Thursday, May 10, 2007

Stop Dammit! But not in front of me!

One of the most common complaints aimed at cyclists by motorists is how cyclists never stop at stop signs or red lights, but just sail on through. This complaint is levelled as if motorists were all innocent little law-abiding lambs when in fact almost all motorists speed almost all the time (try driving the speed limit all day one day, and you will discover that speed limits are viewed as suggested minimums rather than legal maximums) and a huge percentage don't stop at stop signs, either. Just watch the wheels--if it's an uncontested stop (no opposing traffic), motor vehicles will slow down, look back and forth, and go on through without ever coming to a complete stop.

Is this outrageous behavior? Not really. It's how I drive, and so does virtually everybody else, though for some reason when cyclists slow down, make sure it's clear and then proceed, it raises the ire of motorists.

There's a good reason for this behavior, and it has to do with conserving momentum. It's a somewhat bigger deal for cyclists, who have tiny reserves of power and hate to squander it in coming to a complete, track-stand or foot-down stop, then have to accelerate from zero, over and over again (read about this in a couple of articles by a prof at Berkeley here in English and here if you want to check the math). It's a factor for autos, as well, and people who swear that they stop will slow down to 6mph or so (I've paced many motorvehicles through stop signs to see how slow they were) and then go.

Well, one guy stops. In Slate magazine one of their columnists made a comment about this yesterday, in relation only to cars and having nothing to do directly with bicycles.
Possibly bad idea of the day: I got a ticket a couple of years ago for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I was so guilty. Ever since then--and after I was admonished by a cop I met at a party--I've tried to come to a total, 100% stop, with the weight of the car falling back on its haunches, before stepping on the accelerator to get moving again. When I do this I can hear and actually feel the engine sucking in vast quantities of precious refined petroleum to overcome the inertia of 3400 pounds of metal at a dead rest. Which leads to the thought: Wouldn't we save a lot of gasoline quickly and cheaply if we replaced most of our "STOP" signs with "YIELD" signs? I'm sure there is a safety argument against this, but I'd like to hear it, along with up-to-date comparisons with countries that rely on "yield" more than "stop." ... N.B.: a) You could still require that everyone slow down to under, say, 10 miles per hour. It's the first 10 miles per hour starting back up that seem so gratuitously wasteful. (Maybe "YIELD" is the wrong sign. Maybe it should say "SLOW to 10.") b) Traditionalist drivers--e.g. geezers--could still come to a complete stop and retain the right of way. c) Policemen could still raise revenue for their employers by giving lots of tickets--they would just be tickets for "failure to slow" or "failure to yield." ... 3:51 P.M. (here's the link).

People already do this. Interesting that he picked 10mph when people often do 6 or so already. Maybe a car going from 30 to 6 looks like a stop but a bike going from 14 to 8 doesn't. (I've written about this before, in July 2005: you can read my previous masterpiece here if you missed it the first time around).

Separately, there's a flap on in Toronto where a motorist got pissed off at a cyclist (ironically, for stopping for a yellow light), got out of his car, and punched the cyclist, breaking out a tooth. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that some school kids were filming it. It turns out the motorist was an off-duty cop. One wonders at the message being sent: "You cyclists piss me off because you never stop at stop signs or red lights, but by God, if you do stop at one in front of me, I'm going to punch you out"? You can see the video over at Martino's Bike Lane Diary and the links flowing out from there. Reading through the comments can be both entertaining and annoying--some note that the teacher was hot, others say they have conceal and carry laws in Florida and that they'd just shoot the cyclist in the face. That seems like a twisted fantasy; if you want to kill a cyclist, all you have to do is run them down and you're likely to get away with it. Just make sure no school kids are filming you at the time.


A Midnight Rider said...

The signs are for traffic control. If there is no traffic, they really become moot, don't you think?

It's like the kid at jack in the box who yells over the PA system. # TWENTE TWO?, when your the only one in the joint and standing right in front of him.

Hokan said...

This is a subject I've been mulling over for a while.

Thanks for the thoughts.