Well this is a question I had to think about after reading a rather interesting post here. The question on just how badly I abuse traffic laws is not, however, the only part of this question. There also is a much simpler part to it.

Let me start at the beginning. My path to work on the bike started out the same as my path to work in a car. I would like to say “obviously”, because that’s the one I knew, but I’m not sure everyone is that silly. After reading a few commuting posts the words “Pick your path as if you were riding a bike, not driving a car” show up practically everywhere. Humm.

Anyway. My original path (in May 2012) took me through a calm residential area (possibly a Germany special: Speed limit of 30km/h with the right of way at intersections determined by “whoever appears on the right has the right of way”), then along one of the main commuting routes into town (speed limit 50km/h, right of way for the whole trip, occasional traffic lights), along an inner ring road around the historic (and walled) city, across a 6 lane roundabout and out one of the main commuting routes into town.

After writing that out – oh my. It didn’t appear that bad at the time (honest!), mostly because there are bike lanes on the whole distance of the trip. My main gripe was that the traffic lights are switched to accommodate fluid traffic at around 50km/h. I couldn’t quite keep up with that (and let’s be honest: I still can’t). This lead to a lot of stops at red lights, never quite catching up with the flow.

Obviously, the initial bit through a residential area (with no lights and very little traffic) was the fastest (and probably safest, too). I adjusted the course slightly over the first month, finding a bit along the river instead of the first main car route. Yay. In the morning rush hour this part was basically populated by commuting cyclists, joggers and the very occasional dog. In the evening, it was unfortunately populated by everyone, their grandma and their bloody hamster. People should really be confined to the indoors when I’m cycling.

There is a catch to the second part of the trip that made me stick to my “main car route” for far too long. It’s the shortest distance. In the early days I didn’t appreciate that driving a slightly longer distance can be worth it, as there will be less interruptions. There were a few options for making it more pleasant – a park and some fields near the road (and I have not the foggiest idea how a serious cabbage field – as in “large enough to sell, not meant for the family” – survived in the middle of town) – but the whole trip didn’t get much more pleasant and didn’t get faster. On the contrary: even though there were less stops in the park, there were plenty of 90° turns. The constant braking actually made the result about as slow as sticking to the road.

With a bit of training (probably after about 4 weeks – say June 2012) my average speed got better. One of those fancy cycle-computers showed me progress. With the new and improved speed I didn’t have to stop at every traffic light. Which makes sense: The lights are green for a while, so starting at the first green second on the first light would mean I’d arrive in the middle of the green phase on the second and near the end on the third or so. However, there were still stops. Five of them, if I stuck to the law.

Which brings me back to the original link. Some laws are a bloody nuisance. Here’s one situation on my original path that made me gnash my teeth in frustration. About halfway down the second stretch of main-car-route into town there is a traffic light. It’s at a T-junction, with the main road going straight through and a second path turning off to the left. A bike lane exists on the main road. When the light turns red (which it always does for anyone approaching at up to 29km/h average speed) and a cyclist stops, they will in turn also have to stop on each and every one of the following four traffic lights (assuming the same average speed – just below 30km/h).

On a day with a failed traffic light I managed to sneak past that troublesome spot – and then found out all the following traffic lights were sparkely and green, the sun was shining, birds were singing in the trees and so on and so forth. Or in other words: That one traffic light is bloody annoying for cyclists.

Interestingly, the fines for running a red light as a cyclist are half those of what would happen to someone in a car. And not that I encourage running a red light (which in most cases is stupidly dangerous), there are some that are clearly unneccessary and silly. And I don’t just mean those that are red at 21.30h at night in a residential area with no traffic for hours on end.

Fines for cyclists and fines for people in cars.

The fines linked here are in Euro (if that is not posted on the two pages) and apparently apply to Germany. I hope. I’m not certain, though, as that was not mentioned – but the amounts appear to be right, from what I hear on the telly.

Obviously, being German, I’ve been taught to respect signs and adhere to the laws (yes, this is a stereotype. It’s also quite thoroughly true. You might be able to stop German tourists from putting a towel down on a deckchair by putting up a note saying “Keine Handtücher im Poolbereich”. Honest!).

And it still bothers me when things are stupid. Possibly worse are pedestrian.crossing traffic lights that someone triggered and then walked away. I appreciate that it’s a red light, but there is no one crossing! Why do I need to stop?

*huffs, puffs*

Okay, I’ve calmed down a bit. I think.

There is a way to make everything better, though. Better pathfinding. Or in this case – another detour. My new trip takes me further along the river. Much further. Through town all the way, following a perfectly sensible (and well maintained) bike path, sharing with the occasional pedestrian. The route is longer now (14km, instead of 12km), but the lack of traffic lights, through traffic at a constant speed and better air in the park along the river make it all worth it. There is a rather steep hill from the river back to town, but I suppose I’ll just have to call that my “interval training”.

I’ve noticed one annoyance now (late November) – on the way back home from work this area is dark. There are no lights and the path is a strip of black in the middle of trees and meadows. My headlights sort of work – although I wish they were brighter, but joggers with dogs in black clothes with no lights have started to piss me off annoy me unduly. Another nice addition would be a reflective white stripe along the sides of the path – to prevent cyclists me from leaving the path and ending up in the shrubbery. Haven’t seen anything happening yet, but it would still be nice.

Shall I attempt a summary of the random rambling?

Why not.

1) Find the best bike path to wherever you want to go. This might be slightly longer, but as long as there is less car traffic, it’s probably worth it.

2) Avoid paths that often change direction. A bike path along a road might still be faster than the bike path along a river, if you’re criss-crossing over bridges all the time and have to slow down.

3) Traffic laws can be a total nuisance.

4) Joggers and dogs should be illuminated by law. This makes totally more sense than the traffic laws in 3), and should be enforced by police snipers (possibly with infra-red and low-light scopes, obviously. Anyone they can’t see – they shoot. This makes perfect sense, honest!).