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Guest Article: Cops and Stops; Putting our Foot Down

Posted by on September 24th, 2008 at 12:08 pm

pedalpalooza police ride-2.jpg

Robert Pickett
(Photos J. Maus)

Robert Pickett is a member of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee, an Alice Award nominee, a regular commenter and contributor to the Forums here on BikePortland.org, and he’s also a police officer in Portland’s Southeast Precinct.

When he’s not working in our community, he likes to ride tall bikes.

In the article below, Officer Pickett clarifies the age-old question of whether or not you’ve got to put your foot down at a stop sign. As a bonus, he also uncovers some important info about yellow lights you might not have been aware of.



One of the most common questions I hear about bicycle-related traffic law is whether or not a person riding a bicycle is required to put their foot on the ground when stopping at a stop sign.

salmon street stop sign

Oregon law specifically describes the proper response to various traffic control devices (stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights, etc.). The wording is too long to include in the text (though heres a linkscroll down to ORS 811.260), but the key phrase that describes appropriate vehicle operator behavior when confronted by a stop sign, flashing red signal or solid red signal is shall stop. (And yes, in this and most other Oregon traffic laws, bicycles are considered “vehicles.”)

The statute also mentions where you should stop (generally before the crosswalk, marked or unmarked) and when you can start again (after yielding right of way). Nowhere in the law is there mention of putting your foot down if you are riding a bicycle or motorcycle.

If your tires stop rolling forward, have you stopped? Most people, including most judges and officers, would say yes. Are some bicycle riders able to stop their tires from rolling forward and then start up again without putting their feet down? Yes.

“Nowhere in the law is there mention of putting your foot down if you are riding a bicycle…”

That said, if an officer happened to be watching you from a ways away, would putting your foot down be a good indication that you probably stopped completely? Yes. However, will most officers position themselves so they have a good view of the tires or front of the vehicle so they dont have to enter into a did-he-stop-or-not-stop argument to begin with? Also yes.

Another common misunderstanding of Oregon traffic statutes is what to do at yellow lights.

In most other states, a yellow light is simply a warning to drivers that the light will soon turn to red:

From the California Vehicle Code:

A driver facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is, by that signal, warned that the related green movement is ending or that a red indication will be shown immediately thereafter.

From the Washington Vehicle Code:

Vehicle operators facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal are thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection.

On a bike-along in SE Precinct

Pickett demonstrates proper
foot-down technique.

The Oregon statute, however, says that not only is the yellow light a warning, but that vehicle operators must stop at a yellow light, with the only justification for not stopping being that it would be unsafe to do so:

A driver facing a steady circular yellow signal light is thereby warned that the related right of way is being terminated and that a red or flashing red light will be shown immediately. A driver facing the light shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, shall stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, then before entering the intersection. If a driver cannot stop in safety, the driver may drive cautiously through the intersection.

What would prevent one from stopping safely? Someone else following too closely perhaps? Maybe an icy road? That is up to a citation recipient to argue and a judge to decide! The gist is that in Oregon, except for a few exceptions, a yellow light should generally be treated the same as a red one.

Lastly, what about all those intersections in residential areas without any stop or yield signs at all, otherwise known as uncontrolled intersections? Oregon Revised Statute 811.275 says that you have to yield to any vehicle approaching from the right, even if you arrive at the intersection before that other vehicle. However, 811.277 stipulates that if it is an uncontrolled T-intersection, and yours is the road that is ending, you have to yield to traffic approaching from both directions.

Clear and simple, huh!

For more exciting reading, check out the Oregon Vehicle Code.

— by Officer Robert Pickett, Portland Police Bureau


More Guest Articles by Robert Pickett:

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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Hollie
Guest
Hollie

I’m not sure I gained any greater sense of clarity regarding the issue of putting a foot down at traffic controls requiring a stop.

I realize there’s no yes or no answer, but for me the crux of the issue is whether a cyclist clearly demonstrating a good faith effort to slow down, observe the intersection and proceed accordingly would be ticketed for failing to stop?

