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« Two Oldies | Main | Character »

Running stop signs

Here is something you don’t see too often; 25 cyclists on a recreational ride stopped and ticketed for running a stop sign. It happened on August 28th in Woodside, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'll admit I roll through stop signs all the time, especially in quiet rural or residential areas where there is not another person or vehicle in sight.

However, I do not “Blow” through at 20 or 25 mph, I slow to a speed where I could stop if I had to, but I don’t see the point of unclipping and putting my foot to the ground if there is no one else there.

On the other hand, if there are other cars or pedestrians there at the same time, I will unclip and come to a complete stop. I do this out of common decency. If I go to a movie theater I don’t push to the front of the line, I wait my turn. Why should I behave any differently on my bike?

Red lights are a different matter for me; I will not roll though a red light whether there is someone there or not. If it is early in the morning and there is not another car in sight, and I could be waiting a long time for the light to change, I will probably then move on. But never without coming to a complete stop and waiting at least a short period of time.

Cyclists will always argue that drivers of automobiles roll though stop signs, and run red lights all the time, and that no motorist was ever killed by a cyclist. 

Motorists for the most part will do exactly the same as a cyclist at a stop sign; if there is no one there, roll through. But if there are others already stopped, usually most will stop and wait their turn.

The same with traffic lights, motorists will push the “Orange” light to the limit and often going through after it turns red. But you will rarely see a motorist pull up to a red light and on seeing no one coming, go on through.

There are of course exceptions to motorist’s behavior in both these scenarios, but what pisses off the average person is when they pass a cyclist, then at the next stop sign or traffic light, he rides past the line of waiting traffic and through the intersection without appearing to slow down. I view this kind of behavior as extreme rudeness.

There are any number of bad motorists out there, but please, do me and yourself a favor. Stop using that as an excuse for behaving badly. Pointing the finger at others and saying, "Well he did it too," is something we all should have left in kindergarten.

If you run every stop sign and red light regardless of the circumstances of other traffic waiting there, this is a pattern of behavior you might want to think about adjusting.

Maybe the riders in the Woodside group deserved a ticket, maybe not. But when cyclists just blow though a stop sign without appearing to slow, it just plain looks bad.

Many see cyclists as a bunch of arrogant, self-righteous pricks, keep doing this and you prove it beyond all doubt.



Reader Comments (30)

One of the riders at the front of that group reported that he came to a virtual stand-still (he said he may have been rolling forward *slightly*), waited for other traffic, then proceeded with the right turn. The riders behind him came through as a big group, with those farther back probably not slowing to a near-stop. This lead rider felt that he and other riders at the front were basically stopped, with any small forward motion being similar or less than the typical car in that situation. The whole group got the same ticket, though. They were all lumped together.

This particular stop sign gets a LOT of bicycle traffic and many group rides, some of which behave themselves very poorly. This was not one of the groups that is typically more unruly.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteru.

Technically I am breaking the law when I roll slowly through a stop sign with no one around. But cyclists in general have a reputaion for "Blowing" through stop signs, we are all seen in the same light, so we all have to be careful.
I wonder if the Woodside group would have been ticketed had they all come to a complete foot down stop, then moved off as a group. Still technically wrong.

September 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I could not agree with you more Dave. I have posted a reply on my blog at www.averagejoecyclist.com

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAverageJoeCyclist

Dave - Is it possible your view on going to the front of the line would be different if you lived in a bigger city?

When I am riding on the street and there's bad traffic, there's simply no way I'm going to wait in line at every light like all the other cars. I don't think you can really expect any cyclist to do that, regardless of what the law is. If we did it, there'd be much less benefit to bike commuting.

If there's not bad traffic, I will sometimes filter to the front and run the red (after stopping), but I'll always make an effort to keep up with the speed of traffic if I'm doing that, and I'll give cars who were previously ahead of me room to pass if they need to get by.

I go by the principle that as long as you're being safe and you're respecting everyone else's right of way, it doesn't really matter what you do on your bike. I'll take the risk of a ticket. I can roll through stop signs and through some red lights perfectly safely, and I'll always respect drivers whose turn it is to go. What's your take on this?

