Where do you wait at the traffic light?


Right up there in the most frequently discussed cyclist politics topics is: “Where do you wait at the traffic light?”

As this is a serious matter I’ve given it plenty of consideration. In fact I’ve given it so much though that when I arrive at a traffic light I find myself stumbling in a sea of options. Eventually parking my two wobbly wheels probably where I shouldn’t be.

I’ve been through different turning points in my life on this issue. After cycle training I found myself acting like a car and positioning myself safely in the middle of a lane and waiting there for the light to turn green. Lately things have got sloppy. I now position myself as far forward as possible without running a red light. I guess technically I am running it as I’m positioned in-front of the light. However, I find that this forward position gives me the enjoyment of a few key seconds to move off before cars.

Where do you wait at a traffic light and why?

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58 Responses to Where do you wait at the traffic light?

  1. Mike Hill 03/12/2010 at 9:06 am #

    I’m with you – as far forward as I can go without impeding crossing traffic or pedestrians. Mostly I wait where I can see the light opposite, but there are a couple of junctions on my regular commute where I can’t do this, so I move off when the crossing traffic’s light has turned to red – I guess I could get caught out if someone resequences the traffic lights.

    And although I, like you, know I should be in the middle of the lane, I do tend to find something on the left to rest my foot on… just like the photo on your blog

    • Andreas 06/12/2010 at 3:09 pm #

      Mike – I thought the above picture choice was good as it did pretty much sum up the position I take up on the corner of Regents Park

  2. Dave Escandell 03/12/2010 at 9:13 am #

    I act like a car, or any other motor vehicle. I’ll wait behind the light and solid white line. Not just because that’s the legal thing to do, but also because I could do without multiple fixed penalty notices, could do without giving all cyclists a bad name and as a legitimate road user, I dont mind holding other traffic up for a few seconds while I clip back in and move off. I’ll move out of the primary position once past the junction or as soon as safe to do so.

    • candy 03/12/2010 at 9:15 am #

      I totally agree with Dave. However, It’s kinda hard to wait behind the white line when buses, trucks and lorries are inside the bicycle box. I always give them the evil eye when they do that!

      • carolyn 10/12/2010 at 11:03 am #

        me too, so fed up with their assuming a right to be in the ASLs, some creep forward while lights are red.

    • Rob Fletcher 03/12/2010 at 9:18 am #

      Yeah, I do the same. My policy is generally show some respect & maybe we’ll get some back. Shift down before stopping & you can move off way faster than a car anyway.

      As for vehicles sitting in the green box. Lean on ’em. They don’t like that.

    • GL 06/12/2010 at 10:31 am #

      Completely agree!

  3. Yuri Akopov 03/12/2010 at 9:34 am #

    My behaviour depends on road situation. If the lane is clear or there are only two or three cars (no lorries or buses) ahead of me, I try to get as far as possible to save time.

    But if there are bigger cars ahead or the road is cluttered, then I’m pretending that I’m a car and wait in the queue in the middle of the lane.

    The reason is that it is hard to predict when the lights will turn green and vehicles will start to move. If that happens while you’re trying to squeeze through cars to an advanced stop line, you may find yourself in a scaring and awkward position on the road while everything is moving at your left and right.

    Also, as the recent tragedy has shown, you’re not completely safe if you’re standing all visible ahead of the other vehicles at lights. I think being bored in the queue in the middle of the lane (to make it clear you’re not turning left) is safer.

    • Pete 03/12/2010 at 3:12 pm #

      I’m with Yuri on this one. I do exactly as he describes for the reasons he states.

    • GL 06/12/2010 at 10:34 am #

      I agree with this as well. Should be common sense but the amount of cyclists who put themselves in danger trying to reach a ‘safe’ position is amazing!

  4. Crispin 03/12/2010 at 9:39 am #

    In front of the motors and never to the left of them if I can possibly help it > and if in front of the motors means in front of the white line or the lights themselves then that’s where I want to be.

    I’d rather get beeped and sworn at or be a few quid lighter from a fine than be bumped into by a car or find myself trying to catch my last breath underneath the weight of a lorry turning left.