Think about Ladd’s Addition, which is an example that’s relevant to a lot of Portland cyclists. Entering the circle, one can clearly see oncoming traffic. Braking/slowing and looking both ways before proceeding seems far more safety-conscious than putting an obligatory foot down just to prove that one is following this unclear section of the law. How about answering to that specific scenario?

canuck
Guest
canuck

Just returned to Oregon after a six year absence, so this is a timely article for me.

A concise explanation of the statutes.

I think I’ll pass on reading the Oregon Vehicle Code if you make this article one of a series.

Good work.

Arem
Guest
Arem

Thanks, Officer Pickett!

Good to see an occasional reminder that this is Oregon, not Idaho where unoccupied intersections may be treated as yields. 🙂

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

“for me the crux of the issue is whether a cyclist clearly demonstrating a good faith effort to slow down, observe the intersection and proceed accordingly would be ticketed for failing to stop?”

Hollie,

With most enforcement issues, things are not black and white.

Often, it comes down to the officer on the ground and their opinion about what happened. After that, it comes down to traffic court and who can convince the judge.

Some officers are strictly by the book, others enforce only when the offender is being unsafe, others focus on certain offenses and interpret their own set of laws (called “street justice” by some), etc…

All that being said… You are not required to put a foot down at a stop sign.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Hollie – What I understand from the article is that when at a stop sign, you have to stop your bike. If you can do that without putting your foot down, then that’s fine.

Approaching the stop sign slowly, and looking for traffic, but not coming to a complete stop would be in violation of the law.

my two cents.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Hollie…seriously? that didn’t help you? what exactly don’t you understand about stopping at a stop sign?

Ladd’s addition has stop signs. you’re required to stop at them. completely. no foot down required. It doesn’t matter if you can see traffic or not…the law is not up to you personally to interpret in this instance given whatever traffic design you encounter…its your personal decision to obey such law or not obviously…

are red lights subjective when you’re driving a car?

T27
Guest
T27

The complete stop issue is interesting. I come nearly to a stop, but probably just short of stopped in the legal definition. I don’t think I have anything to worry about when it comes to getting a ticket or safety. I did an informal survey at a local stop sign and only about 1 in 10 cars met the definition of stopped. For safety at intersections, I watch for cars running the stop sign or red signal. This has saved me more than once.

ODOT has a good discussion of safe and legal riding available at:

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/bike_manual_06.pdf

Lazlo
Guest
Lazlo

“I did an informal survey at a local stop sign and only about 1 in 10 cars met the definition of stopped.”

I’ve paid attention to this and found it to be true. Most cars do not completely cease forward movement before proceeding. As for yellow lights, an officer once told me that if it’s yellow before you enter the intersection you must stop (unless it would be unsafe to do so); if it turns yellow after you’ve entered the intersection you may proceed through; if you accelerate to make it through you’re in violation.

Hollie
Guest
Hollie

bahueh,

Assuming you drive, how often do you slow to 2MPH but not come to a complete stop at a stop SIGN (which is what I was referring to– stop lights are another, less ambiguous matter) when you’re in a car because it’s completely safe to do so? Stop signs in a car are just as ambiguous as on a bike– cyclists have the added ability to put a foot down, which adds complexity to an already clouded issue. A rolling stop is a different matter than running a stop sign, both in a car and on a bike. That’s the issue that has had me concerned while navigating Portland by bike, hence my asking for an answer to that specific scenario. It had nothing to do with *my* interpretation of the law, but that of the Portland Police.

John Mulvey
Guest
John Mulvey

Thank you for the very helpful post, Officer Pickett. I hope you’ll become a regular contributor.

I’d like your opinion on what I perceive as a lack of enforcement of these rules generally, for both cars and bikes, in this City. I couldn’t help noticing that your description of the rule for yellow lights is somewhat at odds with the reality, on the ground.

Violations of that law are a very serious safety issue for bikers and pedestrians especially, and yet virtually every intersection in town has an almost total lack of compliance. (I’ll name just one: you could write tickets all day long against people making left turns from 39th to Hawthorne.)

Anyways, thanks again for the post.

Aside to Hollie: I disagree regarding a “good faith” effort. Cops can’t be expected to be mindreaders, and judging someone’s state of mind is best left to judges and juries. When it comes to the rules of the road a person’s intent doesn’t matter, following them does.

