Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS
Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS

Why Do Cyclists Blow Stop Signs? 13

Toronto Stop Sign

All photos by James D. Schwartz

I came across this unique stop sign while walking the dog at the Exhibition grounds here in Toronto. It is a regular stop sign outfitted with a secondary stop sign that reads “CYCLISTS MUST STOP”.

The implicit message that I gather from this stop sign is that regular stop signs don’t apply to cyclists. But because this sign explicitly states that cyclists must stop, cyclists must of course obey it.

Yes you scofflaw “cyclists” MUST come to a complete stop, put your foot down, look both ways, then proceed when it’s safe.

I can’t think of a more useless appropriation of government tax dollars than to put a stop sign specifically for cyclists at this junction.

Why is it that cyclists don’t bother stopping at this stop sign? Simple. The same reason cars don’t bother stopping at this intersection either.

If this was a dangerous intersection where cyclists were potentially harming themselves or others, then I could understand why they would put up this sign. But this is such a low-volume intersection that when I sat there for 45 minutes one morning, not a single car, bus or bicycle bothered to stop here.

Because of the road layout, most cyclists and drivers turn right at this intersection. The curb is even curved around the corner as if it was never meant to be a stop sign in the first place:

Toronto Stop Sign

Anti-cyclists commonly make the claim that cyclists have no right to be on the road because they don’t obey the traffic laws, and blowing through stop signs is one commonly cited examples of why drivers have the right to seek vengeance against people on two-wheels.

Before criticizing “scofflaw” cyclists, drivers should get their own ducks in a row. In addition to very few motorists stopping at stop signs, take a drive along any highway in the Toronto area and you will have difficulty finding A SINGLE PERSON who drives within the MAXIMUM speed limit of our highways (excluding rush hour traffic congestion of course).

Which begs the question, why do we have so many stop signs in the first place? While traveling China last month, I didn’t come across a single stop sign. High traffic roads use traffic signals, and local residential street intersections are treated as a “yield”. This actually helps reduce the traffic speed, because drivers always need to be aware of what they might encounter.

In the Netherlands, yield signs are complemented by other traffic calming measures, such as low speed limits, narrow streets, and dead-ends to prevent motorists from using quiet streets as thoroughfares.

Here in North America, drivers don’t pay attention nearly as much because they have a false sense of security with all our traffic signals, stop signs, and rules. This encourages motorists to drive faster and be less aware, and possibly even bored.

Out of boredom comes distractions (cell phones, coffee, radios, etc), and some drivers even fall asleep at the wheel.

In Idaho, they have implemented what is commonly known as the “Idao stop”, whereby cyclists are allowed to roll through stop signs in that state (if they are not impeding with other vehicles of course).

It’s a brilliant law, because a cyclist rolling through a stop sign isn’t going to kill anyone. Of course if the cyclist encountered pedestrians or vehicles at the intersection, he/she would treat the intersection as a regular stop sign.

As long as traffic engineers continue putting stop signs everywhere as a short-sighted way of calming traffic, you will always have motorists and cyclists alike disobeying these stop signs when it is safe to do so.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

Related Articles:

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05757342087661089355 Duncan

    While completely out of context and with no indication over how long these shots were taken, here’s a video argument against yields over stop signs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QESfEd180rQ

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    True, yields probably don’t make sense everywhere. Though I’m sure if we recorded thousands of hours of footage at stop signs or traffic signals, we’d be able to compile plenty of collisions too ;)

    Here’s a more desirable video of sharing the road without traffic signals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kkBj3hv8bk

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    I’ve never understood the whole “cyclists don’t obey the law, get’em off our roads” argument.

    There is not a day that goes by where I don’t see at the very least 7 cars go through red lights.
    Stop signs? EVERY single car I encounter rolls right through, most of the time barely even rolling through.

    I will NEVER blow through a stop sign, however I will roll through them. There are so many areas I travel that have either no or very little car traffic.

    I’m glad you bring up the highway speeds. Motorists actually believe going 10-20k over the speed limit is perfectly acceptable. Many claim that speed limits are too slow, that is why they speed.
    So if cyclists don’t think they should stop at stop signs we should just go through?

