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Lifestyle column: Observing, analyzing Portland’s stop sign culture

Posted by on June 5th, 2014 at 10:09 am

Lifestyle columnist Cathy Hastie.

My friend, a recent transplant from the Midwest, was describing his 35-mile round trip bike commute during the misty quiet of the early mornings. He sets off in the dark, living his ideals, even on those days when he doesn’t really want to. His commitment put me in awe.

But what he wanted to talk about was stop signs.

“What do people here in Portland do?” he asked, eager to know. “At 4 a.m., when no one is around, do you stop?”

At first, I thought he was joking. Is there any place in the U.S. where people stop their bikes at stop signs at 4 in the morning when no one is around?

But he seemed earnest. Because I am a Portland native and a 20+ year bike commuter, he must have thought I have some insider track. But as I considered his question, I realized that I am but one single biker with my own opinions of right and wrong. Had he asked my 14-year-old daughter, an avid rule-follower, he would have gotten a completely different response.

I know what I do, but what is the official Portland “culture” when it comes to stop signs?

The only way to find out was to dust off my trusty pad of write-in-the-rain paper, don some wool socks, and observe the natives.

An informal traffic study

Stop sign in Ladds
The infamous stop sign at Ladd Circle.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland police often choose Ladd Circle in SE Portland to set up large-scale infraction crackdowns aimed at bicycle riders – I narrowly escaped a ticket myself last year.

I set up shop early one sunny afternoon, leaning my bike against a concrete utility housing and hopping up on top. I sat cross-legged in my yellow bike slicker, facing SE Ladd as people rode towards me from downtown on their way home for the evening.

“Despite the overwhelming number of tallies in the “no stop” column, I did not witness a single dangerous traffic interaction.”

I tracked all vehicles as they approached the intersection of Ladd with the Circle, where a familiar red octagonal sign stood, clearly telling them that traffic law required them to stop. There was no ambiguity here, but what I witnessed surprised me. In the one hour I sat there, less than half of all vehicles actually stopped, and by “stop” I mean wheels stopped turning. Thirty-six percent of cars and 71 percent of bikes failed to stop, which averaged 60 percent non-compliance among all vehicle types. The difference between the behavior of people when they sat behind a steering wheel and when they sat atop a bicycle seat was significant: 34 percent more people disobeyed the law when they rode their bikes.

As I sat there, easily identifiable as a biker by my attire, obviously taking notes, I got a variety of responses. Many riders tried to behave lawfully. They put down a foot to imply “halt of forward progress,” even as they continued to roll, or they squeezed on the brakes all of a sudden when they saw that I was tallying up their actions. A few sneered and made unkind remarks from afar as if my presence was some sort of alliance with Big Brother.

I could have tut-tutted the high rate of disobedience as I watched, but all along, I knew that my own traffic behavior was no different from those I observed, both on two wheels and on four. I feel no guilt for my own infractions, nor do I judge any of the vehicle owners harshly, because, despite the overwhelming number of tallies in the “no stop” column, I did not witness a single dangerous traffic interaction.

In fact, traffic never slowed and not a single driver or biker seemed uncertain about what those around them were doing. The lack of a full, complete stop didn’t have much effect on the success of the intersection.


Indeed, the traffic circle configuration itself is a serious tease. Traffic circles are meant to speed traffic along without forcing a stop or the “look left-look right-look left” that is required at four-way intersections. In Bend, the traffic circle is meant to be entered and exited without stopping.

My data collection point, I decided, was not the typical intersection on which I could base conclusions about Portland bikers in general. As I wrapped up an hour of data collection, I knew that further study was required.

Clinton Street: The plot thickens

clinton street

I found two additional observation points along the same bike corridor. One has a flashing red stop light on a four-way intersection with decent bike traffic and relatively low cross-traffic. It is situated on SE 34th and Clinton. The other data collection spot is a relatively high cross-traffic, four-way stop at SE 26th and Clinton. I selected 15-minute increments at each site during the morning and afternoon rush hours. In all, I tallied up 16 sessions of 15 minutes each, a total of 240 minutes.

I tracked 2,517 vehicles; 1,523 cars and 994 bikes. There was also one skateboarder, but I didn’t count him (he didn’t stop). The busiest intersection was 26th and Clinton, with 1,474 vehicles, followed by Ladd Circle, with 701. The intersection at 34th and Clinton had 342 vehicles.

The statistics varied by time of day and by intersection type. The most extreme sample was on a slow morning at Ladd Circle, during which 92 percent of all people failed to stop — 95 percent of bike riders, 83 percent of auto users. Of the people who did stop, it appeared that they did so only because there was someone in or near the crosswalk. Driving behavior and biking behavior was more similar in this sample than in any other. Apparently, no one thinks it is important to obey the stop sign in the morning when there is very low traffic, regardless of what conveyance is used. From my observations of the sparse, one-directional commuting traffic at that hour, it made perfect sense to me too.