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon C

My take is this, since you ask. We expect to be treated as equals on the road and then we want to make up our own rules as we go. We can't have it both ways. Have you even tried following the law to see how much it would add to your commute? I can see riding up to the front of the line if there is a bike lane, but I would not ride through a red light.

September 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Hey Jon C.,
If you ride like this, then you are making others look just like you.... an IDIOT !
I have been commuting by bicycle for more than 25 years and I'm alive because I follow the rules of the road. There is a reason these laws are written. They are for everyone's safety. You are not above the law ! It's not rocket science.
I don't have a problem with a cyclist moving to the front of car traffic and stopping at the front to wait for a light, but riding through stop signs and / or red lights because "You" think it's safe or "Ok" is bullshit. You give motorists a reason to hate cyclists with your poor riding habits ! Dave, I basically follow the rules as you do. If knowone is around, "rolling" a stop sign or at least slowing way down at a red light (again with knowone around) to be sure there isn't someone approaching is safe and will keep you alive. If you are going to ride like an ASS, then you will be judged as one.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Dave -

My bike commute is about 20 minutes. The same drive, at rush hour, would be about 45 minutes. If I was riding exactly as a car drives, it would take me 45 minutes or more.

You say that if it's early and there's no traffic, you'll go through a red light after stopping. That's something that most drivers won't do under any circumstance. How do you justify following a different set of rules in that case?

I justify following a different set of rules because I'm not operating 2500 pound weapon. I recognize that what I'm doing is illegal and am willing to accept the legal consequences.

To Brian -

You sound unhinged and should calm down.

You're right that I'm breaking the law, but if you're calling me an idiot then you're calling almost every cyclist I see out on the road an idiot.

Do you really think it's not possible to safely go through a red light if you've looked for traffic first? I promise you, it can be.

And if you're wprroed about the perception of cyclists as jerks, you should reconsider moving to the front of a line of cars and then waiting at the light. You're on a bike, you're not as fast as a car. You're holding up traffic and I guarantee drivers are more angry at you than at me.

Again, Brian, if you're advocating going through red lights when no one is around, you're suggesting you should follow a different set of rules than drivers. What I'm doing is no different. You're not above the law either.

Funny how cyclists get so self righteous sometimes (not talking about you here, Dave).

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon C

The circumstance I was talking about was one where my bike is not going to trigger the light and there is no one around to see it. What am I to do sit there and wait for ten minutes, half an hour. How long is reasonable?
Also if a light is malfuctioning a car would have the right to go through after waiting a reasonable time.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

How do you feel about right turn lanes which evolve from a shoulder?

I break the law a lot with them in rural areas, simply because trying to merge into 55mph traffic is more dangerous than simply staying in the right turn lane.

Notice you won't here many motorists complain about that now will you? Unless of course you follow and comply with the law and merge.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbb

Dear Dave,

This was an excellent post, and one that I support fully. I am embarrassed as a cyclist when I see other cyclists run red lights and have complete disregard for the rules of the road. Another phenomenon, which I am sure really infuriates drivers, is when two or three cyclists ride abreast down a county road on which "Cyclists must ride single file" signs are posted. I do not think these cyclists understand that these drivers may take out their frustrations on another cyclist.

On a brighter note, I have had drivers roll down their windows at lights and thank me for following the rules of the road. I have also noticed that drivers who see me stopped at red lights will also give me more room when passing me on the road. I am always quick to give a wave of thanks for their show of courtesy. Such gestures do go a long way to help us share the roads.


September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJay

One more question for the law abiders - do you ever jaywalk? As a pedestrian I don't have a problem crossing the street against the light when I'm in the clear. I can do this safely as long as I stay vigilant, as billions of pedestrians do every day. I can also avoid violating a driver or cyclist's right of way. But it's still illegal.

Does this make me an idiot too?

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon C

Dave, I treat stop signs and stop light, as you do, except I slow to 5 mph at stop signs, and then proceed, if it's clear.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

Luckily I live on the WA/ID border... and do a lot of rides in Idaho.. where they have a lot more bike-friendly stop rules. You still have to stop or yield to other traffic, but you can go through an unoccupied intersection's stop sign without a complete stop.. completely legally.