I also think we need to keep in mind the purpose of a stop sign. It isn’t just a formal exercise in coming to a stop and then proceeding. It’s intended so that your actions are clear and understood by cars, other bikes and pedestrians.

The assumption that because you don’t see anyone that you need to yield to, you don’t have to stop is flawed because you’ll never see everything when you’re speeding past. The stop sign evolved for cars to force them to stop and make sure there’s nobody coming. It serves the exact same purpose for bikes.

J

a.O
Guest

“That said, if an officer happened to be watching you from a ways away, would putting your foot down be a good indication that you probably stopped completely? Yes.”

Does this help the officer decide whether I’ve committed a traffic violation when I’m driving my truck also? Because I actually have to get out of the drivers’ seat to do it, so it’s pretty inconvenient.

huh?
Guest
huh?

This cleared nothing up. The law doesn’t say you have to put your foot down, but you can and will still get ticketed for not putting a foot down.

Thanks for clearing things up.

jj
Guest
jj

“Assuming you drive, how often do you slow to 2MPH but not come to a complete stop at a stop SIGN (which is what I was referring to– stop lights are another, less ambiguous matter) when you’re in a car because it’s completely safe to do so?”

Um, pretty much never. If it’s a stop sign, I stop when driving or cycling.* What’s ambiguous about it? Stop=stop and Yield=yield.

*Though I will admit to not coming to a full and complete stop 100% of the time on my bike when pulling the trailer with both boys in it at an uphill stop sign because getting started again is a major feat.

3-speeder
Guest
3-speeder

Calm down bahueh. Motor vehicles frequently roll slowly through stop signs IN THE PRESENCE OF POLICE OFFICERS without being ticketed. Drivers seem to act that as long as they are being safe, a rolling stop will not result in a ticket. And the behavior of police officers seems to justify this attitude.

When on a bicycle, all I (and Hollie and presumably countless others) want to know is to what degree this same treatment applies to those riding bicycles.

From the accounts of many bicycle riders, it sounds that a bicycle rolling through a stop sign frequently receives tickets. I cannot say whether those who receive tickets are rolling more slowly than a car ordinarily would while not receiving a ticket. But from some of the stories, I get the distinct impression that bicycles are held to a more stringent standard than motor vehicles.

Yes, we can all follow the letter of the law precisely. But I’m more interested in being safe (for both myself and others) than following the letter of the law, as long as I follow the spirit of the law.

And it is a fact that in certain situations (such as starting up on an uphill incline, into a heavy wind, and/or carrying a heavy load), a bicycle may be more stable at a slow rolling speed than starting from a 100% foot-down stop (the only 100% stop I can do safely on my 3-speed to let traffic go through).

Intersection design is based on speeds and distances suitable for cars, not bikes. Parked cars often make it impossible to see far enough down the street to see if it is safe to cross without getting quite close to the path of oncoming traffic. At walking speed or slightly below, I can stop in less than a foot, and if I do not have to stop, then I am stable for crossing the danger zone and am safer. If I have to stop, then I have to stop…and be even more careful starting up in the aforementioned situations of less stability – I will have a bit less personal safety in these situations, so I will have to look for even greater clearance from side traffic. Not always an easy thing to do on some streets (example: Belmont or Morrison when going north (uphill) on the bike route on SE 16th).

Since there are situations (a) where I might break the letter of the law but follow the spirit of the law, and (b) which are no more egregious violations than those done by motor vehicles who do not seem to get ticketed for such violations, and (c) where I am more safe and also can identify that I do not create safety hazards for others, then I would like to know whether I, on my bicycle, can expect whether or not I would get a ticket from an observing police officer.

Actually, what I really want to know is why bicycles would be treated more harshly (with regard to rolling stops) than motor vehicles in the situation I describe, but I’m not holding my breath for anyone of authority to answer that one.

Mike
Guest
Mike

What is ambiguous about a sign that says “Stop”?
Any ambiguity is created solely by the reader of said sign. Stop really does mean stop. Not slow down and observe the intersection or acknowledge the sign.

I am not saying that I do not roll through them, but I am not going to pretend that I do not understand the meaning of the word stop.