My overall observations, including all time periods and locations, revealed that 51 percent of all people failed to stop: 38 percent of auto users and 71 percent of bikers. (The only road user type with a perfect stop score: TriMet bus operators.) Now I can answer my out-of-town friend. Less than half of Portlanders stop, whether in a car or on a bike. On average, bike riders glided through the stop signs 33 percent more than auto users did, and they surpassed drivers in this measurement for every time period observed.

A stop, or not a stop?

salmon street stop sign
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

I used the legal “complete stop” threshold for determining whether behavior qualified as stopping or not. As I tallied up hundreds of commuters, this standard revealed itself as less and less useful when comparing cars and bikes. Because of their slower overall speed, bike riders have just as long, if not longer, to approach an intersection, observe the participants and determine whose turn comes next. For the most part, they slow down sooner and move slowly for longer as they evaluate the timing and safety of crossing. Rarely does this require a complete stop. When a bike rider does make a complete stop, it takes longer for her to get started again than it does for someone driving a car.

“When a car driver approaches a stop sign and rolls through without actually coming to a complete stop, it looks more like a stop than when a person does exactly the same thing on a bike. I wondered if police officers are able to overcome this optical bias.”

As drivers, we approach intersections faster, decelerate later and faster, and spend less time gathering data about the likely traffic pattern. We are also able to accelerate quicker when we start up again.

Because of these dramatic differences in auto travel speed, acceleration and deceleration, when a car driver approaches a stop sign and rolls through without actually coming to a complete stop, it looks more like a stop than when a person does exactly the same thing on a bike. I wondered if police officers are able to overcome this optical bias.

In the end, it doesn’t seem like traffic participants (as opposed to traffic cops) care much about stopping perfection. The rolling stop frequently satisfies all concerned. Even during the heaviest traffic period observed, there were no accidents, no near misses, not even that “you go – no, you go – no, you go” behavior that sometimes results from ambiguity among those who share the road. Experienced Portlanders, whether behind the wheel or on the saddle, probably agree that not stopping can often be the most courteous thing to do at intersections. If done safely, it allows the next intersection participant to make their move sooner. “California stoppers” in cars and on bikes tended to treat the other vehicles as respectfully as traditional stoppers, and, I like to think, made the entire interaction more efficient.

One last note: I did not have a special tally mark for people who zoomed through the intersection without waiting their turn. Had I, there would have been only 10 hash marks — and all of them would have represented people on bikes.

— Read Cathy’s past columns here.


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Comments
  • Indy June 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I stop for pedestrians. That’s about it. Pretty religious about it, also.

    It’s the intersections with NO stop signs (Portland has a ton of these) and low visibility, where I am very cautious.

    I guess I’m an asshole biker now? I used to stop, then the habit got old, and I no longer do.

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    • Capizzi June 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      You don’t need to be harsh on yourself when you are alert and concerned about the safety of others. My beef is with riders who don’t slow at all and over-take at high speed all those who have slowed/stopped at a red-light or stop sign. There is likely to be a fast rider respecting the person(s) who got to the light/sign first is going to over-take the slower rider by pulling to the left, and in doing so gets plowed into by the guy coming up from behind at high rate of speed who didn’t at all. This happens frequently at Hawthorne/Ladd heading SE, at the center circle, and at Division. I’d prefer to show other people respect by not threatening their lives and I get home happier. I am sure the people I am complaining about figure that they are great riders and entitled to go as fast as they can, but they are wrong. I could go 30mph thru Ladd intersections but I really wouldn’t get home any faster.
      Several months ago I had to stop for a guy who got pushed into the curb at the Mill Str turn out of Ladd because he was strafed by a guy who took the corner too fast (and never stopped). I got to hear the guy’s helmet crack when it hit the curb-edge. I doubt the guy who pushed him off the road got to work any faster than if he had just slowed down a little or quick-turned.

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Here are some more numbers:
      Sacramento and 117th, All Way Stop Control (AWSC)

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      • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm

        Sacramento/117th, 9% compliance
        Salmon/23rd, 18%-28%
        Chavez/Glisan, 35%
        111th/Sacramento 17%

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  • David June 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I saw a pretty funny exchange yesterday on my ride to work between a motorcycle cop and a rider.

    I was riding behind her on my morning commute down Going, west toward downtown when we hit the MLK intersection. The first two lanes were empty so she blew through the stop sign and stopped in the little median. Unfortunately for her, there were two motorcycle cops stopped right on the other side of the median (she must not have seen them).

    The cop nearest to her looked right at her and said, “Are you stopping? That was terrible! You gotta work on your stops. The sign doesn’t say ‘slow down.’”

    Then he kind of laughed (like a “that was ridiculous” laugh) and then rode off when the light turned green. No ticket though, which I thought was nice.

    If you’re going to completely blow through a stop sign, at least don’t do it in front of two cops!

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  • jonno June 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

    “In Bend, the traffic circle is meant to be entered and exited without stopping.”

    Not just in Bend, but in the rest of the world! Traffic circles with stop signs are truly missing the point of traffic circles entirely.

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    • John Lascurettes June 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Not entirely true though. In all traffic circles, you’re meant to yield to the traffic already in the circle, and yielding can include coming to a complete stop if necessary.

