Monday, December 11, 2006

The "bikes at stop signs" thing, again...

From the Charlotte Observer, 12.10.06:
DR. TRAFFIC: Bicyclists have rights--and responsibilities

"Q. I often hear complaints from drivers about bicyclists not following traffic rules, not stopping at signs, etc. How big a problem is that and what can be done about it?"

"The percentage of cyclists who do that, I believe, is relatively low. But it only takes a few to raise the ire of the motorists. And when I talk to motorists -- which of course is all the time -- that's the most frequent complaint, that the bicyclists aren't conforming to the rules of the road, so why should they deserve the respect of the drivers? And I think the drivers are absolutely correct, and it's an embarrassment.
This is the most tiresome complaint motorists routinely toss at bicyclists. That we don't "stop" at stop signs. Groan. My response is usually: "Neither do motorists."

It's instructive to spend a few minutes watching traffic at a 4-way intersection regulated by stop signs. I often do this at an intersection near my home, as I walk my aging dog. My admittedly non-empirical observation at this intersection and others suggests that the majority of motorists do not come to a complete stop, but rather do the infamous "California stop." They slow to 5 MPH or so, before proceeding through the intersection. Most stop signs are simply treated as yield signs. And generally motorists aren't enthusiastic about yielding to a pedestrian with a slow-moving 14-year-old dog.

So why are bicyclists held to a higher standard? My experience suggests that many persistently motoring Americans--encouraged to feel entitled by decades of automotive marketing and government policy--don't really want bicyclists competing for space on city streets. They refuse to accept bicyclists as co-equals, and don't recognize the benefits of bicycling travelers for all community members, including drivers. ("One less car--competing for parking space!") They also refuse to acknowledge the greater danger their 3,000 pound or heavier vehicle poses to the community than the biker's mode. Indeed, the stop sign and much other traffic regulation didn't exist until automobiles--and the threat they pose--became a pervasive menace.

Many motorists are hostile to bicyclists, period. These unrepetant slaves to internal combustion won't feel more kindly toward bicyclists even if there were absolute universal compliance to traffic regulations. Nobody obtains equitable treatment on streets or elsewhere by "playing good." Rights (and privileges like driving) to use public space aren't contingent on group behavior, granted only when every member of the group complies. One wonders why American motorists--who kill and injure more people than almost anyone--are "deserving of respect."

It's unfortunate the bicycling advocate interviewed in this article doesn't challenge the assertion that bicyclist behavior is abnormal. Bicyclist behavior is entirely consistent with traffic behavior in general. Excessively "abnormal" behavior is most punitive to the bicyclist; the rider most endangers him- or herself by reckless or unsafe cycling. It's the bicyclist who assumes the primary risk; unlike the motorist who creates a danger for others. Treating stop signs as yields allows bicyclists to maintain momentum, and done with caution is much less dangerous than rolling stops by impatient SUV-driving motorists. I'm not suggesting rampant law-breaking. However I do trust bicyclists to use their judgement to assess their risk and act accordingly.

The advocate interviewed in this story does call attention to the auto-domination of American society. In other nations where motorists feel less entitlement there are experiments with "naked streets," which have no regulation at intersections. It appears to work in those cultures that treat all modes as co-equals. Which makes me doubt it would work in our inequitable car-dominated society, where decades of government policy has privileged driving and encouraged anti-social behavior by motorists.

As Dr. Traffic asks, what can we do about bicyclists not stopping? The same thing we did about "white only" water faucets and other inequitable laws: Change the law to better reflect the actual threats posed by respective travel modes.

"I don't always obey the traffic law, but I always obey the law of traffic."

Visit: Risky cycling rarely to blame for bike accidents, study finds, The Guardian
Visit: Stop signs don't work for bicyclists, Sustainable Life
Visit: Wreckless Riding, SF Streetblog
Visit: Moralism vs. Utopianism–of Red Lights, Helmets, Bike Lanes and…, SFStreetsblog.org
Visit: The naked streets, BBC News
Visit: The Myth of the Scoflaw Cyclist, TheWashCycle
Visit: Stop, Limited Warren T (outstanding video.)
Visit: Stop signs with marketing pizazz, Bike Commuting Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips

24 comments:

Fritz M said...