September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarvinK

I was riding through this intersection in Woodside, in a group of about 15, a few days after that group was ticketed. I was wondering out loud to my friends how the drivers behind us would react if we were to each individually stop at the stop sign instead of moving as a group.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Kent

bb asks about right turn lanes. If you are going straight you need to give a hand signal and merge out of that lane. To keep to the right then go straight you are setting your self up for a right hook. This is where a mirror is handy.
I find as you do, riding my bike and in life, treat others with respect and for the most part they will do the same.
Thanks everyone for your comments, keep them coming, but try to refrain from personal attacks on those with different opinions.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

Are cyclists to be blamed for poorly written road laws? Has our elected officials and appointed administrators proven once again that deep seated biases can be easily ignored?

PR matters but so does intelligence. Apparently Idaho respects the latter more than the former. Most DOTs recognize the inherent risks in allowing 80,000 pound vehicles to have the same rights (example: speed limits) as more nimble, lighter weight cars and thus create separate standards in line with the risks.

Of course cyclists shouldn't blow threw red lights when other vehicles are in the intersection. But many of the lights in my hood are triggered only by heavy vehicles. Risk recognition needs to be used in these situations too for both the cyclist and society.

By the way, I witness officers using their sirens to circumvent traffic at red lights quite often and then resume driving at normal road speed once through the crowded intersection.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Dave, while I respect you a lot, I've disagreed with you on this before, and I disagree now. I've written a lengthy response on my blog: willcycle.blogspot.com/red-lights-revisited

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliamNB

At least in South Carolina we are allowed to run a red light. So long as we've waited for at least 120 seconds. This is according to SECTION 56-5-970

(5) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a
driver of a motorcycle or moped, or a bicycle rider,
approaches an intersection that is controlled by a
traffic-control device, the driver may proceed through the
intersection on a steady red light only if the driver or rider, as
the case may be:
(a) comes to a full and complete stop at the
intersection for one hundred twenty seconds; and
(b) exercises due care as provided by law,
otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign, and
determines it is safe to proceed.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersouthtj

It's not necessary to run red lights or blow stop signs to move faster than cars in heavy traffic.

In my state bikes are required to keep as "far right as practicable" but can share a lane with slowing or stopped vehicles. When traffic is backed up at a stop light or stop sign you are legally allowed to pass the stopped vehicles and come to the "front of the line." I try to stay back a few cars though -- those folks at the front have been idling for several minutes and if I were in one of those cars I might be testy that someone cut ahead of me, however legally.

In California motorcycles can split the lane with MOVING traffic, and ride on lane markers. Maybe bikes can do the same?

The only red light I "blow" is one near my house, whose magnet isn't sensitive enough to register bikes. If there's cross traffic I'll push the crosswalk light and wait for the ped signal, otherwise I make sure it's clear then go.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

Also, in support of my view that car drivers will NEVER treat as as equals on the road is research done by the UK's Department for Transport (DfT). Read an overview here: http://www.bikehub.co.uk/news/bike-to-work/drivers-dont-think-cyclists-should-be-on-the-road-says-dft-report/

As you will see, it completely supports my views listed on my blog, link a few posts above.

Dave, what is your take on the DfT report?

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliamNB

Dave I use a bike for most of my commuting. I see some pretty bad behavior from drivers and cyclists. I've decided if I'm going to point fingers Ihave to do what is legal. As a cyclist I refuse to take the blame for law breaking cyclists. I usually ask drivers why they never use turn signals, roll/run stop signs and red lights and speed. They only do it when it is "safe". Or they are in control and can speed becasue they know they are better drivers......

The Woodside stop is at a very popular intersection. Many local drivers and residents don't like having to deal with cyclists on the scenic narrow roads.

