It's Time To Rip Out The Stop Signs And Stop Blaming Cyclists

palmerston bicycling toronto safety photo

Lloyd Alter

Many years ago the residents of this residential street were upset about speeding cars. They went to their city councillor, who managed to get some stop signs added to control traffic. The lots were not that deep on the cross streets, so there is now a stop sign every 266 feet. It was perhaps the first use of 4 way stops for speed control, but not the last; now every intersection in Toronto is signed this way.

Whenever I write a post about cycling, inevitably there will be comments that cyclists don't respect the rules and should stop at stop signs. Even our own April says so. But what is the purpose of those signs, on a quiet residential street? I am surprised that the cars pay any attention to them, let alone the cyclists.


Many years later, the City introduced speed bumps, or as they are sometimes endearingly called in the Caribbean, "sleeping policemen." They do much the same job of controlling traffic speed, but you don't stop and start if driving, using a lot less fuel, and they don't impede cyclists, who are supposedly an important part of the transportation system now.

There is some evidence as well that stop signs don't even work. According to the Institute of Traffic Engineers,

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.

They are also responsible for increased fuel consumption, maintenance costs, pollution and noise. Speed bumps are also responsible for more maintenance costs if you go too fast, but are designed so that if you go the speed limit, you sail over them.


It is ridiculous to complain about bikes going through stop signs when the system was designed to control cars. Fix it so that it works for both, saving fuel for drivers and ending this whine that bikes don't obey the rules when the rules were not written for bikes.

The road system was not designed for cars; it predates them. But it has been modified to adapt to and control cars at the expense of all other modes of transportation. If anyone in City Hall gave a moment's thought to the needs of cyclists, they would look for other means of traffic control than a stop sign every 266 feet. But they don't, and then people wonder why cyclists don't stop for the signs.

This is a continuing rant; I did a survey on it earlier this year: Cyclists and Stop Signs: Why not Make Traffic Control More Bike Friendly?

Related Content on