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      • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm

        What we need are more roundabouts. Down with traffic circle sign redundancy!

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      • dr2chase June 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

        Yes, but adding a stop (or worse, signals) means that your attention ends up divided and confused. Powderhouse Square in Somerville ( http://goo.gl/maps/LlpBc ) is like that, I loathe it.

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      • Ciaran June 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

        Not everywhere. In some states people entering the traffic circle have the right of way, and people in the circle are expected to yield. (This is, admittedly, bizarre.)

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        • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm

          Many people confuse older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. East coast rotaries, large multi-lane traffic circles (Arc D’Triomphe), and neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout (UK continental roundabout), go to http://tinyurl.com/kstate-RAB to see pictures. And here’s another site that shows the difference between an older rotary and a modern roundabout: http://tinyurl.com/bzf7qmg
          The FHWA (http://tinyurl.com/fhwaRAB) has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhHzly_6lWM ).
          If the entry lane has a stop sign, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If you could play a game of football in the center landscaped area, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If the circular roadway has a stop sign, yield sign or signal, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If you don’t have to slow down to enter it, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If you have to change lanes in the circular roadway to exit, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If you can easily drive faster than 20 mph in the circular roadway, it’s not a modern roundabout.
          If it has a park for pedestrians, or a building, in the middle, it’s not a modern roundabout.

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          • Scott June 6, 2014 at 8:25 am

            I grew up in the vicinity of the rotary in the bottom photo of your link. (Kingston, NY) I can attest to the fact that it could be driven at 65 mph (I was in HS) and that there were significant traffic delays on all entering roadways due to the presence of stop signs. While locals have balked at the new design, it moves more traffic and does so more safely.

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        • JV June 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm

          I have NEVER seen a traffic circle that operates in the manner you state. That sounds crazy! I thought the traffic circle was one of those universally intuitive traffic control devices that really doesn’t need signage. Yield to the cars in the circle (and pedestrians crossing) should be the only rule. It bothers me to no end (though I do stop) to see stop signs at Ladds and at Ceasear Chavez and Glisan.

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      • jeff June 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm

        and with that, can you all stop calling Ladd’s a traffic circle? It may be round, but that’s about it’s only similarity as long as the stop signs exist.

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        • paikiala June 6, 2014 at 8:38 am

          It is a traffic circle. It is not a modern roundabout. In the taxonomy (?) Traffic circle is the big umbrella under which every nuance of circular roadway intersection fits. roundabout, modern roundabout, mini-roundabout, neighborhood traffic circle, rotary, etc.

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        • wsbob June 8, 2014 at 12:03 am

          What the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood has, is a rose garden and park combined, with a street surrounding it. That’s a nice kind of amenity more neighborhoods should have, and would benefit from having, if people outside the neighborhood would respect the refuge from the hectic pace of traffic, such amenities are designed to help provide.

          The surrounding street is not designed for, nor should it be used to facilitate the flow of large numbers of impatient people and their vehicles representing through vehicle traffic, especially considering that just four blocks away to the west and to the east, are streets fully equipped to serve exactly that purpose.

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          • 9watts June 8, 2014 at 6:12 am

            “The surrounding street is not designed for, nor should it be used to facilitate the flow of large numbers of impatient people and their vehicles representing through vehicle traffic, especially considering that just four blocks away to the west and to the east, are streets fully equipped to serve exactly that purpose.”

            wsbob,
            are you thinking here primarily of automobiles and those within? Because Division and Hawthorne do provide the alternative you mention for them, but for bikes I’m thinking that Ladd’s is just the kind of cut through–isn’t it even designated a bike thoroughfare by PBOT?–that makes sense. Not sure about the impatient part of your description, but, again, I’m not aware of any crashes from people biking through Ladd’s, though we certainly have heard of pedestrians at Ladd’s Circle who felt disrespected by folks on bikes.

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  • David June 5, 2014 at 10:42 am

    “when a car driver approaches a stop sign and rolls through without actually coming to a complete stop, it looks more like a stop than when a person does exactly the same thing on a bike.”

    The other thing I’ve thought about is that when driving, brake lights show intent. Lights going on say “I intend to stop” even though most people don’t actually fully stop. This helps, IMO, create the benefit of the doubt that people in cars get that riders don’t get.

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  • Nathan June 5, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I stop if other people are near the intersection (even just behind me).

    Part of this is probably a reaction to all of the “scofflaw bicyclist” talk in the media, while another part is to passive-aggressively waste other people’s time. Want a full stop from a person on a bicycle? You got it. And then some.

    If nobody else is close by, all bets are off! If a tree falls in the forest with nobody around to observe, does it make a sound?

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    • John Lascurettes June 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      You and me both. Exactly my m.o.

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    • Reza June 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      This guy totally gets it.

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    • Paul in The 'Couve June 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Pretty much ditto, especially when I am in OR / PDX. In WA (everywhere) the stop sign wars are a bit lower key. I still stop if there are any cars at the intersection, am a little looser if cars are 50 feet or so back from the intersection. I still slow dramatically, but not down to stopping or just barely rolling.

