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Hard to believe. Judging from the picture, it doesn't look like an official stop sign, there is no wide horizontal stop line to go with it and on to of it, it would be missing the "All Way" sign below the stop sign.

Note the stop sign at the exit of the Marriott: wide horizontal stop line and no "All Way" sign.

This seems to be a pretty obvious case of someone messing with traffic control devices.

There are a bunch of these along this section of Custis, starting at the top of the hill and going town to this point; they have been there for at least several years. They do not seem official.

Given the number of pedestrian bike incidents there, I hope so. I got slammed there a few years ago ( walking on the right, biker took the right to get around a group walking On the wrong side and knocked me over.

That sign predates the new ones on oak and Scott

First of all, regardless of the legal authority for the sign, cyclists have to be careful along this stretch of the Custis Trail, for several reasons. For one, the trail is also a sidewalk, and a busy one at that, with ramps from the hotel and the metro bridge and crosswalks. Just last night there was a bike-car collision where the sidewalk (not the trail) crosses a hotel parking lot entrance around the corner from where this photo was taken. I like to ride at a good clip along the W&OD/Custis to get to and from work, but along this stretch I go slowly. Second, stop signs are not unique to the Custis; they are found on other local trails where they intersect with streets. I assume the authorities have legal authority to put them up, but it's nonetheless questionable whether running such a sign is a violation of Virginia law. When I was ticketed for running a stop sign on the W&OD in Hamilton, I went to court and beat the ticket on the grounds that I couldn't have been guilty of running a stop sign at an intersection (which is what I was charged with) because where the W&OD crosses a street is not an "intersection" under the Virgina Motor Vehicle Code.

My initial reaction is that I do not see anything clearly illegal about the stop sign. It needs to be at least 18" across which seems to be the case. The MUTCD does not require white stop lines accross the pavement wherever there is a stop sign; if there is no such line one should stop even with the stop sign.

This does not appear to be an all-way stop, so I do not see a reason for an all-way sign. From what I can tell, vehicles originating on the highway have right of way over vehicles on the trail and vehicles leaving the hotel.

The warning sign over the stop sign seems problematic, however, since the sign being provided for trail users does not include the trail itself. There is crossing traffic but the sign implies a T. Warning signs do not have to be in the MUTCD, and they could have adapted a standard parallel-railroad crossing sign, but replaced the rail marking with a thin line to represent the trail.

In the case of this sign, the lettering and shape are slightly wrong. A couple of things i wonder:

- How would someone petition to have this sign removed, on the grounds that it is a counterfeit TCD?

- What legal sanctions exist against someone who installs counterfeit TCDs?

Michael Roy, no one questions the need for caution in this area; the problem such signage creates is that in the event of an accident the cyclist may be improperly cited.

Really? People think it's a conspiracy? Someone put up a fake, unauthorized sign?

Hey, so what? It's a good idea to stop there anyway.

I've often wondered about some of the mini stop signs along the MVT. If the rule is that they must be 18" wide, I'd be curious to see of all the signs meet that regulation. Some appear to be quite small.

strainer> Really? People think it's a conspiracy? Someone put up a fake, unauthorized sign?

A conspiracy? No. Someone at the Key Bridge Marriott messing with the public right of way to protect the company financially? Perhaps.

strainer> Hey, so what?

Like i say: driver hits cyclist who has right of way, cop cites cyclist based on fake signage, cyclist gets cited, loses insurance claim, health care bills overwhelm him financially.

You don't see a problem here?

JimT: here's a larger image of the sign:


You can see that the O is the wrong shape, and the letterspacing is wrong. It looks to me as if someone made this by hand, maybe using decal lettering.

One thing MUTCD does require is that a stop sign be on its own pole with only a few other allowable sign plates joining it on the sign, all smaller than the stop sign itself. Off the top of my head, the few additional plates that are allowed to be posted (underneath the stop sign) are "all way" "2-way" and directional "one way" plates.

The reasoning behind this is that stop signs are extremely important to follow, so MUTCD doesn't want the information cluttered with extraneous information that the driver will have to take time to interpret. The allowable smaller plates are all sub-conditions of the particular stop sign and intersection, whereas that yellow sign in the photo should not be above the stop sign, nor should it be on the same pole, it should be on a previous pole.

Small detail, but stop signs also should not be mounted to a telephone pole, but on their own steel standalone mount to offset them as much as possible from the background.

Conclusion, whoever put it up is not a fastidious traffic engineer, and it's definitely a kludgy installation (of course, we see that a lot with bike infrastructure, so it still could be official).

Doesn't this have the potential to confuse a driver? The sign, though small, is close enough to Lee Highway to be visible.

