This is Why Bikers Run Red Lights

Bikers often have a well-deserved reputation as jerks: They blow through stop signs, go the wrong way down one-way streets, and even occasionally ride on the sidewalk. All of which, of course, is totally against the law. And frankly, its inexcusable behavior that makes all cyclists look bad, only increasing the bike-auto warfare.

That being said, though, Boston’s streets often push bikers into breaking the law. Yes, seriously.

I bike down to Symphony Hall from the Forest Hills area just about every day when the weather’s nice, on the lovely Southwest Park Corridor. Opened in 1987 along part of the original track of the Orange Line, it’s just over a four-mile ride, mostly winding through park land. There’s maybe 10 stop lights along the way. It’s a pretty solid commuting path, and there are hordes of bikers headed in both directions at rush hour.

Unfortunately, the stop lights on the trail are timed as if to spite cyclists. Since this is a bike and pedestrian trail, bikers are obligated to wait for the pedestrian light, which we all know is the red-headed stepchild of traffic signals. Cars, meanwhile, zoom past in all directions. Bikers are forced to wait what seems like an inordinate amount of time for a crossing signal, or they can “jaywalk” with the pedestrians, against the red light. Most do, despite the danger.

This morning, I finally stopped to time two separate intersections on the route to see just how much they favor cars. The first was by Roxbury Community College, a busy four-way intersection at Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street. Here’s what it looks like:

Roxbury Crossing intersection bike

At rush hour this morning, the lights were timed for a 110-second traffic pattern. Cars get more than 80 percent of the green lights; bikers and pedestrians are left with less than 20 percent of the time to cross. Bikers are given a quick 20-second crossing signal every minute and a half.

That might seem reasonable: It is a four-way intersection. But would it seriously be a problem to drop an extra pedestrian crossing signal in between the green lights for north/south drivers on Columbus and west/east on Tremont? (Each of those directions also gets protected left-turn signals). Why do we have to wait for the entire traffic pattern to cross? And I don’t want to hear the “but streets are made for cars” argument. It’s not true. Streets were originally made for people. Cars invaded them.

Then, there’s the absolutely absurd lights at the T-shaped intersection at Jackson Square in Jamaica Plain.

Jackson Square Intersection bike

Here, the lights are tilted in the favor of automobiles by 90 percent — bikers and pedestrians get a signal only 10 percent of the entire light cycle. A law-abiding biker would spend more than two minutes waiting to cross here. Most don’t wait. Really, there’s no justification for this light, especially considering it’s not a four-way intersection — it’s T-shaped. The city could easily add another crossing signal in the middle of the pattern.

Remember: These blatantly car-focused intersections are along a bike and pedestrian trail, a place where the city is ostensibly encouraging bicycle riding and walking. And sure, by adding bike lanes, starting the Hubway system, and improving bike trails, we’ve made great strides in making Boston’s bike community. I’m not advocating that bikers should break the law in any way. But if we want to cut down on bikers running red lights, let’s start with an obvious step: Making our bike trails more bike friendly.