  5. thereverent 03/12/2010 at 9:43 am #

    I will normally wait in the ASL in the middle of the lane as I’m fast away from the lights. If I can I will wait slightly back from the stop line so I have a few meters to clip in as the lights change.

    If it’s not safe to get to the ASL (or the lights are likely to change soon) I’ll wait like a car in the queue. This reduces the chance of getting left hooked by a car.

    Waiting too far forward often means you can’t see the lights (as I often see some people doing) and they then only realise the lights are green when other people pass them (which takes away any advantage).

    • Owen 03/12/2010 at 5:43 pm #

      Totally agree with your last point. Probably my favourite observed idiot-behaviour from other cyclists is those who scoot past the white line and set themselves up in a pointless position where they can’t see any lights at all (not even the other part of the junction or a green man turning red). They then sit there, and sit there, and get overtaken by those of us who have waited eight yards further back.

      Isn’t there some story about a tortoise and a hare?

      And while I’m here – if you know you’re going to stop at a red light, do your legs a massive favour and change down through your gears. It really isn’t that hard.

  6. Jean-François Phillips 03/12/2010 at 9:45 am #

    The more obvious and visible you are, the safer you are. I think the further forward you get the better. I also tend to stop in the middle of the carriageway, as opposed to near the curb, preventing drivers from trying to race me off the line, which I have had happen to me a number of occasions.

  7. Tom 03/12/2010 at 9:48 am #

    See the big box with a picture of a bike on it.

    In there…

    • Andreas 03/12/2010 at 9:59 am #

      You and most motorbikes!

    • Phil Russell 10/12/2010 at 5:10 pm #

      Quite right, Tom. If we ignore the A.S.L.safe- area box-thingy, and get ahead of it, most drivers WILL use it themselves. Remember, they are liable for a £60 fine if they drive onto it at traffic lights——- and if you spot cops or Community officers failing to notice the incursion, take a few moments to educate (re-educate?) them.

  8. chris 03/12/2010 at 9:52 am #

    In the ASL and visible to any vehicle who has stopped. If that means plonked in front of them, sobeit.

    I’ll generally be behind the solid white line, if I can, but on some of my regular commute’s junctions there are better handholds (I generally ride clipped in) and I’m safer if I’m not setting off and trying to clip in, so I’d rather break the rules a little bit and be able to set off more confidently.

  9. robbie craig 03/12/2010 at 9:53 am #

    best spot is in the advance box which i get to by overtaking (on the right) the line of traffic – drivers usually see you in their mirror then, I wait in the advance box or in front of the vehicle that is blocking it (except if it is a lorry – then I need space). In all circumstances best to be a t front.

    My main gripe about other cyclists is the number who – if you ride more than 75cm from the kerb to put off cars passing you dangerously, will try and pass on the inside. You would think they would show a bit of respect and pass properly. Lane discipline is my other gripe, why do cyclists not get in the right lane. I do in most cases but there is always some pratt who sat at the kerb in lane 1, who goes round the corner and cuts across a car and me to get into lane 2, which goes in the direction they want to go in.

  10. Mike Smith 03/12/2010 at 10:36 am #

    Anywhere safe!

  11. Jackart 03/12/2010 at 11:19 am #

    On the basis that most cyclists killed in London are killed whilst waiting, or immediately after the lights change, it makes no sense to wait if it’s safe to go through. I treat red lights as advisory.

    I’ve never been stopped. If you’re safe, the police will leave you alone.

    Cue abuse…

    • Dinykh 04/12/2010 at 4:15 pm #

      I completely agree! If you’re switched on and using your common sense you’ll be much safer not hanging around and waiting for the green light.

  12. Richard Gray 03/12/2010 at 12:08 pm #

    The further forward the safer. No-one is going to complain (and you won’t give cyclists a bad name) so long as you respect the red light.

  13. PaulM 03/12/2010 at 12:15 pm #

    In front, not beside, motors – you never can tell if they are going to turn across you whether their indicator is going or not. At the same time, I want to be where I can see the lights which limits how far forward I can go, and I won’t straddle a pedestrian crossing – I don’t want to be a villain to them.