We could go into a huge discussion on the various ways the word stop is used. Some of those ways would surely incite a riot, especially if one were to argue that “Stop is so ambiguous, and we had been drinking…”

I could understand if the sign read “Wrong way”. One could argue a misunderstanding of the context. What exactly is wrong? Direction, speed, style?

Really though, “Stop” is confusing? Should the signs read “Bring the vehicle to a speed of 0 miles per hour regardless of the positioning of your feet”?

Mike
Guest
Mike

You are not getting a ticket for failing to put your foot down. You are getting a ticket for failing to demonstrate the vehicle was stopped.

Learn to hold a trackstand and you will NOT get ticketed.

Put your foot down while rolling through a stop sign and you WILL get ticketed.

SYK
Guest
SYK

Being a California transplant, it was enlightening to learn I was illegally interpreting yellow lights in Oregon. Yes, I did pass the test to change my drivers license to Oregon upteem years ago but gosh you never get tested again to reinforce or clarify the rules you “thought” you knew. I have learned other traffic regulations for motor vehicles and cyclists on this web site that either I never knew or apparantly forgot.

It sure seems to make more sense to be “recertified” and tested every five years rather than receive a ticket or worse as the lesson.

SYK aka 2GOAT (We rode singles this year on CO so we didn’t keep getting called “Two Girls On a Tandem)

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

Officer Pickett, thanks for the important clarification on stop sign law. I’m crystal clear on what stop means(foot down or no), but it seems that many other road users don’t seem to know what happens at a stop sign after they’ve stopped: yield the right of way before proceeding. In recent memory, I’ve had two cars pull out in front of me after they’ve stopped, failing to yield to me on bike boulevards at intersections where my direction of travel has no stop sign. After I’ve rang my bell and given them polite but firm reminder, they have still insisted to me “I stopped!” This is very frustrating and obviously puts me in danger.

Is there else out there who still doesn’t understand the “yield” part of stop sign law after Officer Pickett’s explanation, or who has also observed this problem?

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Obviously Officer Pickett knows his stuff – try putting a foot down on a tall bike every time you come to a stop sign!

ralphie
Guest
ralphie

I can never understand how using other peoples bad behavior to justify your bad behavior is a positive thing.

Cars run stop signs so I can run stop signs.

Seems to me if that’s your chain of thought then you give up any right to complain about the other persons bad behavior. You’ve given away the moral high ground in the argument by stooping to their level.

Two wrongs don’t make a right they make an even.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

HOllie? slowing to 2mph? never.
I stop.
any other questions?

John Lascurettes
Guest

The letter of the CA and WA laws compared to the OR law is different, but the intent is the same:

If you cannot safely stop at the intersection by the time you reach it after the light turns yellow, proceed through the intersection. If you have time and conditions to safely stop, you must.

Note that the WA and CA laws say that yellow is a warning that the light will “immediately” turn red. It is still illegal to be in the intersection when the light is red (at least in CA it is); therefore, it is interpreted in court as the same as it is described here for Oregon. If someone enters the intersection in CA during a yellow light for which they had ample time and conditions to safely stop and the light turns red on them, they CAN be cited.

The OR law is really saying the same thing but saying it in a different way.

Kt
Guest
Kt

Stop means stop… it’s not ambiguous. Check the dictionary if you are still unsure.

The article says that you aren’t required by law to put your foot down when you come to a stop. But you do have to stop.

I don’t see what the confusion is about.

Or, rather, I do see what it’s about: it’s how people decide to apply the rules of the road to themselves.

Gabriel
Guest
Gabriel

Sad to see that, like most laws, the real legality lies only in the mind of the officer. That way, if a black guy’s tires don’t completely stop the officer can pull him over and treat him like a beast until he’s “non-compliant” enough to tazer. Oh, but that would NEVER happen in portland, where the officers show so much control….

Jeff Ong
Guest
Jeff Ong

I agree that the law itself is not ambiguous, but how selectively it’s enforced certainly is. There is an unwritten expectation that drivers can exceed the speed limit on the freeway by a certain amount without fear of being ticketed, and most drivers would be outraged if they received a ticket for traveling 56 mph in a 55 zone. Similarly, drivers very seldom stop completely at a stop sign unless there is another vehicle coming, or they can’t see clearly.

