Cyclists shouldn't have to stop at stop signs, HUB says

Cycling advocates argue that Vancouver cyclists should be able to use the "Idaho Stop". It could also be argued that I need to clean my bike.

They see me rollin', they hatin'

Should you be able to roll through a stop sign if you're on your bike?

According to Erin O'Mellin at cycling advocacy group HUB, cyclists should not be forced to stop at stop signs when it's safe to proceed.

News outlets are seizing upon the "cyclists blowing stop signs" aspect of the story, but HUB is arguing that cyclists should not be governed by the Motor Vehicle Code. This makes a certain degree of sense, since bicycles are not motor vehicles.

Erin O'Mellin suggests that cyclists should be allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs, executing rolling stops (aka California stops) when there is no opposing traffic.

A few things to keep in mind when discussing this issue:

  1. Vancouver's population is double that of the entire state of Idaho. Boise itself has roughly 210,000 people.
  2. Vancouver cyclists are already blowing stop signs on a regular basis.
  3. Vancouver drivers are also blowing stop signs on a regular basis.

Idaho's cycling laws don't allow cyclists to just hoon through stop signs at will. Cyclists must stop if the situation requires it. (Each bike is also required to have a seat; legislators felt it necessary to specify that.)

Idaho, California, British Columbia

California (home to the famed California stop) also has advocates of the rolling-stop revolution. Behold, an educational video on the Idaho Stop:

Having lived in London, New York City, and the SF Bay Area before moving to Vancouver, I consider this city to be an odd bird: small for a so-called big city, but also very unfriendly to cyclists.

While Vancouver has made progress in developing a network of bike lanes, those lanes have no real sense of unified use. For example, explain to me how to do the right turn from Hornby onto Drake. Also, every corner in a neighborhood like Kitsilano is a blind corner: drivers are unable to see if they're about to get T-boned at every single block. That neighborhood's "bike paths" consist of faded white paint on streets otherwise identical to non-designated bike routes.

Then we have those pedestrian-operated stoplights, whose opposing stop signs are routinely ignored by drivers. Indeed, I've noticed two major driver-fault trends since moving to Vancouver:

  1. Driver blows stop sign at pedestrian-controlled light. West 4th and Yew is a permanent gong show. Wait at the corner for 60 seconds and you'll see a driver make this mistake, I promise.
  2. Driver drives the wrong way around a roundabout. I have no idea how you can even make a mistake like that. Even if you're illiterate, there's an arrow showing you which way to go. Still, I see it in Kits several times a year.

So it can be argued that, despite its outdoorsy reputation, Vancouver offers a somewhat unfriendly cycling environment for those who want a healthier commute. We should surely be changing course sooner rather than later.

Designer/avid cyclist Marc Baumgartner agrees that cyclists should be able to treat stop signs differently. He told me, "Until cyclists get a full traffic lane, the road rules are soft for cyclists. That said, if you get tagged by a car running a stop sign, it's your bad." (Baumgartner's further assertion that all cyclists must learn to do a track stand will be met with varying degrees of enthusiasm from the city's riders.)

We've seen the enemy, and it is us

Most of the hue and cry on this issue quoted in the media is coming from drivers. However, HUB points out that the driver/cyclist dichotomy is actually false:

Drivers see cyclists as "the enemy", and the feeling is reciprocated, at least when cyclists are cycling and not driving. Pedestrians feel beset by both groups. Can we agree, then, that this is really an issue of perception: "Everyone's rudely getting in the way of my commute"?

If someone suggested metering lights for busy sidewalks, you'd call that person crazy. However, we still treat bicycles like cars. Isn't it time to change our perspective?

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