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So long and fractious was the Web thread following a Guardian opinion piece in August (331 comments, before the page barricaded itself against new ones only two days later) that one contributor accused the paper of having cynically posted the original piece as "clickbait". What was the topic sure to whip the readership into a Pavlovian lather — extraordinary renditions, housing benefit "apartheid", Israeli settlements? Oh, no. Bikes running red lights.

The Guardian's Ben Adler was rebutting a New York Times op-ed by Randy Cohen, formerly the author of "The Ethicist" column. A self-confessed cyclist scofflaw, Cohen had dared to advance the argument that, with caution and respect for others' rights of way, it is defensible — the horror, the horror —for cyclists to jump red lights.

Cohen would have stirred less hysteria on the Guardian webpage with a bare-all about a history of paedophilia. Yet between 2001 and 2009, British motorists killed 3,495 pedestrians, while cyclists killed 18; not a single cyclist-motorist accident resulted in a fatality for people in cars. Puzzling why this statistically minor issue raises such a disproportionate stink, I theorise: cyclists being highly visible and newly numerous, those who don't toe the line of the Highway Code are a litmus test of one's attitude towards the law.

Let's skip any quarrel about cyclists who scatter small children in their wake and bring vehicles with the right of way to a screeching halt. Cohen wasn't writing about these cowboys, so that Adler's huffy objection that walking through Cohen's own Brooklyn neighbourhood he had just had three near-misses with such cychos is irrelevant. Cohen claims to be an apple, and Adler had been sideswiped by oranges.

Instead we're talking red light, zero oncoming traffic, no pedestrians. Go ahead, hyperventilate: I jump the light. (I'm unmoved by haughty declarations that even if I'm not trammelling anyone's rights I'm "giving cyclists a bad name". I'm not a diplomat; I'm riding to Tesco. When mobile yakkers who jaywalk blithely across the path of bikes doing 20mph are finally upbraided for "giving pedestrians a bad name", maybe I'll reconsider.) But why, in those benign circumstances, do you care? Righteous indignation seems to mingle with envy.

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Randy Cohen
September 5th, 2012
4:09 PM
Thanks for the entirely reasonable support. My only quibble: I live on the Upper West Side not Brooklyn.

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