I'd bet six-pack of premium microbrew this was placed illegally by the hotel.

@antibozo and Will: Thanks for clarifying the possible problems with the stop sign.

I agree that the stop sign could be better. I am unclear whether it falls outside of a valid regulatory sign.

"08 Standardization of these designs does not preclude further improvement by minor changes in the proportion or orientation of symbols, width of borders, or layout of word messages, but all shapes and colors shall be as indicated." MUTCD 2A.06.08 Whle the lettering is not an improvement, there seems to be some tolerance for minor differences.

I do not know about VA, but in Maryland signs placed by the proper authority with minor deviations from the correct design are valid. Graffiti that changes "30" to "80" is not valid.

I agree that the warning sign is misplaced, but to me that is just one more problem with the warning sign, rather than invalidating the Stop sign. In particular, the warning sign does not call for a separate decision so the concern about advising two decisions on a single pole is not applicable.

@Will: Can you say which section of the MUTCD requires bicycle stop signs to have their own pole rather than share a pole with other signs?
Also, is the concern about telephone poles in the MUTCD or just an engineering best practice?

Considering the fact that there is not a corresponding STOP sign on the trail for riders heading up hill, my bet is this sign is not official.

@C Fotos: It can only be seen in a rear view mirror from (westbound) Lee Highway.
It's probably on the downhill side of the trail because a) the sightlines are worse on that side and b) drivers coming out of the hotel can only turn right and may not be expecting high speed bicyclists coming from the right.

The sign probably isn't official, but bicyclists on the trail typically don't stop for the official traffic control devices either.

@dcbrewer: Another posssbility is that the safety need for a cyclist proceeding with the flow of traffic to stop is much less than for someone going against the flow of traffic. I think that side-path accidents a much greater with counterflow cyclists.

JimT: i guess maybe i'm not being fully clear. The weirdness of the sign is an indicator to me that it may not be official. The question isn't whether a variant sign placed by a legal authority would be valid--i've no doubt it would. The question is whether this sign was placed by a valid authority. It isn't as if there is a shortage of stop signs that would require VDOT to cobble together weird little variant signs for such an unusual requirement. The sign is smaller than an ordinary stop sign, true, but i'm pretty confident VDOT isn't as mickey-mouse as this sign looks, even if making a small number of smaller variant stop signs.

Didn't we have a debate a few months ago over the question of whether *any* stop sign on a MUT was legitimate?

@oboe - if we're thinking of the same thing, that was whether a stop sign at a traffic signal was permitted (it's not)

@antibozo. What you are suggesting seems plausible. I have no idea and maybe someone should ask Arlington County, which operates the trail. I can think of a locality that is broke and might accept poor signs from a low-bid contractor with a deduction (provided that they met the MUTCD requirements). But Arlington is relatively well off so this is less likely. I agree that VDOT would not make such a bad sign; I'm unclear whether Arlington gets trail signs from VDOT, which undoubtedly has a sign shop that uses the official .EPS files.

One thing to check would be whether it the sign has the proper reflective properties; if not then it does not meet the minimum MUTCD requirements.

It is interesting if someone put the sign up without authorization but was smart enough to only put it on the side of the driveway where it was arguably needeed. (Cars that stop at stop signs before enterring a street with fast traffic from the left see bikes on the left but usually do not look for fast bikes on the right; but a hotel operator would know not know that.)

In Maryland, I think that the sign would govern between litigants since it is negligent to run something that looks like a stop sign, unless you know that the driver knows that it is not a real stop sign.

(c) Presumption that devices were placed by official act. -- Unless the contrary is established by competent evidence, if a traffic control device is placed in a position approximately meeting the requirements of the Maryland Vehicle Law, the device is presumed to have been placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority.

(d) Presumption that devices comply with requirements of Maryland Vehicle Law. -- Unless the contrary is established by competent evidence, if a traffic control device is placed in accordance with the Maryland Vehicle Law and purports to meet the lawful requirements governing these devices, the device is presumed to meet the requirements of the Maryland Vehicle Law.

I'd say putting up a fake traffic sign would expose the company to alot more financial hurt, but sure, stupider things have happened.


I was thinking of this:


Also came across this one:

I've noticed on street signs in DC that there is usually a bar code on the back provided by DDOT. Surely Arlington also has an inventory of signs and their locations. That would be fairly easy to find out correct?

You beat me to it x. Arlington puts bar codes and "Property of Arlington" on the back of new signs. Older signs though, don't have that identifier. So it's not true that all signs without bar codes are fake.

@oboe: The other time we were discussing whether a government agency was an idiot. Here we are discussing whether the idiot was a government agency.

