Saturday, September 5, 2009


Lately, people have been making a big deal about stop signs. Everyone wants to know "do you stop at stop signs?". The frequent lack of stopping is used by some as a reason to stop bicycle infrastructure being developed- why should we give these law breakers anything?

I will state, quite publicly, that I do not. I hate stop signs. If there is no one coming, if there is no right of way issue, I will go right on through. The single greatest suck of my energy, after large hills, is the constant stopping and starting at the stop signs that are at almost every intersection through out town. The ones at the bottom of hills (going up the incline, not down) are of particular frustration and difficulty for me as I not only have to get my heavy monster bike going again, the added 50 lbs that Declan and his seat add to my bike mean that it is not uncommon for my bike to pop a very unstable wheelie just as a car is passing too close to get through the intersection ahead of me (it happened today except it was a bus coming at me and the back end of the bike started to go out on me, too).

As I rode through town today, I was thinking about this. When driving a car, stopping for signs and lights is only as inconvenient as we make it. No energy is expended on the part of the driver. The only problem is when we don't have enough time and perceive that stopping will make us late. For me, coming to a full stop and putting my foot down is the same as a car coming to a stop, turning off the engine and engaging the parking brake. Every 1000 feet. What driver would put up with that? How does it make them, or anyone else, more safe?

The argument that cyclists should obey all motor vehicle laws presupposes that motor vehicle laws are appropriate to non-motorized vehicles. I, for one, would love to see the common sense approach to stopping that Idaho utilizes developed all over the country. In my view of things, if there is a law that a majority of otherwise law abiding people fail to comply with, then perhaps it is time to review that law.

There are many stories about the perils of failing to stop. I have seen people suffer greatly for not, but in both cases, the cyclist was being either completely clueless or was totally out of control. There have been way more incidents that I have witnessed where drivers have failed to stop and caused great mayhem and yet, we do not insist on more stringent regulation of drivers to ensure that they always stop. We do not delay the creation of new roads or fail to investigate the collisions of drivers because they fail to stop. We do not call the millions of drivers who roll through stops signs "lawless" or criticize them as "bad parents" or "hooligans".

Feel free to agree or not. What do you think?

Addendum- Thanks to Calitexican for the link to this video! I couldn't find it when I was writing this.

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.


  1. I am totally with you! If there is no logical reason to stop, I'm not going to stop. That would make me a moron. Especially in the city, where there are 4-way stops at nearly every intersection for the purpose of car traffic calming. Anyone who rides a bike understands this. It is not the same thing as "blowing" a stop sign.

  2. It's a curious thing why drivers become upset over cyclists running signs and lights. When I am bicycling, I think nothing of doing it, but I've noticed that when I'm driving I also find myself resenting cyclists. I can't find the source now, but I remember seeing one fascinating take on the phenomenon, something like the idea that red lights -- and unlike speeding, drunk driving, and other illegal, but winked at, driving habits -- are the one inviolate traffic law, the line in the sand that no driver dare cross. When cyclists do, however, they violate this social contract, and upset the social order. It's this violation, this lack of decorum, that may cause the anger and resentment.

    I really like the Idaho stop law. It is sensible and reflects what most cyclists already do. However, until the law is passed in California, I believe cyclists have a responsibility to wage a kind of PR campaign, especially when it comes to red lights. As such, I usually stop and wait at red lights. That said, I usually slow a bit for stop signs and then forge ahead.

  3. I think you have a good point. And i'm glad I'm not the only one who has awkward start up moments. I always feel like a dork and it's because I suck at biking and should not even try and get all red faced. But knowing that it's not just me is really really nice.

    I def stop, mostly b/c I feel so brand new to it all that I don't think I have the right to make up my own rules etc. If that makes sense. If I were more seasoned and felt more confident and less prone to wild embarrassment I might.

    finally I just test rode a properly fitted two wheeled today. I found that I did not want to stop. Putting my foot down and taking my bum off the seat and then re starting was a lot of energy. Energy that I would have done happily to remain safe etc, but it was a lot of energy and places where I usually stop ( no signs but T intersections waiting to turn right) I rolled and turned more readily then I might have on the trike. I was also more nibble and perhaps faster so I sort of acted more car like and less pedestrian if that makes sense...

    ( and did I double post this? My kids have eaten my brain today :-))

  4. I totally agree with brent. It's not about safety , it's
    about trying to do some good PR for cyclists. If you
    are going to blow though lights, you might as well
    turn around and flip off the drivers you are (sharing)
    the road with.


  5. I've always said that to get your drivers license you should be exposed, or somthing like a series of hourse you have to submit, to roam your city on a bike. Wouldnt that be greeat? so if you want to get your drivers license, you have got to at least roam X amount of hours on your bike. Something similar ;)

    I do stop often. Say theres not much traffic I dont typically stop. I dont mind stopping and Id say I obey 90% of the traffic lights, but is not that it bothers me tremendously to stop and come to complete stops. I go with the flow and typically never in a rush, so if theres pedestrians jWalkin, then do drivers recent them too?

    In this city though, stopping 50 times to go 1-2mi. is a bitch though, so yea I highly unlike them some days


  6. i am sure you've seen this video, but it illustrates nicely the cyclists' point of view, aka, what you have just described.

