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Is it time to change stop sign laws?

Posted by on May 11th, 2006 at 1:31 pm

[Photo by
quite peculiar.]

For many years, the prevailing mantra from bicycle advocates has been, “Same roads, same rights, same rules.” Beyond a catchy slogan, the thought is that this puts bicycles on a level playing field with motorists in the court of law and public opinion. This seems to make sense.

However, the problem with this thinking is that bicycles and motorized vehicles are vastly different, both in physical makeup and more importantly, in their potential to cause harm when an illegal maneuver results in a collision. It also seems unfair that given this difference in potential to cause harm, bicycles are levied the exact same fines as motor vehicles.

Under current law, a grandma rolling through a stop sign on her three-speed receives the same $242 ticket as the guy in the big SUV.

I’m not saying bicycles should be allowed to run wild and free and be exempt from laws. I just think there’s got to be a middle ground that would improve traffic safety and efficiency for all road users.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. Considerable research and legal precedent already exists. Some recent research from Toronto suggests that:

“targeted stop-sign enforcement campaigns along busy cycling routes may result in large numbers of tickets being issued, but their effectiveness in improving traffic safety is questionable,” (download report PDF here).

And in Idaho, this statute (49-270) allows bicycles to roll through stop signs and red lights in some situations. Incidentally, the person who wrote this statue is Stuart Gwin, now a Transportation Planner for the City of Portland Office of Transportation (I’ve already requested an interview).

I’ve also been contacted about this by the Legislative Committee of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). They are curious to know how cyclists feel about this issue. They’ve crafted the following question and would like to know what you think:

    In Oregon, bicyclists are required to make a complete stop at stop signs. Should this law be changed so that bicyclists would be permitted to…

    1) Slowly roll through stop signs.

    2) Quickly roll through stop signs and take give the right of way (like having a yield sign.)

    3) No change. Bicyclists should be required to cease forward motion.

Please consider leaving your feedback in the comments.

For more background on the topic, check out the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union’s position and read this article titled, “Why bicyclists hate stop signs“, that was originally published in ACCESS, an academic transportation journal from UC Berkeley.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Dan Johnson
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Dan Johnson

As a receiver of one of the $242 tickets, I would be HIGHLY in favor of amending Oregon law so that bicyclists would be allowed to treat Stop Signs as Yield Signs (option #2).

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but if someone is ticketed for “not obeying a traffic control device,” as I was, the ticket does not distinguish between a Stop Sign and a Red Light and thus the Grandma in your example could be ticketed the same as the SUV even if the SUV was driving through a Red Light!

Jonathan Maus
Guest

After posting this article, I noticed a great idea proposed by “dylanmc” in the Forums. He thinks traffic fines should be based on the kinetic energy of the vehicle.

Check out his post.

Nick
Guest
Nick

Seems to me that this will be a sticky issue. I totally would love this legislation. However, I feel the backlash of “special interest group” by the majority of people in Oregon who do not ride a bike.

~n

Andy
Guest
Andy

Is there any information on how successful the Idaho statute is? And when did it go into effect?

elljay
Guest
elljay

I’d support option A (what my pals call “slo’n’go”). A lot of stop signs, especially in SE and NE are there to protect on blind intersections…blasting through them on a bike puts the cyclist at risk…sometimes when the through traffic can’t see them. I’ve had a few bike vs. bike near misses when a cyclist blows thru a stop, and the freeflow bike doesn’t see him (or is expecting a stop or at least slow’n’go)

I like the Idaho rule, especially the requirement to signal.

Jonathan Maus
Guest

Nick,

You’re right, this will be a very sticky issue. But it’s up to us to frame the conversation with the right language and tone so that we don’t give anyone reason to get defensive.

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

I too would favor option #2. I also agree that there may be a public relations blowback from a campaign to enact such a law . . . though I would still say it is worth doing. With this in mind, it would be very important that the language clearly place responsibilities for such a maneuver on the cyclist. From what I have heard about the Idaho law, it has this sort of language. Can’t wait to hear what Mr. Gwin has to say on the subject.

