Tag Archives: bikinginla

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!

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ethics and aesthetics of biking

Some while back, I wrote a little bit about trying to work out an ethics of biking:

Very simply, and perhaps naively, a possible ethics of cycling might begin from admitting a shared vulnerability. Of course, as Kirsten noted, looking at some of the people who do ride near us, there’s a occasionally masculine and oftentimes aggressive image at work, an image which wouldn’t seem to be all the amenable to arguments about a common vulnerability. It is, again, a valid point, but working in the realm of the hypothetical, if you do posit a shared vulnerability (shared between cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, people), then one broad ethic might be: Don’t act in such a way that harms another. As a cyclist, this means that I expect drivers to give me space, to recognize and affirm my right to the road; but it also means that I ride in such a way that drivers can predict my actions and don’t feel pressured into making a rash decision. And when it comes to making choices about the stop lights and street signs, I can take a long moment to wait at a red light late at night, long enough to realize that the road will not recognize me nor the weight of my bike, and as such, there’s no issue with my crossing of Sunset at 1 a.m.. On the other hand, taking the time to stop at stop signs during rush hour traffic is a gesture to other cars.

I bring it up because the opposition of aesthetics to ethics has come up a couple of time in the last week, and I spent a little bit of time on the ride home mulling some things over. To make a long story short, one particular way of thinking about the difference between the ethical and the aesthetic is in terms of universals and particulars. Ethics, then, is that which should be universal to everyone. Aesthetics, in contrast, is the cultivation of an individual identity or style.

In a strange way, it might bear on the cycling world, or at the least cycling in Los Angeles: Ethics is asking whether cyclists have an obligation to yield to traffic at stop signs; aesthetics is color-coordinated bar tap and toe clips. Ethics is asserting a right to the road; aesthetics is asserting that right while riding a tall bike.

I suppose it’s possible to work through more than this, but two stories stand out as something neither about ethics nor aesthetics. The first is Will Campbell’s story about an orange soda and a Jaguar; the second is BikinginLA’s story about why truckers should never argue with cyclists while leaving their truck unlocked and idling on the side of the road. Not really sure what to say to either, but maybe this: If I read those stories and think, I wish I could have done that, the stories might be about an ethics of cycling. They may just be great reads.