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Ask BikePortland: Should I go it alone or with group at stop signs?

Posted by on August 31st, 2012 at 9:55 am

New stop sign at NW Broadway and Couch-4
Group stops happen.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to the latest installment of Ask BikePortland. Today’s question comes from reader Ruben G. Ruben is curious about a topic on a lot of people’s minds today: stop sign behavior.

Ruben wants to know if people on bikes who arrive at a stop sign together are allowed to go through as a group or if they are legally required to go through one at a time. Here’s his question:

“What is the proper way to queue with other bikes at a stop sign? Is it a one at a time scenario? Or can two/three/four bikes line up adjacently to count as one stop? Or maybe even two rows of bikes at a time if traveling as a party?”


I love this question because I’ve wondered about this myself. I tend to err on the side of behaviors that are both safe and practical, so I usually would roll through (after stopping of course) as a group. But I asked bike legal expert Mark Ginsberg for his interpretation.


“Each bike has to stop,” says Ginsberg, “just like two cars side-by-side, both car drivers can stop, see that it is clear and then go.”

If two bikes arrive side-by-side at the same time, Ginsberg says they can legally go through together after stopping.

“It gets trickier,” he adds, “if the cyclists are single file.” At this point, like we’ve unfortunately found with many laws in the Oregon Vehicle Code, things get a bit murky. Here’s more from Ginsberg:

“You are supposed to stop at the stop line, so if cyclist #2 stops behind #1, then goes through the intersection, it is a closer call as to whether they have followed ORS 811.265 (Driver failure to obey traffic control device).

Do the Reductio ad absurdum and say, 100 cyclists, who are all very good riders, ride together, say 4 abreast, come to a complete stop. They then all stop, and then all go through together. Maybe the 2nd row are OK, but what about the 10th row or the 23rd of 4 cyclists… did they stop? Yes. Did they stop at the stop sign? No.”

Ginsberg points out that for the most part, bike lanes in Portland are designed for single-file riding, so the above example isn’t likely in urban areas (except during large group or parade rides, which are sort of a different animal and not what Ruben is asking about).

Ginsberg offers another example. “When I ride with my 7 year old, he may be all over the road; but at stop signs, we wait side-by-side fully stopped so we can go at the same time, when I see it is safe.”

In the end, it seems like the answer is to use your best judgment. What insights can you share in answer to Ruben’s question?

— Read more questions and answers (from our very smart commenters) in the Ask BikePortland archives.

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Comments
  • Dave August 31, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I’ve had it happen where, on a road with no bike lane, I’ve come to a stop with maybe 4-5 other people on bicycles, in 2 rows, and we’ve all come to a stop, made sure nobody is coming, and then all gone through together. To me that does seem reasonable, because we’re all basically taking up less space than a car length anyway. I agree, if you’re queued up 5-6-7 in a single-file row, probably only the first 1-2 could say they stopped at the stop sign.

    I would imagine that in general, judging from police reactions to this kind of thing, if a small group of cyclists all actually stopped at a stop sign, checked the road to make sure it was clear, and then all went, it probably wouldn’t be a big issue.

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    • SilkySlim August 31, 2012 at 10:33 am

      This gets to the root of my question (yes, I am Ruben G!). If your group, friends or strangers, is about a “cars worth” of size, can you travel through together. I want the answer to be yes, but have no interest in aggravating others.

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  • 9watts August 31, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Not quite the same, but I think related:
    When a car is approaching a four way stop and I’m right there/to the right of the car, I tend to stop with the car and proceed with/alongside the car. If I don’t, I’ve found this all too frequently precipitates the waving of hands by the person sitting in a car in cross traffic also stopped, which I try to avoid.

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    • Aaron September 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Yup. Stick rto the passenger side rear quarter panel of your vanguard and you’re prepared for pretty much anything. I also use this technique with other complex, car-oriented intersections.

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  • was carless August 31, 2012 at 10:16 am

    If you are with a group, do a group. You can temp. “take the lane” with 3-4 cyclists, all stop individually, but not in a queue, and essentially the group can stop/go within a few seconds.

    Saves other people a lot of time, and is still legal, although IMNAL.

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    • Sunny August 31, 2012 at 10:33 am

      IANAL…not to be confused with an apple product

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  • Joe August 31, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I’ve wondered this too as I enter an intersection with my 3 kids. No way in hell I’m going to have them go one at a time, they are simply too young to be riding alone.