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    • Karl June 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      I have been honked at several times for stopping at a stop sign. Maybe they were saying “thank you”?

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  • Kenji June 5, 2014 at 11:14 am

    I have a 99% compliance rate at stop signs and lights and can prove it via Garmin! Even in the middle of nowhere- because you never know when that yahoo with an anti-bike chip on their shoulder will come up over the hill and see you rolling through that stop sign. Lead by example right?

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    • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      Boo. I have an anti compliance-nazi chip on my shoulder, 99% of the time.

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    • davemess June 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      me too, I figure if we want the same recognition and rights we should follow the rules of the road (even if they are biased and not all of them are 100% applicable to bikes). I maybe lose a minute over the course of my 20-25 minute commute?

      I love living in outer SE and taking non-busy routes to commute to work. I don’t really see a lot of other cyclists, so don’t really have to deal with these types of questions/problems very much.

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      • dr2chase June 5, 2014 at 2:31 pm

        “I figure if we want the same recognition and rights we should follow the rules of the road”

        Do you have any empirical evidence to support your apparent assertion that these things are in any way correlated? In my (decades-long) experience, they are not — and in fact, scrupulous rule-following in an automobile gets you less respect. Try it sometime — come to a dead stop right at the stop line, always make sure your speed does not exceed the posted limit — and see how other drivers react. What the tribe wants is for you to conform to tribal norms, which includes the ritual observance of some taboos, the ritual breaking of some rules, and a general suspicion of the Other Tribes.

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        • Paul in The 'Couve June 6, 2014 at 9:59 am

          Bravo! Concise, insightful and deep – best comment in I’ve read in months on any biking blog!

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        • davemess June 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

          But it’s a mentality like this that allows for sharia law in some countries?

          I don’t have evidence of a correlation (even with my decades of riding experience), but your “evidence” is also only anecdotal to yourself. But I don’t hear a lot of people complaining (other than on this blog) of “scofflaw motorists blowing red lights and stop signs”. On the contrary you will consistently hear that complaint of cyclists brought up. Sure we’re more visible, but we should know that by now, and not just shrug it off to some idea of “well they just don’t understand”. Until the law is changed the law is the law. I don’t think it’s legit to tout the “bikes have all rights to the roads as vehicles” portion of the law and then completely ignore laws pertaining to stop signs and red lights (can’t have your cake and eat it too. Personally I think the idaho stop law would be great, and we should continue to push for it here, but as of now it’s still not the law. And I’m a simple n = 1 in the thousands of riders in Portland, so am I personally making a big difference? Probably not. I just like to live by the “give respect to get respect” motto.

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          • El Biciclero June 6, 2014 at 3:06 pm

            “scofflaw motorists blowing red lights and stop signs”.

            Of course we don’t hear complaints about this from motorists, but I have several video clips of motorists doing exactly those things. The real disingenuous thing, though, as has been mentioned already, is that stop sign compliance just happens to be the thing cyclists most visibly have “trouble” with. Why don’t we talk about speeding? How about failure to yield? What about stopping before exiting a driveway or entering a crosswalk? How about coming to a full stop before making a right turn on red? Maybe driving with a suspended license? Use just about any other measure other than stop sign/light compliance, and suddenly drivers are equal or greater scofflaws–with much more deadly results.

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          • Paul in The 'Couve June 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

            The deepest level question about your position is “will good behavior actually earn cyclists any respect?”

            I don’t think so, and that mentality precisely characterizes the mentality of many oppressed minorities historically and currently. History has shown that it doesn’t work. It is the method of society to keep the oppressed in their place. There is no level of “good behavior” that will ever persuade motorists and the powers of the oil industry and construction industry and the AAA that now is the time to finally recognize that cyclists deserve space on the roads, adequate facilities, reasonable laws, Safety, and the respect and consideration of the motoring public.

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            • Dave June 7, 2014 at 3:44 pm

              I obey every signal and sign in the hope of living long enough to see the Saudi royal family overthrown, the US defeated in a war to put them back in place, and our gasoline bump up to European price levels.

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            • wsbob June 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm

              “…now is the time to finally recognize that cyclists deserve space on the roads…” Paul in The ‘Couve

              People that ride bikes have access to use of the road…today…as they have for many years. ORS 814.420 details this fairly clearly for anyone taking some time to read and understand it, as opposed to blindly accepting word of mouth claims about what it provides for.

              Providing significant increases in bike specific infrastructure better suited to people riding that don’t care to or don’t feel able to ride amongst motor vehicles, would certainly be a progressive societal approach to community transportation. Perhaps there are practical ways to design some of that infrastructure to be free of stop signs and stop lights that some people riding seem not able to handle.

              Bottom line, is that the percentage of total road users riding bikes, continues to very small. That doesn’t equate to much clout when it comes to spending public money for infrastructure.

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              • Paul in The 'Couve June 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm

                No where in my statement did I actually argue for separate facilities, although I don’t always oppose such. I said Respect, Safety and reasonable Laws regarding cycling….