What I would like to know is: will Portland officers ticket me if I’m slowing down to 3-4 mph, looking around, then proceeding through a clear intersection. Because that’s what I typically do… I don’t come to a complete stop at a deserted intersection in a residential neighborhood, because, frankly, it’s ridiculous and a nuisance, even if I’m in no hurry.

Does that frame the question more clearly? Many of us would like to know specifically what is being enforced. I’m all for pulling over a rider who blows through an intersection at 20 mph, or doesn’t yield the right-of-way, or runs a red light. But the behavior I described above seems to be pretty consistent with responsible, safe riding.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

“will Portland officers ticket me if I’m slowing down to 3-4 mph, looking around, then proceeding through a clear intersection”

the problem is Jeff that that answer cannot be answered because each officer is an individual with their own opinions/perspectives on how they’ll enforce the laws. Leadership can say one thing, the law can say one thing, but rank and file officers can continue to do another thing.

this is not a criticism, this is merely human nature. what looks OK to one officer, might be an egregious violation that needs citing to another.

To try and answer your question, I would say that an officer should not, and is likely not going to stop you for safely proceeding through a stop… but they would certainly have the legal right to do so.

“Many of us would like to know specifically what is being enforced.”

This has been a problem specifically with the Traffic Division because of such frequent turnover of the top positions. This turnover makes it hard for the community to understand what the expectations of enforcement will be.

Jeff Ong
Guest
Jeff Ong

Thanks for the response, Jonathan.

That’s what’s attractive about the Idaho solution, I think — the burden of responsibility is still on the cyclist who chooses to treat the stop sign as a yield, but there is a clear, enforceable law that riders can count on.

I’m not a scofflaw by nearly any criteria, but I do knowingly violate the law when I roll slowly through a stop sign, because it’s really not practical to follow this law in many neighborhoods. Just as a driver travelling precisely the speed limit on a highway might feel a little foolish (or frustrated) with cars racing by on all sides.

Is there at least some stated policy within the police department, as I assume there must be about speed limits, etc.? Or are cops really free to interpret every traffic law as strictly or freely as they choose?

Bether
Guest
Bether

Thanks for posting this — I was pretty clear on the stop sign thing (like most people, I stop when there are other vehicles around and not always when there aren’t, but I know what I’m *supposed* to do), but as a transplant, even having gotten my OR license, I hadn’t been fully apprised of the difference in yellow light laws. I drive rarely (Zipcar), but now I’ll know to watch myself!

Tonya
Guest
Tonya

I followed a guy down Tillamook a few weeks ago who put a foot down at every stop sign. He didn’t actually stop at any of those intersections tho – he just kind of leaned over and tapped a foot down while the wheels were still clearly moving.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

“That’s what’s attractive about the Idaho solution…”

And that’s why I think we’ll be seeing that solution come up for Oregon in the next leg. session (more on that later).

“Is there at least some stated policy within the police department, as I assume there must be about speed limits, etc.? Or are cops really free to interpret every traffic law as strictly or freely as they choose?”

This type of thing you’d never find stated in a policy… but the reality is the reality.

The Police do not enforce highway speed limits until 12-15 mph over some times. That’s a well known fact.

And I wouldn’t say they’re “free to choose” how they interpret, it’s simple a matter of human nature. We are not black/white beings… we are mostly grey.

and please realize I am by no means an expert on Police.. i am only writing about what I’ve learned/observed through several years of dealing with police issues.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Gabriel-

Right idea, but wrong victim. These forums are generally reserved for the victimizing of law breaking cyclists. In your scenario, the “victim” was in a car, and as we can plainly see, cagers are rarely punished.
So if it was a black man on a bicycle…
Or an intoxicated white male riding at night without lights and not stopping…

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

more on trackstands, rolling through, etc..

Here’s a quote I got back in 2005 from former Commander of the PPB Traffic Division (Bill Sinnott):

“Trackstands are fine. The law requires the wheels to stop moving in order to be considered a stop. However, its very rare for a police officer to cite someone just because the wheels dont completely cease movement.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Hollie –

When driving, I come to a complete and 100% stop at the stop sign. I expect others to do the same.