Group rides present a problem for stop signs. I would like to see a large group of cyclists come up to a busy intersection and each and every one individually come to a complete foot down stop and see how traffic in that area backs up. I can just imagine the howls from drivers stuck behind 20-50 cyclists all taking their proper turn at that intersection. This could happen from 4 directions at that location.
I've heard of but not seen laws that allow a group of cyclists to go after a full stop as one unit not each pulling up individually at the limit line.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

I'm a firm believer in slowing to a crawl and waiting turns for stop signs and in not running reds. I would hate to see the precedent set that a proper stop for a bike requires a foot on the ground, I've heard of that before but not sure where that comes from.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Good post and interesting comments. Would it be better to dismount and run with your bike through a red light (or stop sign)? Technically, it may be legal depending on the crossing signal and of course, it defeats one of the goals of the rolling stop, but hey, it gets you to the other side of the street (and might be good training for cyclocross)! I am kidding, I think, but I do see the point that jaywalkers are not as despised as cyclists. What if we unclipped and straddle-walked (there probably is a term for this?) across the intersection? Still illegal?

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermilestone

Here in the uk , bikies going through red lights gives us law abiding ones a bad name. I always stop at red lights. I'm not a professional cyclist but I class myself as a highly skilled roadmap, therefore I stop. Tonights 54 miles had quite a few red lights.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaz h

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September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAditi B.

Alex wrote :
"I would hate to see the precedent set that a proper stop for a bike requires a foot on the ground, "

You could call it precedent, but more accurately it would be called 'the law'. In most states the law is that bicycles must follow the rules of the road. This means - by definition - the you must come to a complete stop at a red light and wait for it to change. No state makes an exception for this for cars, and only a few make exceptions for bicycles.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzen

I commute by bike about as often as I drive, and have been since the late 80's. I've commuted through such bike 'friendly' cities as boston, lowell, and lawrence (all massachusetts). I consider myself a safe rider because in those 25 years, I've been in exactly one accident, where a driver coming from the other direction took a left hand turn across the lane of traffic I was in. That would have been the driver fault regardless of what I was driving (or riding, in this case).

I don't usually actually stop at stop signs unless there is oncoming traffic, though I _always_ slow down to check, prepared to stop. I can count the times on one hand that I'll go through a red light over the course of a year. I can even tell what light - I can't set off the sensor and there's no timer for the light.

However, looking at the intersection and reading the various web reports, I'll just say the riders need to understand that they did in fact break the law. I'll say I probably wouldn't have done any different than they did at that intersection, other than slowing to make sure there was no traffic before taking the turn. For that matter, I'm sure they behaved no differently than any _car_ that takes that turn as well. That said, if you were in a car and got a ticket for not stopping, you have to see it as reasonable if you were given a ticket on a bike for not stopping as well. At least, _I_ would accept the responsibility.

I'm alive and uninjured (from commuting - I've been severely battered over the years from racing) because I follow the rules of the road. You should too.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzen

To Zen,
If you can't come to a literal stop at a stop sign without touching your foot to the ground you may need to practice more, and I am not talking of an ongong trackstand. As far as I know, the definition of a stop in California does not require a foot on the ground, just stopping forward progress on the street. Of course, if there is competing traffic and you need to wait, put your foot down. I have heard of a citation where the definition of the stop was a foot on the ground, and I don't think that is right.
And at a stop light you may not be required to stop at all; you just can't enter the intersection until the light is green.

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

This stop sign in Woodside has a long reputation. Back in the late 90s the local cops would park opposite it and wait for bicycles rolling through the right hand turn / stop sign. Cars could roll through w/o trouble. The cops would only ticket cyclists.

Why? Probably because Woodside is a very rich area (wiki says the median household income is $170,000) with several nice bicycling roads (Old La Honda Rd. for example), and locals in cars don't like the non-local cyclists who come by to enjoy "their" roads. So their cops and judge hassle them when they can and they are happy with that.

September 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicolas

Great thread! I regularly ride a two-lane road with heavy commuter traffic and virtually no shoulder. I ride on the right, and cars pass me. When they back up at a light, I pass them on the right and move to the front (on the right), watching for right-turn signals in the lead cars. I don't run red lights, including those with only a "T" coming from the left. Over three or four miles, I'll pass the same car two or three times. It works as long as they leave me a few inches on the right.

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

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