Tiered fines is also an interesting idea, but if the “kinetic energy” theory yielded fines so low that they were not a deterrent . . . what’s the point?.

patrick
Guest

I think the law should be adjusted to reflect the spirit of it, which is that vehicle users should slow to a speed slow enough to confirm that no traffic is coming from either direction on the street the user is crossing. For motorized vehicle users, this means a complete stop, due to limited visibility. For bicyclists, this means a slowing to walking speed, and sometimes even coming to a complete stop and putting your foot down.

An amendment to this effect would allow bicyclists the safety advantage of not being legally required to come to a complete stop/start, which is one of the most dangerous moments in a bicycle trip due to lack of forward momentum.

All that said, I am very wary of the concept of different laws for different vehicles. Different penalties based on GVW, sure. Different laws, though, seem like something that will be easily mutated into something bad for transportational cyclists.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Weird, another Patrick posts before me, anyway.

I lived in Boise for a while and liked that you could exercise judgement and treat the stop signs as yields. It made a lot of sense, they also let Motorcyclist ride without helmets, that was pretty weird.

I’d vote for a change.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

I guess that would mean option # 2.

Richard
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Richard

My vote is option 1.

Garlynn
Guest

I would vote for the following:

1. Stop signs become yield signs for bicyclists, who must yield to any traffic that has arrived at the intersection prior to the bicyclist. If, however, a vehicle and a bicyclist arrive at the itnersection together, the vehicle must stop while the bicycle is allowed to remain in motion through the intersection as long as they smile and wave a thank you.

2. Stop lights can be treated as stop signs by bicyclists if there is no oncoming traffic, and they would not endanger or inhibit pedestrian movement or other traffic by proceeding through the intersection in a safe manner after checking twice in each direction.

3. No fine for a bicycle would ever be more than $50 for any offense that did not result in an injury or property damage to somebody other than the bicyclist.

4. Bicyclists must signal for all stops and turns using hand signals when other traffic or pedestrians are present. The signal for proceeding through a stop sign without stopping would be the wave-point-and-smile.

crankers
Guest
crankers

I’d be fine with #1 or #2 unless the blowback was such that it hurt bicycling in other areas. Stopping at stop signs is just not that big of a deal to me, although I see many complain about it. The worst possible outcome would be to make a fuss, not get the ruling we want, and in the process lose some public support.

If we are gonna get Luntzian about how to frame this to make it a winner, the key term we would have to define and own the term “fairness” early on. If the typical driver sees “fairness” as “Same roads, same rights, same rules” then it is going to be difficult. “Same roads, same rights, similar rules” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. The point is there would have to be some minor rethink about presentation. How do you explain to a driver that while you are traffic, it is only fair that in some instances different laws are applied to bicycles? People are more likely to look at a new “bicycle law” (you are yielding to traffic) as fair than an existing law now not applying (you are running a stop sign).

The key is convincing enough people that what bicyclists want is “fair”, and doesn’t infringe on their own “rights”. The most important thing would be early on to begin to say we want a new yield law (or some other phrase) that would enable traffic to flow more freely for everyone. Running stop signs will not be popular, but getting a yield law would face less opposition.

Crankers
Guest
Crankers

…So if you really are interested in framing Johathan, I’d suggest changing the title of this thread to “Is it time for bicycle yield laws?”

Bryce
Guest

I’m at the very least for a change of some sort.

I would prefer Option 2 as I feel comfortable obeying it and I would feel safe while performing the moving yield. Of course, Option 1 would still be a move in the positive direction.

West Cougar
Guest
West Cougar

Concerning the text of choice 2), it is contradictory as written. A yield sign does NOT allow one to “take the right of way.” A yield sign means “GIVE the right of way.”

So, it should read “2) Quickly roll through stop signs, unless other traffic is present. Then one must stop (like having a yield sign).”

As re-written, I am GREATLY in favor of choice 2, AND allowing bikes to treat stop lights as stop signs, AND reducing moving violation fines for bicyclists to me more commisurate with the potential for inflicting harm to others that bikes represent.