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    • Spiffy August 31, 2012 at 10:45 am

      I think the cop would be lenient in the case of kids…

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    • ED September 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      I always go in a group if I’m with kids. In addition to safety, I figure that if we were driving, then we’d all go through as a group so no reason to be separated just because we are on bikes.

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    • John Lascurettes September 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Not only do I have my kid go with me, I linger in the intersection to give the kid, who takes longer, time to cross – I’m a far more visible cross-section than he is. When we bike to school, we cross 4-lane Burnside and it seems the only safe way to do it.

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      • Paul in the 'couve September 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

        Yes, with my kids I actually cork intersections. I ride in first and trackstand until they are all safely across. Sometimes that includes letting the youngest roll/stop (not stop) at the sign because waiting for the poor kid to get his feet on the pedals and get going may result in having 1 kid across the intersection, 2 in the middle and one still starting out. They have been taught how to ride with me at intersections. Stay behind dad approaching, slow and wait for dad to signal “GO” and then look and proceed quickly while dad corks.

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        • Curbmudgeon September 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

          Oh please just put a foot down. I know doing tricks on your bicycle is fun, but coming to a stop in an intersection while maintaining the appearance of movement is not smart. You are going to get hooked because someone thought you were actually moving instead of trying to be Kevin Bacon.

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          • Paul in the 'couve September 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

            You have no idea what you are talking about. I’m not talking at a stop light. I’m riding WITH MY KIDS on relatively LOW TRAFFIC streets. What I am describing there is essentially CORKING I am in the street perpendicular to the traffic lane being visible and having clear vision so that any cars coming down or turning onto the secondary street I am crossing WITH MY KIDS can see that cyclists are in the Road.

            I am track standing because I AM IN THE PROCESS of CROSSING A STREET just very slowly making sure my kids are all across.

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          • Paul in the 'couve September 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

            Sorry for shouting,

            So just for clarity – and I have the advantage of actually imagining a very specific intersection that I cross regularly with my kids for me this isn’t abstract. Anyway, for clarity – we are riding on a purely residential street with nearly zero traffic, used almost entirely for access to residences only. We are crossing “feeder street” or third class arterial that has 25 mph speed limit and pretty light traffic load, a yellow stripe, 1 lane in each direct BUT motorists often travel at 35 to 45 mph on this road AND we are two short blocks from the intersection with a Secondary arterial , and 1 block from a Y where two streets merge and this street is sometimes a cut through that people use to bypass stoplights. So the problem is that motorists make the corner and start roaring up the street or come roaring off the Y street at 30+ mph. When crossing with kids, the time to cross is long enough that even with a 100% clear street, you can’t be confident a car isn’t going to come up at a high speed. By Positioning myself in the intersection first, I can get a clearer line of site, and I can be much more visible and obvious for cars than a 4 year old on a 16 inch bike.

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          • Paul in the 'couve September 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm

            Finally – I do track stand at lights sometimes, but only if I’m taking the lane! No problem with right hooks.

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  • Spiffy August 31, 2012 at 10:26 am

    wait, we’re supposed to stop at those big ugly red car signs? c(:

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    • Hugh Johnson September 3, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Yes rules apply to you too. Sorry but it’s true.

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  • redstar August 31, 2012 at 11:34 am

    A lot of drivers are upset at bicyclists for not stopping at stop signs right now. Is it really worth proving them right & upsetting them? Why not have each bicyclist stop at the stop sign and look each way before proceeding (Obviously, IMO this does not include when bicycling with children, then you all stop and all continue through the intersection together.)

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    • michael_pdx August 31, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      So, if I follow you correctly: we should avoid any situation where doing the logical/sensible thing might cause 1 motorist out of 20 to become irritable?

      There’s a good swath of grey area in the ongoing p*ssing match between between irate drivers and careless cyclists (a minority of each population, I’m pretty sure), but I tend to believe that the small number of vocal bike-haters are destined to go through life sputtering and raging (generally to no purpose except higher blood pressure) whether I come to a complete stop at the octagons or not.

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  • E-PoRider August 31, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Dear fellow cyclists:

    Just don’t shoal me and block my vision or jump me at the stop and I’m cool. Maybe keep your front tire at my pedal if you arrive after me and then we can go together.