                It is particularly ironic that when it suits you, you argue that cyclists do have equal access to facilities, while you are the self appointed leading voice of these forums arguing that cycling (in traffic) is intrinsically dangerous, that cyclists are taking our lives in our hands and that we need to make every effort oursevlves to be visible, stay out the way, and ride where it is safest.

                I will never forget your defense of the driver who ran over a kid in a bike trailer at a stop sign Bob, and how you blamed the Father/Cyclist for a) being on the road at all, and b) not having MORE blinking lights.

                Nor will I ever forget how you defended the driver who ran into a cyclist (caught on video in Beaverton) where the cyclist had the light, and the crossing signal and the driver had his head turned the wrong way and never looked.

                You can’t have it both ways Bob. Stop trying.

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                • Paul in The 'Couve June 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm

                  Should read “Red Light” instead of “Stop sign” above. Sorry for the error, my brain thought one things and my fingers typed something else. Call Freud.

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    • Paul June 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      100% agree with this. I bike through Ladd’s twice a day and do full stops, including foot down 99% of the time. Other 1% is track stands.

      Pedestrians are shocked that I do this. That makes me sad.

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  • Charley June 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

    I think rolling through is a rational solution to the problem of over-regulated intersections, and am not at all surprised (or alarmed) that motorists behave roughly the same as cyclists. In fact, when I drive through intersections with good visibility and no traffic, rolling is exactly what I do!
    -
    I challenge anyone to find an example of harm (injury, property damage, etc.,) caused when someone rolls slowly through a stop-signed-intersection after yielding. In other words, when rolling through at 5mph after yielding, a driver caused a collision that would have been avoided had they stopped first. The most important elements are to yield and not run into anything; clearly, “halting all forward progress” is unnecessary to satisfy the intent of the sign. That Ladd’s circle stop sign business is merely the most egregious example of a bad system.
    -
    Another great article. Keep these coming!

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    • dr2chase June 5, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      I think this assumes that you see what you should be yielding to; for cars, where the drivers are rendered somewhat deaf and are often blinded (so they claim) by glare on their windshields, one reason for a stop is to ensure that they actually have time to look for what they ought to be yielding to, and to force their speed all the way to zero to ensure that they won’t be moving too fast as they traverse the intersection.

      A lot of the safety discussions get sidetracked by the idea that what we “see” is actually what is there. Crashes are a lot less common when those two agree, and a lot more common when they don’t. Stopping gives you time to sync those two things up.

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      The primary reason for stop signs, after safety, is to assign liability in the event of a collision. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices actually advocates for less control before more control, but (true to form) then goes on to so narrowly define how YIELD signs can be used as to scare off all but the bravest of traffic engineers. PBOT’s new director is one of the non-believers in intersections without stop signs.

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  • Dan June 5, 2014 at 11:55 am

    If you get pinched in a stop sign sting at Ladd Circle, it means that you didn’t yield to pedestrians — that would have required looking to your right, where the cops wait. Cyclists who get a ticket in those circumstances get little pity from me.

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    • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      I’ve never heard that Portland Cops on the prowl for stop sign non-compliance at Ladd’s give a fig about whether pedestrians are present at the moment or not.

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      • Dan June 5, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        I think you’re missing my point. Yielding to pedestrians requires looking both ways, as opposed to just looking left for vehicles. If you look both ways, then you would see the cops in time to stop.

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        • Karl June 5, 2014 at 3:49 pm

          Looking carefully to the right is especially important when heading NW -> SE on Ladd Ave., because the trees obscure the sidewalk to the right much more than at the other circle entrances.

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        • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm

          You’re right. I did miss your point.
          Good point.

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  • Jeff P June 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Believe it or not – I do. Every time, no matter the hour.
    Of course, I get just as many complaints from motorists for completely stopping as people get for running stop signs.

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  • Chris I June 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I generally observe about a 50% compliance from motorists when it comes to stop signs. It’s amazing that police will sting a cyclist for rolling through a stop sign, and not the motorist who speeds down a residential street, but then comes to a complete stop at the stop sign. Which behavior is the greater public threat?

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    • Dan June 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      We have a speed limit electronic reminder down the street from my house.

      Observed speed limit compliance by bikes in my neighborhood yesterday afternoon: 100%

      Observed speed limit compliance by cars in my neighborhood yesterday afternoon: ~7%

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  • Scott H June 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Oh god, another stop sign debate? *makes popcorn*

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    • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Cathy. My favorite of yours to date, I think!

      Important topic, humor, excellent data gathering, great writing. More, please!

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    • Jim June 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      I’m with Scott. Good gravy. *gets the soda*

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  • J_R June 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I stop at stop signs while driving or cycling. I even stop at Ladd’s Addition even though it’s clearly unnecessary at this location.

    I have repeatedly called for PBOT to conduct an “experiment” at Ladd’s Addition by putting in YIELD signs.

    The data offered up in this article illustrates that all mode users recognize that this is a special case. (There is no vehiclular cross-traffic and the conflicts all come from the left.) It’s a perfect case for a test even if it does not meet all of the design attributes of a modern roundabout. I truly cannot understand PBOT’s refusal to try operating it as a roundabout.

