It's time to stop blaming cyclists; instead make our roads work for everyone
Yehuda Moon is a comic strip about "a guy who lives on a bicycle and works at the Kickstand Cyclery", by Rick Smith & Brian Griggs. It recently picked up a theme that we go on about: the fact that traffic regulations that were designed to control cars don't always make a lot of sense for bicycles. In a recent tweet, Yehuda Moon makes a point about the physics of stopping and starting:
I've been scolded for "Idaho stops". If only drivers had to push their cars the first 15ft from a dead stop... pic.twitter.com/0Yf25SOrER— Yehuda Moon (@YehudaMoon) October 10, 2015
Now this is an issue we have been writing about for years on TreeHugger; it's almost an annual tradition. (See related links below) I have been thinking a lot about it since the recent death of an architect I knew, but the Yehuda Moon comic reminds me that it is still an important issue, from the question of physics that Yehuda Moon alludes to (it's a lot of work to go from zero on a bike) to the fact that in most cases, stop signs are there to regulate speed, not right of way, and that the message they deliver is often contradictory and confusing.
Lloyd Alter/ Palmerston Avenue, Toronto, with stop signs every 266 feet to slow down cars/CC BY 2.0
That's why where I live, you get situations like this: stop signs every 266 feet on a residential street that are there for the sole purpose of slowing down cars and encouraging them to go somewhere else. They are also totally ignored.
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
It's also totally inconsistent; here, a group is installing a ghost bike at a relatively busy corner, totally blind because of the trees and the curve, that was one of the few in Toronto that did not have three way stop signs; I have no way of knowing whether or not the cyclist here stopped, slowed or just went through, but I have no doubt that there was an expectation that cars would be stopping (or at least rolling through) as they do at almost every other intersection in the City. (Stop signs have since been installed at this intersection).
No doubt readers will point out that this is exactly why cyclists should stop at every stop sign. I would suggest instead that it is why we have to rethink our traffic control systems to take all road users into account instead of designing them just around cars.
Stop signs make no sense for bikes. They don't make any sense for cars either as a means of speed control; yield and two way stop signs work fine for right of way, and all the stopping and starting just wastes gas and brakes. As Charles Marohn notes on Strong Towns, it's a design problem that's bad for everyone, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. He writes:
When most people who drive along a local street exceed the speed limit, how can we call those people deviants? A deviant, by nature, is someone who deviates from the norm. If a high percentage of people are driving faster than what is really safe, it is the street that is giving drivers the wrong signals. It’s safe here….go ahead and drive fast. That’s a design flaw, not a law enforcement problem.
Stop signs are a response to a design problem: when streets are wide and straight people want to go as fast as they can comfortably drive. There are better ways of fixing this. Or as Charles Marohn notes:
We need to rethink our urban areas. They need to be redesigned around a new set of values, one that doesn’t seek to accommodate bikers and pedestrians within an auto-dominated environment but instead does the opposite: accommodates automobiles in an environment dominated by people. It is people that create value. It is people that build wealth. It is in prioritizing their needs – whether on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair – that we will begin to change the financial health of our cities and truly make them strong towns.