Why Cyclists Roll Through Stop Signs: It's Really Bad Design

Palmerstion Avenue

Regular readers will know my position that stop signs are designed for speed control of cars, not right-of-way management; That's why the street in the photo has four way stops every 266 feet. Now Charles Marohn of the Strong Town Blog rolls in to discuss how whenever any of us say this, we get attacked by the "If cyclists want legitimacy, they should obey the rules of the road" crowd. Charles is an engineer and a planner and I think knows what he is talking about.

We are treating traffic regulations like they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. If people actually understood the haphazard way traffic control devices were developed and the random way in which they are applied, they would not hold them in such majesty. Just recently I was at a meeting where it was decided that a stop sign should be put at an intersection solely because the clerk lived on the street and wanted the cars to drive more slowly. That kind of rigor in where to display what kind of sign is fairly common. Traffic control is voodoo science, at best, now reinforced by what have become societal norms (all auto-based). Some of it might work, but separating the good from the bad is borderline heretical.

He concludes that the auto-centric focus of our planning has to be reversed.

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.

In comments, TreeHugger Emeritus Ruben Anderson picks up the issue with a terrific point:

I learned in design school that The User is Always Right. It doesn't matter what you think you have designed, the user's behaviour tells you what your product or system actually IS....
A great example is how roads are designed for 70 km/h, but then signed for 30 km/h--and then we wag our fingers at the speeders. These drivers are behaving perfectly normally for the system. If you wanted people to drive 30 km/h, then YOU FAILED. The people are not broken, YOUR SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

Sometimes, the law is an ass. More in Strong Towns.