Matthew Denton
Guest
Matthew Denton

It should be noted that cars do get cited for not stopping completely. The car that Kendra James was traveling in didn’t stop completely at a stop sign, and that was the justification for pulling it over. (The car was also leaving a known drug hotel in the middle of the night with a bunch of people in it, so the police really wanted to pull it over: it is like getting a mobster on tax evasion, it may not be the perfect solution, but it works.) Of course, she was then killed by the police while trying to escape and the entire thing ended badly, but the problem there was not the stop sign enforcement…

In any case, just because the law says one thing, and you normally get away with doing something different, doesn’t mean that the police can’t stop you for it. There are a lot of people that blow crowded stop signs at 20 mph too, and while most of us think that they aren’t safe, I expect that many of them have never gotten a ticket for it either, because there just aren’t enough police in town to catch everyone every time they do anything wrong…

P.S. I love the countdown pedestrian crossing signs. It lets me know if I should speed up or slow down before an intersection, instead of speeding up because the light is green and then having to brake hard because the light turned yellow. They should install those everywhere.

jrdpdx
Guest
jrdpdx

Thanks for the article it was helpful. The shocking part was it took all the way to response 11 and 12 before anyone complained about a cop’s words or picked it apart

Carissa
Guest
Carissa

I love these articles. This is much better than that dinky little book on biking the DMV gives out.

peejay
Guest
peejay

Here we go again!

And I missed all the early fun because Jonathan makes it impossible to leave comments from an iPhone 🙁

The arguments above prove quite convincingly why the stop sign really is a lousy traffic signal, but if anyone missed it, let me spell it out for you:

1) It’s in the wrong place. You are conditioned to look to the right, among trees and parked vehicles, at every intersection to see if you are expected to stop at this intersection, instead of maintaining a good look at the actual intersection. This leads to lazy reliance on the sign as decider of whether you can go or not, instead of conditions on the road.

2) It’s meaning is not clear. The stop sign is ambiguous, meaning three distinct things depending on context, and as such, is not a good conveyer of the correct information. It is a failure as a symbol, because the symbol can have multiple meanings*

3) It’s usually not necessary. Every time one stops when it’s clearly not necessary to do so, one cannot help internalizing some kind of devaluation of the value of stopping. We may do it as a ritual, or out of habit, which is well and good, but is ends up being abstracted from the reason that the sign is there to begin with: safety. The more you are forced to stop when you can clearly see that there isn’t a car (or bike, or pedestrian) in sight, the less you respect the intersections where you really might not be able to see, or the times at the high visibility intersection where there may be traffic you must wait for.

And that’s why through most of Europe, they are moving away from the stop sign and going to intersections where people yield to traffic that has already entered the intersection. It just makes sense, and keeps you alert to look for other traffic, instead of spending time reading signs off to the side of the road, and thinking that as long as you follow all those signs, nothing bad will happen.

Now, I know that we have the laws we have, and we cannot just decide to follow the laws we wished we had, but we spend a lot of time arguing what to do at stops, which should be our first clue that something is broken about our system. That we disagree about stop signs to the degree we do is a clear sign that stop signs are not ideal traffic controls.

peejay
Guest
peejay

* The three different meanings of stop signs are:
1) when the other direction has right of way, and you must wait until it’s clear to proceed;

2) “all way” stop signs, where you must stop and then take turns proceeding;

3) the stop sign often wielded by construction flaggers, which actually functions much like a red traffic light – stop until the sign is turned around or lowered.

As you can see, this is a lot for one symbol to convey, and clutters up a person’s mind.

fuchsia
Guest
fuchsia

Sting alert!

Just now got pulled over on Hawthorne after running a yellow at 39th. I was heading west, a line of cars was clogging the right lane (is that a right-turn-only lane? I wasn’t sure), and by the time I decided to pass them in the left lane, the light was turning yellow. It was still yellow when my friend behind me went through.

A few blocks later the police pulled us over, and said to my friend, “You ran a red light,” just baiting him to say, “Actually it was yellow.” Then the cop agreed that it was yellow, but pointed out that yellow means stop in Oregon. They were nice, just looking out for our safety and all, and we didn’t get ticketed. It may have helped that they saw us stop for pedestrians in the striped crosswalk at 37th, and that we were had plenty of lights.

