some thoughts about stops

Stop signs seem to be one of those things that cyclists can never entirely agree about. Of course, you show me a cyclist who stops at every stop sign completely and I’ll show you either a) a cyclist who doesn’t have very far to go or b) someone with a poor memory. For my own part, I run stop signs, but only if there’s no cross traffic. If I see cross traffic, I’ll yield at the intersection only if the other car is there first. If it’s close, I’ve taken to making sure cars see me and then trying to look at the driver when I roll through – I guess, following BikinginLA’s lead (parts 1 and 2), it’s an instance of me trying to control the intersection.

But to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of stop signs – it’s one of the reasons why I much prefer Santa Monica South in Beverly Hills to Charleville (you can see that route here). Even though I have to deal with a lot more traffic, I don’t feel nearly as nervous about meeting up with the fender end of some other car’s casual interpretation of the California roll.

All of that said, I came across an interesting article the other day making the point that all of cyclists’ complaints about stop signs – usually to make the point that we should be able to treat them as yields and not full stops – actually has a firm grounding in physics. Tom Vanderbilt of How We Drive explains:

Take a simple stop sign. For a car driver, a stop sign is a minor inconvenience, merely requiring the driver to shift his foot from gas pedal to brake, perhaps change gears, and, of course, slow down. These annoyances may induce drivers to choose faster routes without stop signs, leaving the stop-signed roads emptier for cyclists. Consequently streets with many stop signs are safer for bicycle riders because they have less traffic. Indeed, formal bike routes typically include traffic-calming devices like barriers, speed bumps, and stop signs to discourage car traffic and slow down those cars that remain. However, a route lined with stop signs is not necessarily desirable for cyclists. While car drivers simply sigh at the delay, bicyclists have a whole lot more at stake when they reach a stop sign.

Noting that riding a street with a lot of stop signs drops a cyclist’s average speed by a little more than 30%, he adds:

While a drop of a few miles per hour may not seem like much to a car driver, think of it this way: the equivalent in a car would be a drop from 60 to 45 mph. Because the extra effort required on California is so frustrating, both physically and psychologically, many cyclists prefer Sacramento to California, despite safety concerns. They ride California, the official bike route, only when traffic on Sacramento gets too scary.

And he ends by just making a fantastic point:

Car drivers say they are confused by the presence of bicycles on the road, and some wish the two-wheelers would just go away. Bicyclists know that cars cause most of their safety concerns. Traffic planners need to find ways to help bikes and cars coexist safely. A good place to begin is by taking the special concerns of bicyclists seriously, and not assuming that they will be served by a system designed for cars. Reducing the number of stop signs on designated bike routes would make bicycle commuting considerably more attractive to potential and current riders. Allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, as some states do, could solve the problems in a different way.

Perhaps cities should buy bikes for their traffic engineers and require that they ride them to work periodically. There’s probably no better way for them to learn what it’s like to ride a bike in traffic than actually to experience its joys and hazards.

Wouldn’t that be great? LA traffic engineers being forced to bike to work.

UPDATE: The Bicycle Librarian has a couple of really helpful links posted in the Legal Research section. Especially helpful is the link to a page of FAQ about Idaho’s Stop Sign Law thingermajigger. It explains:

This law would make it legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs. A cyclist approaching an intersection controlled by a stop sign, would be permitted to roll through the stop sign after yielding the right of way if there are other vehicles at the intersection.

Thanks for the comments!


3 responses to “some thoughts about stops

  1. I love that idea (putting the decision makers onto bikes). I think of that a lot when wondering how to make people more responsive to bike issues, and the answer always seems to be, “Make them try it themselves!”

    As for stops, I’m on the same page. I feel that in the presence of cars, I need to follow car rules. So if I’m at a stop sign and there are no cars, I just look out for myself. But if cars are there, I feel I need to make it clear I’m going to go by the rules. But I think cars are so unsure of what I’m going to do (based on other more renegade bikers) they generally defer to me and my bike and let me go.

    I know as a car driver myself, bikes flying in and out of traffic out of nowhere are a nuisance – I’m just not expecting them – and I’m a bike commuter.

    So I keep that in mind as I ride, that cars may not see me, that they are unsure if I’m going to be freelancing it rule-wise, and that if I’m following the rules, I’m free to be pissed if a car makes my ride unsafe!

  2. Idaho Stop Law!

    In effect!!

    I just put into some more content into the “Legal Research” section over at The Bicycle Librarian…. couple pieces about Stop as Yield.

  3. Will Campbell

    I operate stops the same way: whoever gets there first gets to go. If we arrive there at the same time, tie goes to the vehicle unless passage is quickly and clearly indicated by the driver. What I HATE is the driver who’ll sit there even after I’ve put a foot down and then motion me across. Don’t do me any favors, please. Just gooooooooo.

    As to putting decision makers on bikes, I’d like to slap some road repair crew supervisor ass in the saddle so they can ride around and see the results of their patchworks. Those million potholes Mayor Vaporaigosa is making them fill sound great in theory but most of the time the streets as a whole are still trouble for us two-wheelers.

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