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May 06, 2004

Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs

In visiting the website of the EAST BAY BICYCLE COALITION, of Alameda County, in Northern California, I came across a fascinating article worth reading.

It seems the EBBC listserv has been having a lively discussion about it as well.

As the site describes it:

The EBBC listserv has been hosting a lively discussion about the problems bicyclists have with stopping at stop signs. A research paper by physics Professor Joel Fajans and co-author Melanie Curry entitled "Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs," enlivens our discussion by documenting principles regarding the conservation of energy (and perhaps why bicyclists tend to roll through repeated stops). Their research causes us to further wonder if the proliferation of stop signs on side streets, largely to deter through traffic, may actually compromise the safety of bicyclists. The combination of "energy" and "safety" arguments calls for establishing bikeways on main-line arterial roads.

The article begins by acknowledging that cyclists have more to worry about than planning a route, the weather, and what to wear.

Safety, speed, and energy expended on the trip are also considerations for many cyclists.

Transportation planners, the writers believe, must take bicyclists' concerns seriously or their efforts will do little to increase the numbers of bicycles or help bicyclists and drivers co-exist safely.

The writers begin their dissertation by asking the reader to conder the simple STOP sign.

For a car driver, a stop sign is a minor inconvenience, merely requiring the driver to shift his foot from gas pedal to brake, perhaps change gears, and of course, slow down. These annoyances may induce drivers to choose faster routes without stop signs, leaving the stop-signed roads emptier for cyclists.

Consequently streets with many stop signs are safer for bicycle riders becasue they have less traffic. Indeed, formal bike routes typically include traffic-calming devices like barriers, speed bumps, and stop signs to discourage car traffic, and slow down those cars that remain.

However, a route lined with stop signs is not neccessarily desirable for cyclists.

While car drivers simply sigh at the delay, bicyclists have a whole lot more at stake when they reach a stop sign.

Did you know that the average Commuting Bicyclist is unlikely to produce more than 100 watts of propulsion power, or about what it takes to power a reading lamp?

I didn't. :-)

Because of this the authors say that cyclists must husband our power.

In discussing and testing their theories regarding Bicyclists, and stopping and starting on streets with stop signs, the authors took to the road on a bike route in Berkeley, Ca.

( Obviously, this was on a slow day when there were no protesters, of something or other, milling about in the streets! [ Sorry, my sense of humor, and right leaning politics couldn't resist :-) ] ).

21 stops signs, and a stop light, in 2 1/4 miles. Sounds like fun. :-)

They also went on a parallel MAJOR thoroughfare with no bike lane, no stop signs, and 8 lights.

The results are startling and provide much food for thought.

The authors also discuss the practice many cyclists employ of the "rolling stop" where the cyclist slows to about 5mph as he or she approaches a stop sign and, if the way appears clear, proceed on through the intersection without stopping.

But the authors also say

the car-bike protocol at stop signs is not clear. Drivers (and bicyclists) are unpredictable. Will drivers take turns with bikes in an orderly way as they do with other cars? will they start to go, notice the bicylist, and suddenly stop again to wait, whether the cyclist is stopped or not? Will they roll through the stop even thought they see the bike?

An experienced cyclist knows anything is possible.

Damn straight! :-)

One of the most frustrating things for me at such intersections is trying to decipher when it is MY turn to go through!

You would think that this was as simple as if the vehicles were all cars, but toss in a cyclist, and confusion often reigns as many drivers often don't consider us as fellow vehicles, but as pedestrians, and act accordingly.

If they see us at all, that is. :-)

For me, this isn't a problem on empty neighborhood streets, but the busier such routes are, the more complicated things become.

I therefore prefer a major thoroughfare with lighted intersections, and no stop signs, whenever possible.

As the writers say, car drivers are often confused by cyclists and wish we'd just go away.

Traffic planners need to work to find ways for both to co-exist on the streets.

But first many of them need to take the concerns of cyclists seriously.

I wonder how many of them ride a bike for either commuting or recreational purposes?

This excellent 4 page article is in a PDF FORMAT that requires you to have Adobe Acrobat Reader, but is well worth the effort.

Another plus are the several cycling drawings of bikes, and bike commuters, of the 19th century that accompany the article.

Very cool, and amusing. :-)

The article is called Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs.

The website for the EBBC is HERE.

May 6, 2004 in The Well Read Cyclist | Permalink


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I love stop signs. They are a lot of fun. Notice who arrived before you, they take their turn before you do. Do not make eye contact - that broadcasts your hesitation and that you may be willing to negotiate your turn and causes confusion. Instead, act confident and assertive (you may look by moving eyes to check their actions) but do not "make eye contact".

Taking the correct position for your direction is fun too. This allows others to understand your intentions before you look both ways, signal, and go when its your turn.

A well executed stop sign maneuver, among others, is a work of art and lots of fun. It also generates unimaginable cooperation from other drivers making the bicycle more fun in traffic than driving a car.

The video on my website shows typical Seattle cyclists in many situations, unpredictable and inducing conflict, and compares to my Looking Sharp example. The response has been overwhemingly positive.

I can teach this method to begining cyclists in a few hours. They bypass all the trouble of typical cyclists and enjoy riding anywhere they want.

Cycling is so much more fun, when you know how! Its just simple social skills for the traffic environment. When you learn to present yourself well to others so they can see, understand and cooperate with you, you may prefer traffic - while cycling.

Remember: nothing will inspire more to achieve their full potential as cyclists than a positive attitude about the cycling environment - and traffic!

David Smith
Looking Sharp! Visual Language Vehicle Driving for Bicyclists and Motorists
206 325-6551
video DVD available upon request

Posted by: David Smith | Aug 28, 2004 5:54:32 PM

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