    I live on a fairly busy street, and EVERY single day I see cars going 10-15k over the speed limit.
    It’s a two lane road (with bike lanes), has three high schools and a few elementary schools in the area. People are constantly speeding.
    Because I live on a corner lot, there is a one way stop (from my street to the major one) and I’d guess 80-90% of the motorists never stop unless they have to because of on coming cars.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Ryan, there’s nothing to understand about that argument, because it’s just an excuse for some drivers to take their anger out on cyclists. As I mentioned in the helmet article, even if we obeyed all the laws, some drivers would still find reasons that we shouldn’t be on the road – we will never overcome this.

    But what we can do is have a louder voice than them..

    Agreed that perhaps “blowing” stop signs is a bit of a strong word. Most people on bikes roll through stop signs at a safe speed. It’s funny too because when I was watching that one particular stop sign, a TTC bus literally “blew” the stop sign – he barely slowed down. The bikes I saw simply rolled through it (though there was one racer guy in lycra who “blew” through it).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05757342087661089355 Duncan

    Great video response!

    Another part of why some cyclists go through stop signs is familiarity with an area. Unlike cars, which can cover hundreds of kilometres easily, many cyclists stick to, I’d guess, about a 10 km area around where they live. Over time you get to know that area really well by bicycle. That’s why the TTC driver you saw blew that stop sign, he’s probably driven that route hundreds of times and “knows” it’s a “safe” move.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10461307624697017327 Michael Kalus

    With Vancouver lately being up in arms (well, some car drivers are) because of the (not so ) new Mayor and his council who are actually trying to improve cycling and egged on by the local media (hello Vancouver Sun) I did a few experiments over the last few months.

    The one argument that is regularly made is that most cyclists don’t obey traffic laws while the car drivers are all perfect, as such I decided to brush up on every little thing of the BC Motor Vehicle act and drive my car as I should. That is, obey all the traffic laws and speed limits.

    On a short trip around town I was honked at, yelled and and got rude gestures, by other car drivers.

    I also started doing the same thing on the bike, resulting in similar results (especially at stop signs, because, guess what, it takes a lot longer for me to do a “legal” stop and then get back up.

    The reason for stupid signs like these is simple: It’s cheap, it plays to a perceived problem and it makes the car drivers happy.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s imagine if all the cyclists in Toronto would start participating equally in the traffic obeying all the rules and such. Naturally, riding down the center of the lane. The whole city, all the cyclists. I wonder how that would be perceived by the drivers and the police.
    http://www.blogto.com/upload/2011/04/201149-cyclist-stop.jpg

  • Jon Doer

    You ride on the road, you are a vehicle and you ignore road signs at your own risk. I drive a car AND ride a bike and follow road signs whenever I ride either type of vehicle.

    This is why car drivers hate cyclists. They act like pedestrians when they want to (i.e., they ignore stop signs like pedestrians and cross when their light is red, etc.) and clog up narrow roads by riding 2-3 abreast while holding up the car traffic.

    Share the road does not mean everybody yields to you!

    • dr2chase

      You make several mistakes here. First, cyclists break traffic laws no more often than car drivers do — so if this is why drivers hate cyclists, this is why they should hate themselves equally. We observe that they don’t — therefore, this reasoning is not correct. Second, you assume that the drivers know the law — the last two times anyone in a car presumed to lecture me about “the law”, they were incorrect; one advised me to perform an illegal maneuver (ride on the sidewalk in a business district, never mind that the sidewalk disappeared in half a block), the other reprimanded me for not signaling my right turn (not required of cyclists if they need both hands to steer; for instance, riding a cargo bike uphill, which I was, never mind that a right turn only matters to him if he is passing me on the right, which was completely impossible). Third, the issue is not about demanding that people yield to you; it is about allowing cyclists to cut the very same corners that drivers do with respect to stop signs, where they don’t actually come to a full stop if they can verify with their (superior to drivers’) vision and hearing that there is no oncoming traffic that would be forced to yield.

