The first in what might be a continuing series where I attempt to answer bike related questions that Dr. Gridlock gets in his chats.
Q. "Dr. Gridlock, several times in the last few months you've written that "drivers run stop signs too, but at least they slow down" as though that is a sign of greater virtue. But isn't different behavior by different modes just a result of the technology, not the virtue of the operators? Drivers slow down because they're going faster to start with, they can't see or hear as well as cyclists, and they aren't as maneuverable. In short, they slow down because they have to to avoid a crash. The prevalence of other illegal behavior seems to negate any claim to higher virtue. Would you not agree that cyclists, drivers and pedestrians do what they feel they can get away with without getting caught or being in a crash. So no group is more virtuous than other, right?"
Dr. Gridlock: My point exactly: Travelers generally comply with traffic law when they think there's a reasonable chance they'll get caught for a violation. Drivers complain about cyclists. Cyclists complain about drivers. But I don't see any class of travelers having the moral high ground on complying with the law.
As in: The law doesn't say "slow down" for a stop sign. It' says "stop."
Dr. Bikelock: I have nothing to add to this one. Good answer.
Q. Dr. G- Do you think the Capitol Bikeshare, in some way, may put negative strain on the transpo system? I've noticed that many (I'd say most, but it would not be statistical) do not wear helmets and pads. They seem to be even more cavalier than most people on bikes as far as obeying the traffic laws. In other words, it introduces novice people on bikes that are unfamiliar with the rules-of-the-road (or where they are going) as it relates to bikes and traffic. I feel the same is true about people driving Zipcars. They tend to be unfamiliar with the car they are driving (e.g., where the windshield wipers are in a down pour) and are often unfamiliar with the driving rules or where they're going. I try to avoid being near a Zipcar for fear of sudden, unexpected movements.
Dr. Gridlock - I think Capital Bikeshare -- or something like it -- is here to stay and believe that's a good thing. I was pleased to see how much of the traffic on the 15th Street cycle track is made up of these rented bikes.
I do wish they'd all wear helmets, though.
I'm not sure -- not denying it, just not sure -- that Bikeshare riders or Zipcar drivers are any less skilled than the average street user. (I don't have a high opinion of the average street user's skills.)
If a Bikeshare rider or a Zipcar driver does something dumb, it stands out and you tend to remember it. You may be seeing just as many dumb things done by other cyclists or drivers in rental cars not as clearly marked as the Zipcars are.
Dr. Bikelock: If anything my experience has been that Capital Bikeshare cyclists are safer than other cyclists because they're moving slower, always have lights on and are sitting upright. There haven't been many crashes reported, which is the most telling sign. I think that getting people who are making short trips to skip driving or transit is good for the overused transpo network. Cyclists often use bike lanes, trails and ride in the pulses between traffic, so they help maximize our road network and reduce congestion. And they don't take up parking spaces. I'd like to know what Zipcar says about their crashes per mile compared to the average American driver.
And...Pads? Really? It's not a roller derby.
Q As a cyclist and a runner, I can already see the improvements to the trail that uses the [Humpback] bridge. By widening it and eliminating two very steep climbs and drops, it will be safer for all. Still trying to see what it will do for traffic though.
Dr. Gridlock: In a way, it's the same thing. Driving over the bridge won't be quite the circus ride it used to be. One of the problems with the old design was that cars would be speeding along and, because of the hump, they wouldn't see the red tail lights ahead of them till it was too late.
Dr. Bikelock: The trail is much better and is already shaving crucial seconds off of area bike commutes. It's also much safer than the old trail. When the underpasses open it will make the DC crossing safer by making it grade separated and will make a VA crossing possible. Traffic will improve as millions of drivers abandon their cars for bike commuting.
Q. OK, as a driver, I admit to being occasionally prone to the "I totally paused" stop-sign behavior. (TM: the movie "Clueless) However, what I don't see from drivers is regular and deliberate running of red lights in heavy traffic, which I not only see from cyclists on a daily basis, but I hear the behavior defended on forums like this one. "Stopping makes me lose momentum!" they say. Hey, you know what else makes you lose momentum? Getting hit by a bus. Or mowing down a pedestrian.
Dr. Gridlock: Exactly: Drivers think there's a chance they'll get a ticket for running a red light. They think that's much less likely if they slide through a stop sign, though it's also illegal.
Of course, when it comes to making a right on red, many drivers will simply slow down for that turn. Maybe they're afraid of losing momentum?
Dr. Bikelock: True. Cyclists run red lights more often than drivers and one justification for this is to keep moving. In addition to doing this for convenience, there may be a safety benefit. Bikes, unlike cars, become less stable - and less maneuverable - at slow speeds, so keeping momentum is more important. And many cyclists feel safer if they are in front of, instead of beside, auto traffic. In Idaho, where this kind of behavior is legal, the change in law hasn't made cycling any less safe. So while crashing into something would ruin one's momentum, it is an unlikely outcome. And as noted above, while drivers don't run red lights like cyclists do - primarily because they can't - they do seem perfectly inclined to break the law in a whole host of ways that are both illegal and dangerous.
Q. [The law does say slow down] in Idaho. Cyclists in Idaho can treat stop signs as yield signs. Can we make that the law here? (DC/MD/VA) It makes a lot of sense.
Dr. Gridlock: I know many cyclists would prefer to ignore those bothersome stop signs, but I'm not sure what works for Idaho would work in DC.
Dr. Bikelock: Dr. Gridlock is partly right, but not for the reasons he thinks. There is no technical reason why the Idaho stop couldn't work here just as well as in Idaho, and saying "I'm not sure what works for Idaho would work in DC" is a cop out.
But, DC/MD and VA are all contributory negligence states, and there is concern that any cyclist hit in an intersection would immediately be found guilty. I suppose there are scenarios we could devise where one could cross when it was safe but then have some other party break the law in a way that caused the crash. So the sense is we need to fix contributory negligence first. Dr. Bikelock also does not care for Dr. Gridlock's tone about "bothersome stop signs." It's more than that.
Q.But the legality isn't really why drivers complain. The problem is, bicyclists are the only operators of slow vehicles who blow through stops. Operators of other slow vehicles, such as construction equipment or buses, stop at the stops. What bothers drivers is when bicyclists ignore stops and then are slow afterwards. If bicyclists understood this it would help everyone use the road together.
Dr. Gridlock: I can see why that would bother many drivers. What bothers this driver is that cyclists blow through stops signs and create a hazard for themselves and others.
I think what the cyclists would say is that it's more of a hazard for them to come to a full stop, and then try to regain speed. On a city street, the difference in speed between them and motorists is most apparent when the cyclists and the motorists are accelerating from a stop.
Dr. Bikelock: I think you're wrong about the primary reason drivers complain - it's mostly about breaking the law and the fact that it's a law they don't think they break. It's not about inconvenience. This isn't even an inconvenience. If a cyclist keeps catching you at stop signs and then passing you because they didn't have to wait for the cars in front of them and they rolled through at 7mph and you rolled through at 3mph, then the two of you are basically traveling the same speed. So what they're keeping you from doing is driving fast and then waiting a lot instead of driving slow and waiting a little.
While cyclists occasionally create hazards by blowing through stop signs, it is extremely rare.