It happens to all of us while riding bike. We come up to a red light with clear visibility, and there are no cars coming. So do you stop your momentum and wait for the light or do you roll it? Well, I think there are about three things you can do. One, run the light without slowing down much. Two, slow down and stop to double check it is clear before rolling through. Or three, stopping to wait for the light to change. Let's lay out the pros and cons.
Pros for stopping at red lights and stop signs:
Its the law. Stopping and waiting at a stop sign or red light is the law, first and foremost. But, as you know and I will talk about below, there are a myriad of reasons and conditions under which rolling through isn't the same as a car doing it. Nevertheless, it is illegal to run the light or stop sign. Check and know your local laws.
It is safer. Clearly you will be more protected when you go through intersections protected by the light.
It makes bicyclists look bad. It can raise the ire of motorists and lower the perception of bicyclists. Just as cars which don't use their turn signals bother me, bikers running red lights probably really bothers some cars. Think about this next time you want to occupy the whole lane (as you are also legally entitled to do in many states). If you want the rights do you have to follow the law, too?
Good time to catch your breath and take a drink! This way, you don't feel like a bum taking a break if you are stopping for a red light.
Cons for stopping at red lights and stop signs:
For this, I am assuming it is a completely visible intersection where an approaching bicyclist can see if there are cars coming and it would be theoretically safe to roll through the intersection. I would NEVER advocate flying through blind intersections unless you have a death wish.
You can't trip the lights. Bikes are too light and have too little metal to trip the light changing sensors. You might be waiting for a good long time before you can ride through on a green.
"until the laws protect the bicycle, the laws do not apply to the bicycle" can be a well-made argument. Bikes won't just run lights or signs without looking. We have no crumple zones to protect us so we will be more careful going through an intersection. What about the cars running red light? What about the car that speeds past you and then cuts in front of you to turn? What about the car that pushed me into oncoming traffic because it made a right on red as I was coming through the opposing green light at about 20 miles per hour? Until cars start respecting me, why should I stop?
Could be dangerous. Depending on the part of town you are riding through, you might not want to stop. If this is the case, maybe you should reroute!
Loss of momentum. It is much easier for a car to step on the gas than for you to get back up to 20 miles per hour.
Why Wait? Because it is a grey area of bicyclist etiquette, and many pedestrians cross against the light if it is clear, running a red on a bicycle doesn't seem that bad. Also, a car can easily make up a few minutes from waiting at a long light by going faster, you might not be able to. This is especially true if it is raining; why just sit there waiting in the rain?
My Personal Stance:
Alright, my personal philosophy on this matter is that if I am not going to affect anybody around me, I will roll through a light. That is, if nobody will have to step on his or her brake or swerve or anything to avoid me, I will go through a light or stop sign. This is of course assuming that I can clearly see far enough down the cross street to make sure nobody is coming. Also, this is when I am riding alone. With a pack I will generally follow the lights or at least come to a complete stop and wait for everybody to form up before going through a clear intersection. Coming to a full stop is rather annoying, especially with a medium-high-ratio fixed gear bike.
Other blogs weigh in:
Two Cities Two Wheels
Out Here in the Middle