JimT: that's very interesting about the presumption of validity in Maryland. I can imagine that creating some weird liability situations if people were to start putting up their own signage to express their personal preferences. Maybe i have small children and don't like people traveling a legal 25 mph on my street, so i fabricate and erect 15 mph speed limit signs to slow people down. At some point, a collision between two vehicles occurs and the driver who was doing 20 mph is cited and his insurance company pays out based on the citation, even tho the other driver may have been more at fault. If the faulted insurance company finds out later that the sign was not placed by a lawful authority, can they sue me?

That whole issue aside, there still must be a mechanism to have the lawful authority remove counterfeit signage, even if it's to be presumed authentic in the meantime, and there ought to be some legal sanction against counterfeiting of signage.

@antibozo: You'd have to say more about how the hypothetical accident happened to know where fault lies in this case. Your example has two possible reasons for liability: the sign caused the accident; and the sign did not cause the accident but it led the wrong party to be found liable.

JimT: i mean the latter scenario: the sign caused the wrong party to be found liable. But the former scenario deserves consideration as well--a sudden speed zone change, for example, leading to unexpected deceleration and a rear-end collision because of unlawful placement of a speed limit sign.

@antibozo. In the latter case, the lawsuits would have been dismissed because both parties are contributorily negligent. So the insurance company who pays out is inept and has no case against whoever put up the sign.

I think you will find it difficult to come up with a specific story in which the false sign causes the insurance company to re-allocate blame (unless the sign is posted after the accident but everybody assumes that it was always there until someone finds a pre-accident photo).

JimT: it may be hard to find such cases in practice, but that could be largely because they are deliberately made cryptic by the actors involved, and no one *knows* to ask whether the signage is lawfully placed, or whom to go to to find out or challenge it.

This came up last week, you'll recall, because a cyclist was hit at this driveway, and someone heard a cop talking about the cyclist "running a stop sign". So i took this photo over the weekend to show why i don't think the stop sign is lawful. I'm trying to find out what the next step is.

There's a lot of phony-looking signage posted around cycle facilities in the area, and i think as cyclists we should be thinking about where our road rights are being subtly eroded by possibly unlawful signage, and what we can do about it. Between ill-informed policing and ignorant drivers, it's difficult enough to protect ourselves from being held at fault for someone else's mistake. If we let people confuse the issues by throwing up whatever signs they want, we're doing ourselves a disservice.

The area in question is already one of the most accident-prone i can think of. The only people that should be putting up signs are the traffic engineers from Arlington or VDOT, who can at least be expected to know what they're doing. If this is a phony sign, it should come down.

Also, i think you're being a little disingenuous. I'm sure you can think of a scenario, if you actually try, in which an accident is caused by unlawful, counterfeit signage, and where both parties are not contributorily negligent. If you don't care to really engage on the issue, that's fine, but in that case, please don't pretend.

As far as I knew we were discussing a legal aspect for the heck of it. I had no idea that this was your photo or a project you are pursuing. Clearly you should call the trail managers to learn about the sign. Returning to this thread...

You may have missed my point. Of course there are ways for bad signage to cause an accident. An artificially high speed limit comes to mind. If you know of others feel free to spell out the fact pattern. Though I suspect in most cases the bad driving will dominate when yu are talking about adding signs.

But what I think is hard to find is the case where the sign does not contri ute to the accident but it still causes the legal system to miallocate blame. Perhaps it would be more helpful for you to provide examples rather than assert that I am able to but for some reason decline to do so. If a dialogue on the comments thread is frustrating, feel free to email me or call on the phone.

Jim: re trail managers: that's more along the lines of what i was looking for regarding follow-up action. I wonder who they are...

I don't follow why my initial example can't serve. Either i didn't explain it clearly, or my lack of lawyerliness is getting in the way.

Mallory posts a counterfeit 15 mph sign to calm traffic on his street, where the actual speed limit is, say, 30 mph. Alice lives beyond a curve on this street, where the 30 mph limit was determined by traffic engineers to be reasonable for the curve, but Alice believes, because of the sign, that the limit is 15 mph. Alice then pulls out of her driveway. Bob, traveling at 30 mph, rounds the curve and strikes Alice. Bob is cited for "speeding" based on the 15 mph posted limit, and is held at fault, as the investigator believes falsely that the 15 mph speed limit was correctly determined for the curve, and that, had Bob been traveling at 15 mph or less, Alice would have observed Bob and waited to exit her driveway. But in fact, Bob was acting in a way that should have been lawful and reasonable under the circumstances, if not for Mallory's act, and Alice should have expected 30-mph traffic coming around the curve. After the case is settled in Alice's favor, Bob's insurance company learns that the 15-mph speed limit was posted by Mallory, and wants to be compensated for the payment made to Alice.

