Stop signs and cycling: Should cyclists treat stop signs as yield signs?
Mainstream media has been buzzing this past week over comments made by spokespeople for HUB: Your Cycling Connection (formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, VACC). The comments concerned HUB’s position on seeking legislation that will allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. This is sometimes called a “stop as yield” law, or an “Idaho Stop” law.
In 1982, the state of Idaho passed a law that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs (for straight through and left turns) and as yield signs for right turns. This law does not allow cyclists to “blow” stop signs or stop lights. It does not change the right-of-way rules. Data from before and after the enactment of the Idaho Stop law shows no change in cyclist injury rate.
Jason Meggs of the University of Bologna gave an interesting presentation (pdf) on the Idaho Stop law at this past year’s Velo-City conference.
The idea of adopting a similar law comes up every few years in BC and most other jurisdictions. One of HUB’s official policy positions is support of a “Stop as Yield” law (the other is opposition to a mandatory helmets-for-adults law).
I’m not exactly sure what cause this week’s interest in this policy position, but it got a fair bit of play in the local media. News1130 ran an article and an associated web poll. The web poll asked if there should “… be different rules of the road for cyclists?” As of March 2nd, response was almost 84% “No”. GlobalTV also had an article as did The Province newspaper. The Vancouver Observer chimed in and the CBC’s Stephen Quinn interviewed Richard Campbell of the BC Cycling Coalition which maintains the same position (jump to 1:19:00).
This topic is particularly pertinent in Kits where the grid of residential road is peppered with stop signs. And, as anyone who has spent any time on those roads knows, the stop signs are treated with little respect by both cyclists and motorists. There are three groups of people: those who just don’t care/don’t drive with due care who regularly ignore stop signs. The number of cyclists in this group is larger than the number of motorists, but it’s a not-insignificant number of motorists. Then there’s the group of people (cyclists and motorists both) who slow down significantly at stop signs, but if there are no other vehicles/pedestrians or they have clear right-of-way will proceed through the intersection without coming to a complete stop. Usually this group comes to a complete stop if other road users are near or in the intersection. By far, this is the largest group for both motorists and cyclists. Last is the group of cyclists and motorists who come to complete stops at every single stop sign. I’d put this group at the same size as those who blow through stop signs regularly.
Given the behaviour that currently occurs on our streets, I can see how a “stop-as-yield” law might be appealing for some people, essentially legislating the prevailing behaviour. The thing that seems to upset many people, though, is that the proposal is framed as a special behaviour for cyclists only. That is, it would allow cyclists to legally treat stops as yields, but maintain the current rule for other road users.
Given the media-fueled antagonism cyclists in Vancouver face, the idea of a special rule just for cyclists will not gain any significant public support. The Province wrote as much in an editorial.
In particular, neither the BCCC nor HUB have made an effective argument for why this change needs to be made. In the CBC interview, one of the reasons given was that cyclists might fall over at stop signs and hurt themselves because they can’t unclip from their clipless pedals. I can’t believe this was raised as an issue at all. The number of cyclists who ride with clipless pedals is small, and the number of those riders toppling over because they can’t unclip is tiny. The HUB policy page indicates that making the change has the benefits of:
- Encouraging more cycling by reducing effort associated with frequent starting/stopping
- Allowing law enforcement to focus on more important concerns
- Permits behaviour that already exists, improving relations between road users
- Possibly improve cyclist safety, because a bike is more stable when moving
I don’t think the case has been made as to why cyclists deserve special consideration for this, either. Cycling advocates have been trying for decades to get the public to acknowledge that bicycles belong on the roads. “We Are Traffic!” is the rallying call of Critical Mass, after all. To then say that cyclists deserve different rules is not consistent.
The idea of not stopping at intersections when it’s not necessary, however, does have merit. Fortunately we already have a mechanism in place to address this: yield signs. Yield signs have the advantage of functioning exactly like stop signs when there are other road users around, but not requiring a full stop when unnecessary. And they apply equally to all road users. And they require no changes to the existing laws. Why are yield signs used in so few places? They are usually only found at merge points on highways or other busy roads. The Vancouver Sun asked this question in 2009, focusing on motorists.
Of course, advocates of traffic-circles and round-abouts will (correctly) point out that these traffic control devices provide the same benefits of not stopping when not necessary and they provide some physical separation as well. My principal objection to traffic-circles is that many motorists (and some cyclists) don’t observe the implicit yield. Look left FIRST!
So, this too will pass. The idea comes up every few years (usually around provincial elections), gets a few days’ discussion, gets no traction, and then disappears. Given the animosity surrounding the idea (read the comments on the articles linked above, I dare you) I think that continuing to advocate for the idea burns more goodwill than realize any sort of gain for cyclists.
What do you think? Should cyclists be allowed to treat stops as yields? Should stop signs be replaced by yields or traffic-circles?