Riding my bike to work last week in New York, I pedaled up a hill, paused at the traffic light and, having spotted no oncoming traffic or pedestrians, turned right into a bike lane. Five seconds later a policeman stepped into the path, stopped me and questioned me about why I had turned right on a red light.
Had it been red? That was news to me -- I was only sure that the coast had been clear of cars and pedestrians.
Still a bit confused, I joined two other cyclists who had been pulled over moments before. Minutes later, we continued on, tickets in hand, and the officers stepped back into the lane to rope up the next set of alleged offenders.
The amount printed on my summons was surprisingly large. When I snapped a photo of it and posted it to Facebook, a friend in Berlin commented that his recent red light cycling fine had cost a fraction of mine.
Was this true? I decided to look into bike tickets around Europe. What can you expect to pay if you get accused of pedaling through a red light?
The answers are sometimes surprising and sometimes ambiguous. Certain cities fine cyclists for actions that are tolerated in others. And most make it difficult to find penalty information in the first place, especially in English, and never on their official tourism Web sites.
Here's what I found when comparing bike violations in six European cities and New York.
Amsterdam is a city of both bikers and tolerance, and, indeed, this leads to greater tolerance for bikers accused of bending the rules. According to sources in Amsterdam, the police are pretty relaxed and will usually let tourists off with just a warning. EuroCheapo’s Amsterdam correspondent, Audrey, tells me that “If you're a local, intoxicated, or sassy, you'll get hit with a fine.” Additional posted bike fines are: Running a red light: €85; Riding without a light: €45; Riding on the sidewalk: €45. Photo: Romain Bochet via Flickr
The police in Barcelona seem to have a lot of leeway when handing out tickets to bikers, and cyclists report getting charged between €50-200 for going through a red light. Other reported charges include: Speaking on the phone while on a bike: €200; Riding a bike while wearing earphones €50-120; and cycling “no hands”: €200. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen via Flickr
Berlin is a city in love with both bikes and rules, rewarding cyclists with dedicated bike lanes while maintaining “zero-tolerance” attitudes towards running red lights and other infractions. The wide range of fines below depends upon whether you were simply pulled over for the offense, if you endangered others or, worst of all, if you caused an accident because of the violation. Additional charges include: Not using the bike lane: €15-30; Riding “no hands”: €5; Riding a child without a helmet: €5; Broken light: €10-25; Riding while talking on a mobile phone: €25; Red light (less than a second red): €45-120; Red light (more than a second red): €100-180; Lack of consideration toward children, elderly and needy: €40-50. Photo: Fauxla via Flickr
Copenhagen, a famously bike-friendly city, introduced one of the world’s first bike-share programs in 1995, and 17 years later City Bikes is still going strong. But too many cyclists dodging road rules forced the city to dramatically revamp and better enforce their bike fines in 2012. New charges include: No lights after dark: 700 kr ($125); Talking on the phone while cycling: 1,000 kr ($175); Cycling against traffic: 1,000 kr ($175); Failure to signal a turn or stop: 700 kr ($125); Cycling “no-hands”: 700 kr ($125); Riding double: 700 kr ($125); Non-functioning bell: Warning ($0). Photo: Simon Greig via Flickr
Compared to many other cities we studied, London’s cycling laws are pretty straight-forward. Enforcement is another question, with reports of sporadic “crackdowns” on red-light-pedaling cyclists around London. A government Web site publishes the official fees associated with two violations: red light (£30 - $49) and no front/back light: £30 ($49) Photo: Little Rock Gallery via Flickr
As I mentioned above, New York’s police sporadically enforce bike laws, which follow most of the same traffic laws as cars, including stopping for red lights and stop signs. If cyclists plead guilty, they pay the hefty charge listed. “Not guilty” gives you a court appearance and a chance to explain yourself to a judge, who can enforce the charge, lower the fee or dismiss the ticket entirely. Other charges: Caught by a red light camera: $50; Riding on the sidewalk: $25 or $50. Photo: K Gradinger via Flickr
Since its launch in 2007 the city’s incredibly successful Vélib’ bike-share program has put more than 16,000 bikes in regular use on the city’s streets. It's also fueled a debate on bike tickets and fines, with cycling advocates arguing last year that it doesn’t make sense to force cyclists to stop and wait at red lights when there isn’t any pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Until 2012, the fine for riding through a red light or turning right on red was €135. Starting this year it is permitted, at least in a trial zone in northern Paris, given that the coast is clear. Pedestrians (and crossing traffic) always have the right of way. If all goes well, the relaxed law will be rolled out to the entire city. EuroCheapo’s Paris correspondent, and other friends living in Paris, report that, in the meantime, they still see police giving tickets to cyclists. They could also be getting tickets for talking on their mobile phones while cycling, which still carries a €35 fine. Photo: Landahlauts via Flickr
Your tickets to ride
If you've received bike tickets in any of these cities (or others around Europe), please tell us about it in the comments section.
FInally, regardless of the relative affordability of bike tickets around Europe, safety should always be the first consideration when cycling. My friend Arthur, who lives in Paris, summed it up best: "It's simply crazy to ignore red lights here. I tell you, it's 'carmageddon' every day."
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