Photo by Conal Thomas

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Cyclist Gearóid Keeling says he often sees cyclists whizz through reds.

“It drives me mad,” said Keeling, on O’Connell Street on a recent Tuesday morning. “I see it all the time. Two weeks ago I saw a garda catch someone going through a red light. That made me happy.”

For Keeling, it’s simple – like motorists, cyclists who break red lights are a potential hazard, especially for children. “If we [cyclists] want to be treated as equals on the road, we have to respect the rules,” he says.

The rules are straightforward enough: break a red light as a cyclist, and face a potential penalty of €40. Yet, depending on who you ask, the practice isn’t all that dangerous.

“Cyclists don’t kill anyone, so why is the focus always on cyclists doing stupid things?” asks Dublin Cycling Campaign spokesperson Mike McKillen.

Other cities have decided to focus on other issues. Paris, Brussels and some cities in Germany and The Netherlands allow cyclists to ignore red lights, according to The Guardian.

Breaking the Reds

YouTube video

As of 26 July this year, 480 on-the-spot fines, or “fixed charge notices”, have been issued to cyclists nationwide for breaking red lights, according to the Garda press office. (Dublin-specific data wasn’t available.)

Research from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in June 2015 found that, nationwide, only one in every eight cyclists broke red lights during the study. Observing 60 sites, this study recorded the movements of 26,126 cyclists.

Dublin specific research, however, found the occurrence far more commonplace.

Shortly before the RSA’s figures were recorded Matthew Richardson and Dr Brian Caulfield of Trinity College Dublin conducted some Dublin-based research in late 2014.

Their study, “Investigating traffic light violations by cyclists in Dublin City Centre“, observed 3,064 cyclists at four sites, and found that an average of 61.9 percent broke the lights.

The research was conducted at the Baggot Street and Charlemont Street bridges over the Grand Canal. It looked at two cycle lanes (where cyclists share the road with motorists) and two cycle tracks (where cyclists have their own segregated lane).

Cyclists on the segregated cycle tracks were far more likely to go through red lights (97.8 percent did) than cyclists using cycle lanes (18.6 percent did).

Since the study used equal numbers of tracks and lanes, but the city has more lanes, the researchers concluded that “It is expected that the actual rate of infringement across the City is slightly less due to the under-represented amount of cycle lane users in the surveys.”

At one particular site on a designated cycle track, 660 cyclists were faced with a red light, and 98.9 percent of them broke it, according to the research.

Cycling over Portobello bridge towards the city centre, Debbie Lambert’s daily commute is 8 kilometres, including two school drop-offs.

Her route is relatively cyclist-friendly, but that shouldn’t prevent cyclists from obeying the rules, she says.

“There are pedestrian lights here, there’s cycle paths, signs and everything else. I think they should stop,” says Lambert. “It’s a little different when it’s 11 o’clock at night and it’s a red light and the light’s never going to go green, but if it’s rush hour, it’s dangerous.”

But, as Richardson and Caulfield’s research shows, many Dublin cyclists often flout the rules.

Of course, so do motorists. Shouldn’t we be tackling them and lay off the cyclists? asks McKillen, the Dublin Cycling Campaign spokesperson.

An Emotive Topic

As McKillen sees it, the point about cyclists breaking red lights is moot.

“We’re just fed up because, you know, it’s not yourselves asking that question,” he says. “Every single newspaper, media outlet in the country is asking those questions, but it’s always picking on cyclists,” he says.

“If you look at the Road Safety Authority’s street speed surveys you will see that the majority of drivers exceed the 50 kilometres per hour speed limit,” he says. “Now why aren’t we focusing on that because it’s drivers who kill people?”

McKillen argues that the issue is not with cyclists, but with road-traffic management. The traffic corps in Ireland is simply understaffed, he says. “It’s at 702 active members and the operational strength is meant to be 1,200,” says McKillen. “We have a high degree of light-touch regulation in this country across all sorts of sectors in our society.”

Indeed, the 480 on-the-spot fines issued to red-breaking cyclists across Ireland pales in comparison to the 2,359 road-transport offences issued for motorists. Or the 2,614 notices issued for dangerous driving between January and July 2016.

