I'm basically a year-round cyclist in Toronto, Canada. The popularity of bicycling as a form of transportation and commuting here has been growing over the past few years, and I'm generally happy people doing things to encourage the practice.

However, on my travels I often see cyclists blowing through red lights, at both minor and major intersections. I also see cyclists blowing past the open doors of the streetcars/trams that we have in Toronto: by law vehicles (which bicycles are) must stop 3m/10' behind them. I mention this as I have a friend to got hit by a bike when getting of a tram and ended up with a broken arm, and often see close calls.

Personally I don't see the point in breaking the rules, as the light is going to change in 30 seconds anyway (I usually end up catching up with these folks a few blocks down the road). One of my concerns is that by acting this way they "ruin" the reputation of more reasonable cyclists, and give the activity a bad name.

There are also the folks who ride the wrong way one one-way streets, even though there's another street going that direction a few tens of metres down the road (the blocks are fairly close together in the urban parts of Toronto--basically a grid). These may seem like small things, but it gives a certain perception of cyclists that is not entirely positive.

Does anyone have an effective strategy for convincing these folks to obey the rules? Is it worth approaching them and talking to them at all?

(This is assuming that they're reasonable people, i.e., people who listen to reason and logic.)

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    If you do figure it out, your time would be better spent getting motorists to follow the rules like signaling lane changes, following the speed limit, and coming to a complete stop at stop signs. Feb 10, 2012 at 19:30
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    Blow a stop sign at night on a dark street with your lights off in an electric car and run me over! That's the only way I'll stop ;)
    – dotjoe
    Mar 21, 2012 at 20:44

7 Answers 7


Coming from Vienna, Austria where most of the people are known to be rather grumpy, I would recommend to avoid talking to people directly. I have made some rather bad experiences with this approach and very few successes.

I have read a Book about Psychology named "Die Kunst kein Egoist zu sein" by Richard David Precht, and as I remember he states something interesting:

Everyone tries to maintain a good self image. So, in the moment someone decides to break a rule, that someone declares for himself that this rule does not apply for him in this situation. For example, when he runs a red light, he already made the decision to, and in the same moment made an excuse for his action, to have a clear conscience.

So, in my Opinion, in the moment you speak to him, you break his peace of mind. I think he won't be to happy about it. He already made the decision, and in this moment you are in a bad position to talk to him.

So to convince folks to obey the rules, there should be better education for bicyclists (handouts, information, courses) as well as better infrastructure (like having crossings where you do not have to wait for one traffic light as a car but three traffic lights as a cyclist). This can be reached if cyclists unite and advocate for this. If some cyclists know the rules and follow them, other cyclists will do the same. So be a great example! Our bicycle union in Austria has some flyers to give to cyclists, where a basic description of important rules is included. I only give these to people I know or people that look like it is their first day on a bike, but that also might be an option.

There will always be some gung-ho cyclists, but at least for me I am lucky that this people do not steer a car with the same gung-ho attitude.

  • "...where most of the people are known to be rather grumpy..." This is excellent! Do you realize that this is true beyond Austria?
    – user313
    Feb 17, 2012 at 8:26
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    I think the whole "internal justification" hits the issue dead on. Some people just do not believe the rules apply to them. Feb 18, 2012 at 17:18

The people who ignore the rules of traffic fall into two categories: Those that put reason above the law, and those that just don't care.

The first group can be reached by appealing to their common sense. I belong to the first group, I regularly run certain red lights (the ones I know, where I can see for myself that there is no danger), but I never drive past a stopped train. If you want to tell me something is dangerous, do so right away - I'll listen to reason when voiced in a reasonable tone. Do not refer to law or customs, because most people do know the law and chose to ignore it because it makes no sense to them in the situation. Don't know about Toronto, but where I live (Würzburg, Germany), the majority of red lights are necessary only during the morning peak hour and can be safely treated as a yield sign, and most "one-way" streets are broad enough for a cyclist and a car to safely pass each other. However, when there is real danger, simply telling me about the danger is a good way to bring the message across:

Please be careful, passing stopped trams is dangerous, I know some people whose arms were broken this way

The second group, those who don't care, will never listen anyway. Treat them like reasonable people and don't be disappointed if you get unreasonable answers.