    I used to anticipate green lights, but don’t any more – the time gain is negilgible and the only thing which can out-accelerate a cycle for the first 10mph is a motorbike so as long as you are far enough in front to be visible (not far for a car, quite a way for a truck) you still have the advantage.

    I know motorbikes shouldn’t be in the ASL, but as long as they are out of my way I don’t mind – they move off so fast it is best they are in front. We share some interests and concerns with bikers so a bit of give & take is sensible.

  14. Lloyd 03/12/2010 at 12:20 pm #

    I usually try to stop in the middle of an ASL or the lane.

    If a car has pulled into an ASL I make a point of pulling up directly in front of it and giving them an evil.

    If I’m turning left I try to stop as far left as possible to stop other cyclists dangerously passing me on the inside as I’m turning. Although motorised traffic is worse there are some really bad/dangerous cyclists in London.

  15. Russell 03/12/2010 at 12:42 pm #

    In the middle of the ATZ, and probably in the centre-line of the car behind me – assuming they’ve paid attention to the roadmarkings of course!

    Where there’s no ATZ, I try and repeat but it’s harder if cars are up to the line. I try and stick out a bit where possible

  16. Craig 03/12/2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Can I get to the front by overtaking? IS there a filter lane to an advanced stop box? How much traffic is ahead? Can I actually put my bike and body in the middle of the lane to behave like a car? At busy times on any of my commutes into the center of Croydon I’m afraid the answer is generally NO! Safer to hide down the backstreets and take a slightly longer less risky route.

    Outside these times it is all relatively peaceful and stopping behind the stop line, advance or otherwise, is simplicity itself. I tend to make sure I am not right into the kerb, but neither do I have to hang excessively into the middle of the carriageway.

  17. peter 03/12/2010 at 3:01 pm #

    Resting your foot on the kerb when stopped is a bad habit to get into – you tend always to be too far to the left at junctions.

    If you get in the habit of coming down off the saddle with one leg on the ground then you can choose where you want to be (and you make a faster getaway because you have a push-off).

    Also explained here:

  18. GlasgowAvalanche 03/12/2010 at 3:48 pm #

    I think we need to develop a flashing amber situation for cyclists as some red lights are safe to go through if you are on a bike and some are not. time for a change in legislation I think.

    • the cycling ferret 14/12/2010 at 1:02 pm #

      A change in legislation? Yes. Definitely? Will it happen? Well…….er…..!

  19. A Smith 03/12/2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I will wait as far forward as I can get without loosing sight of the traffic lights. Preferably in front of any pedestrian crossing as in London someone will always run out in front of you as the lights change.

  20. KA 03/12/2010 at 9:43 pm #

    I usually stop in the ASL. I don’t jump red lights, but yesterday as I was waiting slightly off-centre in the ASL, a taxi decided to run the red light and narrowly missed hitting me. I did get his registration and reported the incident to TFL. We’ll see what happens. Even in a very visible location, drivers can choose not to see you. Now I’ll glance behind me more often while waiting in the ASL, just in case somebody else decides to pull the same stunt and I need to leap onto the pavement.

  21. Andrea 03/12/2010 at 10:15 pm #

    I don’t wait.

    • Angi 03/12/2010 at 10:33 pm #

      Finally, someone honest. I’m sure we’ve all run a few or more red lights at times.
      It all depends on the situation though and where that red light is placed.

      • Ric* 08/12/2010 at 1:53 am #

        Was gona say this post and comments are too nice.. I mean who waits anyway!?

        But ye same.. I go with caution..

      • Sheridan 10/12/2010 at 11:27 am #

        How offensive – so anyone who says they don’t break the law is lying? Lovely!

  22. Jamie 03/12/2010 at 10:58 pm #

    I leave home for work at 6.15am everyday so the traffic is light, but it amazes me how many drivers are willing to run red lights, and you have to be careful about anticipating your lights going green. That said, I’ll try and be as far forward as I can be while still being able to see the lights turn so I can avoid the drivers who accelerate away really quickly at that time of the morning. The traffic is heavier coming home at 6-7pm but, in my experience, the general speed of cars is lower and the higher number of cyclists means they tend to respect bike lanes (apart from the rubbish Clapham road/Union road junction on CS7).