Yet, do cyclists breaking red lights not pose a threat to pedestrians? “Absolutely,” says McKillen. “I mean, a cyclist poses a threat to a pedestrian just as a driver poses a threat to a cyclist. There’s a hierarchy of threats.”

The problem is that, unlike motorists and cyclists, pedestrians have little representation. “They’ve no voice,” says McKillen.

Cian Ginty of says the issue of cyclists breaking red lights is an emotive subject. He reckons that cyclists breaking reds could be tackled, but that the problem is often exaggerated.

“Just like any other transportation, there are certain people who need to be stopped from running red lights,” he says. “The people who do go through pedestrian lights, they’re the people I would target if I were the guards.”

Better Infrastructure

While Keeling, the cyclist on O’ Connell Street on Tuesday morning, says he is angered by the red-breaking bicycles of the city, he admits it’s not always an easy city to navigate for cyclists.

“The roads aren’t designed for cyclists, and sometimes you almost do have to weigh up the differences between safety versus traffic organisation,” he says. “Sometimes you do have to preempt the danger and get off and walk yourself.”

Like the cyclist-commuter Lambert, Keeling says better infrastructure would help cyclists and prevent red-breaking. And stronger enforcement. “There are measures, they just have to be enforced,” he says.

Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who is head of Dublin City Council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee, argues that cyclists break red lights for understandable reasons.

“I think they feel they have a clear view of the road and that they have greater awareness of the traffic around them,” he says. But that’s not to say it should be accepted, he says.

There’s two approaches to take to tackling the issue – continue with the fines (the policing approach) or think bigger.

“Look at the reasons why this is happening,” says Cuffe. “Are the cycle times too long? I also think cyclists are frustrated by the significant amount of one-way streets around the city, making them take very long detours.”

“We could change the way our traffic lights are programmed so they will change faster. We could introduce contra-flow cycle lanes on a lot of the one-way streets of the city,” he says. “And  also we could create dedicated cycle lanes in the city.”

That would be a start. Cuffe argues for a step-change in improving cycling facilities across the city, from lower speed limits to greater cyclist priority at our traffic lights.

The effectiveness of the policing approach had yet to be proven, Richardson and Caulfield concluded in their study. The fines were only introduced in August 2015.

But, “red light running has clearly become a part of Dublin’s cycling culture”, the study noted. With more cyclists, they argued, the issue becomes more pressing.

“First of all, there needs to be more awareness raised and education for cyclists on the fact that breaking the lights, although may seem safe to do so in certain situations, is against the law.”

Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Join the Conversation


  1. Just because cyclists “don’t kill people”, that doesn’t give them carte blanche to break lights. A child or even an adult pedestrian could be seriously injured if hit by a cyclist going at a reasonable speed. That representative from the Dublin Cycling Campaign needs to get real. We ALL need to obey the rules of the road. By the way I am a cyclist and commute to work by bike daily.

    1. Just because rules were created, does not mean they’re right or thought out well.
      I think all red lights should be classed as Amber when not crossing a line of flowing traffic (such as left turns or unused pedestrian crossings).
      Those who bomb through red lights recklessly are those who should be fined.
      A cyclist going slowly through a red will not hurt anyone.

  2. If cyclists are to be treated as equally as motorists then maybe they should cycle in the middle of the road instead of at the side and risk being knocked off by motorists not paying attention when flying by or turning?
    Cyclists aren’t motorists so shouldn’t be treated equally. If they all lined up at the lights and took off on the green how much slower would Dublins traffic be? I’d say cyclists skipping red lights helps the motorists move more freely through the city.
    I think the furore about this is from motorists who wish they could break the red lights if nothing was coming the other way and it was safe to do so.
    (Im a part time cyclist and part time motorist ?

  3. “Cyclists don’t kill anyone, so why is the focus always on cyclists doing stupid things” because cyclists do proportionally more stupid things than drivers. As the article states, 61% of cyclists break red lights. That’s unacceptable.

    As a cyclist myself, I’m constantly amazed at the poor decision making of the majority of cyclists on the road. Swerving out into the road, not signalling when turning, cycling the wrong way down one-way streets, breaking lights, crossing at pedestrian lights when it suits and so on. While cyclists don’t kill people, their actions absolutely cause accidents with other vehicles and pedestrians. “Why aren’t we focusing on cars” isn’t a good enough defense for poor cycling standards. Until cyclists take the rules of the road seriously there will be no progress.