Right on; preach it brother.

CycleDog (aka LCI Ed Wagner) counted cars that stopped at an intersection in his town. He writes: "At 5 PM, I started counting the vehicles that actually stopped - that is, the wheels stopped turning - at a 4-way intersection controlled by stop signs and a flashing red light. Of a total of 155 vehicles, pickups, trucks, SUVs, passenger cars, and motorcycles, 23 came to a complete stop. Those few vehicles stopped mainly due to cross traffic in the intersection. But even when crossing traffic was present, many persisted in moving forward slowly until the intersection cleared."

When I have an afternoon free someday I might point my camcorder at an intersection and put the results on YouTube.

Fritz M said...

I just clicked on the link to the Observer and saw the bike "advocate"'s thought that lack of enforcement is a "problem."

Police don't ticket cylists because cyclists don't cause the deaths, injuries and property damage that unlawful drivers cause.

JiMCi said...

Motorists will start to accept sharing the road with cyclists only when they'll realize that cyclists do make their life easier. More bikes means fewer cars and less traffic... If ever they get to understand that, they will stop bitching about the way we ride...

Paul Tay said...

Fritz, Tulsa Police Santa Task Force tickets Santa whenever possible for such heinous crimes as impeding traffic, waving the American flag while riding bike, and, of course, the worst offense of all time, dancing in the street, 27 TRO 1205.

As Santa's pro se attorney, I am on his retainer. We appealed an impeding traffic charge to a higher court. It was dismissed due to a technicality.

During yesterday's afternoon rush, Santa asked a cop from the TPD Santa Task Force for another impeding traffic citation. He knows our game and REFUSED to give ANY citation, even though Santa was tear-assing northbound Memorial, with the wind, playing his guitar. The cop almost died laughing out loud. Santa Task Force get 8% hazard duty premium as per Surgeon General warning: Laughing out loud can KILL.

After smarting from our first foray into the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, we have another case in appeals now: When "ride right" is WRONG.

Feliz Navidad y Ano Nuevo, hombres y hermanos.

P.S. This is one of the BEST written advocacy of equal WRONGS for bicycle drivers. NOBODY stops completely at stop signs. You are certainly NOT the only one to equate bicycle drivers to black people back in the day.

Anonymous said...

I do see similar results from automotive traffic not coming to a complete and total stop. Most do a california stop.
There are two problems using this to clear bicycles of wrong doing.
1) In my experience riding and watching intersections bicycle when they roll through generally look to be moving faster. The speed difference before they get to the stop sign and when they go is much different. When I ride vs drive looking at the speedometer I see the same thing. Cars more easily roll slower then bicycles.

2) More then 1 in 10 bicycles I see don't even YIELD at stop signs. Unless a car is in the intersection they don't even slow down and sometimes speed up like it is a yellow light.

Anonymous said...

That's the problem with cyclists... they think they're better than drivers. Obey the traffic laws, you are not any better!

Anonymous said...

EVERY. FLIPPING. DAY. in West Hollywood, while driving my children to school, I run into a yahoo on two wheels who thinks his s--t don't stink, riding his bike full speed through a stop sign, most of the time not even looking for who might be first and have the right-of-way. Let me repeat that-NOT EVEN LOOKING. "Look at me, I'M not a combustion slave, I'M better than YOU, so I'm going to do whatever the f--k I want".
Cyclists don't cause deaths? Are you high? I witnessed a car forced to swerve into oncoming traffic last month, the third time I've seen it in a year. Every time it was the DRIVER who saved the situation while the biker just kept on going without even looking around. Yes, cars frequently don't come to a full stop, but they don't fly through at full speed. If you're going to use the California Rolling Stop as a rationalization for your actions, dudes, be ready for a shattered spine and a crushed pelvis. I totally appreciate the green aspects of bicycles and I hate motorists who purposefully give them a hard time, but a stop sign is a stop sign.