  23. Patrick 04/12/2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Like a few others on here – in the ASL Box and slightly to the left if I can. I dont care if motorcycles are already there and will just nip in between them. As for drivers who dont like cyclists stopping in front of them in the ASL box I dont care about them either. Remember it is there for us to use at traffic lights so that everyone can be seen and therefore can move off safely.

  24. IanB 04/12/2010 at 9:41 pm #

    Love the site Andreas…

    I always position myself in the cycle box along with all the other motorbikes and white van men!!!

    It’s bloody annoying – I am a motorcyclist as well and I DO NOT go into the cycle box at the front of most lights – Even to the point that I will annoy car users on my normal commute into central London as car/van drivers are to used to seeing motorbikes in the cycle box!!!

    Have to say that scooters are the worse culprits and couriers…. But there you go I sit as near front of the lights as possible without giving myself any issues and rightly so as someone pointed out above always go down a gear so you can shoot off from the lights a bit sharper.

  25. Dennis Goycoolea 05/12/2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Depends on the situation. My preference is to filter down the right and stop in the ASL bang in front of cars. Good thing about filtering on the right is if the lights change to green it’s easy to ‘slot in’ to the flow of traffic when cars start moving.

    I don’t pass the stop line as (a) I think if you’re going to do that it’s basically the same thing as an RLJ, so just RLJ; (b) there are so many places where doing this would stop you seeing the lights changing; (c) it makes you look a tit.

    I would go past the advanced stop to ensure I am visible in front of a large vehicle with a high cab, but I’d always prefer to not filter past that vehicle in the first place if it’s first at the lights. My top tip is to hang back a bit and ‘take the lane’ if there are a few cars waiting in front at a light especially if there’s no advanced stop.

    One example from East London, here on Roman Road: http://bit.ly/ia5fkQ the road narrows to a single lane after the lights and it’s not worth putting yourself in front of motorists ahead of a very narrow stretch where motorists simply cannot resist an unsafe overtake to reach the next red light slightly earlier.

  26. Andrea 05/12/2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Learn your route, learn your lights, learn the timings. Unlike motorists you can see those lights a “mile” ahead. Time yourself and save your precious energy. If stuck and you can’t safely (not necessarily legally) go through the red lights, stop ahead of all traffic, turn around and “introduce” yourself, smile at them, give them the thumbs up, show them how much fun you’re having, have a laugh with them (or at them) but most importantly look at all of them in the eye. You can have all the high viz, lights, bells and whistles but without eye contact you’re just another (more visible – easier) target. When the lights turn you keep to the middle of your lane and when on the other side of the junction you give your new friends another look in the eye as if to say – remember me? i met you at the lights – and YOU show them when and where it is safe to overtake you, regardless if it’s a car, bus or truck. And if they are revving or attempting an unsafe overtake you puff yourself up, sit up straight, reclaim YOUR lane and, you guessed it, YOU LOOK AT THEM IN THE EYE!!!

  27. TheGee 08/12/2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Good choice of picture. I wait there every morning.
    Usually as far forward as possible without obstructing the bit where pedestrians cross. So annoying when cyclists block that bit!
    Yuri’s comments about not moving through the traffic to the front if it doesn’t appear safe still apply.

  28. Lenny 09/12/2010 at 5:34 pm #

    I actually act as if i am a normal car… blending in!! I always wait at the lights!

  29. Phil 10/12/2010 at 10:55 am #

    If there is an ASL I will stop right in the centre, in front of any vehicles, and wait for a green light before moving forwards. If cars park in the ASL I stop in front of them, in order to be seen. Anyone who loses their temper, blows the horn, creeps forward whilst waiting for the lights to change or starts verbally abusing me has to wait a bit longer when I move forwards- extra carefully- on a green light.

  30. Raymond Whitehouse 10/12/2010 at 11:01 am #

    As far forward as possible while still being able to see the lights. I must admit I sometimes get mad at cars in cycle boxes so I make sure I am in front of that vehicle.