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    • John Lascurettes September 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Likewise, don’t sit and sit and sit when there’s a perfectly large enough gap in traffic for you to cross. Mmm’kay? Otherwise, damn straight that I’m jumping, likely from behind you.

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      • Over and Doubt September 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

        Oh no. John’s few seconds have been declared sacrosanct, just as if John or both were in cars. Sadly, the march toward mainstream appears to include mainstream pitfalls.

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        • John Lascurettes September 4, 2012 at 10:41 am

          What’s the beef? If you’re too timid to go. I will when it’s perfectly safe.

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          • El Biciclero September 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

            As long as the “timid” cyclist is indeed waiting to go straight across and so are you… Cyclist’s turn signals are not always maintained throughout the entire period of “ceased forward motion”. Also beware of wobbly starts. I would only do this if there were more than one lane (could be a bike lane and a “car” lane), and Pippi Long-stopper and I were each in a different one.

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  • Dan August 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

    On century rides & whatnot, there’s an expectation that the first rider at a stop sign will call out ‘clear!’ so that riders behind them can just roll through, sometimes from 20 feet back. I am NOT a fan of this, and don’t do it for others. Sorry guys.

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    • q`Tzal August 31, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      Sounds like a recipe for liability.

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      • dr2chase August 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm

        Liability, if you F up. Don’t F up.

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  • Jim F. August 31, 2012 at 11:48 am

    The odds of more than one person actually stopping at a given stop sign in Portland are pretty slim, so this may be a moot question. I make sure to stay to the right when I stop so I don’t get rear-ended by all the other cyclists who blow past the sign.

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  • Sunny August 31, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Where in the law does it say to stop at the line? I’ve seen drivers stop ten feet back (and sometimes ten feet in front) before proceeding. Why can’t rear cyclists just sync stop with the head cyclist and proceed in unison?

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    • CPAC August 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      ORS 811.260(15):

      Stop signs. A driver approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no marked crosswalk, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when the driver is moving across or within the intersection.
      ——————

      Just ’cause drivers are bad at following this (I’ve noticed its worse in Portland than in other places I’ve lived) doesn’t mean it isn’t the rule, or that we shouldn’t abide by it.

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      • Sunny August 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        I’ve seen drivers in cars and suv’s who think the nose of their cars are much longer than they actually are and stop a car length or longer from the stop line. They seem to stop at a point where they can see the stop line and the nose of their car according to their own sight-line. ‘just an observation

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        • ED September 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

          Back in the day when I learned to drive, I was taught that you should be able to see the white line (or the rear tires of the car in front of you) when you stop to allow proper spacing. I don’t know if anybody else still does this, or if you’d consider that too far from the white line to count as a proper stop.

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      • jim August 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

        I’ve heard of bikes getting tickets for stopping in the crosswalks instead of behind the line.

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      • dr2chase August 31, 2012 at 8:13 pm

        Do the police enforce this law in Portland at all? It’s pretty common to see drivers slopped over the stop line in the Boston area.

        I’ve even seen an accident where the slop-over contributed (driver was unable to see illegally crossing slow-bike/dog-walker approach, and proceeded into her just as she crossed in front of the car; properly stopped at the line, I not only saw the sb/dw approaching, I watch the whole thing unfold in front of me). I helpfully explained all this in my witness statement and mentioned it to the cop, the driver was clearly pissed off that I had said this, and the cop reassured her that she would not be ticketed. Awesome.

        And for some reason, I’m kinda cynical about traffic laws nowadays.

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  • Arem August 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Personal behavior, I tend to go with a more common sense approach and stop, then use my own judgment whether it is safe to cross an intersection. Not base that judgment off of a completely separate person’s judgment, regardless of any groups around me, as I do not want to be one to follow somebody that makes a bad call.

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  • K'Tesh August 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I wonder how the motorists stuck behind 100 cyclists riding four abreast is going to react to every one of them stopping and starting (then again, with other cyclists filtering to the front…

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    • Craig Harlow August 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      What was it someone suggested about Full Stop Friday at Ladd’s Circle?

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    • q`Tzal August 31, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      With the same sort of irrational anger that they have when stuck behind a line of cars.
      What I want is the motorcycle cop hidden up at this hypothetical intersection waiting to ticket this hypothetical ragin’ cater.

