Cyclists: What does this sign mean?

A few weeks ago, a friend had stopped her car at a 4-way stop sign in Capitol Hill, and drove forward to proceed through the intersection just as a young woman riding a bicycle rolled up to the stop sign to her right. As my friend rolled through the intersection, the cyclist ran the stop sign into the path of her car, and my friend stepped on the brake as the cyclist rode in front of her.

The young woman on the bike, offended that someone in a car wouldn’t stop and wait for her to run a 4-way stop, scoffed at my friend and yelled, “Uh, okaaaay!” as she rode off.

I have commuted everywhere in Denver by bicycle for the past five years, and sometimes, I can’t stand cyclists.

I had a guy try to run me over with his truck at a stoplight once, because I had pedaled up next to him on a street where there was no bike lane. I caught up to him at the next intersection and rode up to his driver’s-side window to have a little chat with him, remind him that I was actually a human being, not a target. He was so mad, he was spitting when he started screaming at me about “you cyclists.” Then he floored it and drove off.  It was pretty clear that the problem wasn’t really me — he’d had enough of everyone who rode a bicycle. All those little slights, cyclists cutting in front of him at stoplights, getting in his way, running stoplights, had added up and his top finally popped off.

Everyone has their own reasons why they ride the way they do — maybe you ride on the busiest streets in your city because they’re the best-lit at night, and you don’t care how it affects vehicle traffic. Maybe there’s no better route. Maybe you run stoplights, but only when no one’s around. Maybe you run all stoplights and stop signs because you feel entitled to, because you’re saving the earth by riding a bike, and anyone who objects can kiss your ass. Maybe you ride as if you’re in a bike lane on every street, and you never take the lane, because it feels safer over to the side. Maybe you ride the wrong way on one-way streets because you’re an anarchist. Maybe you ride on the sidewalk, even if it’s illegal and where accidents occur, because it separates you from traffic.

The shitty thing about all those choices you make is that other people are watching you. Every time you slight some driver, or really piss them off, they remember it and file it in the anti-cycling part of their brain. And that affects other cyclists.

I’m not saying all drivers obey traffic laws — they obviously don’t — but drivers are seen as normal. Cyclists are special in most American cities, under a microscope. Drivers see one cyclist run a stop sign or a red light, then another, and maybe one more, and they’ve formed their opinion of all of us, however many thousands of us there are. A co-worker, who had never seen me on my bicycle aside from when I rolled it into the office, once scolded me at a work meeting for all cyclists’ collective sins.

“You cyclists think you’re above the law,” she said. “You always run red lights and stop signs like they don’t apply to you.” It didn’t matter that actually, no, I don’t do either of those things, and I’m the guy who no one wants to ride with, because I stop at all stop signs, even the ones inside Cheesman Park, even at 11 p.m. when no one is around to see me if I were to run right through it.

A few years ago, Bill Strickland wrote a blog for Bicycling.com about how cyclists should confront — as nicely as possible — drivers when they honk, yell, or otherwise harass us in traffic. It was an interesting idea, with a ridiculous flaw in logic: In his story, the entire pack of cyclists he was riding with had run a stop sign in front of a truck. The truck driver screeched to a halt, flung open his door and yelled at the cyclists. Huh. Did they really wonder why the truck driver was angry, or did they think the driver was supposed to know the secret rule that a bunch of guys riding bikes don’t have to stop at stop signs?

Strickland rode over and apologized to the driver, which he seemed to think made everything just fine. OK, but imagine a different scenario in which you do something completely wrong, and try to make it OK by apologizing: Try cutting into the front of the line at a busy airline ticket counter on Christmas Eve, but just apologize to the dozens of people behind you after you do it.

When you ride, you’re not just one invisible person on a bike. You represent a minority. When a U.S. Senator calls transportation bill spending on bike paths “frivolous,” where do you think he gets that idea? When a driver intentionally hits a cyclist and no charges are pressed because a law doesn’t exist to prosecute the act as an assault, why is that? Bikes aren’t exactly a priority for about 95 percent of the U.S. population, even though thousands of people are working to get us better laws, safer bike travel options, and more rights.

If you treat your bike like a toy, the rest of the world is going to see you as an unruly, unpredictable child. If you treat your bike like a vehicle, maybe we can get somewhere.

-Brendan

Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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19 Comments

  1. July 28, 2011

    This is a great post.

    I emphatically and completely agree with you and I’ve had this conversation with many, many cyclists in Portland; sometimes a bit more one-sided as I “converse” at them as they blast through a signalized intersection from behind me.

    However, one guy’s comment gave me pause: He said, “Yeah, but these signs and signals weren’t designed with cyclists in mind.”

    True…ish.

    We’re basically playing by rules made for another game. Square peg, round hole stuff.

    That got me thinking: can a transportation system exist so that all of its users are able to move about safely and efficiently in the same shared space but with different rules of engagement?

    Maybe too big a question for the comments section, but food for thought regardless.