Clay Fouts
Guest
Clay Fouts

In a world full of only bicycles I’d prefer to have option #2 be the law. Problem is that people driving cars often are not paying the closest attention to the road and noteworthy traffic control devices in front of them. I know drivers in my neighborhood exhibit about a 75% chance of yielding r.o.w. to a stop sign.

As much as a cyclist can safely pass through many controlled intersections at full speed, this behavior could have the side-effect of cuing cars behind them that there’s no stop signal to observe. While each road-using agent is independently responsible for making proper assessments about factors affecting how to travel over the roads, we monkeys sometimes do what the monkey in front of us just did, or at least attempt a gross approximation.

I don’t know how much this should be taken into consideration, but it’s something to think about. Option #2 still appeals to me more but option #1 may make a better compromise. Either makes more sense than the current law.

renato
Guest

Forester, John. Bicycle transportation: a handbook for cycling transportation engineers.

is a good one.

todd
Guest

as amended by west cougar, i’ll take #2. it most nearly approximates what conscientious regular cyclists do anyway.

the kinetic energy angle seems more useful to me as a driver of (positively) discriminatory laws than of a tiered penalty scheme.

one safety consideration in favor of running stops/lights cautiously is that it helps cyclists more nearly approximate the average speed of motor vehicles, which in turn means that cyclists and motorists are within one another’s field of awareness much longer than if the motorists are constantly coming upon and overtaking cyclists hobbled by indiscriminate laws.

jeff s
Guest
jeff s

Here’s the text of the Idaho statutes about cyclists yielding at stop signs —

http://tinyurl.com/fy343

It has been on the books since at least the early 90’s , & possibly quite a bit longer.

Jenni Simonis
Guest

Personally, I’d like to see the fines for motor vehicles at least doubled, but that’s just me. I’m one of the few traffic law abiding people that are still around, and I’m just tired of near accidents and being delayed because of people who refuse to follow the traffic laws.

I’d like to see numerous changes to the current structure of vehicle traffic fines and tickets, as the current system obviously does not work.

I definitely think lowering the fine for bikes is a good idea, as long as no property damage or injuries occur.

I’m also ok with them being able to use a stop sign as a yield, as long as they slow down and really indeed do check for vehicles and peds. I’ve almost been hit more than once when I had the r-o-w on a crosswalk, yet a bicyclist came flying through the opposite direction on a stop sign/light.

I’ve also had bikes fly across the road in front of me when they definitely did not have enough room to safely cross– it was my safe, defensive driving that saved them from becoming a hood ornament on my Honda.

I don’t like the idea of them not stopping at a traffic light. These intersections often have a lot more traffic and a higher accident rate, which is why they have a traffic light. I’d need to see more info on how something like that has worked here in the U.S. first.

Donna
Guest
Donna

#1, for the sake of pedestrians. That small but highly visible chunk of cyclists around here who don’t give right of way to them would have a field day with #2. I also agree with others that it is a good compromise.

I’m a little leery about the red light part of the Idaho Statute.

MJ
Guest
MJ

The beauty of taking the “kinetic-energy based traffic fines” approach by “dylanmc” is that that idea will most likely help avoid the cyclists -vs- cars war.

With that logic the motorcyclists have alot to gain! So we could get all the motorcycle special interest folks involved in pushing that law. I bet there are more motorcycle riders w/political clout than there are cyclists.

eric
Guest
eric

I thought a major reason to cycle to your destination was to not take the lazy route. Does it really impede your trip to come to a stop every few intersections?

The mentality of “gotta get there faster” is what puts a lot of butts in bucket seats in the first place.

Simmer down. Take it easy. Stop where everyone else has to. If you want to be treated like regular traffic, act like regular traffic. We’re not in China – cars still rule the road.

I find that the less I approach traffic interactions like an entitled cyclist, the more I get treated with the respect of a car.

