve increased my walking activity throughout Boston and Cambridge. While on the Esplanade I began learning foot/bike path etiquette from some of the more considerate bikers, who would slow down and warn me from behind, “On your left!” Well done! My natural stride does tend to weave left and right, especially on a 5 – 10 mile trek. Oh yes, and at least one biker grazed me at a pretty decent clip, without apology. Hmm… On the sidewalks, too, it’s a mixed bag, and on the roads, it’s dangerous because many pedestrians take it for granted that bikers are considerate of us, especially when we have the WALK sign and they have the red. Who’s reading this?

  3. Marc from Cambridge April 30, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    Thanks for this great website. There is a common scenario that I don’t see addressed:

    A cyclist is at full-stop, waiting with other vehicular traffic at a red light. A lighted “walk” sign starts chirping, giving the “go” to pedestrians in the adjacent crosswalk – the parallel one, traveling in the same direction as you. I’ll admit I typically start riding (on the road) when the walk sign lights up, yielding to any pedestrians. I’m guessing a cyclist’s only legal options are to 1) continue to wait for the green, or 2) dismount and walk their bike in the crosswalk. Am I correct?

    The rules really blur where a multi-use trail meets a traffic intersection. I encounter this constantly on the Charles River trail along Memorial Drive in Cambridge – a path that is interrupted by many bridge crossings. Near Harvard and MIT, a great mass of walkers & cyclists try to fit through a narrow break in the opposite curb.

  4. craig June 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Its great to think of a peaceful coexistance, but the problems is that this is impossible when considering three scenarios. The biggest threat is Taxi Drivers and MBTA drivers. They are too bold and ignorant of traffic laws and courtesy, and will jack on their brakes and block the bike lane to pick someone up, sending people into the road among thousands of other scenarios. Secondly is cell phones, people drive up on you and jack their brakes just inches away or swerve into your lane, you take a breath and look over to discover they are on a cell phone or texting 9 times out of ten. Thirdly is walkers. Walkers, including myself, dart out of every nook and crannie, usaully on their cell phones without looking and even if they see a bike they cross anyway at green lights. Last of all, bicycle lanes are much less safe than riding in the road. The cops do nothing about people double parking, about people waiting for parking, people standing up against their cars in lane, taxi drivers swirving in and out and MBTA buses that roar in and out of them with no worries of killing a biker or two a year, and then stupid people, mostly young girls on cell phones, who bust open their doors with their feet, arms full of bags of cloths, and shoulder holding their cell phones up to their ears, sending the biker into whatever car is rearing up behind them.O yeh and the 8 inch holes that line mass ave and similiar streets dont help either. Thats why i swirve and pull shady moves in the road, and blow red lights, so that people can see im there and they fear i might swirve into them and vice versa. So it all comes down to putting these overpaid BPD cops to constructive work instead of sitting dumbfounded at construction sites and staring at teenage girls at downtown crossing.

  5. Mark October 12, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    The article correctly states “The fact is that bicycles are legally vehicles and you are required to follow all the rules of the road, including stopping at stop signs and red lights.” Why is this so difficult for so many bikers? I am a biker and go for 20 mile rides every other day. Bikers that don’t stop at red lights and stop signs are breaking the law and creating hazardous conditions. There are no exceptions. Let’s stop complaining about motor vehicles and “look at the person in the mirror.” Let’s ride legally and safely.