    Reply
    • September 21, 2011

      Traffic signal timing is a big issue. Some lights are timed for aggressive driving. You almost have to treat some stoplights like the gate dropping at a BMX track. When I ride with my family, we often make it through the intersection as the light is turning red, me yelling out Go! Go! Go!. I’ve seen some families get separated on both sides of the street, the parents making it though while the kids are stuck on the other side, still fumbling with their pedals.

      Getting too far to the right on the road, a place where many cyclists feel they belong, might not trip the ground or camera signals either.

      There is the option of jumping off the bike to hit the walk button, but bicycles are supposed to be part of traffic, and you can be ticketed for riding in the cross walk.

      As far as stop signs, I really like the law they have in Idaho that treats stop signs as yield signs. Stop as normal when there is traffic and wait your turn. Slow down, look, roll on through if there are no cars or you will not be confusing other road users.

      Reply
  2. Nick
    July 28, 2011

    I’d like to abide by the rules, but I see so many cyclists who don’t (everything from riding on the wrong side of the street, running stop signs, riding the sidewalk) that I feel that if I follow the rules the drivers won’t know what I’m doing! It’s so bad that even though I can get to work in 5 minutes by bike, I’ll walk instead. When I do cycle, I ride a unicycle. Legally where I live it’s a bicycle, but it’s so slow joggers pass me, so I feel ok pretending to be a pedestrian (and using cross walks etc).

    Reply
  3. Tim
    July 29, 2011

    Great post. I cycle all the time and always stop for red lights. With stop signs, I usually slow down enough to see if there is a vehicle within 1/4 block or less and will stop. Otherwise, I’ll continue through the intersection at a slower rate, then speed up again. I treat stop signs much like “yield” signs because at the rate at which I usually ride, it’s too hard to deal with stopping dead and starting back up again at every corner.

    I’ve adopted the idea that when I’m on my bike, I’m representing a much-misunderstood and often hated minority and do my best to follow the rules of the road. I’ve noticed that pedestrians are so used to cyclists not giving them the right of way that they are shocked into paralysis when I nod to them the it’s their turn to cross the street. It’s incredibly annoying when I’m waiting at a red light and three, four, five other riders ignore the light and keep going. I’ve taken to yelling out, “You’re making me look bad out here!”, to no avail, but I feel better after saying it.

    Reply
  4. July 31, 2011

    This is EXACTLY what I’m alwasy saying! I cycle in London. I know that if I get killed on my bike (and people do, all the time) it will be by a driver. I stay in my lane, I stop at the lights, I follow the rules. But at leaset once a day I am sitting at a red light and another cyclist comes zooming past me and runs through the lights. It is dangerous and douchebaggy. And I know that every time a driver honks at me FOR RIDING IN THE LANE, WHICH I AM LEGALLY OBLIGED AND ENTITLED TO DO, they are thinking of the million dangerous cyclists they’ve seen riding on the pavement/sidewalk, skipping through lights, or otherwise acting like none of the rules of the road apply to them. It is a two way street cyclists (no pun intended.) If we want people to drive safely around us, which we obviously all do, then we need to drive safely around others, and obey the rules that we want everyone else to. STOP MAKING EVERYONE HATE US!

    Reply
  5. August 1, 2011

    Great Post. This conversation has been a growing topic around the Cleveland Bike scene. I fully support our community of cyclists and hope that we can continue to increase awareness by following the rules.

    Reply
  6. Dave
    August 1, 2011

    I regularly do all the bad stuff, with a smile on my face! It’s just silly really. Fact is, if you blow lights and stop signs in traffic, you’re the one who is going to get killed.

    And of the handful of times where I have come very close to being struck/killed by a car, I have been obeying the law, and the driver flat out didn’t see me.

    So thanks for the scold, but I’ll continue to run those lights and signs when I feel it is safe to do so. I won’t be blasting through when someone is ready to go though, that is just asking for it.

    Toodle loo!

    Reply
  7. John McGovern
    August 8, 2011

    First off, I strongly agree with the ethos of your website and am glad to have found it. Thanks to Shelley Turk for that.

    You obviously took a lot of time composing this piece and it shows. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement: “The shitty thing about all those choices you make is that other people are watching you. Every time you slight some driver, or really piss them off, they remember it and file it in the anti-cycling part of their brain. And that affects other cyclists.”
    Though I don’t think it’s in the ‘anti-cycling’ part of their brain, so much as the infringement on the motorists sense of rights. Largely a set of liberties and sense of entitlement that has resulted from of 50+ years of designing roadways exclusively for motorized traffic. This sense of infringement is further heightened by the aggressiveness and anger created by driving in stop and go, intense heat, or otherwise high traffic, slow moving conditions. The shattering of the motorist’s dream, sold to him/her by countless car advertisements.

