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?"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."
"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.
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: Survey finds bicyclists and motorists ignore traffic laws at similar rates, PRI.org
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