I have a family, so I tend to ride my bike cautiously. I stop for stop lights, I stop (or nearly so) for stop signs, and I tend to ride defensively. I’ve made a few mistakes, but I have not paid dearly for them, thank God. I do, though, understand the raging debate (yes it is raging, in case you were unaware) about whether cyclists should be required by law to come to a full stop at stop signs. As of now, in Oregon and most states, cyclists are required to obey the same laws as autos, including coming to a full stop at stop signs.
To not stop completely is to encourage the wrath of motorists.
Cyclists are often the target of road rage. I have written about this before
. Motorists accuse cyclists of never obeying laws designed for automobiles, but which are also applied to bicycles, like stopping at stop signs. And the motorists are somewhat correct, and also hypocritical. Bring the topic up with someone who has not commuted on a bike since they were in short pants and you are likely to get eye rolling and something like, “Those crazy cyclists! They never stop, never signal, and they just don’t give a damn about the law. Too bad if some of them get hit by drivers. It’s their own fault.” Not only does this lump all cyclists together, it’s filled with pro-car/anti-bike prejudice.
When it comes to comparing drivers and cyclists though, I can’t help but wonder at the potential and real implications of a motorist running a stop sign versus a cyclist. And the problem is that motorists run stop signs all the time, and I mean all the time, just like cyclists do. Of course, rarely do either motorists or cyclists blow through stop signs as much as they roll slowly through, making the judgement call that doing so will cause no harm. This has been called a California stop. But cyclists are the ones most thought of as the prime offenders. They are also the ones most vocal (naturally) in calling for stop signs to be, by law, merely yield signs for cyclists.
As an aside, think about road rage. If a cyclists exhibits road rage it’s almost laughable. What’s he going to do, throw his shoe at a car? What happens when a motorist exhibits road rage? Sometimes it’s also comical, but it can have very lethal consequences for a motorist has a heavy vehicle at his disposal. But regardless of road rage, think about the driver who is generally unconcerned and unaware of cyclists and just happens to not look for the biker coming up the path on the right. When he turns across the biker’s path who is most in danger? I think about these things all the time. But I don’t let it keep me from biking.
What is more interesting to me is the issue of the rolling stop, the law, and all the assumptions of both cyclists and drivers. Should a cyclist have to come to a complete stop at a stop sign (or even a red light), put their foot down, and then start pedaling again once the way is clear? Even if the way was already clear and obviously so?
The point I bring up is one that has been discussed, written about, and debated in state capitals and city councils for decades. Hundreds of bloggers have weighed in on the subject, mostly from the cyclist’s perspective. The problem is that drivers, of which I am one, often consider that all roads belong to them and bikers are mere guests. Many drivers also feel it is unfair if cyclists get to treat stop signs as yield signs while drivers have to completely stop. Those pedaling their way through life, of which I am also frequently one, know they are allowed (by law) on the road as much as cars, though some do not know the law as well as they should.
Part of the problem is that some cycling situations are unclear. In those situations cyclists, as motorists do, will usually make a judgement call in their favor. In other situations, following the law seems downright unsafe. All too often cyclists face unsound roadway solutions supposedly created for cyclists but, in fact, are dangerous. This is compounded by the fact that cyclists also frequently face unsafe conditions as well, such as bike lanes containing debris or even a delivery truck. So cyclists often feel they already get the short end of the stick. Being allowed to roll slowly through a stop sign is just a small concession.
The truth is, most cyclists are very aware of the vehicles around them, the needs of motorists, and their own perilous relationship with three tons of inertia. Most cyclists value their own lives and do not want to tangle with a car. But a bicycle is a very different kind of vehicle than a car. It takes human power to make it go. It takes balance to keep it upright and to turn it. And though I like cars too, I have to say I would argue that bikes are intrinsically better than cars for many reasons. And that might be one of the issues. Cyclists and motorists often approach the tension between the two with their own sense of moral superiority and intrinsic superior self worth. If that’s true, then it is going to be hard to get both groups to agree on anything.
Back to the rolling stop idea. Known these days as the Idaho stop, a bill in the Oregon legislature did not advance and died in August
of last year, apparently for lack of interest. Here is what the Idaho stop is all about:
For many motorists that’s a weak argument. In my mind, however, that argument makes a lot of sense. I would like to see more thoughtful legislation in favor of cyclists that consider the true nature of what cycling is and what it can be. I would also like to see more cyclists riding safely and courteously.
As for me, I will continue to ride cautiously and defensively, and slowly roll through stop signs when my judgement says it’s safe to do so.