    Pedestrians absolutely need to be protected and vehicle operators should be cited and fined heavily for failing to yield.

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    • Chris I June 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Can’t we just use the “I didn’t see him!” get out of jail free card?

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      Stop compliance has been measured at Ladd before by PBOT, car average 33%, bike average 3%. Compare that with an actual modern roundabout at Terwilliger/Palater: cars 10%, bikes 0%. Close enough for me. PBOT has sketched up changes to Ladd as well as Coe circle (Chavez/Glisan) to convert to yield control and full modern roundabout.

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  • Jesse Boudart June 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you Cathy!

    I really enjoyed your sensible discussion on stopping behavior by ‘people with vehicles’. Studying this behavior further could reveal where stop signs are actually needed or not. Yield signs, traffic circles, and modern roundabouts are great traffic control devices too; where their by products are noise reduction and GHG emissions reduction. The earth loves them.

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      We would probably have a lot more modern roundabouts if PBOT evaluated choices based on a 20-year life cycle and estimated more things than just first cost and crash changes. Life-cycle cost is the best way to compare two or more choices (present value of future costs, a.k.a. net present value). When comparing modern roundabouts to signals for a 20-year life cycle (the standard period), modern roundabouts usually cost less. Costs to compare include: first cost (design/land/construction), operation and maintenance (electricity, re-striping, etc.), crash reduction (what’s your/your family’s safety worth), daily delay (what’s your time worth?), daily fuel consumption (spend much on gas?), pollution (generated), area insurance rates (this costs more where it is less safe to drive). Each of these things, and others, can be estimated for any two choices and everyone near or using the project area will pay some portion of all of these costs.

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  • Dave June 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I stop at almost all stop signs. It’s old habit–my cycling started in Los Angeles in the late 1960′s where there was no awareness of vehicular cycling and the death penalty was instantly enforced for running red lights and signs. I have ridden with a few ex-New Yorkers, however, who tell me that in NYC red lights and stop signs are merely a suggestion.

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  • Reza June 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I notice that some people are genuinely surprised when I (rightly) defer to them the right-of-way at a 4-way stop. As if they expect me just to blow the stop sign without any regard for my safety or road etiquette. I wonder why that is?

    Then again, the rate of motorists who actually stop (speedometer hitting 0, tires completely still) when there is nothing obstructing them is a lot lower than 38% in my experience.

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  • TonyJ June 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this lately and I think that we draw the wrong comparison when we look at # of cars not stopping at a stop sign vs bikes not stopping.

    I think a more apt comparison for the purposes of comparing lawfulness is speed limit observation for cars and stop sign observation for bikes.

    Going 1-5 mph over the speed limit for a car == rolling through and yielding at a stop sign for bikes

    Going 5-10 mph over the limit or rolling through and yielding at a stop for a car == coasting through a stop sign for a bike

    going 10+ mph over the limit or coasting through a stop for a car == “blowing through” a stop sign

    blowing through a stop sign in a car == no real analog, maybe blowing through a stop light cross walk crowded with kids and elderly.

    The first behaviors are relatively innocuous and tolerated, generally by most people without a grudge. I suspect you would find even less strict speed limit observance with cars, no one drives 15 in a school zone, it’s almost impossible in many cars.

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    • El Biciclero June 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Exactly. To pick one law and judge relative lawlessness by measuring compliance with that one law is a bit like saying American football players are more law-abiding than basketball players because they never travel. Stop sign violations may be the most frequent offense by cyclists, but speeding is definitely the most frequent offense by motorists; let’s use that from now on to decide quien es mas scofflaw.

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  • matt June 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Cathy, you really should have done your study at 4am to properly answer your friend’s question.

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  • Paul in The 'Couve June 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    As a result of these debates in past months, I have changed my driving. Right now, unfortunately I am making way too many trips in the car, life sucks for me. Anyway, I have been consistently, in all circumstances, coming to a text-book drivers test stop at every stop sign. Cars behind me and even at other points in the intersection often appear shocked or frustrated that I am actually Stopping Stop Stopped and not nose-dive and gunning before the car actually comes to rest.

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Following the rules is the ultimate anti-social activity.

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  • Brian June 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    In Portland, I am surprised by the number of drivers who stop (without a stop sign) to let me through an intersection that I am stopped at on my bicycle. They are over-polite at times, which gets other drivers behind them frustrated (though I don’t think they are frustrated with me as I am the one obeying the law). I wave them through most of the time, using a nice “thank you but go ahead” kinda wave. Sometimes they get upset when I don’t take advantage of their politeness, but if I cannot see cars from the other direction I ain’t entering the street. I see this as a positive sign of the times, though. I prefer overly-polite to angry, any day.

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    • Chris I June 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Enjoy it while it lasts. I see less and less of this as more people from California and New York move here.

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      • davemess June 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        Good, we have rules for a reason. It allows for better traffic flow (for me and cars) if they just follow the reasonable rules (like right of way). I feel this way whether I’m driving a car (and waiting to pull out of a driveway on a busy street) or a bike rolling up to a stop sign.