There are generally two tactics for this:

  1. Education and enforcement. Both of these are pretty lacking in Toronto. Even if they ran an ad saying "don't ride on the sidewalk" every once in a while in some of the local papers, it would have an effect. They do have two or three blitzes per year, but these aren't overly helpful either. They make people feel like they're being targeted and not necessarily being treated justly. An emphasis on education for children might be most beneficial. Some areas have cycling education including in their public school programs.
  2. Change infrastructure to match the needs of cyclists. Things like Bike Boulevards or "The Green Wave" help to obviate bad behaviour. As Neil points out below, there are generally local organizations that try to help out with this. In Toronto, your best bet is the Toronto Cyclists' Union, or join one of their ward advocacy teams. You might also think of joining one of the local bike coops like Bike Pirates or Bike Sauce.
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    These are the strategies many cities use to promote cycling. To that end, you might want to get involved in local cycling initiatives rather than try to do all this on your own. Feb 10, 2012 at 14:14
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    I've been stopped for 'running a light' as you folks call it. I think everyone accounts for themselves and we should leave it to the police to discipline. However, sometimes just setting a good example helps. I'm the 'cut through traffic jump 10 lights sort' but there have been times that I've 'behaved' simpley because another cyclist was waiting patiently at a light and put me to shame. Feb 10, 2012 at 15:25

"Whoah, fellow, we're gonna have a hard time acting like that!"

Said out loud, close to the person, like greeting a long awaited friend, slightly ironic smiling.

The normal reaction to preachy requests is stubborn denial and even hostility, because the person know she has some guilt, and has been "caught" by the vigilante, creating a sort of upmanship.

If you greet her like you're in the same boat, either with tone ("my old fellow") and with sentence content ("WE are gonna..."), perhaps he consider moving to the white side of the force.

Anyway, we can only suggest, not demand, good behaviour from others.

(I try to use this approach on our Critical Mass rides in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It seems to work, or at least doesn't create antipathy).


I suggest that you become involved and participate with cycling advocacy organizations in your city. These types of organizations often offer workshops and classes focusing on safety, traffic laws, cycling skills, etc. Maybe you could teach a class/workshop or offer support in some way?

When you're out riding, it's usually counter-productive to correct other cyclists that you come across. Most likely they'll just get pissed off at you.

I live in one of the U.S. top cycling cities. Even here, everything you describe is common. Yep, the person wearing black on a dark rainy night, with no lights, and running every stop sign.... and yes, I do want to yell at them.

Is it worth approaching them and talking to them at all?

In general, no. Mainly because you could spend your entire ride/commute correcting the masses. However, in certain situations you'll be able to offer good advice.


In my experience individual rider will never listen to you. They are going their way and you are going your way. The only luck you will have is in a group; especially if you are leading the ride. You tell everyone at the beginning that you are obeying traffic rules on the ride. People will eventually get used to it and it won't be an issue anymore. Then when they are riding alone they will realize how much easier they have it when they follow the rules, at least most of the time, and then they will get it.


TL;DR - I've given up trying, just let them go. If they would pay attention to reason and logic, they wouldn't be doing it.

I try to lead by example, but if you're on the lookout for it, you'll see law breaking or minor infractions everywhere. If you're directly impacted by it, then I tend to advocate a quite militant reaction, but generally I just let them at it.

For instance, if I'm a pedestrian, crossing on a signal that is red for the traffic and there's a bike obviously about to transgress, I will slow down and be longer in their way. I'll certainly get in the way if they're cycling on the pavement (sidewalk) and let them know that I'm doing it deliberately.

I've learned to see red traffic lights on my commute as a chance for a rest, so I'll probably just blow past the red light jumper soon enough. If they keep on getting in the way, I might have a word after the third or fourth light, but mostly there's enough to worry about with the traffic, that it's not a big thing.

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