Doesn't the fault of this misallocation of blame ultimately lie with Mallory, who posted the counterfeit sign? Bob may have been required to presume that the posted limit was valid, and may still be held at fault, but shouldn't Bob's insurance company have recourse against Mallory for creating the confusion that led to the accident, and the false attribution of blame?

If you call the parks department you'd probably find the right person within 5-6 calls. If you send me an email we might reduce the number of iterations by 2 or 3, though it might take a day or so before I heard back.

Recalling that we have beem talking about "two possible reasons for liability: the sign caused the accident; and the sign did not cause the accident but it led the wrong party to be found liable," and that I have been suggesting that the former case can happen but it is hard to think of an example of the latter, I think again this is--at most--a case of the former. But note: By misallocation of blame, I thought we were talking about misallocation among the two vehicle operators. As in, it's the driver's fault but because of that sign, the cyclist gets blamed.

In your example, I think you realize that in Virginia both drivers are contributorily negligent. But maybe there is a passenger in each car so they will not be subject to that doctrine.

In this case, depending on additional facts, it may well be that the sign caused the accident. But I think it would be a stretch to say that although the sign did not cause the accident, it caused the legal system to blame Bob though it was Alice's fault.

Even the former case is fact dependent. No time to consider al permutations right now, but consider: If Alice pulled out in front of Bob, then Bob's speeding is a contributing factor but he is not the main negligent actor. It is really negligent to pull out in front of a car that will not have time to stop when you do (unless we have a blind curve--but then the speed should be 15 mph). So Bob probably no more than 25% responsible.

Also: What is Bob's actual behavior? If he habitually drives 15 mph over the limit, then this sign actually mitigated the damages since he would otherwise be driving at 45mph. Or does he claim that he drives based on the road, not the speed limit? In that case, he will have to state a very weird case against the sign-poster: That Alice pays less attention to the speed of the car closing in on her than the speed limit sign that she has committed to memory concerning the speed that the car should be following, at the same time that Bob himself pays no attention to speed limits. Usually, people pay more attention to speed limits regarding their own driving than in predicting the speed of oncoming traffic. Or is this a blind curve where Alice could not see Bob driving at 30 mph? In that case, the sign did not matter. Or is Bob claiming that he did not see the 15 mph sign but that Alice was relying on it--again it all sounds a bit farfetched, as a plaintiff claims he was wronged because he ignored a sign that other people had committed to memory.

Jim, thanks for the offer.

I guess i'm still not being clear.

First, Alice isn't necessarily contributorily negligent. At some limit of Bob's speed, she is being fully competent by pulling out because she can't reasonably observe Bob. The speed limit should be set in accordance with this speed, but it may be incorrectly set, or visibility may have changed since it was set. You can stipulate that that speed is whatever the limit should have been in this case. This is a thought experiment; the fact that you're trying to nail down detailed facts is why i suggested earlier you were being a bit disingenuous. Do you truly not see the possibility of *some* scenario where Bob would not have been held at fault if not for a sign placed by Mallory?

In any case, the point is that it *doesn't matter* whether it's Bob's actual fault, Alice's actual fault, or both. The case is settled and Bob was held at fault, or more at fault than Alice, anyway, and that's a done deal. Bob's not claiming anything, and Bob and Alice are out of the picture, now. Okay?

The question is whether *Bob's insurance company* can then sue *Mallory* for placing the counterfeit sign, on the grounds that Bob wouldn't have been found more at fault than Alice without Mallory's misdeed.

@antibozzo: I'll have to study the more complex 3rd paragraph after work today. But for the simpler stuff:

1st paragraph. Please call government or send me an email today--you would not want to fall into the trap of spending more time deliberating with other advocates than nagging officials.

4th and 5th paragraph. I have glossed over the insurance issue to keep the argument simpler. If Bob had no insurance, then Bob has the claim against the sign poster. If Bob has insurance, then both Bob and the insurance company have a claim against the sign poster; Bob has a claim because insurance rates rise, and insurance never covers all damages. So it is easier to just ignore the insurance company.

Jim, thanks. That's a good point about Bob's claim, tho the insurance company may have a larger claim, and better resources with which to pursue it.

