Bike Michiana

resources, news, observations and ideas about bicycling in the Michiana area

Stop Signs

Posted by Adam Bee on December 11, 2008

Stop signs seem to be the #1 point of contention for bike haters.  You don’t have to read too many letters to the editor to get that.

Really, though, how many drivers actually stop?  In my experience drivers do that exact same thing cyclists do.  They slow down enough that they could stop if they had to, check for traffic, and then roll through.

The only difference is that a driver has less visibility because they approach stop signs so much more quickly and have a worse position to look from.  Of course, the risks imposed on others from a driver being wrong are much greater than when a cyclist rolls through.

When cyclists do stop, it’s been my experience that two-thirds of drivers will try to wave you through.  That can create a very dangerous, ambiguous situation–are you really going to trust the the driver won’t change his mind and plow you over, as is his legal right?  To me, being waved through a stop sign is like being invited to dinner by a shark.

I have a new technique, however, which I’ve been using to great success in preventing the inevitable wave-through.  I stop about 20 feet before the stop sign.  Most drivers want to wave cyclists through because they’re afraid that the cyclist will hop right in front of their Escalade at the last second.  They’ve been conditioned by dozens of cyclists before who just breeze right through stop signs.

If you stop well before the stop sign, though, it sends an unmistakable message that you are in fact waiting for the car to go through, and it leaves enough space to show that you couldn’t jump in front of them even if you wanted to.  This saves everybody time and stress.

For cyclists who just plow through stop signs with nary a glance when there is cross-traffic or cars are already stopped, I have little sympathy.  As far as I can see it’s unjustifiable under any set of circumstances.

Perhaps eventually in the far future (I’m thinking like HG Wells The Time Machine far future) we could shift to a legal system that recognizes that in some situations, cyclists may be safer under a separate set of laws.  The challenge is doing that without weakening the claims of cyclists as legitimate users of the roadway.  More likely, cars will be distant memories by the time we get any sort of sane bicycle laws.

Another stop sign issue:  When waiting in a line at a stop, when do you go through?  I generally “shadow” the car in front of me, which is slightly illegal.  But it might be better than dealing with the ambiguity of being stared at by three other drivers.

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4 Responses to “Stop Signs”

  1. Jim Moffitt said

    I believe in at least one state it is legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

  2. Paul Taylor said

    Jim. You are right. Idaho: http://itd.idaho.gov/bike_ped/ID_Vehicle_code_for_Bikes_05.pdf .

  3. Henry Scott said

    I look forward to trying your stop-sign technique, Adam. I’m also don’t like being waved through (although I understand that it is done in good nature). Regarding waiting in a line, I do as you mentioned (i.e., shadow the care immediately in front of me).

  4. Adam Bee said

    Man, that Idaho law looks great. Basically, as Jim said, the law turns stop signs into yields and red lights into stop signs!

    It seems Idaho is setting the laws to match the practices of the majority of careful riders. I, for one, still wait out the full lengths of red lights unless I’m in a terrible hurry, but that’s more out of showing respect for the law than any practical concerns.

    If our laws matched Idaho’s in this regard, running errands by bike would be nearly as fast as by car (in addition to healthier and more fun as usual). Who knew Idaho was so far ahead of its time?

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