But interesting that this happened the same day Officer Pickett’s article appeared.

Fergus
Guest
Fergus

In my car, I roll through stop signs. On my bike, I roll even more. When a cop is watching, (and I see him or her) I roll much less. It works. I expect the same from others on the road. Full stops, I don’t see them. The roll must not be too dangerous; it worked today.

Sara
Guest
Sara

As far as I understand it, the timing of the yellow to red light transition accounts for stopping distance of a motor vehicle. I have been frustrated on numerous occasions when the light has turned yellow but I am past the point of no return (that is, I cannot safely stop in time). I watch the pedestrian crosswalk light to try to avoid running red lights, but I still end up entering the intersection on yellows fairly regularly.

Is there any way to get the duration of the yellows lengthened to accommodate all road users (that is, bikes too, who tend to have a longer stopping distance)?

Similarly Anonymous
Guest
Similarly Anonymous

It’s fascinating (and, to me, sad) that so much of this conversation focuses on the letter of the law and the subjectivity of interpretation. That suggests that we as a society haven’t figured out exactly what it is we’re trying to achieve.

A soapbox extrapolation/generalization might be that it epitomizes the weakness in the American legal system: we fight over things that don’t (really) matter without focus on what we’re trying to accomplish. Set aside the “what’s best for me” question and try to ponder “what’s best for society” question.

Compare our approach to the Dutch. To my perspective, the Dutch made their focus clear when they systematically replaced stop signs with yield signs. This change, deemed dangerous and radical by American traffic engineers, has resulted in dramatic declines in intersection-related crashes.

I don’t have the supporting data at my fingertips, but it’s out there. Perhaps Greg Raisman or somebody else can cite this data. It’s probably online though my cursory search didn’t yield what I was looking for.

Consider the significance of the switch from stop to yield. It’s a wholesale shift of responsibility from the government owning all the responsibility, no matter the circumstance, to the individual owning all the responsibility to use his/her judgment in a context-sensitive environment.

While the Dutch approach may seem counter-intuitive at first blush, is it any wonder that crash rates have declined? When people own the responsibility of thinking for themselves, they tend to make rational decisions. With a stop sign, you don’t have that choice. The law mandates a complete stop regardless of context.

How many cyclists (or motorists for that matter) blow those Ladd’s Circle stop signs? As has been noted, when you can predictably anticipate continued movement through the intersection will be a safe choice, most of us make that choice. That’s rational. Conversely, a complete stop is irrational (in light of the fact that cyclists are human-powered and have an innate motivation to maximize the utility of their own effort).

In The Netherlands (home of massive and very safe bike mode split) no question those Ladd’s intersections would be yields. And they would be safer for it. The individual, not the government, is in charge. And yet here, we rarely allow ourselves to even have this conversation. Instead we argue over interpretation of a law without debate over intent of the law. No wonder mode splits are 30% nationwide in The Netherlands and 5-6% in the nation’s most “bike-friendly” city. Give the Dutch credit: they’re relentlessly rational.

I understand not everybody will agree with my view, but, in advance, I ask: what is it we are trying to accomplish with a stop sign versus a yield sign? Should we really be debating foot down versus no foot down? (Who cares!?) Or should we be debating the broader question of what we’re trying to accomplish at intersections?

a.O
Guest

See #42.

Chris B
Guest
Chris B

Not only are there traffic laws, but there are some commom sense factors that may be worth considering, especially given some of the arrogance exhibited by many of the drivers and cyclists we all see on the road. Yield to tonnage! Seriously… if you are in a car and a semi truck is turning right in front of you, do you “take the lane” and claim your right of way, or do you yield knowing that your facing a losing battle. Not much point in staking your claim when death is on the line. Other common sense approaches to bike/road safety is not rushing the light. I have my 3yo daughter on my bike most of the time I’m out and actually prefer to see a red or yellow light so I can come to a complete stop. Sometimes it almost seems more dangerous going through a green light. Anyway, the main idea here is be safe, use common sense and check your arrogance at the door before getting in your car or on your bike, or just getting on the road.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I can stop without putting my foot down, and I can put my foot down without stopping…

N
Guest
N

Hey Hollie, Shame on you for asking an honest and logical question. It sure seems like there are a lot of perfect cyclists out there today. But you know, I bet these are the same holier than thou cyclists that always come up to me yapping about not completely stopping while they have headphones in.