  4. As long as rules have a reason (being reasonable), it is a must for order in society to obey them. There is no reason to ignore them because you might not kill anybody or because cycling has a relatively low ranking in inner city traffic. The police don’t have to be after them, but they should intervene and – if necessary – initiate punishment. If words don’t help, money will.
    It is something completely different, if a cyclist decides to ignore a red traffic light by night, being “alone” on the road, or to cycle the wrong direction in one way streets, to cycle on pedestrian ways – as long as there is no hazzard caused to others.
    In case of an accident/injury, the rule braking cyclist alone should be punished (best on the spot) and severely enough to keep him from repeating.

  5. Build cycleways – getting the population out of private cars and cycling will immediately have an effect on the obesity epidemic, cut heart attacks, depression and hypertension, and solve most of our hospital overcrowding.

    The cycling population in Dublin has more than doubled in the last decade and is rising exponentially. Cyclists need proper cycleways. Greenways from Glenasmole to Sandymount along the Dodder, from Sutton to Sandycove along the seafront and along the Tolka and along the Royal Canal and Grand Canal have been planned since the 1980s; they would take thousands of cyclists off city streets, but the money for them has instead been diverted into the Luas, which will serve far fewer travellers.

    The National Transport Authority’s plan for cycling in Dublin appears to be nothing but an expression of an ideal – (map here) – where is the political will to build this cycling network, which could change our city?

    Cycleways provide a social good: cyclists get off for cups of coffee and browse local shops (shopping increases and house prices rise wherever they are built). Dublin’s model of cyclists daring their way through 4x4s and vans, whose drivers are often lost in gazing at their mobile phones, is not what we need for our future.
    After all, cycling leads to a far better quality of life – “wouldn’t you rather cycle, Reszö”, as the lady in this video says.

  6. On an honest practical level the argument is totally confused though at this stage in the media and with car drivers. I’ve yet to read an honest analysis of the real practical differences between cycling and driving safety at junctions.

    In reality this is forward facing car drivers stuck at a junction where there is no traffic seeing cyclists moving ahead and getting peeved that they aren’t acting like cars. But they are not cars, and in practical terms they should actually be glad that cyclists are no longer sitting beside them in their blind spot when the light goes green, as this is when cyclists are most at risk in many cases, and they should actually be glad cyclists are moving away first from them so they can see them in front of them and manoeuver around them. Even with side mirrors, cars are bad at tracking movements to the left and right of them, and in a busy urban environment, even less so.

    Likewise in reality, a cyclist is sitting at a junction with perhaps a truck or bus and row of cars beside him and at the green light could swerve into him at the last second and kill him. If there is no traffic, in % terms of pure human safety, it is far far safer for him to move ahead and be clearly seem by buses or trucks ahead of them than be stuck in a blindspot and potentially die. This is reality, especially in poorly designed junctions and road systems, which Dublin unfortunately has in droves.

  7. Why aren’t pedestrians under scrutiny in this? It has long been accepted practice for pedestrians in our cities to completely ignore red lights. In fact it is common for pedestrians, often with their head stuck in a phone, to step off the footpath into the path of oncoming cyclists putting both in danger. At the end of the day the needs of, and dangers posed by, each type of road user is very different. Motorists seem to want cyclists to act like motorised traffic at red lights, while at the same time acting like pedestrians by getting off the road altogether. This view of cyclists as pedestrians on wheels is reinforced by much of the poor infrastructure design we see all over the city. The bottom line is our cities simply do not take account of the needs of cyclists. That doesn’t necessarily mean investing massive amounts into unusable and unmaintained cycle tracks but it does mean taking a mature and informed step back and designing everything from light sequences to road markings to even the rules of the road with ALL road users in mind.

  8. Obviously, the rules of the road should be obeyed. But cyclists have a big problem in that the road design we have in Dublin does not consider their needs or their safety. The moments after the light goes green are among the most dangerous for a cyclist – that’s when you might be hit by a left-turning vehicle. In other cities there is a cyclist light which goes green before the cars get their green light, allowing bikes to clear the junction safely and legally before the cars get going. In the absence of that, where you are sharing the road and the only thing protecting you is a bit of paint, the obvious hack is to pre-empt the light and move off before the cars get the green light. If you are turning left or going straight on, that makes the journey a little easier and safer. And if – God help you – you’d like to turn right, it is one of the few ways of doing so without seriously risking life and limb.

