Trail users shouldn’t have to stop

Can we have an honest conversation about stop signs for trail users? I take the Greenway from Whittier to St. Louis Park every weekday, and one of the very worst parts of my commute is where I cross Humboldt and Irving avenues, as illustrated below:

GreenwayI bet you can guess why: it’s because of those two awful stop signs! I’m not going to lie and say that I enjoy putting a stop to all of my beautiful, self-propelled momentum while on my bike, but the problems with these stop signs go beyond that.

They don’t make sense

The Midtown Greenway is a major bike thoroughfare, with over 3,800 daily trips west of Hennepin Avenue. Humboldt and Irving are residential streets on which traffic calming measures, including reversing the direction of one-way traffic, have already been implemented. Residents don’t want people cutting through these streets to bypass Hennepin, so there’s not a ton of traffic. It doesn’t make sense to force thousands of cyclists stop for limited traffic we’re already trying to discourage.

They don’t work

The stop signs don’t work anyways. The reason we have traffic signals is to set clear expectations for behavior. Most drivers are unnecessarily courteous to cyclists, which creates an expectation that drivers will always give up their right-of-way. Most cyclists don’t stop at these stop signs, because often there are no cars waiting to cross. It’s frustrating when drivers are passive and give cyclists the go-ahead when it’s not their turn, and it’s terrifying when drivers are aggressive.

I’ve found that there are three main types of drivers when it comes to their interactions with cyclists:

  • Passive: The majority of drivers fall into this category. They stop at the stop sign and wait for bikers to pass. Are they courteous, or just afraid of killing a cyclist? I don’t know. I do know that this may be the most frustrating situation. I’m 10 feet away from the stop sign and the car is just sitting there. They wave me through the stop sign, even though I’m supposed to stop. A cop car did this to me once. I thought it was a trick.
  • Assertive: These drivers treat the stop sign like any other stop sign, and they treat a bicycle like any other vehicle. They’ll stop. They’ll go when it is their turn. They do not wait unnecessarily. I love assertive drivers.
  • Aggressive: Aggressive drivers are pissed that you’re biking and they’re especially pissed that you’re enjoying yourself. They’re convinced you are going to disobey the stop sign. They will roll through their own stop sign and then honk at you if you start to progress through the intersection without coming to a complete stop. You have no idea how the driver is going to behave, and the vast majority of drivers you interact with are so passive it’s infuriating.

Most drivers are way too passive at these stop signs, which means that most cyclists won’t stop. It’s absurd to have stop signs that people are regularly going to disobey. The argument that cyclists don’t obey traffic signals is one of the often repeated assertions made by angry motorists who don’t want cycling infrastructure funded. As you can see from the comments below, taken from a recent Star Tribune article on potentially eliminating the 10mph trail speed limit for cyclists, angry motorists are convinced that bikers never follow the rules.

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Sure, cyclists don’t like to stop. A study in Portland found that cyclists came to a full stop at stop signs only 7% of the time, but only 22% of cars fully stopped. The aversion to stopping seems to be a human flaw, not limited to cyclists. That said, coming to a full stop on a bike sucks, all that momentum and effort wasted! To encourage cycling, we should make it easy and fun, which yes, includes limiting the places at which cyclists have to stop.

If, as it seems, we want to discourage rush hour vehicle traffic on Humboldt and Irving, it makes sense to allow trail users the right of way and force vehicles to stop and wait at the Greenway. Maybe it will discourage people from driving down those streets; maybe it will even encourage them to hop on a bike instead. Drivers are not benefitting from the trail facing stop signs on Humboldt and Irving. If anything, they’re more nervous and more frustrated than drivers who are required to stop for Greenway traffic on James.

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Cyclists cross James Avenue South without having to stop.

When crossing James, I know that cars will stop and wait for me; it feels safe and good. For those passive drivers who would already stop and wait, it is no different. For those assertive drivers, they will still take the initiative to go if I’m not at the intersection yet. And for those aggressive drivers, well, it gives me the security as a trail user that I’m not going to get honked at, yelled at, or run over.

The stop signs for trail users on Humboldt and Irving make those intersections less safe and make cycling through that area less fun. Let’s get rid of them.

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