Lions & Tigers said...

I was ticketed for riding my bike through a stop sign. Interestingly enough, the only retroactive danger I faced was a car directly opposite me at the intersection, which did not have a turn signal on, but turned left anyways after I rode through. I guess the officer was too focused on me to catch that more potentially harmful traffic violation.

Lions & Tigers said...

Did you know that by law in Montana, Idaho and Oregon, a bike may use a stop sign as a yield sign, unless of course it is absolutely necessary to stop?

Adriel said...

Great article, I especially liked the comparison to the old south.

I wrote an article about cycling and prejudice here

Here are the first few paragraphs:

What is the difference between a cyclist and a motorist?

The transportation they are on.

Some cyclists feel that people who drive are all a bunch of self entitled jackasses. Some motorists think all cyclists are a bunch of arrogant annoyances that should be run off the road, or arrested.

And you know what? Both have valid grievances, sometimes people on a bike will do something stupid and arrogant and risk their life and the well being of everyone around them. Sometimes a motorist will do the same. But what the hell?

I mean really, what the hell? We need to cooperate in traffic. It is not us vs them, bin laden isn’t cycling through the streets trying to make you late for work, and he isn't driving an SUV trying to run you over.

Verdant said...

Very good point regarding the danger cyclists risk to themselves vs the danger cars pose to others! Last year in the Haight, the SFPD set up a whole operation to ticket cyclists who did not come to a complete stop. It was ridiculous. Of all the money and man hours to spend, the police dept. decided it was best to target cyclists in a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood. Don't they have better things to do, like, I dunno... investigate violent crime?

I don't blame the individual cops, since I know they get their orders from higher up, but it blows my mind the priorities that some organizations have regarding public safety.

Alfred said...

what the hell happened to the track stand? even i can hold a track stand for three seconds (the length of a legal stop where i learned to drive).

i always figured that the best way to keep drivers out of your hair is to ride your bicycle better than they drive their cars. there's no excuse for lax behavior just because they do bad things too. this isn't second grade.

Anonymous said...

I found this page through a Google search and do realize that this post is more than two years old. I must say that there is a perspective not being looked at here: the pedestrian. I drive, ride a bike, and walk. When I walk I usually face more danger from bicyclists than cars. I walk in areas where there are lots of bikes and pedestrians (Madison, WI-a great biking city), but very frequently I'm nearly run over by bicyclists who don't even slow down at stop signs or traffic lights. In these high pedestrian areas, the auto drivers always come to complete stops. They have to because there are always pedestrians in the crosswalks. This is the way it is throughout Madison. In more rural areas and in neighborhoods with no pedestrians, auto drivers are more likely to make rolling stops. The bicyclists are jerks to pedestrians as much as they are to the drivers. Don't forget about pedestrians.

Also, I really think that this paranoia about motorists hating bicyclists and comparing it to racism, is (in addition to the obvious ridiculousness) a symptom of a kind of rampantly pathological narcissism. Nobody out there really gives that much of a shit about bicyclists and complaining about them is simply a pastime just as complaining about anything is. There is no conspiracy against bicyclists--they're just mostly douchebags like any group of people. Motorists are also mostly douchebags, and I hear much more complaining about that particular kind.

Kokorozashi said...

LOL, more thread necromancy, here.

The most recent Anonymous (must be a popular name these days!) wrote:

"Nobody out there really gives that much of a shit about bicyclists and complaining about them is simply a pastime just as complaining about anything is."

Come visit Kentucky. Living in a city known to be bike-friendly may have skewed your perceptions a little :)

I live in Louisville. Many drivers here really truly do object to the presence of cyclists on 'their' roads.

I play by the rules, because I firmly believe in that whole 'do unto others' idea. I even stop at stop signs, unless I can clearly see that there are no cars in the vicinity (even then I slow to a crawl, just in case). When I'm in a zone shared with pedestrians, I consider myself responsible for their safety as well as my own -- I would rather land myself in a ditch than run over someone on foot (after all, I have a helmet on; they don't).