  31. Julian 10/12/2010 at 11:38 am #

    I have to say I am a good boy and wait in the box but sit in the middle ish of it. I like to make the driver think about how he is going to get past, its good for them to engage the brain at least once in their journey I think. LOL.
    I drive a car, bus and ride a bike so like to make my presence felt when on the most vulnerable form of transport.
    Never jump the lights, puts me in the wrong side of the law, makes me the bad person to the car driver, not that it takes very much to make them think that (there’s that assumption of thinking again, really must stop this).

  32. Will 10/12/2010 at 12:12 pm #

    I try to stop where I am in control and not subject to anyone else’s whims. Front and centre if going straight ahead. Just far enough to the left to stop undertaking cyclists if turning left. In the centre of the road if turning right. If there is time to get to the front of the queue then I will overtake either right or left to do so. If there is no time or no room, then I will place myself in the middle of the lane, will pull away at the same speed as all the other traffic and will not be overtaken until a safe distance past the lights, if at all. If there is any motor vehicle in the box then I am quite happy to obstruct it if necessary, making eye contact with the driver/rider after doing so. I always stop at red lights, and every day I encounter dozens of pedestrians who don’t. I feel I am doing the motorists behind me a service by ploughing through them and clearing the way for wider and less nimble vehicles.

  33. George 11/12/2010 at 1:06 pm #

    It depends how long the ASL is. If it’s constructed properly, then IN the ASL. If badly constructed, then where I can be seen.

    However, some are not 25ft deep. There is an industrial estate near me (huge lorries) with an 8ft ASL. If you were to wait in the ASL, you’d be lorry-fodder in less than a week.

  34. David 11/12/2010 at 3:47 pm #

    I’m with you – as far forward as possible, usually between left and middle.

  35. peteswordz 13/12/2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Fascinating how none of you seem to have a problem with the illegal overtaking you’re doing getting to the front at the lights in the first place. Seen those zigzag markings on the road? Why do you think that cyclists have some God-given right to occupy the front row of the grid? Try seeing it from a motorist’s point of view just the once. He stops at a red & then watches a dozen cyclists pass him on both sides & stop in front of the bonnet. Now comes the green & he has to wait whilst you lot, none of whom would dream of signalling, sort yourselves out as to who’s turning left from the right, who’s turning right from the left & those who didn’t stop on the red & are halfway across the junction trying to work out what the lights are doing. By that time the lights are back to red & he hasn’t gone anywhere.

    • Andrea 13/12/2010 at 7:38 pm #

      No, I don’t see any problem whatsoever and if there was a God there would’t be any motorists nor traffic (lights) and, naturally, He would be riding a bicycle like the rest of us.
      But since there is no God and the Highway Code was made by motorists for motorists I choose to obey different rules or make my own.
      The same way that I risk being killed by the above motorist every day, the above motorist must risk being stuck at traffic lights by cyclists. Though we both know that if said motorist is stuck anywhere is because of the millions of other motorists.

      Cycling is fun, you should try it!

    • Phil 17/12/2010 at 12:25 pm #

      Cyclists have a right to overtake just like other road users- I personally do it at every opportunity, to avoid “SMIDSY”. Your happening to be stationary is incidental and the ASL is not God-given, but emanates with much less mystery, from the council highways department. I am sure there are cyclists who do not indicate which way they are going to turn; that is unfortunate, but can not be extrapolated to include the behaviour of all cyclists. As others have commented, try cycling; you will save money, probably become fitter, and you may even gain a degree of understanding of what we have to contend with.

      • Headhunter 20/12/2010 at 5:52 pm #

        Absolutely Andreas, Cyclists (and motorcyclists) are allowed to FILTER through traffic (it’s not under or overtaking).

        I am with you on positioning too. I place myself as far ahead as possible without blocking ped crossings. I would use the advance stop boxes but 90% of the time they are blocked or occupied by motorists who ignore the large thick white line before the box. I have no care whether the motorist behind is peed off and loses a micro second of time behind me, I prefer to be safe and put myself ahead of the traffic where I won’t get caught in the wacky races of cars and buses etc accelerating from the lights (with me caught in the middle).

