Commuting 101: Intersection Safety

Green Light

Now that we all agree on whether or not to obey traffic laws

I thought I’d bring up a lesson I try to drum into the minds of my children when they are learning to drive: Just because your light turned green doesn’t mean it is now safe to GO. I don’t know about your neighborhood, but people in mine tend to believe that the world revolves around them and even if their light has changed from green to yellow to red … it is still their inalienable right to floor it through the intersection.

Robert Hurst, in his wonderful book The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street, has a brief section called Running Green Lights in which he states:

“Got a green light? So what. Expect huge nasty things to come flying at you from all directions.”

I see now that the book has been updated and is now called The Art of Cycling: A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America and they have done some tweaking here and there. You can read the meat of the section on page 85 of this preview.

In a nutshell, these are the things he says you’ll need to look for:

  • Look left and behind for cars that will be turning right, across your path.
  • Look for red-light runners.
  • Look for pedestrians.
  • Look ahead for cars that might be turning left, across your path.
  • Look to the right for cars that might be turning into your path.
  • Suffice it to say that even though the light is green, take your time and be safe.

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    0 thoughts on “Commuting 101: Intersection Safety”

    1. Josh says:

      This is exactly why we need to ride in the street and with the flow of traffic.
      There’s enough chance of a right-cross even when you are right where people should be looking, but if you’re on the sidewalk and/or riding against traffic, you’re playing Russian-roulette.
      A few years ago, my daughter was riding ahead of me with her little sister on a tag-along on the sidewalk against traffic. We thought it was the safest place to be since we were riding slow and acting like pedestrians. Unfortunately a motorist at a red light on the cross street was turning right against the light, and never looked to her right (only looking to the left for people in the street going with the flow of traffic). Fortunately, she saw the flag of the tag-along flop underneath her car as she proceeded and stopped short of crushing my 5 year old to death. Everyone was fine, but we learned our lesson and now always ride where people are more likely to look (my oldest also learned to make eye-contact and drive defensively even if you have a green light or white “walk” sign).

    2. Quinn says:


      for a 5 year old, on their own bike, the sidewalk Is the safety place, or rather the Right-side sidewalk, I agree that that teens and older should be in the street, but no younger.

      I had a similar event, just 3 yrs ago, as an adult, and ever since I sarted riding stricly on the right, I have had close calls (of course), but have not been hit.

    3. Jeff Moser says:

      I’ve heard about some new traffic lights that have a slight delay before turning green. Lights in both directions will be red momentarily before one direction turns green, allowing the intersection to clear out. Apparently this has cut down on a few accidents.

    4. Daniel says:

      “I’ve heard about some new traffic lights that have a slight delay before turning green. Lights in both directions will be red momentarily before one direction turns green”

      -Actually, most redlights across the country are already standardized to have at least 2 seconds of all red in every direction before allowing any one of the lights to turn green. This helps cut down on accidents and allows people time to clear the intersection, ie if you are trying to make a left turn accross traffic and you already pulled into the middle of the intersection but you don’t get a chance to cross traffic till the light turns red.

      Occasionally they will make the all-red time even longer than 2 seconds in places that are prone to frequent severe accidents from high-speed red-light runners.

      My commute (Charlotte, NC) forces me onto the sidewalk of a major highway for about a mile or so. I hate it, but the only way to get across the creeks here is to use a major (and I do mean major – 55mph and high traffic volume) road. During that section on the sidewalk, I stop at every traffic signal and assume that everyone else has the right of way.

      Which is good, because everyone (the guy waiting to turn left across my path, the guy behind me trying to pass me then take a quick right) seems to assume they have the right of way, and legally if I’m on the sidewalk they might.

    5. burnsey says:

      My brother once told me, just pretend you are invisible at all times. Ride defensively.

    6. Doug says:

      Cars turning right on red is a very good point. When I see a car approaching in my mirror when I’m at the intersection, I assume they are turning and I pause. Forget turn signals on their part.

      I could shorten my commute but it would require the use of the sidewalk due to the fact there is NO shoulder and blind corners. I had a conversation with a co-worker about this situation and she said that until the city provides bike lanes, she will use the sidewalk when necessary.

    7. Arleigh says:

      I don’t know where you live in Charlotte but if you are subscribed to these comments still shoot me an email.

      Arleigh at

    8. Jessica says:

      I have a problem with an intersection I must cross on my way to work: it uses a sensor to determine when to change. I picked a route that is relatively low-traffic compared to surrounding streets, and my low-traffic road crosses a high-traffic road. Therefore, the light stays red, since it can’t detect my small weight. I ride very early in the morning, and there is very little traffic, so I’m usually the only one in the intersection in my direction, and it’s not practical to wait for another car. Should I get on the sidewalk and press the crosswalk button, or run the light when it’s safe? I’ve been thinking I should just get on the sidewalk for that part, but I hate doing that.

    9. Dave Ours says:

      Here’s my best tip for safely crossing an intersection. If you are stopped at a red light, pull up to a vehicle that appears to be crossing the same way you are..i.e. going straight or turning….I get their attention and point to myself and then point in the direction I plan on going once the light changes. About 90% of the time, I get a vigorous nod or a thumbs up. I think they appreciate having a mutual understanding. I think most drivers want to interact safely with cyclists, but many don’t know the proper steps. Just because you are going straight and the vehicle beside you does not have a turn signal on, doesn’t mean that the driver won’t be turning. Getting a visual cue from them clarifies that. Quite a few times, after signaling my intentions, a driver suddenly realizes that they do not have their turn signal on, and they then activate it. The best part is that they often make sure you get through the intersection before they proceed with their turn. Cyclist / driver communication is the bigggest safety factor out there.

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