Stop signs

stop_signI think we can all agree that it’s bad to run stop lights. I will always stop for a light, and will sit at an intersection waiting for it to change even if there is no cross traffic. For one thing, that’s a good opportunity for me to grab a drink from my water bottle without fumbling around while I’m on the move.

Stop signs, however, are another matter. I will stop for a stop sign, too — under certain conditions. For instance, if it’s by a school, and there’s a crossing guard (not much choice there). Or if I see that there are cars in the intersection. Then I’ll take my turn and stop, too.

When I took the League of American Bicyclists Road 1 course (which is now called Traffic Skills 101), the instructors were adamant about stopping at signs. You had to come out of your seat and put your foot on the ground for it to count as a full stop. In fact, on our check-out ride downtown, I got zinged because I failed to put my foot down at one stop sign, even though there was no other traffic in the intersection.

But 90 percent of the time, I’ll treat a stop sign as a yield sign. I’ll slow, check the intersection for any traffic, and once I’m satisfied there’s no one there, I’ll go. Sometimes, I’ll slow almost to a track stand. Mostly, I’ll shift down a couple of gears and brake to walking speed. But I don’t stop.

There’s legal precedence for bikes to roll through stop signs. Idaho has had a law on the books since 1982 that allows bikes to treat stop signs as yield signs. Montana is considering such a law, and so is Oregon. That doesn’t mean bikers can just run the sign — they have to slow and check traffic conditions first, which is exactly what I see most bikers do anyway.

The tricky part is when cars and bikes do meet at signed intersections. Just the other day, I was returning home from my club ride, and came to a signed intersection two blocks from my house. A car was approaching on my left, and slowing to stop for the sign. I braked, because it was a four-way stop. The car reached the intersection first, which would give it the right of way to proceed first from the sign. But it came to a dead stop, waiting for me to go through the intersection first. Well, that’s very polite and all, but it actually put me in a bit of a jam. I was almost, but not completely, stopped for the sign, and every second she waited made me practice my track stand skills a little longer. Finally, she signaled that I should go first. I shrugged my shoulders to let her see that I was fine with her going first, but then I crossed in front of her.

If she had just followed the rules of the road, she would have stopped first and gone ahead first. I would have just about stopped, but given her the right of way to go first, and still had enough momentum that I wouldn’t be concerned about falling over. It’s that kind of thing that can cause car-bike accidents.

It’s at that same intersection that I have often seen cars blow right through the sign without even pretending to slow for a stop. A former resident of that corner used to chase after cars and yell at them when she saw them do that, but she has since moved away. I’m not saying that because cars do it, we should too — but it appears to be a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black whenever motorists complain about bikes not stopping at signs.

Your thoughts?

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10 thoughts on “Stop signs

  1. My thoughts exactly. I generally treat stops as yields and red lights as either stop signs or as red lights, depending on my mood. But you are right on about the car-at-stop-signs thing. I hate when they wave me through when they have right-of-way. Sometimes I just ignore them, intentionally avoid looking in their direction and drink my bottle or something until they go.

  2. Here in the bike-unfriendly and car-dependent suburbs of northern Virginia, drivers (legally) yak on the phone, eat breakfast/lunch/dinner and update twitter oblivious to the speed limits. When I’m cycling to a stop sign and a driver waves me through, it shows awareness (and courtesy) — that’s a very good thing that I don’t want to discourage. So I proceed, and give the drivers a wave and a nod.

    Otherwise, I treat stop signs as yields when there is no traffic. I always stop at red lights, even if I proceed through after ensuring there are no cars around.

  3. I treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs. I don’t proceed unless the traffic is clear in both green light directions. The main reason I don’t wait for the green is that the differential between bikes and cars is greatest accelerating from a stop. The last thing some lead foot should want is a pokey biker hindering their progress. Why some get pissed off at bikers who “run red lights” this way is truly bizarre.

  4. If there’s a car around, I obey all traffic laws, regardless if I agree with them or not. One exception — I rarely run red lights, but will sometimes treat them as yield signs in the early morning hours due to the danger of a rear-end collision.

    On the other hand, I will treat a stop sign as a yield sign IF there are no cars within sight. I do this both for safety and because I don’t want to increase the bad reputation of cyclists breaking traffic laws.

  5. The last time I fell was in a situation much like you described — rolled up to a stop sign and a helpful motorist tried to wave me through out of sequence. I tried the track stand but was slightly uphill and didn’t unclip in time. Seems to me that most motorists don’t realize that we are clipped in.

    As for stop signs in general, I tend to come to a rolling stop like a car. A couple of years ago I blew through one in a subdivision and there was a Suburban behind me. He punched it, came up beside me with his window down and yelled at me for a 1/4 mi and then drove on. We synched again at a light waiting to turn onto Parmer, with me off his rear right bumper. It’s funny how motorists forget about you as soon as they pass. So we had a tense moment waiting for the green light. He started to yell at me again so I pulled out the great equalizer — the cell phone camera. Click! “what are you doing?” “Taking a photo of a driver who has road rage. Smile, you’re going onto the internet.” Let’s just say that after what followed, it’s easier for me to just stop at stop signs.

    As for red lights, I stop at all of those. On Parmer, there are a few T-intersections where it would be safe to go through because you’re on the shoulder and the road from the left doesn’t pass through to the right; that is, all traffic must turn. But I still stop because if I don’t it just makes motorists get all the more peeved and self-righteous about what they perceive as bad cyclist behavior.

  6. During the Armadillo ride last weekend, I upset a driver terribly because he didn’t like how I stopped. I was going way slow, with one foot out, as I approached the sign. There was no one else anywhere close to the intersection. I braked but did not stop completely, and then pedaled on. Apparently the driver behind me disapproved — even tho it was none of his business, since it didn’t affect him — and roared right up behind me and passed me within inches on the left. When I hollered, cuz he scared the crap out of me, he hollered back that I ‘didn’t stop.’ Just one of several bits of bad driver behavior on the ride this year, unfortunately…

  7. The way you handle lights and stop signs is exactly as I do. One of my pet peeves (I have many!) is motorists yielding their right-of-way to other motorists or cyclists. They think they’re being polite to other motorists…helpful to cyclists. To me it just adds to the confusion and ultimately I believe contributes to road rage. I’ve noticed people who give me dirty looks or worse when I take my right of way (talking in the car now) because they are so used to others being overly polite!

  8. I have to admit that I have been guilty of blowing through some signs and lights before (usually when I’m out riding with my buddies and we egg each other on), but even then, I only do so when I can clearly see that there is no traffic anywhere in sight. Typically I do the stop sign = yield and stop light = stop sign routine. I don’t have nearly the problem with cars here in southwest Missouri as some of you do, though. Nobody here seems to really care what cyclists do. They don’t approve or disapprove; they’re just indifferent. I guess maybe that can be a blessing or a curse, though.

  9. Pingback: Having to Clip Out Is No Excuse « Bike Noob

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