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    • Laurel June 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Exactly! Even when I am at a complete foot-on-the-ground stop at a two-way stop sign, waiting my turn like a normal human, cars will stop at their non-existent stop signs and wave me on. Portland, if I don’t stop at stop signs, it’s your fault. I learned it by watching you! ~sob~

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  • wsbob June 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Lifestyle columnist Cathy Hastie doesn’t explain why she believes there is a stop sign culture associated with Portland, that’s distinguished some way from the standard practice of stopping at stop signs anywhere else in the country.

    Or, why road user practices at the near to each other SE Portland locations she chose to conduct her informal study, are indicative of the existence of a stop culture, one associated with Portland or otherwise.

    Not stopping at stop signs isn’t a culture, but simply a habit some people driving indulge in under certain traffic situations and conditions.

    Ladd Ave in Ladd’s Addition, a quiet, unique, vintage residential neighborhood, stuck smack dab in the middle of later built neighborhoods and busy commercial areas, is subject to some of the worst road user abuse when it comes to showing regard for traffic conditions stop signs are used to help provide. And as Ms Hastie herself observed, people riding bikes and using the streets of her study locations, apparently are the worst of all road users in this regard.

    A number of road users traveling through this part of SE Portland, apparently like to use the Ladd neighborhood’s street as a cut through, even though they most likely are well aware there are light signaled streets on the small neighborhood’s east and west perimeter.

    If Hastie can find indications that elsewhere in Portland, NE, SW, NW, including the outlying neighborhoods, that road user habits towards stopping at stop signs are similar to those at the locations in SE she observed, she may be able to use that to suggest there’s some sort of Portland Stop Sign Culture. Otherwise, the notion that there is such a thing, is likely only that, a notion to draw readers, maybe perpetuate controversy, or further try to rationalize and justify road user abuse of the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood.

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    • paikiala June 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      here are some more:
      Sacramento/117th, 9% compliance
      Salmon/23rd, 18%-28%
      Chavez/Glisan, 35%
      111th/Sacramento 17%

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    • q`Tzal June 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      It would be nice if we could fill out a poll/survey to collect that data on this blog post.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      It’s a horrible cut through for cars. I tried it a few times years ago when I drove a taxi cab….The wait for the lights actually made the trip longer than going to 12th or 20th, except in those very rare moments when you’d get to the intersection as it turned green.

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  • Dan June 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Riding by myself on a lonely road in the morning, I stop at a red light in a signaled intersection. I wait 30 seconds or so at the empty intersection for the light to change green, and then it does, as a line of cars from the cross now arrives to a light that has just turned red.

    If I could use sound judgment to go through the intersection before I’ve set off the signal, they in their important cars on their busy schedules wouldn’t have to wait for little ol’ me.

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  • q`Tzal June 5, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I like my “No Witnesses” policy for stop signs:
    No people (peds, bikes, drivers, cops (duh))
    No cameras.
    If there’s no one around to see you do it then it is reasonably safe if not legal.

    While it is theoretically plausible that this principle could be use at traffic lights my experience is that in practice the places that have traffic lights always have some type of potential witness.

    Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep.

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  • Karl June 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Cathy,

    I am glad you gathered so many data points. I have been commuting by bicycle for 13 years, so I’ve had the chance to see a lot of vehicle operators and how well they follow traffic regs. Your observations align closely with mine, and with PBOT’s mid-’00s stop sign study: most vehicle operators aren’t interested in following the exact letter of the law.

    “Even during the heaviest traffic period observed, there were no accidents, no near misses[.]”
    That would fit with my observations as well. I see dozens of traffic infractions on my commute each day, but almost none of them put anyone in real danger.

    For the record, I follow 100% of traffic regs 100% of the time, lest I be accused of making these observations to justify my (nonexistent) lawbreaking.

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  • Granpa June 5, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    My son lives in Germany. He told me about an interesting traffic signal related anecdote. About 2:00 in the morning during Oktoberfest, when streets were empty of traffic, pedestrians waited for the walk signal. The cultural difference is profound. There people take pride in following rules and there is shaming for those who don’t.

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  • gutterbunnybikes June 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    All this and when I try to cross busy streets like Powell (my position in the street) I always seem to get the guy or gal at the end of a traffic line slowing and stopping for me – ruining my gap to cross, just as traffic on the other side catches up.

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  • TOM June 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    thank you for the article Cathy , you are improving with each one.

    Just today on SpringWater , I get to a street crossing with a STOP on my side but not on the cross street side. Car arrives at the same time, I slow to stop as mandated, but the car who is NOT required to …does …and waves me through.

    At that point all I can do is give a friendly wave and we both use the intersection NOT as intended.

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  • spare_wheel June 5, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    meh. the stop sign debate is so over.

    the real cars vs bikes wedge issue action is now at red lights. i treat them as yields and am 100% unrepentant about this.

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    • wsbob June 5, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      That rings of the familiar rationale used to attempt to shift responsibility for people riding bikes, not getting hit, onto people driving motor vehicles. Likely, one of the reasons the Idaho Stop and variations on it, will continue to stand a very poor chance of ever becoming law in Oregon, or any of the other 50 U.S. states that haven’t opted for it.

