The subject of bikers and traffic laws resurfaced recently on an on-line neighborhood group to which I belong. It was part of a larger discussion on how we can redesign streets to accommodate all users (pedestrians, bikers, and drivers), and the complaint against bikers was failure to obey stop signs.
I am absolutely one of those bikers. I feel it is best to come clean with my lawless ways, as they may inform future posts. And while I acknowledge that I am in fact breaking the law, I consider it quite justified, and, as my biker husband pointed out, our exercise in civil disobedience (ha, no pun intended).
Stop signs, like most other traffic control devices and traffic laws, are intended to control automobiles, which can move fast and cause a lot of damage due to their size. Stop signs are typically found in residential and business areas, where speed limits are 20-25 MPH, and they function to slow cars down. Most recreational and commuter bikers, on the other hand, would maybe reach 25 MPH on a good downhill with a tailwind. At average bike speeds of, say 10-15 MPH, there is a lot more reaction time and no need to come to a stop EVERY BLOCK to keep speed under control, since we are not exceeding the speed limit in the first place.
My stop sign flouting is not done without caution. This is another area where bikes are very different from cars. On my bike, I am higher up and farther forward in relation to the intersection as compared to a car driver. Combine that with the fact that my hearing is not obscured by a layer of metal and glass (plus whatever other noise distractions are present inside a car), and I have a better sense of what’s going on when I approach an intersection than most drivers. If it’s an empty 4-way stop, or an empty 2-way that I can see clearly, I’m gone.
Stop signs are also much less of a disadvantage to automobiles, which are designed to accelerate quickly with a little tap on the gas pedal. On the other hand, every time I have to come to a stop, I lose whatever momentum I had worked to build, and I lack that handy little gas pedal to get me back up to speed. Although I have never timed it the slow way, I think my 5.5 mile commute, which I do in about 35 minutes, could easily take twice as long if I stopped at all of the stop signs (about 25 of them) and stop lights (that take a ridiculously long time to change, even when there is a huge break in traffic) on the way to work. Stopping at the stop signs does not cost cars anywhere near that amount of time.
Whatcha gonna do?