      The rules for road position and riding two abreast and delaying traffic vary from state to state, but it is generally true that if a cyclist believes that it would be dangerous for you to pass him (or her), he has a right to signal this by taking the center position in the lane. Seeing as how (s)he has life and limb at risk, where the driver has either some scraped paint or a few seconds of delay, I’d say that the cyclist has more skin in the game and the right to be the decider. If you time the actual delays, they are usually a matter of a few seconds, and can usually be made up after the pass.

      You make the additional error of assuming that any cyclist can speak for all or influence all, and that one motorist can do the same. I scrupulously obeyed traffic laws for about 30 years, and guess what — no special driver-love for me! No surprise, because (1) other cyclists are doing their own thing and (2) a small number of drivers are ignorant tribal psychopaths and (3) the major danger comes from people who are just not paying enough attention to the road.

      There’s the additional problem that, given the actual harm caused by scofflaw cyclists and scofflaw pedestrians, that enforcement (in the US) should be approximately in the ratio of 3000:1; locally, it should be roughly in the ratio of 15x car share to 1x bike share, because that is roughly the per vehicle risk presented to pedestrians (so for example, if shares are 80:20, then 600:1 enforcement efforts). Obviously, given the much greater danger presented to others (and the impaired senses of car drivers), it is much more important for drivers to obey the law than cyclists.

  • Jon Doer

    You ride on the road, you are a vehicle and you ignore road signs at your own risk. I drive a car AND ride a bike and follow road signs whenever I ride either type of vehicle.

    This is why car drivers hate cyclists. They act like pedestrians when they want to (i.e., they ignore stop signs like pedestrians and cross when their light is red, etc.) and clog up narrow roads by riding 2-3 abreast while holding up the car traffic.

    Share the road does not mean everybody yields to you!

  • dr2chase

    You make several mistakes here. First, cyclists break traffic laws no more often than car drivers do — so if this is why drivers hate cyclists, this is why they should hate themselves equally. We observe that they don’t — therefore, this reasoning is not correct. Second, you assume that the drivers know the law — the last two times anyone in a car presumed to lecture me about “the law”, they were incorrect; one advised me to perform an illegal maneuver (ride on the sidewalk in a business district, never mind that the sidewalk disappeared in half a block), the other reprimanded me for not signaling my right turn (not required of cyclists if they need both hands to steer; for instance, riding a cargo bike uphill, which I was, never mind that a right turn only matters to him if he is passing me on the right, which was completely impossible). Third, the issue is not about demanding that people yield to you; it is about allowing cyclists to cut the very same corners that drivers do with respect to stop signs, where they don’t actually come to a full stop if they can verify with their (superior to drivers’) vision and hearing that there is no oncoming traffic that would be forced to yield.

    The rules for road position and riding two abreast and delaying traffic vary from state to state, but it is generally true that if a cyclist believes that it would be dangerous for you to pass him (or her), he has a right to signal this by taking the center position in the lane. Seeing as how (s)he has life and limb at risk, where the driver has either some scraped paint or a few seconds of delay, I’d say that the cyclist has more skin in the game and the right to be the decider. If you time the actual delays, they are usually a matter of a few seconds, and can usually be made up after the pass.

    You make the additional error of assuming that any cyclist can speak for all or influence all, and that one motorist can do the same. I scrupulously obeyed traffic laws for about 30 years, and guess what — no special driver-love for me! No surprise, because (1) other cyclists are doing their own thing and (2) a small number of drivers are ignorant tribal psychopaths and (3) the major danger comes from people who are just not paying enough attention to the road.

    There’s the additional problem that, given the actual harm caused by scofflaw cyclists and scofflaw pedestrians, that enforcement (in the US) should be approximately in the ratio of 3000:1; locally, it should be roughly in the ratio of 15x car share to 1x bike share, because that is roughly the per vehicle risk presented to pedestrians (so for example, if shares are 80:20, then 600:1 enforcement efforts). Obviously, given the much greater danger presented to others (and the impaired senses of car drivers), it is much more important for drivers to obey the law than cyclists.

  • Pingback: Snow Traffic-Calming Measures ← The Urban Country

  • Pingback: Stifling Urban Bicycling ← The Urban Country