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    • dr2chase August 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      Is 4 abreast legal? Here in MA (and many other states, I researched this very issue for our local state rep when he was working on the bike law) the max is 2 abreast. So your frothing cagers could at least point to a traffic law that was not being observed.

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  • Craig Harlow August 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    When riding with my kids, we normally ride single-file and address stop signs single-file; but when we’re crossing a busier street where real auto speeds exceed 30 mph–even smaller roads like as NE Knott or NE 15th Ave–the kids line up side by side waiting for my “go” signal, at which point we all go together.

    The kids came up with names for these, and I holler out the one I choose as we approach each stop sign: “TRAIN STOP!” for single-file; or “GANG STOP” for side-by-side.

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    • Craig Harlow August 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      “Gang stop” and “Train stop” are not registered trademarks, so have at it!

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  • sabes August 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Most bikers in Portland don’t stop at stop signs at all, so the question is pretty moot. Maybe the question should be “if I come to a stop sign with other people, is it ok if we all blow through it at the same time.”

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    • Over and Doubt September 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      And *that* question is, in turn, moot for those in cars only because not more than one abreast can typically fit in a lane. In case you haven’t noticed (start noticing!), almost no one *regardless of vehicle type* truly stops unless cross-traffic is detected. Here’s hoping (but not holding breath) that we’ll see a crackdown on the 4,000-pound scofflaws in proportion to their potential to maim and kill your loved ones and mine.

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  • davemess August 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Ginsberg points out that for the most part, bike lanes in Portland are designed for single-file riding, so the above example isn’t likely in urban areas (except during large group or parade rides, which are sort of a different animal and not what Ruben is asking about).

    I would counter that in most urban areas there are no bike lanes (think downtown) and you would be taking the lane anyway.

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  • Paul in the 'couve August 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Legend has it…. in Washington State going back between 20 and 30 years ago when I was more into riding with clubs and a team, the more experienced riders always told us that in Washington law, a large group of cyclists could be considered as “one vehicle” and that on a multi-travel lane roadway we could take a whole lane and ride more than two abreast. In Washington I rode under these assumptions for many years, before I became more of a solo commuter type. I can’t find anything relevant in Washington law, so maybe it is a myth or maybe it was a pragmatic approach recognized by cyclists and law enforcement. However, in many years riding in Seattle, Spokane and other Washington cities, I’ve never encountered any problem with the law riding with between 5 and 50 other cyclists in a similar manner.

    From a practical standpoint it makes total sense. 15 or 20 bicyclists going through a 4 way stop en-masse is no more of a problem than a single semi. We can easily ride through more tightly than even 2 cars. When we had really large groups (more than 25 or so) or were spread out a bit we would always split so as to not block the intersection too long.

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    • jim August 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      The problem with large groups going ahead is that there is often some stragglers that have a gap between them and the front of the pack, the stragglers are the ones that almost get creamed because they don’t look or stop and the oncoming car with the rightaway doesn’t expect them to burst out in front of him.

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    • wsbob August 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      “…From a practical standpoint it makes total sense. 15 or 20 bicyclists going through a 4 way stop en-masse is no more of a problem than a single semi. …” Paul in the ‘couve

      Might not be a problem if people doing it really know what they’re doing…riding in formation rather than straggling along, some single file, some abreast, not necessarily the same distance apart.

      With 15 or 20 people on bikes, two abreast would make the pack 7 to 10 deep. I think there’s some question in some traffic situations, whether other road users would be able to tell by looking at such a group, how they might be expected to go past the stop. A semi is an interesting vehicle to compare to, but it definitely is a single unit, while a group of people on bikes isn’t necessarily so. It takes skill to ride in formation.

      A ‘Rule of Four’ or a ‘Rule of Six’ might be an interesting idea to think about. Two abreast, that number of people on bikes probably about covers the footprint of a medium sized car. If people generally could master the formation skills, it could work out. Four or six people on bikes could get through an intersection with about the same use of space and time efficiency as a single car.

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  • Lynne August 31, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I was told by a sheriff in a county that isn’t Multnomah, that if bicycles stop as a group, they can go as a group, as far as he was concerned.

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    • El Biciclero September 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

      “…as far as he was concerned.”