This year alone, I've had two motorists try to run me off the road. One even pulled over, then took a second swipe -- he also shot me a very dirty look at a light; both had two or more empty lanes to the left in which to pass. In neither case had I done anything except what I should've been doing by law -- cycling along at a reasonable speed in my lane and trying to stay out of trouble.

On another occasion, a few years back, a guy sitting behind me at at a red light decided that he had right of way when it turned green. Though I was already moving, and going straight, he turned right without waiting, took out the back wheel of my bike, and shouted some choice words at me. (Unfortunately, with a tacoed rear wheel, there was no way in heck I could catch up to him and get his plate numbers :|).

Everyone I know who rides on a regular basis has at least one similar horror story. Most have several. Most are people who, like I, don't believe they're better than anyone else -- folks who just try to play by the rules.

I'm not going to say I'm perfect -- I know I've made my share of mistakes, a few of them truly bone-headed.

Likewise, I don't want to see an end to all automotive traffic (I also ride horses -- and while I'm happy to let someone else try hauling a couple thousand pounds of large animals a few hundred miles to a big competition by bike, I'm not giving that one a go any time soon :D).

However, I go out of my way to try to be considerate of both pedestrians and drivers, and -- yes -- drivers around here *do* appear to give enough of a crap about cyclists to endanger their lives. Intentionally.

Moreover, I know full well there are places that are even *more* hostile to cyclists than Kentucky. Barring a small area of the city, in fact, Louisville is a pretty good place to ride -- all the scary incidents I've experienced have taken place in the same relatively-small area (with the exception of taco-tire guy: that was in Lexington).

However, I fear legislation and enforcement aren't going to solve the problem -- at least, not around here. In Kentucky, at least, people tend to resent laws they feel are unfairly imposed (whether or not their feelings are, in fact, valid).

The other piece of the puzzle involves a sea-change in the way people feel about bikes and cars -- and I worry that legislation will only hamper that process.

On the other hand, I don't have any better suggestions -- so, in effect, I'm really just venting, and I probably ought to shut up now :)

Anonymous said...

As a new cyclist, stop signs are one of the greatest points of conflict for me. The law says we, as cyclists, must stop so there is really no point of debate, but if it takes me 3 times as long to pull up to an intersection as it does a car, I have 3 times a duration to view the intersection and assess opposing traffic. A stop sign for cyclists seems redundant to me, UNLESS there are cars or cyclists with right of way at opposing stop signs. In this case, of course a cyclist should stop and give way.

Anonymous said...

Seem like more and more bikers out there now and more of more of them ignoring traffic laws and common sense. Every day a steady stream of them pass me on the right when I have my blinker on to turn right. The trendiness of biking now seems to be attracting the trendy - aka low brain power - set.

chris said...

Here in Fort Collins, Colorado, I have never seen a bicycle stop at a stop sign, or even slow down. This makes me nervous as a driver, because at four way stops, traffic can be backed up, but bicycles somehow feel like they have the right to pass the line of cars on the right and blow through the intersection. It can be very nerve-racking, and I see this every few days.

A friend of mine was actually hospitalized from a car vs bike collision a few years ago (he was on the bike), and I honestly don't want to be on either end of such an accident. The motorist was turning right at a four way stop and he ran into their car. He's ok, but he gets mad at the cyclists as much as anyone else does.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading your article at "groan, cars do it to!" because two wrongs don't make a right. If you don't fully understand that logical fallacy then I suggest you look it up.

And stop at the fucking stop signs.

Michael said...

Wow, did you seriously compare the treatment of cyclists by drivers to how blacks were treated prior to the advent of civil rights? That's the attitude that causes drivers to despise cyclists, not the fact that you're on the road. Just for the record, by the way, traffic fatalities between 2 vehicles account for far more deaths than accidents between bikes and cars.

