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10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic: Part 3 of 10

10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic

Today we continue a series of 10 posts about cycling with car traffic. These are things we have learned from years of riding in downtown Toronto. Some of these tips you may have seen before in other places, and some will be new.

This is not meant to be a complete list… there are more secrets out there… but here are 10 that you’ll find very useful.

NOTE: These are geared towards downtown cycling, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. These all assume that you already know about proper lighting and safety (ie. helmets are useful, stopping at red lights is advised, etc.) precautions, and know that riding on sidewalks is one of the most unsafe things you can do, for both pedestrians and yourself.

Past tips are found at the bottom of this post.

3. Play By The Rules

Play By The RulesYou and your bike constitute “a vehicle” according to the Highway Traffic Act. This means that you have to abide to the same rules that drivers do. This means stopping at red lights, stopping for people at crosswalks, and not passing open streetcar doors.

This is really important because if drivers see you respecting the laws, they are more likely to respect you. On the other hand, if they’re stopped at a red light and you blow right through it because (hopefully) the way is clear, they are going to be mad at you.

Why should they treat you like a vehicle with a right to the road if you don’t behave like one?

Check out the full “10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic” series:

  1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You
  2. Ride in a Straight Line
  3. Play by the Rules
  4. Avoid the “Stoplight Squeeze”
  5. Signal Sensibly
  6. Take That Lane
  7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable
  8. Ride With Others
  9. Avoid the Right Hook
  10. Practice Your Route


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  • For me it’s not just about this. I really don’t think that the respect a group is given should have to do with the actions of its individuals and in fact this tactic has been used before to deny rights to others for years and years (in much worse ways than we experience).

    For me the biggest part about this is that obeying the laws makes me more predictable. And the more predictable I am, the less likely a driver is going to be to misinterpret something I’m doing and cause a collision. We all know what it’s like to deal with a driver who doesn’t signal before turning in our way. He wasn’t being predictable and we nearly paid for it. The same is true for us failing to signal or stop when we should.

    That said, I’m all for the Idaho stop and hope to see a similar rule implemented here someday. But again, making the rolling stop legal for bicycles now makes *that* move expected behaviour (and in the way the law is implemented, it’s only used when there’s no other traffic anyway)

  • Good outlook on this, Todd.

    It would be great if more cyclists obeyed the rules of the road. I know that sometimes things are dangerous and sometimes we take shortcuts to make things safer for ourselves… but outright flaunting laws that are in place to make ALL road users safer is irresponsible.

    I was waiting at a red light at a “T” intersection this morning, and as a cyclist passed me to go through it I told them the light was red, and they replied “I know” so I made a remark about their intelligence.

    Was that reasonable of me? Maybe not, but the fact remains that red lights are there to control traffic flow (and bikes are a part of traffic) to allow cross-traffic access across other routes of travel. If someone can’t understand that or thinks they don’t have to stop because the way is clear and no cars or pedestrians are coming, they are not intelligent.

    Todd… I think it was you many months ago that put forward the notion that drivers don’t like rule-breaking cyclists because breaking rules breaks a kind of social contract that all citizens have… the laws are there to help society function, and ignoring them is in fact anti-social.

  • Well said Todd; I totally agree. Todd for Mayor.

  • Todd, you have until September to file your papers for the mayoral race. :)

  • A Chicago cyclist on why he often goes through red lights:


    His argument? That it is SAFER, because he gets a head start on cars.

    That, my friends, is one of the worst arguments I’ve heard for going through a red light. This is because 1) you’re going through a red light, which gives cross-traffic the right-of-way, 2) you may get a 30 second headstart on car traffic which will not only catch up to you fairly easily, but they’ll now be pissed off at you because you’re one of those crazy rule-breaking self-righteous cyclists who can’t seem to fit in with societal norms.

  • Cara

    Joe, I fail to see how insulting your fellow cyclists is going to do anything towards creating better cycling habits. If anything, the person you insulted this morning was likely put on the defensive by your remark and is now more likely to continue his or her bad habits.

    With respect, engaging in ad hominem attacks of those who hold different views from you is not particularly intelligent behaviour itself.

    It is possible to be critical of bad behaviour without being critical of the people who engage in it. It’s not just more polite, it’s more effective. It’s amazing how open people are to different ways of seeing things when you take a little bit of care not to get their hackles raised.

  • You know Cara, you have a point… but they would continue their bad habits anyways, even if I didn’t say anything.

    The good cyclists in this city have to hold the bad ones accountable… some kind of peer pressure may change their habits. Stuff like going through red lights, past open streetcar doors (esp. when people are loading and unloading) and just general the-laws-of-society-don’t-apply-to-me behaviour is stupid and irresponsible.

    I think it drives most normal cyclists (and non-cyclists) nuts when someone bikes through a red light and then asks to be “respected” or treated as a regular vehicle.

  • Damn – I won’t make this year’s election. Still working on that citizenship thing. Next time? ;-)

    I agree with Joe – right now for whatever reason it’s considered perfectly acceptable by many to disobey traffic laws. Where drivers look upon someone who runs a red light or speeds through a school zone as an idiot, the worst most cyclists who behave similarly get is an eye roll. Well, unless Joe’s there ;-)

    What I find particularly obnoxious about red light runners is that for the most part it isn’t those who are *not* in any rush – just meandering into the intersection, sometimes over to the crosswalk, then back. Thirty seconds later the light turns green and I pass them yet again. Why are the slowest people so worried about stopping for 30 seconds at a light?

  • I’ve eye-rolled my fair share… and I’ll stop at red lights between the curb and a car so that another cyclist can’t pass me and go through the intersection if the light is red. It happens a lot on the Danforth because of all the “T” intersections, and at Bloor and Parliament.

    I also don’t understand what is wrong with stopping. I like resting for 30 seconds… gives me a chance to check out the stores and restaurants around the intersection… restaurants I’ll come back and try later. :)

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