Pete Jacobsen
Guest
Pete Jacobsen

We have spent a great deal of effort trying to convince motor vehicle drivers of the “Same roads, same rights, same rules” idea to give up on it now. There are still MANY drivers who do not accept that fair, easy to remember concept.

Suppose we change the rule for ALL vehicles to “Slowly roll through stop signs IF no pedistrian or other vehicle normally having the right of way is present” (or possibly change “present” to “affected”)? This would allow us to keep our same, same, same mantra and yet be much more meaningful to relatively slow, muscle powered bikes than it would be to cars. This is essentially the rule that is in effect when no law enforcement is present!

Esther
Guest
Esther

I think a combination of #1 and #2 – slow down, AND yield is best for safety reasons. I guess “slow,” being subjective, could be defined as “maintaining a reasonable stopping distance that will allow the bicyclist to yield, should there be another vehicle on the cross street that has the right of way.”

Matt P.
Guest

Option 3: No change. We’re vehicles, we need to obey the same laws.

That being said, I agree that the fines should reflect the danger posed by the vehicle. Personally, I’d like to see the following fines:

Bikes: $50
Cars (4-cyl): $200
Cars (6-cyl): $300
Cars (8+ cyl): $500
Commercial Trucks / Busses: $1,000

(Cars includes SUV’s and Lt Trucks)

I don’t know that a stop sign / stop light distinction needs to be made – there’s arguably a higher danger of striking a child where there’s a stop sign rather than a signal.

Matt P.
Guest

Additional comments:

Garlynn – the problem I have in treating stop lights as stop signs is that it would be applicable to *all* roads. If you’re crossing a two-lane street, this isn’t a problem, but what about McLoughlin? Sandy? Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy? There can be no traffic one moment, and the next moment a car swings out of a parking lot or driveway and is going 45mph in less time than it takes some cyclists to cross the road. To me, this seems like an exercise in disaster.

West Cougar – I think you mean “commensurate”. Sorry, I know it’s a nitpick.

Todd – I agree with your safety concern, but I fear that drivers will view cyclists as having special priviledges. When we ride down the right side past a line of cars, drivers get upset. When we ride through a stop sign or light without stopping, they get upset. People in general don’t like feeling like someone else is getting something (or getting away with something) that they are not. I think that this feeling is getting more pronounced as time goes on. And unfortunately, when a driver is in that state of mind, you can’t explain about how fragile a cyclist is in an accident, or that their being stuck in traffic is the price they pay for driving a car. They are likewise unsympathetic to the effort involved in regaining momentum, going uphill, etc.

MJ – I agree especially with the comment about motorcyclists. The bikers I’ve encountered while riding my bike seem to have a certain amount of respect for us, and I think they’d be natural allies in a lot of issues. We (in the political sense) should work with them where possible.

Esther – the only problem with that is we already have traffic laws that say the exact same thing. All drivers are required to drive at a speed that allows them to brake safely to avoid hazards, regardless of the posted speed limit or traffic control devices. Drivers are either improperly educated or just don’t care.

elljay
Guest
elljay

Question for Mr. Geller or Mr. Raisman on the issue: How would changing our stop sign &/or signal laws affect “big picture” issues such as federal funding for transportation projects?

I ask because I recall an issue a few years back between ODOT and/or Fed $$ and cities that use those “right turn does not need to stop” amendment signs on certain types of intersections.

It seems to me that a Portland-specific or Oregon-specific rule change, particularly the signal one, could create confusion, especially for vehicle drivers and/or cyclists from outside the area and are not aware of more “liberal” laws in place.

David
Guest
David

I think option #2 is the way to go. A cyclist can stop fairly quickly, and if they yield to oncoming traffic they will avoid any sort of collision.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

Well, here again is my Little Spot to rant what I think, and it is far down this list of comments, probably never to be read….