      I think this is the key with a lot of the “murky” applications of ORS to bicycles–discretion. On the part of cyclists to at least appear as though they are attempting to comply with the law, and on the part of Law Enforcement to judge what is really worth enforcing and to what degree.

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  • jim August 31, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    What if 2 smart cars were stopped at a stop sign in single row, they would only take up the room of a single car, could they both go at the same time?

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  • AdamG August 31, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    The term for a pack of bicycles acting as single vehicle is called a supervehicle.

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    • jim August 31, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      How many unicycles to a super vehicle?

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  • Matt August 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    So as long as people are bringing up larger groups of riders, what does the law have to say about “corking” intersections?

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  • Bill Stites September 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Unless I missed it, no one has discussed the interaction with other vehicles as they enter a 4-way stop. We know we’re supposed to keep track of who arrived when, to determine the proper sequence of proceeding through.
    If a group of cyclists approach such that some arrive ahead of car stopping on the cross street, then they have right of way [ROW]; but I would feel that those in the back half of the group who arrive after the car, ought to yield ROW. Perhaps a little tricky to keep track of such timing, but that is our responsibility.
    Personally, as a single cyclist, I consider myself a vehicle and tend to queue single file, and go one at a time. I don’t agree with piggybacking next to a car that is proceeding – seems like a big risk for a right-hook.

    Of course, all of this is facilitated by common sense and good communication – waving, smiling, no middle fingers. ;-)
    If it’s unclear that your right of way will be honored, I will sometimes hand signal pointing straight ahead as I begin to proceed, exerting my ROW. I usually only do this after being frustrated by someone going ahead of me improperly … I don’t actually say anything, but my hand signal says, “Yo, it’s my turn and I’m going!”.

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    • spare_wheel September 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      Many decades of commuting have taught me to assert my right of way by taking it assertively. Expecting a motorist to respect a gesture, a look, a smile, or a muffled request is, IMO, asking for trouble.

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  • Ryan September 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Stop signs? Oh, at those yield signs I go through when it’s safe to do so (after yielding) all by my lonesome or in a group of other cyclists.

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  • Joe Adamski September 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    You are responsible for only yourself. Even if 100 bikes arrived at an intersection simultaneously, there should be 100 individual stop/starts.

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    • Paul in the 'couve September 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      Letter of the law, maybe… but assuming that all or most of those 100 riders are riding together, it doesn’t make sense for anyone in cars, on bikes or walking, to wait while 100 cyclists make 100 individual stops and in reality it isn’t going to happen that way now or ever, and not just because cyclists are scofflaws. When a large group (say over 10) of cyclists approach a stop sign in traffic nearly always one of the drivers in a car stops and waves us through – not always the first driver, but usually one of the first few. It’s ambiguous. It isn’t the letter of the law. But at a 4 way stop with a crowd of cyclists queued up most motorists realize it is in everyone’s interest to let large groups ride through.

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      • Daniel September 3, 2012 at 8:58 pm

        Good point. If all riders are each stopping, the cars BEHIND them have to wait a LONG TIME. Each one stopping precisely at the line doens’t make sense, the entire 100 going at once doesn’t make sense either, (unless they get two marshalls to block then intersection!

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    • Paul in the 'couve September 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      I would add that in ever question like this, there are 3 areas we are discussing. 1) What the law says exactly, 2) What reality actually is on the streets and 3) what would be a realistic picture in a much more bike friendly future (i.e.; what should this look like if/when cycling gets to 25% or 30% mode share?).

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  • Daniel September 3, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Bicycles are not automobiles, for many reasons. I have 360* of viewable area, my vehicle is very small and since it is ~20% of my BODY weight, it can stop very quickly. We need better laws for people on bicycle, not “motor vehicle laws clumsily applied to people on bicycles” <I just read that in a book somewhere. (=
    When the cyclist always yields to pedestrians it keeps them safe.
    With the group stops I find it is better to plan ahead and stick in groups. If you are 3, maybe five people tightly stopped at an intersection like a 4-way, stop & go I say.
    The Idaho rule is awesome. We need it in New York State!

    Oh and for those people who are sitting in (automobile) traffic and honk at, yell at, or get angered by people on bicycles doing a roll/stop or yield at a red signal light, I just say (in my head) "if you're so jealous, ride a bike!"

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