    I’d rather pay a €40 spot fine than get crushed by a lorry, frankly.

    This is not to excuse bulling through a crowd of pedestrians crossing on their green man – which is clearly obnoxious behaviour.

  9. I park on Grand Canal Quay most evenings close to the Lir Theatre. That is part of the cycle path that connects the Quay to the segregated path that starts at the canal bridge at the Clanwilliam Place. But the Grand Canal Quay section is not segregated, it is only partly laned, and there is a cobblestone section that many cyclists tend to avoid by cycling on the narrow pavement. This causes a hazard to pederstrians especially office workers who step straight onto the path exiting their building, as it is a terrace.

    Because this section connects two segregated sections, it is human nature for cyclists to forget they are now on a shared road. There are no signs to warn them. As a result many cyclists are surprised by cars emerging onto the street. Also this street is heavily used by pedestrians but has a pavement on one sode only for part of the way. This leads pedestrians to walk on the street not the path, in large numbers, causing hazard to cyclists and themselves.

    The cycling traffic lights at the crossing at Grand Canal Quay and Pearse St are regularly ignored by cyclists especially coming from Forbes St. When they have a green they forget that they are crossing a pavement that is not equipped with a pedestrian light for people walking from or towards Ringsend in the left side of Pearse St as you exit the city centre.

    Because of this in recent weeks I have seen a cyclist crashed into by a girl on roller blades with both coming a cropper. She was skating on the Pearse St pavement from the bridge, the cyclist rode across her on a green cycling light but without looking left

    Yesterday evening at dusk a cyclist with no lights whizzed across Pearse St through a red cycling light and was extremely lucky not to be hit by a car that was doing at least 60km/h having sped up to beat a red light. It was literally a matter of inches.

    My final observation about this junction, there is a pedestrian and cycle light at the pedestrian crossing with road markings to separate the two. But the opposing lights are configured incorrectly so that the cycle sign is on the right as you head west, but also on the right as you head east. The opposomg sign is for a pedestrian so you end up with confusion. This could easily be fixed but I have reported it several times and it is now years there.

    This junction is an example of appalling planning and layout that inconveiences everyone. Pedestrians on the Quay walking from Pearse to the BGE Theatre have no adequate signage to indicate whether the large central area is for pedestrians or cyclists. It is a sorry mess but, being Irish, we tolerate it and muddle along until there is a tragedy.

  10. I think in general cyclists should not break lights. I also think in some cases, northbound over Charlemont bridge and taking an immediate right onto the cycle lane north of the canal is suicide in two way traffic. Let’s put a bit of thought into it, as opposed always being an after thought. I drive and cycle: by far the least careful road users are motorists. Let’s see serious penalties for them breaking reds or using phones while driving. I don’t do either, probably because I know how it feels to be more vulnerable on the road.

  11. Yes cyclists do kill people.a cyclist is the UK has been sent to prison for killing a women by cycling into her and she died of her injuries!!!

  12. As a regular cyclist myself, cyclists in Dublin City Centre give us a really bad name.

    Constantly, carelessly flying through red lights, often missing pedestrians by inches, never wearing helmets or reflective clothing and occasionally even ON THEIR PHONES while cycling. Ridiculous.

    It’s one thing to go through a red light on a quiet suburban road (which I admit, I’ve done and gotten in trouble for it). It’s another thing entirely to blast down O’Connell Street when there are tourists, children and elderly people everywhere.