Yield laws relating to bycicles have been thoroughly misrepresented for years.
By saying this, I mean that the reason for yielding or not on a bike has been misrepresented.
It is all about momentum.
When the average cyclist stops at a stop sign or intersection, then starts to ride again, the speed is very low.
This does not leave enough speed for the reaction time neccessary to save your ass in a intersection.
This leaves the average cyclist weaving slowly through a intersection.
Yet, with a proper head check, slowing barely, then moving on through, you maintain the momentum required to get yourself out of the way.
I believe that this is the thought process that should be behind any revamping of the yield laws.
I have told this to transportation. I have explained this, when asked about it, to a judge.
If this is used as the basis for changing yield laws, it will pass.
And rightfully so.

Jody
Guest
Jody

I think a small amendment to the law stating that vehicles need to come to a complete stop, while bikes need to reduce speed to 2mph or less (just an example) and yield (as you would to any stop sign) might be acceptable.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for this to apply to stop lights.

The most important thing for bikes and cars sharing a road is that each is predictable to the other… having different laws takes that element away. Just having a clarification as to what constitutes a “stop” at a stop sign would be enough for me.

Also… there are several “intersections” that I go through regularly (3 I can think of off the top of my head) that have lights but one of the streets deadends at the intersection. So, traffic only comes from 3 directions – the forth is a curb (and bike lane)… it would be nice to have a little sign that said “bikes in bike lane do not need to stop” (as no traffic crosses the bike lane)- similar to the signs that say “right turn only – buses exempt”.

AJ
Guest
AJ

I say Treat stop signs as a yeald sign for cyclists and a stop light like a stop sign.

So option 2 with a twist.

Kim
Guest
Kim

As yet another recipient of one of those $242 tickets, I agree that stop sign/red light protocol for bikers needs to be readdressed. Perhaps a balence of #1 and #2.

In my ticket situation i made a rolling stop before making a right hand turn fron the bike lane at se 7th (heading south) into the bike lane heading west on se Madison. Yep, bike lane to bike lane, no bike traffic, didn’t make a complete stop at the red light.

To top it off, after the cop pulled me over at Grand Ave to bestow my enormous ticket, a car sped through the red light at that major intersection almost hitting a fellow biker who was preceeding on their green light towards the Hawthorne bridge. To bad, the cop didn’t respond to this dangerous event because he was too busy printing up my bike ticket.

My sense of justice was intensly challenged that day as was my limited student finances.

Matt P.
Guest

Kim – now *that* is truly messed up. Cops should have the ability to cancel out of writing the ticket so that they can go after the worse offenders like that.

Jody – I used to run red lights at the “3-way” intersections on bike-laned streets, but there are too many drivers out there who swing wide on their turns and edge their wheels over the line. Other drivers get panicked by the fact that there is a bike there when they’re turning and give a wider berth than they need to, driving through the end of the left-hand turn lane on one of the other “legs” of the intersection. I’ve seen 3 near-accidents this way just in the last 4 months. So I agree with you in principle, but I don’t think it’s safe.

aaron
Guest
aaron

I could post a long reply, however Mr. Couger in reply #16 said it perfectly.

Eddie
Guest

Dabby (#31) understands how to ride a bicycle safely. You do need to keep moving. If you stop, you become invisible and you have to go through the wobbly process of getting going again.

The answer to Eric’s question: “Does it really impede your trip to come to a stop every few intersections?” is this:
You NEVER want to stop at a light or sign if you don’t have to. If you do, then when the light changes, car drivers will goose it as usual and you have a good chance to be hit simply because of the poor visibility from cars, trucks, buses, SUV’s and monster trucks. They are a real and present danger to a 100 or 200 pound cyclist. The lightest car weighs about 2,000 pounds. A big monster truck weighs closer to 10,000 and they are too high to see a cyclist next to them.

I vote for making stop signs AND stoplights the same as yields for bicycles. All timid cyclists can continue to stop at every light and sign, put that foot down, take a drink and then go while the car drivers quiver with anger at how long they take to get going and get out of the way. “Get out of the way” is the goal. To do that most efficiently keep moving as long as it is safe.

Bicyclists should have to stop if cars are at the intersection first. If cyclists don’t yield and nearly cause an accident they should be fined. If a cyclist hits a pedestrian at an intersection due to failure to yield the cyclist should be fined.

