Cars Stop, Bikes Yield – Editorial

Riding a bike everyday can change your perspective on things. Going to the gym becomes less of a priority, conversations about gas prices aren't very interesting, and certain traffic laws start to make less sense – Stop signs in particular strike me as absurd.

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Published February 12, 2007 by Santa Cruz IMC
By Bicycle Bandit 

Riding a bike everyday can change your perspective on things. Going to the gym becomes less of a priority, conversations about gas prices aren't very interesting, and certain traffic laws start to make less sense – Stop signs in particular strike me as absurd.

Let's be honest, how many times have you ridden through a stop sign without giving it a second thought? If it's more than you can remember, you are not alone – For most bicyclists, stop signs are treated as yields – meaning, stop if necessary (i.e. cars are already waiting to cross), slow down and keep riding if not. This has less to do with any desire to flout the vehicle code or risk an accident and more to do with an understanding amongst bicyclists that the aforementioned traffic law is simply more applicable to cars.

There is a good reason for this – A car blowing through a stop sign at say 15-20 miles per hour is clearly a threat to public safety. A bicyclist on the other hand, riding past a stop sign at 2-7 miles per hour is at worst, a minor nuisance, and definitely not a danger of lethal proportions. Indeed, you don't need a degree in physics to understand the colossal difference in mass, velocity, and maneuverability between a moving car and a moving bicycle.

The problem is of course, the vehicle code, as it's currently written doesn't reflect the reality bicyclists already live by.

While many of us may slow down to a snails pace or carefully cruise through stops signs, we always run the risk of getting a hefty traffic ticket. This happened to a friend of mine downtown last summer –
The price? $140 plus admin fees. I've heard additional stories from a number of otherwise traffic-law abiding bicyclists in town who've been chased down by city cops charging them with failure to make a complete stop. To the County's credit, there is a bicycle traffic school in the works for those who cannot pay the fines but this misses the point. The real question should be, should yielding be considered a crime?

At the heart of the matter is an implicit bias within the traffic code that favors the technology of the automobile over the technology of bicycles. Because bicycles have until recently, been considered more of
a toy than a peaceful, safe, and sustainable form of transportation, the traffic code has treated bicyclists as a secondary matter to be dealt with (if at all); not really a car but not really a pedestrian. In San Francisco for example, when it comes to making a left hand turn, bicyclists are encouraged to either try to merge like a car into the proper lane OR ride to the cross walk, get off your bike, and walk across. Imagine if we were to ask the same thing of drivers.

Even some bicycle advocates get this concept wrong by demanding the same road rights as cars when we should be demanding traffic legislation that is proportional to the technology involved. In other words, cars and bicyclists may both require similar facilities, but
that does not make them the same thing. While it may only require a soft push of a pedal to stop a car and then get it going again, it takes a certain amount of effort for bicyclists to do the same. More importantly, unlike cars, a bicyclist is much more in tune with her surroundings both visually and audially – No artificial air conditioning, no noisy engines, no blind spots. Traffic laws should reflect this.

As gas prices and global temperatures continue to rise, the need for progressive traffic legislation that includes the interests of the growing bicyclist population will become increasingly clear. Let's not waste anymore time -Stop signs can easily be brought up to speed (pardon the pun) by simply having our legislators add the words, "Bikes yield" under "STOP." It would seem at the very least, a modest proposal.