  7. Oh, and my prior comment applies only to stop signs. I always stop and wait at red lights.

  8. Preach it, sister! I always do may best to respect, and to demonstrate respect for , the traffic around me. I will yeild the right of way more often than not, and always let drivers know that I see them, and have no intention of slowing them down in their mad rush to get that pregnant woman in the back seat to the hospital (they all have one there, you know). This does not mean that I always stop (frequently, but not always), but it does always mean that I am engaging the drivers in a physical discussion, and I am being as polite as possible. They are ususlly poilte in return, and if not, I am ready to stop, and let them have the road. I'm not in a hurry, though I do like to keep rolling. Val

  9. @ Dottie-Stop lights are a different thing. When you stop at a light it is usually for a much busier intersection. I always feel like lights are an opportunity to make sure nothing is falling out of the baskets, adjust my sunglasses, drink some water... I use them as a chance to take a quick break.
    Also, in your post about safety at night, I pointed out that sitting stopped at an intersection in the dark when no one is around can make you something of a target.

    @Jon- no one is talking about "blowing through lights". Or even stop signs, for that matter. We are talking about not stopping at every intersection when we have the right of way. This is not "flipping off" drivers as we pass. Drivers who feel they are being flipped off need to stop and think about what is really happening.

    I share dinner with my kids, which for me, usually includes a glass of wine which I do not share because it isn't appropriate. Some traffic rules are inappropriate for cyclists and should be revisited- can you cycle at 25 MPH or more to "keep up with the flow of traffic"? If following rules is what defines sharing the road, then we should all put our bikes away 'cause none of us can do it.

    @MamaVee- I just knew all children were really zombies! Brains!!!!: )

  10. The Idaho Stop is a great idea. Two problems. One, its enforcement is going to be open to interpretation by the policeman who may want to tag you. Two, it's going to be perceived by motorists as "I'm too lazy to stop and obey the law". Even so, I want it passed in PA.

    One more thing - if your bike can "pop a very unstable wheelie" at startup with a child aboard, you've got the wrong bike. That's just plain dangerous for you and the kid. 50 pounds is getting near the limit of sanity for a bike of normal geometry. If you're sitting upright with a rear child seat, a much larger proportion of the total weight is over the rear wheel than the bike was designed for. Chainstays can only get so long, then you need to move into a trail-a-bike or a longbike meant for the load. I don't want to be a nag, but a backflip in front of a bus could ruin your whole day...

    Rich F.

  11. Amen! I will also admit to riding in "My Own Private Idaho" here in Seattle.

    The no-no's for me, because they do violate carhead "taboos" and generally make cyclists look like poor citizens of the road are:
    1. Running a red light when anyone can see you
    2. Stealing right-of-way from pedestrians or motorists at stop signs

    Otherwise, I slow but roll through stop signs when they're clear.

    I do have pangs of "what am I teaching my daughter" when she's on the the bike with me, as I won't trust her to have the road smarts and peripheral vision that I do for quite some time, so I do want to teach her to stop a every stop sign. I'll worry more about that in a few years, though ...

    PS if you're looking for another older kid option, check out the FollowMe tandem:

  12. @Rich- Declan will be in back for another year. To combat my rear weight issue, I have added a basket to the front so my purse and lock and such can be a counterbalance. It isn't perfect, but it works. The bike can handle it- it is a big, heavy Dutch city bike made for hauling kids while texting : )

    @Julian- I think about that tandem, and if Declan were my first child and not my last, I would jump on it. I will suffer through the old seat post hitch trailer I already have.
    I was amazed at how quickly my kids took to the road. I thought it would be really hard to teach them how to be safe and that I would be worried, but no. It has been a smooth transition, thus far.

  13. There was a lot of controversy over this when Oregon recently tried to pass basically the equivalent of the Idaho law that would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields unless otherwise noted.

    Personally, I am totally in favor of it, and I think that it makes a lot of sense. I think it's probably only a matter of time until it gets passed in places with high bicycle usage, but it's going to take people seeing bikes as a regular part of traffic more and more frequently.

    I think a lot of the reason people see cyclists as lawbreakers, is that they are simply new and different. The same way we see the bad traffic behavior of people from out of town as much worse than the bad traffic behavior of people we drive with regularly.

    As bicycles become more and more common on the streets of our cities, people will get more used to them, they won't feel like they are doing anything unusual (for the most part), and they will be a lot more open to a law like this, I think. Also, as more people start riding their bikes around town, more people will realize for themselves what you said about stopping and starting all the time and how much energy that consumes.

    Of course, we could also site cases like Germany and the Netherlands who have been and are still removing stop signs completely from some places, as they find it causes drivers to actually think about what they are doing more, and improves traffic safety - but since when did we ever listen to anyone else's example here in the U.S.? :)

  14. I will gently roll a stop sign if it is safe to do so. Interestingly enough I have had the opportunity to sit for a period of time and observe a red light intersection, over 90% of the cars DID NOT come to a complete stop at the intersection prior to making a RTOR, even though the law requires it.

    Laws can and should be amended as necessary. Stop signs are used as a form of traffic calming for 2 ton machines with internal combustion engines not 1/10 of a ton organic engined machines.


  15. You know why I don't stop at 4-way stops? Because if I do, I will have to wait pretty much indefinitely while a line of cars fails to do so.

    I've also had a lot of problems wherein a driver at the same intersection apparently doesn't think I've properly performed my stopping duty (usually when I have actually stopped) and tries to run me down out of spite. I've concluded from this that it is actually DANGEROUS for me to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, because it invites drivers to initiate a game of chicken.

    Cars see stop signs as optional, and they're big heavy motorized death machines. I'll start using them properly when drivers do.