To take it back to where this all started, last Wednesday washcycle reported:


"A grey Jeep SUV reportedly pulled out of the Key Bridge Marriott across the Custis Trail and collided with a cyclist sending the cyclist to the hospital. A police officer on the scene was heard saying 'bicyclists run the stop signs all the time.'"

oboe then commented:

"This reminds me of the story from last year when a cyclist was plowed into by a driver turning right across the crosswalk. Even though the cyclist was in the crosswalk, and crossing with the walk signal, the responding officer ticketed him for failing to obey a ('sign'?, 'notice'?) where someone had painted 'STOP' on the ground in faded gray letters."

So, in practical terms, if a cyclist is found contributorily negligent in such a crash because a cop cites him for disregarding an unauthorized sign, i wonder what he can do about it.

I can certainly imagine that, after a couple of hundred guests of the Marriott mention to the front desk, "I was trying to exit the parking lot and a cyclist CAME OUT OF NOWHERE and i almost creamed him," someone clever at the hotel decides to throw up a stop sign, with good intentions, but with the possible unintended consequence of denying a cyclist due compensation in the event of a collision such as the one that happened Wednesday.

That's my real concern, in case it isn't completely clear.

Well, did you call the County today?

The problem I see with that intersection, aside from the inacurate warning sign over the stop sign, is the absence of a warning sign under the stop sign for people existing the hotel. With or (especially) without the stop sign on the trail, drivers need a warning about bikes coming from the right, which is an unexpected direction for traffic. Why someone (the county?) thinks that cyclists need a sign to show the shape of the intersection at which they are stopping, but drivers do not need to be warned about drivers coming from the "wrong way" is difficult to comprehend.

The scenario you are thinking about where the new sign prevents a cyclist from winning a civil suit is plausible; it is also possible that the new sign will enable some cyclists to prevail who would have no case without the sign.

There are many permutations, but lets divide the world into (a) cyclists that very carefully observe and predict auto traffic, (b) cyclists who do not do so but do obey traffic control devices, and (c) cyclists that neither obey traffic control devices nor predict what drivers will do. Drivers include (1) those who observe traffic and out of the hotel slowly, and (2) those who do not observe all traffic and accelerate rapidly into the road.

Cyclists "a" will not collide with driver "1", and probably won't collide with driver 2 either because they could see what he was up to.

Cyclist "c" will collide with driver 2, since neither are paying much attention to eachother. Cyclist "c" may also collide with driver 1, who stops at the stop sign, looks left, then right, then left again. In the time that Driver 1 is looking left to make the final turn, cyclist 2 ends up crossing his path and gets hit. In both of these cases, cyclist c is contributorily negligent if there is a stop sign. Even without the stop sign, c is contributorily negligent for running into Driver 1: If the driver looked to the right and then in the time it takes to look left and turn the cyclist manages to get into the driver's path, the cyclist is not observing due care. A reasonable cyclist is on guard when coming from this direction. But a collision with driver 2 might not evince contributory negligence. The cyclist has the right of way, and is proceeding slowly enough that he would only be overlooked by someone who does not even bother to look both ways. The driver probably would have run into a pedestrian as well. It's hard to say, however, maybe the cyclist was not being careful enough. So in this case, the stop sign might make a difference, in that its absence gives the cyclist the right to proceed at a reasonable speed.

Without the sign, cyclist "b" is in the same position as cyclist c. Clearly negligent for running into Driver 1, but maybe not for running into Driver 2. With the stop sign, cyclist b stops, and having stopped, she has the right of way over any one he runs into. And having stopped, she will not be constributorily negligent because she slowed to the speed. So the stop sign makes cyclist b safer, and also ensures that her passage through the intersection is not contributorily negligent.

So in this case, the stop sign should decrease the number of accidents, but it will have an ambiguous effect on the legal status of cyclists. It causes fast stop-sign runners to lose the right of way and be legally negligent. but maybe they would have been negligent anyway for going through the intersection so fast on the left wide of the highway; it causes those who comply with traffic control devices but can't predict traffic well, to behave in a way that prevents them from being negligent.

I'm all in favor of eliminating sources of legal unfairness; yet I think that this has to take a back seat to safety. I think that wrong-way road riding, and left-side sidewalk (or sidepath) riding are the same species of fish. Where infrastructure encourages cyclists to ride against the flow of highway traffic, I think that traffic control devices are needed to warn drivers and discourage cyclists from proceeding through intersections faster than a fast pedestrian. The problem with this intersection is that it has the latter but not the former.

Of course, these signs need to be part of a consistent treatment throughout the trail, not as a renegade activity by property owners. Seeing that this issue interests you, I strongly urge you to take this issue on and learn about all the signs on this trail, and work toward the optimal signage it needs. It may take time, but your ability and willingness to articulate possible concerns shows that you could probably fix this problem, if you put your heart into it. WIth that, I'll sign off on this thread.

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