Oh by the way everyone.. I’m the best cyclist around because I always put my foot down, stop completely, signal exclusively with my left arm, ring my bell everytime a leaf falls off a tree, get mad at people who pass me, use a hand signal to show I’ll be slowing in 45 secs, thank motorists for being stopped at red lights, and thank cops for tazering those bad cyclists who just aren’t safe enough. I also think helmets should be required and fixed gear bicycles(a terrorist’s vehicle of choice) should be illegal. See how much gooder I am than you.

ralphie
Guest
ralphie

#42

How would Ladds circle be safer with yield signs over stop signs?

The unsafe issue with Ladds is not the stop signs it’s the decision of those to ignore the law and roll the stop sign. If those signs were yields how would that particular situation be any better?

Ladds circle is not a traffic circle it is a landscape feature. The trees in the circle itself make it difficult to see traffic that is already in the circle. The growth around the outside blocks sight lines. It also has 8 roads entering a very small circle. A true traffic circle has clear sight lines to allow users to view as much of the situation as possible to make a decision on when to enter the flow of traffic. The circle is a less than optimal traffic design and as such requires the control of stop signs over yield signs.

How observant and safe can these people be who roll stop signs in Ladds when they can’t even see a police vehicle and stop in time to avoid a ticket?

The excuse that I don’t want to waste energy is a cop out. Don’t complain about cars rolling stop signs when all they are doing is conserving energy by not having to accelerate again.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

The first “rule” of bicycling (regardless of what the State of OR says) is “don’t get hit.” The second rule is “be considerate of others,” and the third is “don’t lose momentum.” Everything else is advisory.
Almost no one comes to a complete stop at stop signs on quiet streets…neither motorists or bicyclist. Anyone with a brain and will to live does come to a complete stop at busy cross streets. When a bicyclist makes a poor judgement, they pay with life and/or limb; when a motorist does the same, often it is someone else who pays. Police should focus on the latter behavior, not the former.
Stop signs on Bikeways should have a “bike yield” sign underneath, but until they do, we will do the obvious.
And until it is safe to ride legally in Portland, I will choose safety over the law…”rule #1.”

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

“In The Netherlands (home of massive and very safe bike mode split) no question those Ladd’s intersections would be yields. And they would be safer for it.” Similarly Anonymous

So you say SA. Have you asked any Netherlands traffic engineers that have studied the situation here in Portland, and Ladd’s, whether signs in that unusually configured neighborhood should indeed have its stop signs replaced with yeilds? I think perhaps the people living in the neighborhood might have something to say about this, and my guess is they’d say ‘no’.

Similarly, implying that the application of traffic control arrangements existent in a country such as the Netherlands to the city of Portland would be better, without considering the needs of this city that distinguish it from the other isn’t convincing.

So what is the broader question of what we’re trying to accomplish at intersections? It seems like it must be, to allow people to pass through them without crashing into each other. Stop signs unequivocally mean ‘stop’, look around before proceeding. Yield signs don’t offer that level of protection for passage through an intersection. Before calling for an end to the need to stop at stop signs, or change them to yields, thought should be given to why the level of protection stop signs provide, was thought to be important for the locations they’re sited at.

To the extent that road users and the police that monitor their behavior on the road, feel it’s reasonable and appropriate to, given specific situations and circumstances, fudge the basic rule about stopping, that’s fine. The main thing is to get everyone through intersections safely and still keep this place where we live an enjoyable place to be.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

# 41. I’m going to have to disagree that bikes have a longer stopping distance. I don’t have the figures, but my intuition and experience tells me that it is so.

# 42. Good point well presented, particularly the concept of owning our responsibility.

# 44. Giving up your rights to someone larger and more powerful than you sets a very dangerous precedent. And it’s a viewpoint which has gained far too much acceptance in recent years.