        What annoys me is that the police NEVER enforce advanced stop boxes. The other day I passed thru the stop box which, as usual was occupied by a taxi and a white van and placed myself ahead. In fact the taxi had actually pulled through the advanced box and was almost in the ped crossing, right across both white stop lines.

        A police officer on a bike pulled up next to me and proceeded to tell me that I should be in the advanced stop box! I pointed out that it was full of cars he said that was not important and that it was “safer” for me back there. How on earth is it safer for me back in the ASB if it’s got cars in and over it? The whole point of ASBs is that they allow cyclists to get ahead of the traffic so they are visible! There’s nothing inherently safe about a patch of green tarmac with a bike painted on it if it’s full of motor vehicles!

        He also said absolutely nothing to the taxi driver nearly sat in the ped crossing having crossed 2 thick white stop lines, instead honing in on me on my bike. Why is it that the police feel the need to target cyclists but motorists?

  36. Paul 13/12/2010 at 11:23 pm #

    I don’t think you can have any hard and fast rules on this one because it depends on the conditions at the time, the type of road (small, narrow, wide, potholed) Prevailing road conditions and what level of traffic there is on the road. If there’s a lorry at the lights and I’m approaching I’ll sit behind the lorry, never at the side or in front, I don’t trust their powers of observation. If it’s a wide road I’m happy to sit near the kerb, if it’s a narrow road I sit in the middle and take off fast when the lights change.

  37. eric 21/12/2010 at 1:06 pm #

    I agree, the best place is nice and far infront of the cars. Where there is an advanced stop line that is often full of taxis and motorbikes its nice to get a bit ahead. The only problem is, particularly within the jurisdiction of the over zealous city (of london) police, the constabulary consider this to be illegal and therefore bad.

    I was once pulling onto Holborn Circus, up hill from Smithfield, where a couple of extra seconds to pull infront of the traffic is essential to not be pushed off the roundabout at the wrong exit.

    However a self important member of the City Police Bike-squad decided that because this meant waiting infront of the line, I had run the light like a crazy person with no regard for safety. When people like this see things in such black and white terms, its often safer to take the more dangerous option, in order to mitigate the risk of being taxed, I mean fined.

  38. Phil Russell 24/12/2010 at 5:04 pm #

    ERIC—-re. roundabouts……stick your right arm out as you go round the roundabout, and then stick your left arm out to exit. I’m a cyclist and a driver, and I’m sure you will get more respect from drivers if you do that.

  39. Eric 24/12/2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Phill. Thankyou for the advice, as a fellow driver and cyclist I agree that signalling is essential. It is however another matter, and not the subject of this discussion. I think that an optimal trafficlight position, followed up by effective signaling as practiced by anyone who cycles properly is the best way to cycle safely and considerately.

  40. Goonz 28/03/2011 at 4:32 pm #

    At lights, I will try to weave my way to the front of the queue, usually boxed up in the cycle box as far left as possible, comparing bikes with the cyclist next to me.

    I do not like waiting behind vehicles especially if they are buses or lorries purely to the fact all that exhaust smoke goes directly into my face. I would rather be in clear air at the front and will also make me more visible to the drivers. I’m always in a lower gear so can usually push off pretty quickly and not impede anyone.

    With regards to the lights, I hardly ever wait at a light, usually a quick glance to check no coppers around and then I’ll creep out as far as I can get safely. Then when the green man comes on the for the pedestrians I will take my cue to cross. Never if there are coppers around though. Then I’ll be as good as gold.

    Recent example in St. Pauls, at a light with a couple other cyclists. All 3 of us itching to get away before the lights turned green. A traffic cop waiting at the bollard up ahead. I do not know whether they didn’t notice him but they moved off. I waited about 10 secs after and then moved off too literally just before the lights turned. Lo and behold the copper beckoned the two of them to pull over and gave them a ticking off (and maybe a fine). Cue warm gloating feeling building up inside…

    Key to cycling is to be switched on at all times and cycle smart.

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