How Do You Move Through the Stoplights?

Have you ever thought about how much traffic lights influence your commute? I bet you have.


Traffic lights might have even figured into how you originally laid out your commute route.

I bet you know every single stoplight on your route by heart. You know exactly where it is, and precisely how long it takes for each one to cycle from red to green to yellow and back again.

You know the vehicle traffic at each light, and whether there are ever breaks in the traffic flow that allow you to ease through between light cycles (not that you would ever do that).

You know those spots where you would never dare to creep out into the intersection early because cars push the yellow and even bolt across the street as the right flashes to red.

You possess an intimate awareness of how each light’s pattern fits into your overall commute. If you get through this light going X miles per hour you can make it through this other intersection before the light shifts to red and you are obligated to pause for 50, 49, 48…

When that happens, you impatiently wait with a foot down while the seconds tick by until you can set off again to resume your stoplight dance.

Commute with Felkerino

At times, my commute takes on a dance-like quality, as I move easily to and fro with my traffic lights. Sometimes it’s as though I’ve been thrown in a mosh pit, and I herk and jerk my way around, with an occasional stray elbow getting thrown into my face. Still other days, I feel like I’m at a mellow show at the 9:30 Club, with my head bobbing steadily as I mingle with my environment.

It’s funny how powerfully these inanimate sentries influence our commutes. As I ride, I see others who are familiar with “my” stoplights. They know them as well as I do.

As we ride along in silence (because there seems to be some strange commuter code that we not interact with each other) I wonder how they would define it.

Would they call it a dance? A duel? A drag race? Do they just see a stoplight as another element on the obstacle course they call their commute?

I would love to know, but instead I stay quiet and keep my eye out for my next dance partner.


  1. This post made me chuckle, because on my training ride this morning I remarked to my riding buddy “we are getting a good run of lights”. As soon as I said that we got every red we could. Ah the dance.


  2. My comute is nearly 15 miles long and I don’t hit a light until the last 1/4 mile. Then I hit 3, 2 of which are in the Rosslyn Circle of Death. Believe me when I say that I obey those lights because the RCoD is well-named!
    I do encounter an overabundance of stop signs in Old Town Alexandria and I, too, use the word “dance” when describing my passage. There’s an unspoken conversation between cycle and car commuters that results in practically everyone rolling through the signs at low speed. Like a diagonal dirt path across grass bounded by concrete sidewalks, these non-stops are an indication (to me at least) that many of these stop signs should either be taken down or changed to yield signs.
    Interesting post, MG.


  3. I like the analogy! I try to stop at most red lights, partly out of safety, mostly out of rules-following mindset. But the smaller ones where I can see for blocks that no one is coming are fair game.


  4. That strange code that we not interact with one another is something I like to change and it inhibits competitiveness. Don’t pass me thinking you won’t get a quick “hello”!


    • I tend to be like you, Velo Haven. I like saying hi to people. Runners do it, why not cyclists, too? I’ve gotten mixed responses; some respond back and, as you might imagine, some act like they did not hear me.


      • Human nature is always a drag is all I can say. Out of our shells we must become. A hello is never bad. I know I say this but growing up in the South taught me this undoubtedly!


  5. I’m relieved to hear about this “code”. I was taking it personally when I would say “hi” to other cyclists waiting with me for a light to change and they’d just look at me like I was nuts w/o saying a word.


  6. I’m like Felkerino. I always say “hi” to other riders. They don’t always respond, but I keep at it. Eventually, they come through, even if it takes weeks. Whether we ride a mountain bike or carbon fiber road bike, ride fast or slow, I believe there should be camaraderie among us–thus my persistence.


  7. I might say hello 50% of the time and that starts a short conversation 50% of the time. Yesterday I chatted with a guy on a Surly Big Dummy on my inbound and outbound commutes.


    • I think I’m similar to you… I am definitely more likely to speak to someone when they have a bike I admire and/or find interesting.


      • That sort of sums it up for me. I also stopped to snap pictures of an Easthamtopn, MA made bicycle (NFG Cycles) on that same outbound commute. The owner was happy to promote the builder.


  8. On Kentucky Ave by the Safeway, if you give it a little gas from the green light at D St. SE, you can sail all the way to 11th & Mass. Ave. NE. But after that, you’re sure a red at 9th St. Time for a breather. Start to collect your thoughts for the day ahead.

    E. Capitol from 9th to 4th is a straight shot. But no sense pushing on E. Capitol from 4th to 3rd Streets, it’s a guaranteed red. Pedal slow and expect shoaling. It’s a 25- second light cycle at 3rd; time to sip some coffee from the thermos, and think what a great day it is to ride.

    From 2nd St E, it’s clear sailing around the Capitol to 3rd St. NW and Penn. What a view.

    From Penn and 3rd NW, if you gun it when the cross-light finishes orange, you can cruise ’til 9th. If you don’t, you hit every red.

    I know my dance well! Great post :).


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