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      • dr2chase June 6, 2014 at 4:57 am

        You’re using a peculiar definition of the word “responsible”. Who kills more? Who costs more? Results matter more than rituals.

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        • wsbob June 6, 2014 at 10:24 pm

          There’s not really anything peculiar about assuming personal responsibility associated with self defensive measures, such as stopping at stop signs and stop lights.

          Being “…100% unrepentant…” about illegally treating red lights as yields? Now that’s peculiar.

          El Bic: I’m not taking issue with what constitutes ‘yield’. What I am saying is that illegally treating red lights and stop signs as yields, cancels the inherent safety measure their use is designed to help with.

          People can make mistakes in judgment when treating these traffic controls as yields, resulting in collisions in which somebody, particularly the vulnerable road user, may get hurt or killed. Someone saying they’re “…100% unrepentant…” about treating red lights as yields, knowing these kinds of mistakes can happen, sounds like they’re prepared to attempt to shift responsibility for a collision onto the other party.

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          • dr2chase June 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm

            Personal responsibility for self-defense is only a small part of being “responsible” in public; it is much more important not to hurt others. Self-defense we can take for granted; for example, one reason I ride a bicycle is because it is expected (in the statistical and actuarial sense) to extend my lifespan. It’s the selfish choice. Happily, we can see that it is also the truly more responsible and pro-social choice, because statistics also show that (in general) a cyclist is far less dangerous to others than a driver. (And it’s quieter and less polluting, and takes up less public space for parking, and imposes less wear and tear on public infrastructure.)

            If we’re going to get all nanny state and worry about “vulnerable road users”, let’s talk about the people with the 25x higher per-trip fatality risk. That’s motorcycle riders, compared to bicycle riders. Or let’s talk about the people with the 25-35% higher annual mortality risk; surely, you would support legislation and enforcement to curb that dangerous behavior? I’m sure you know the punch line — those reckless souls are the ones who don’t commute by bicycle and drive cars instead (multiple studies show this effect, from China, Finland, and Denmark). The “safety device” that cars lack is an ejector seat; it’s the lack of exercise that is far more deadly to those “vulnerable road users”.

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          • El Biciclero June 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

            “…illegally treating red lights and stop signs as yields, cancels the inherent safety measure their use is designed to help with.”

            So if it were legalized, it would be less dangerous? I can think of a number of things about those “safety devices” known as bike lanes that cancel the not-so-inherent safety measures they were ostensibly designed to help with–and they all stem from failure to yield. What you seem to be saying is that it is fine to trust drivers with a responsibility to yield in certain situations, such as crossing a bike lane or sidewalk, making a right on just-turned-green (while looking left), opening their car doors, etc., but cyclists are not to be trusted with determining when they do or don’t need to yield right-of-way to others.

            If legal vs. illegal is your real argument, then we should stick to that point (instead of a safety argument) and discuss when it is appropriate to engage in a small form of civil disobedience in the face of laws that are more restrictive than necessary.

            Also please explain how being “100% unrepentant” about yielding (instead of stopping) implies any attempt to shift blame for incidents arising from faulty judgment or failure to yield?

            I mean, I can actually understand where you’re coming from on issues like this, but the root of the argument seems to be that somehow, drivers are responsible adults and cyclists are reckless children with faulty judgment. The General Public think about these things (consider the mandatory helmet debate, or whether kids should be passengers on bikes or in trailers) from a mostly irrational, emotional standpoint, and make appeals to “common sense”, without really thinking about appropriate comparisons to other activities, or actual safety data, or the ethical questions about power and responsibility, harm to society, etc. I just want more people (including myself) to think harder about what we are saying when we advocate for a particular behavior or policy.

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      • El Biciclero June 6, 2014 at 9:32 am

        “You’re using a peculiar definition of the word ‘responsible’”

        Also a strange interpretation of “yield”. “Yield” does not equal “ignore”. The problems you are envisioning would be caused by failure to yield.

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  • TOM June 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Cyclist who refuses to run red light in Dorchester punched in face, police say Victim found on sidewalk bleeding from mouth

    yeah, it ain’t PDX , but ….. ?

    http://www.wcvb.com/news/cyclist-who-refuses-to-run-red-light-in-dorchester-punched-in-face-police-say/26354548?_escaped_fragment_=Vq594#!Vq594

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    • dr2chase June 6, 2014 at 10:05 am

      That’s how we show respect around here.

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  • scofflaw June 7, 2014 at 11:27 am

    if the cars are not stopping, why should i?

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  • Dennis James June 8, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I almost hit a bicyclist that ran a stop light going the opposite direction of the lane of travel he was riding along. It required a panic stop to avoid and the bicycle rider never slowed or showed he realized his close call. I was turning right and had a green light.

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    • spare_wheel June 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      motorists who are diddling with their phones, radio, sandwich, coffee etc. force me to take evasive action and/or panic stop far too often. and the consequences of failure to avoid the narcissistically inattentive are much more severe for me than you.

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