Road User Experience: Run the Red Light

When I'm designing a product there's a phrase I use when my product kills somebody: bad user experience. Design means identifying bad user experiences (preferably before people die) and implementing solutions. When those solutions are simple and low risk they're called "low hanging fruit".

There are already many places in Europe where cyclists can treat a red light like a stop sign. On this stretch of Howard st. in San Francisco between Hawthorne and 3rd I run the red light to avoid my own bad user experience.


Howard is a one way street with 3 lanes for cars which encourages high driving speeds. Along the right hand side there is a painted bike lane and space for parked cars. This particular segment is about 450 feet long and provides many bad user experiences.

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You, a law abiding citizen, are waiting at the light at Hawthorne and Howard. When it turns green you start riding and you're quickly presented with your first challenge. The bike lane shifts to the left to accommodate the construction on the right. This creates an exciting game of chicken between you and the large SUV accelerating up behind you. For added excitement, there's a popular strip club (with valet parking) to your right. Cars often unexpectedly dart out of their parking spots or suddenly ejaculate their occupants into the bike lane.

You must be cautious (or maybe just lucky) because you made it past your first challenge. You're reward: 100 feet of narrow bike lane crammed between a stampede of death monsters and a plywood wall.

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Once you get to the end of the construction you somehow start to get even more ambiguous messages about how welcome you are in this highway-like space. Even your bike lane chickens out as you start to approach right hook territory. A massive garage with its gaping mouth occasionally belches right-turning trucks into this no man's land.

You're still here? Great! The hardest part is next.

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Note the cabs in the right lane. One of which has chosen to abruptly utilize this fine example of bicycle infrastructure. Two pedestrians stand stand by for further instructions. It's so great that the W hotel is generous enough to share its taxi waiting area with the bikers that paid for it.

In the lane to your left a car going 50 mph makes a right hand turn from the left lane without signaling. The single human occupant was answering a Tweetbook Facepalm on his mobile device and almost completely missed his turn!

And, somehow, you survived. Only 8 more SoMa intersections left...

Let's try again.

This time break the law. When the light at Hawthorne is red all car traffic is stopped for approximately 20 seconds to allow pedestrians to cross. Wait for any pedestrians to pass and then run the red light.

Since the cars are stopped there is no death monster stampede. You can ride in the middle of the road. This keeps you safe from the various hazards on the right side of the road (taxis, doors, pedestrians, etc). Best of all, there is no chance you will be killed by the right hook since you're half way through the intersection at 3rd st. before the cars catch up.

 Safely and legally enabling this behavior is low hanging fruit that could save lives.