    Thus, I’d really like to see a follow-up post that discusses the impact of laws akin to what Idaho has done wherein cyclists are allowed to treat a stop sign like a yield and a red light like a stop sign. It’s the type of legislation that speaks to the notion, mentioned by Allison above, that the existing traffic regulation system was not designed for cyclists.
    Idaho law write-up: http://www.sfbike.org/?idaho

    Thanks again for sharing your opinion in this well written and insightful piece.

    Reply
  8. hatidua
    August 9, 2011

    I live in Boulder and I have yet to see a cyclist willfully stop at a stop sign. I’ve been mid-finger saluted for going when it’s my turn at a 4-way stop due to a bike not wanting to slow their pace through the intersection as well.

    Reply
  9. August 10, 2011

    We had just finished a four day self supported tour of the Olympic Peninsula before going to my wife’s family picnic on Snoqualmie Pass. One of her relatives, an obese cigarette smoker, when talking about a bike rider he passed on the way, said, “good thing they weren’t in my lane, they don’t pay road taxes” and gestured as if swerving his rig into the bicyclist. I sputtered something about paying the same taxes he did before calling him a jackass and storming off. Wish i could have been more eloquent but he really hit a nerve.

    Reply
  10. Heather Lyall
    August 22, 2011

    I am a novice bike rider and a driver in Denver also. I see both sides of the situation living in this area. There are many bike riders, and it is a struggle driving in the area with the cars obeying the stop signs and others who do not. I have seen far less riders who stop than who blow through the lights/signs and it didn’t really seem to bother me UNTIL my 8 yr old and I went on a leisure ride 2 weekends ago. I hadn’t realized she had noticed the bike riders ignoring the laws also, so when she made the comment of not having to stop at stop signs (luckily it was before she actually was in that situation), I informed her that it is very dangerous what the other people were doing. If she hadn’t have made that comment, what would have happened if she had done what other ADULT riders have done? Your comment people are watching is soooo very true. Luckily, I was able to talk to her and show her by MY example that it is much safer to obey the rules. I have also taught her to walk her bike across the street and always wear her brightly colored helmet so she is more visible.

    Please, lead by example! I love riding, I love driving but I also love living.

    Reply
    • Neil
      March 21, 2012

      Do the cars obey the stop signs?
      This website (http://azbikelaw.org/blog/stop-sign-compliance/) summarises multiple studies that have found that the vast majority of cars do not stop at at stop signs unless forced to by opposing traffic.

      The speed gap between “driving” and “rolling stop” is significant, which might give lots of drivers the perception that they’re stopping, when in fact they are not.

      Reply
  11. Brad M
    March 10, 2012

    Great post, just saw it today after driving along Happy Canyon Road in Denver watching to cyclists blow EVERY stop sign along the road.

    It really got me to thinking: if cyclists complaints are that stop signs are not practical for bicyclists, and they want to be able to do an Idaho stop (which still requires a rider to slow down, look, and then proceed, instead of just maintaining cadence right through), then cyclists need to petition the law to do so. I’ll be getting my first cycle in several years in a few months, and knowing how obnoxious cyclists who flaunt the laws are to me as a driver, I’ll be paying extra attention to not do that.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  12. Neil
    March 21, 2012

    Interestingly, research in the UK found that female cyclists are more likely to be killed riding than male cyclists, and most of those deaths were left hooks. The mechanism appeared to be that women are more likely to obey the rules, particularly stopping at appropriate signals, and then get hooked by large left-turning vehicles (would be right-turning here).

    It’s given me pause for thought. I’ve never stopped at all stop signs – I will roll through them if there’s no cross traffic – but I do religiously follow stop lights. It’s a bit bothersome that this rule following might actually put me at more risk.

    There’s really no winning. Until a transportation network exists that properly provides for cyclists needs, we’re stuck sharing the road with a fundamentally incompatible form of transportation.

    Reply
  13. Dave Rockwell
    June 24, 2012

    No part of the transportation infrastructure is built specifically for cycling, therefore the safety of the cyclist due to either design or general rules can never be assumed. Cyclists are supposed to follow all traffic laws and benefit from sharing the rights of any driver; in practice this is worthless. My policy is to follow all traffic laws unless it is pointless (no traffic in sight) or for some reason decreases my own safety; and I NEVER assert my rights as if I was driving a car. I ride close to thousands of cars every year. One of those drivers is a drunk, an idiot or a psychopath – I’m looking for that one every single day I ride. There are no rules. Ride accordingly at the level of risk you can accept. Evaluate every intersection separately. Keep your brain turned on at all times.

    Of course, if you don’t wear a helmet and feel free to thread the needle at any time, you might as well just continue to ignore any and all opinions or advice. Just try not to kill or paralyze anyone else.

    Reply
  14. Todd
    January 25, 2013

    Yes! Bicycles are vehicles.

    Reply
  15. May 30, 2013

    Unfortunatelly not all cyclist obey the traffic rules. Which I think is bad for them because in the case of this article, we are talking about a car vs bike collision which ends up badly for the cyclist no matter what and who is right. She can be right about the accident , but she will be the one injured. Safety should always come first

    Reply

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