Eric Furrer said...

To preface my comments, I've got twenty-seven VERY manual gears on my bike. Driving cars is so easy. Bikes don't come with automatic transmissions ;-) Due to my strength and conditioning I usually start up from a dead stop in "gear #11".

I live in California, Santa Clara to be specific, so all my comments are local-specific. I feel lucky because motorists here have mostly taken to heart the "share the road" philosophy heavily promoted by the state. Bike lanes are everywhere! Most motorists are kind and courteous; some to the point of being ridiculous and few others just barely but still aware.

Due to the quality of my machine and my conditioning, I have an effective range of about 25-50 miles. I like having a smaller carbon footprint but respect the fact that California is the birthplace of the drive-in culture and that we live in a free country of choices. I own a car too.

When a traffic light is red I shift down through all my manual gears and I stop and wait for a green. I don't press the walk-button for the crosswalk because it is selfish and makes my cross-traffic motoring cousins have to wait too long to get their green light ... I can accelerate really fast and don't need the long walk light for help. I also don't ride on the sidewalk because it is illegal and belongs to the pedestrian's sphere of safety.

Now on to stop signs. Very few busy intersections are regulated by stop signs. If the intersection is that busy, then it is regulated by a traffic light. Stop signs are mostly used in back neighborhood roads and smaller intersections.

Under such conditions I practice Hybrid-Compliance. Whether or not I have coined a new phrase, here is how it works. If a car gets to the stop line first, I shift down through all my manual gears and stop or shift down through some of my gears and slow the timing my approach to my stop line depending on how far away from the line I am. After they're on their way, I then start up either from a my stop or my slow approach.

If I get to the stop sign line well before a car, I cruise through while keeping a close eye on the driver through the glass to be sure of his awareness. People are nice here and understand and probably ride bikes themselves sometimes. Never happened, but if anyone were to get mad, it would probably be because THEY were denied the opportunity to roll through the stop sign.

If the stop signed intersection is empty and free of traffic and pedestrians, there is no way that I'm gonna shift down through 16 bloody gears and come to a dead stop! I really do think I'll still get into heaven even if I don't get a chance to mention this in my last confession.

So does my hybrid-compliance sound reasonable? Some will probably disagree, requiring 100%-compliance. But they are probably the kind of people that think hitting their children will help them learn their multiplication tables and that one should always put down the knife and switch the fork to the right hand. Perfect people, they.

As an afterthought, the flaw in my comments the existence of the opposite of perfect people ... radical people ... in cars or on bicycles! My bike lane is in the middle of the road between these two types. Let's get along!

Chris said...

As both a cyclist and a driver (who strives to be as responsible, safe and law-abiding vehicle operator as possible), I need to point out a major difference between cyclists whizzing through stop signs and drivers doing the California Stop (which I detest too). In the California Stop, the driver generally reduces his speed significantly (from say 30 to 3 mph), and looks out for oncoming traffic and pedestrians. The cyclists I see (more than half) on the streets of Berkeley whiz through busy intersections at full speed without looking. Now, if there were no cars around, I could understand (but not support) such behavior. With cars around, it's risking injury or death.

Anonymous said...

I think all comments are self-serving, and we should just do away with the stop signs that are meant to make it safe for all.....Frankf

Anonymous said...

"Lions & Tigers said...

Did you know that by law in Montana, Idaho and Oregon, a bike may use a stop sign as a yield sign, unless of course it is absolutely necessary to stop?"


This is only true in Idaho - NOT Oregon or Montana.

Frosted Flake said...

In two years, I have put 6,000 miles on my 1992 Univega Alpina. I bought it because my GT was hit by a car... that didn't stop at a stop sign. My bike was totaled. Her license plate got a dent I could cover with my thumb. That is the distinction under discussion.

I made a mistake. I assumed a car that was braking at a stop sign was going to actually stop. I should have waited for eye contact. It will be awhile before I make that mistake again. I treat stop signs as yield signs, and would still be riding my GT if she had done the same.