It's an argument we have been making for years on TreeHugger: Four way stops are a method of speed control for cars and have little to do with right of way. Over at Vox, Joseph Stromberg rounds up the research (including a bit of TreeHugger) and writes Why cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights. He describes what's known as the Idaho Stop
Idaho's rule is pretty straightforward. If a cyclist approaches a stop sign, he or she needs to slow down and look for traffic. If there's already a pedestrian, car, or another bike there, then the other vehicle has the right of way. If there's no traffic, however, the cyclist can slowly proceed. Basically, for bikers, a stop sign is a yield sign.
He goes on to mention that cyclists can treat red lights like stop signs, and go through them if the intersection is clear, but that is another issue that I don't want to touch, living in a city where pedestrians and cyclists will wait out a red light when it is dawn and there isn't a car in sight. Sticking to stop signs, Stromberg notes that an Idaho stop might actually be safer than a full stop for both cyclists and drivers.
In many cities, the low-traffic routes that are safer for bikes are the kinds of roads with many stop signs. Currently, some cyclists avoid these routes and take faster, higher-traffic streets. If the Idaho stop were legalized, it'd get cyclists off these faster streets and funnel the bikes on to safer, slower roads.
The Idaho stop, if legalized and widely adopted, would also make bikes more predictable. Currently, when a bike and a car both pull up to a four-way stop, an awkward dance often ensues.... An Idaho stop would put an end to this madness: the first vehicle to come to the intersection always has the right of way, giving bikers a rule they'd actually follow, making them more predictable for drivers.
Stromberg notes that after the Idaho Stop was introduced, the accident rate dropped. He also compares Boise, Idaho to two California cities that do not permit Idaho stops, and found their accident rates significantly higher.
Stromberg picks up (and links to) the TreeHugger position that stop signs weren't designed for cyclists, and that "laws that serve no purpose shouldn't exist."
In an era when lots of towns and cities are actively trying to get more people biking — to reduce traffic, if not carbon emissions — you'd think they'd want to remove any hurdles to biking that don't need to be in place.
Good reading in VOX Here's TreeHugger on the subject:
Should cyclists be able to do the "Idaho Stop"?
"Calls for cyclists to obey car laws are as misguided as suggesting cars should obey bike laws, or that parakeets should obey dog laws." More in TreeHugger
Why Cyclists Blow Through Stop Signs: It's Physics
The fact of the matter is, those stop signs are there to regulate speed, not right of way; two way stops actually do a better job of that. And bikes have a hard time beating the speed limit...And I am sorry, but for this particular issue, the law is an ass. It defies logic and physics. I wish the traffic engineers who put these signs in would acknowledge this.
It's Time To Rip Out The Stop Signs And Stop Blaming Cyclists
Stop signs don't even slow drivers down.
An unwarranted STOP sign installation reduces speed only immediately adjacent to the sign. In most cases, drivers accelerate as soon as possible, to a speed faster than they drove before STOP signs were installed. They do this apparently to make up for time lost at the STOP sign. STOP signs are not effective for speed control.
Should Cyclists Have to Stop at Stop Signs, Part III
A bicycle is not a motor vehicle. To expect bicycle riders to behave exactly like motorists is like expecting kayakers to follow the same rules as motor boaters. Ultimately, we need to tailor a set of laws that is based on cycling as its own form of transportation, rather than today's the-bicycle-is-mostly-the-same-as-a-motor vehicle line of thinking.....
Bad infrastructure design leads to bad behavior on bikes
Toronto City councillor Karen Stintz gets a $110 ticket for rolling through a stop sign that didn't exist. Toronto's own Dorothy Rabinowitz, Judith Timson is outraged that Stintz is fighting the ticket, writing in the Star: "She’ll get off on a technicality. Know what you should do Karen? Set an example, pay up, and quit rolling through stops. It’s against the law." Timson says "I'm a motorist ... and I've come to the end of silently tolerating cyclists who break the law."
Timson and the hundreds of commenters on every article attacking cyclists miss the point about why they roll through stop signs. It's because the infrastructure is designed to control cars.
And the first in the series, from 2008:
Should Cyclists be Allowed to
Blow Go Through Stop Signs?
If one acknowledges that stop signs are primarily for speed control rather than safety, then there is really no reason to demand that bikes stop, rather than yield. But maybe a better alternative that would make everyone happier would be to remove the useless stop signs and use some of the other forms of traffic calming that don't involve full stops.