Stop signs and cycling: Should cyclists treat stop signs as yield signs?

stop_sign_with_bicycle_yield-200x300Mainstream 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?

12 Responses to “Stop signs and cycling: Should cyclists treat stop signs as yield signs?”

  1. Pissed says:

    I am tired of giving cyclists special this and that.

    It’s easy…

    Wear your helmet
    Follow the traffic rules
    Stay off the sidewalk

    otherwise I will hit you and my dash cam will catch it… oh.. you better have awesome insurance ’cause I’m gonna sue your butt off!

  2. Alex P says:

    Pissed: So if you see someone riding without a helmet, you will go run them down and film it, or someone riding on a sidewalk, you will drive up on the sidewalk and run them down, and expect that it is them who should be sued?

  3. Jason says:

    I am tired of internet tough guys like P*issed spouting off.

  4. Sully says:

    The answer is no. Cyclists should not get stop as yield signs and even though ‘pissed’ is acting like an idiotic 2 year old the sentiment in this city is that cyclists have taken over this city and that citizens have compromised long enough. When they haven’t compromised and shown opposition there has been critical mass protests. And this is coming from a person who rides responsibly. Cyclists cross lanes, blow signs, jump curbs, finger drivers, they do not slow Dow down for pedestrians and basically behave like they own the road. And from the behavioir of Vision and the Vancouver Parks Board (meaning they have meetings and listen to massive amounts of opposition and then vote for it anyway mentality), it now looks like the city will most likely add a bike lane on Cornwall in the next year. And seeing that neighborhoods have calming traffic circles to quiet the car traffic as cyclists fly through as cars yield because nobody in this city is quite sure what the next car will do, do we basically get rid of stop signs for cyclists so when they do blow through them the person in their apartment reading their books will get to hear “Heyyyyyy!!!” Followed by profanity, followed by “did you see the stop-yield sign? I have right of way!!! Jackass!!!” Followed by car screatch stop followed by guy getting out of car. You get it. My point is; cyclists got their bike lanes all over the city and still behave like they own the road. And when I say they got their bike lanes, I mean when the next election comes around the city will find out how many millions it cost. So no dude, we don’t need to change the signs, but cyclists need to come to a complete stop, hand signal and carry on by riding responsibling and sharing the road.

  5. Chris says:

    It’s dark and rainy far too often in this city for cyclists to think they can legally and safely blow through every stop sign around. It’s hard enough as a driver in Vancouver to avoid hitting jaywalking pedestrians and out of control cyclists, let’s not add to the chaos.

  6. Marie says:

    I thought that stop signs already didn’t apply to cyclists. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone on a bike stop at a Stop sign.

    One way to cull the herd of stupid people.

  7. Diana says:

    First off, I will always support trying to get more bikes on the road to replace cars. Why shouuldn’t we? We live in a city where you can bike to work year round, I can’t believe more people DON’T commute by bike.

    I think the main reason I would like to see stop signs being recognized as yields for bikes, is simply so people can stop complaining about bikes “blowing” through stop signs. Most bikes are going slow enough when approaching an intersection that there’s not much point in stopping at all. I mean, it’s our lives at stake, not sure why cyclists would want to be blowing through intersections at the risk of being hit by cars?

  8. Anthony says:

    So much righteous indignation over scofflaw cyclists. What about motorists? Maybe it’s not a cyclist vs motorist thing, maybe it’s a responsible road user vs asshole thing?

    This is a regular occurrence on my bike commute: Car blows 4-way stop sign http://youtu.be/0us5hFznBsY (tonight, 8th & Bayswater)

    And yes, it’s also a regular occurrence for bikes to blow it too.

  9. S. Morris Rose says:

    I strongly support this idea, while well understanding why the political capital to get it passed simply isn’t on deposit. Yet.

    What I don’t grasp is the assertion that different rules for cyclists and motorists is inconsistent with having different vehicle types- motorized an bicycles- share the road. Bicycles and motor vehicles are different in several relevant ways: most notably, bicycles travel at a lower speed and present a far lower risk of injury to other road users. And we already have some different rules for bikes and motor vehicles.

    I think we want a society where our rules make enough sense that obeying them is an entirely reasonable course of action. On a bicycle, stopping at every stop sign on a residential street when there are no other vehicles or pedestrians present is something a rider would do only to rigidly comply with the law, not to stay safe and keep other safe. That’s why you don’t see bicyclists do it, and that’s why it’s not right to demand in the law that they do it.

    To me, this seems entirely obvious and uncontroversial.

  10. S. Morris Rose says:

    On another note, please don’t feed the trolls. People who post inflammatory comments do it to get a reaction, not to make a legitimate point. Few will persist if they don’t get that reaction. Neither the trolly comments nor the outraged responses are interesting to read.

  11. John says:

    What I don’t understand is how such a law would “improve relations between different road users”. In a time when the mainstream media is demonizing cyclists to sell papers and create conflict, this will only be used to make it appear that some people are getting something they don’t deserve. Cyclists are already criticized even when following the law because of stereotyping. You can be a goodie two-shoes on a bike and follow the law to the letter and you’ll still get harassed and lumped in with someone who you don’t even know who’s reckless.

    What I find amazing is how people misconstrue disenfranchisement for entitlement. When you’re excluded from things (like cycling is) then there’s no reason to follow the rules as you don’t benefit from them. You’ll find that with any minority. Another thing you’ll find is that whenever a minority protests against oppression, this will be misinterpreted as unreasonable demands. Another thing is that they will be framed as having privilege. We’ve all seen it over and over again. Like when someone is shy they appear to be snobby by others.

    We do have different rules for different modes of transport already. Trucks can’t go down some roads and are the only ones allowed on some others for example. It’s not the drivers that have privilege it’s the type of vehicle. It shouldn’t really be looked at as a type of person “getting something” that someone else isn’t.

    Twenty years ago when it was the Gays that the media was demonizing, this law could have passed but not now. A better thing to do is to review all intersections with stop signs and see if a yield sign would be more appropriate.

    Note: Critical Mass and Hub have nothing to do with each other. I think Hub is officially against Critical Mass. Critical Mass has no leaders so there are as many reasons to exist as participants. It started as a reaction to the behaviour of some motorists.

  12. Bill Barilko says:

    Call me simple minded but I don’t understand how I as a cyclist am ‘disenfranchised’ from anything.