But if a cyclist blows through an intersection, causes no vehicle to wait on him/her, then they should be congratulated for getting out of the way as safely as possible.

Should “all” vehicles be able to roll thru lights and signs as suggested by Pete Jacobsen? Not a chance. Cars/SUV’s/Monster Trucks are too big, too fast and the consequences of allowing that would be a lot of dead pedestrians/cyclists and a huge number of car/car crashes. Traffic would come to a standstill due to all the crashes – maybe THAT would be a good thing?

To elljay: the changed laws for cyclists would have no effect to car drivers – bikes would still have to yield or stop if cars were in the intersection first.

An added benefit to these changed laws would be that the cops would actually be able to stop wasting time and taxpayer dollars chasing cyclists and actually try to prevent/solve crimes! WOW! What a concept – cops doing what we pay them to do! What will they think of next.

If we fail to get these laws passed we need to vote no more money for cops whenever we get that chance at the ballot box. AND we need to get with the mayor and make sure the next police chief is biker friendly. I think they are currently looking for a new police chief.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I too just got a $242 ticket, for a right hand turn into a bike lane at speed (though as always I made sure no bikes were coming and was prepared to stop). I tried so hard for the next two days to ride 100% legal but it got ridiculous. I had cyclists practically ramming me from behind, cars pissed off, and everyone generally confused because coming to a complete stop at probably half of the stop signs on my route is totally unnecessary. Think Ladd’s addition…

I’ve always been for Option #2 and would be willing to fight for it. Maybe red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yields, but there are probably good right-turn into bike lane situations at red lights that wouldn’t require a stop. Straight up #2 is fine and people just need to learn to be respectful of each other. I don’t think we’d really have to worry too much about bike-on-bike collisions either, the law would still require a yield for incoming bikes.

I appreciate EVERYONE who is fighting for this legislative change.

trackback

[…] In my post last week about changing existing stop sign and yield laws for cyclists, I referred to City of Portland Transportation Planner Stuart Gwin. I’d heard that Stuart had some previous involvement with the Idaho statute that allows bicycles to roll stop signs. […]

Too Scott
Guest
Too Scott

Dabby has the right idea. (I can’t believe I said that)
Cops DO NOT care about your safety. They, like meter maids and other inconsequential rule enforcers, care about generating revenue for their respective counties and viewed in this way they can not be faulted. The simple facts are that issuing a ticket has a great chance of filling the coffers while getting a drug addict or rapist of the street can only cause the county\city to spend money. That is why violation level tickets fall from the sky like autumn leaves but you can score any drug you want with about ten minutes of real effort.
Drivers DO NOT care about taking the time to make sure cyclists are safe, I have no idea why this majority exists. The only chance you have with respect to safety is to move well, be on the lookout for yourself and trust no one.

Crankers
Guest
Crankers

Funny story: This morning I’m having a pretty relaxing ride home from a 14-hour overnight shift. I’m taking it slower than usual since I’m exhausted and riding on slicks in the rain.

As I approach the Park Blocks on Jefferson heading west, two bicycles blow the stop sign running north in front of me. They see me right as they pass the sign and brake fast, but their momentum carries them into the middle of the road. I’m going about 12ish mph in the bike lane and I just keep my cadence and pass them as they track stand in the middle of Jefferson. As I pass, one of them yells at me: “What the hell!?! COME ON!!”. I would have doubled over laughing if I weren’t, well, already bent over on my bike.

Trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, shoes – asshats are asshats – and we all are at some point or another (just some of us with far more frequency than others). No legal configuration will change that. We are all smarter than the law and smarter than each other. We have the most solid of logic on our side and everyone else is a moron who is in our rightful way.

Ray
Guest

I totally agree to change the rules for bicycle. As Jenni said” definitely think lowering the fine for bikes is a good idea, as long as no property damage or injuries occur, and using a stop sign as a yield, as long as they slow down and really indeed do check for vehicles and peds”