  13. cyclists should be allowed to go through PEDESTRIAN lights but not traffic junctions which is where the real danger lies, but at a slow speed and that is the real problem, cyclists aren’t slowing down when going through pedestrian lights. It is obviously more dangerous for motorists to run red lights which i see happening on a daily if not hourly basis whether it’s turning left through a pedestrian light because they don’t understand that they need to wait for a green arrow or most commonly amber gambling, but it can cause serious injury if struck by a speeding cyclist, on a side note jay walking is not illegal in Ireland and if a speeding cyclist hits a pedestrian even if the cyclist has a green light then the cyclist technically as the motorist is at fault because he/she is expected to have speed control. The sad truth is there is no money to fix the road problems so we need to look at other options, like putting licence plates on the rental bikes and fining rule breakers and bringing out a cyclist specific rules of the road manual taken from the section of the rules of the road concerning cyclists, that said most drivers have never read the rules of the road expecting cyclists to do so would be a bit of reach. The fact is Irish cyclists are just as bad road users as motorists and only time and education will change this

  14. When – and it is when – the law is changed to allow cyclists to proceed with caution on most red lights, what will the jealous car driver complain about then?

    And while yes, a bike running a red light could injure someone, it’s a much lower priority than cars, buses and trucks speeding. And yet there are no agonised interview with a “regular driver” bemoaning the behavior of other “drivers”.

    Plus, at a high percentage of red lights it’s actually safe or even safer for bicycles to move ahead and that is NOT true of cars, buses or trucks.

  15. Why was the study of cyclists breaking red lights? That’s discrimination in itself. What about pedestrians pushing the button and not waiting on the green man? Or how red does the light have to be before motorists stop, or does it not count if it’s only gone red in the last 30 seconds?

  16. I think the debate has been blown out of proportion to be honest. I cycle every day, I work as a bike courier. I stop at the lights but still the amount of times I have had near misses – taxis, buses, cars turning and pedestrians breaking red lights. It’s quite dangerous and the problem should be tackled on all aspects not just cyclists

  17. Some of those traffic light controlled crossings for pedestrians and cyclists are confusing and inconsistent. At one peds and cyclists cross together and at another they have separate turns. I have often gone across when the ped light is green but the bike light is red. Waiting for the green light when cars are stopped and there are no peds crossing always seems ridiculous.
    Also turning left when the light is red should not be an issue and is being trialled in other cities (Paris)

  18. Cyclists breaking red lights are a potential danger to pedestrians who surely are some of the most vulnerable road users and many are injured or even die as a result of being knocked down by cyclists.

  19. for god sake Gardai cant/wont enforce rules of the road and real dangers. i.e. Drivers on phones, speeding, stopping on yellow box junctions, driving in cycle/bus lanes, children on laps in cars etc. Why focussing on this minor issue of cyclists breaking lights. Main issue are those cyclists who cant ride a bike and are a danger to themselves and other cyclists.

  20. Just because rules were created, does not mean they’re right or thought out well.
    I think all red lights should be classed as Amber when not crossing a line of flowing traffic (such as left turns or unused pedestrian crossings).
    Those who bomb through red lights recklessly are those who should be fined.
    A cyclist going slowly through a red will not hurt anyone.

  21. While pedestrians and cyclists need clarity on the issue (best delivered through improved infrastructure) to make the city safer and more pleasant for everyone, we need to remember that the most dangerous behaviour of all is cars breaking red lights. Studies like the one at Baggot Street Bridge are useful pieces of evidence, but being very familiar with this spot, I can say with no exaggeration that nearly every weekday rush-hour, cars will break the lights at pedestrian crossings at speed and block pedestrian/cycle lanes, putting pedestrians and cyclists crossing legally at risk. It seems strange, given the laws of physics, that that the emphasis would not be on protecting the most vulnerable against the most dangerous vector of danger.

    1. ‘Most’ cyclists don’t run red lights; this 2016 study of 60 Dublin Junctions found that 1 cyclist does out of every 8.
      The report says:

      “Only 1-in-8 cyclists were observed passing through red lights according to research which recorded the movements of 25,126 cyclists at 60 junctions across Ireland

      “The research was conducted for the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and outline results were published in weekly RSA column in the Irish Independent motoring section yesterday.

      “The RSA spokesperson wrote: “The final study looked at the behaviour of cyclists at traffic lights. It too was an extensive study that examined 25,126 cyclists at 60 sites in 9 cities/towns across the country. The report says that 1-in-8 cyclists were observed passing through a red light. This was highest in Limerick (44pc) and lowest in Cork (5pc).”

  22. As a cyclist and motorist I see in equal measure the stupidity of each type every day, yes some cyclists break red lights and they shouldn’t, and quoting the figure of 61% as outrageous how many commuting motorists obey every single speed limit every journey every day, 0%.

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