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Santa Monica: New Stop Signs Coming to Eastern End of Broadway (Part 1 of 2)

2:00 PM PDT on July 12, 2013

Stop Sign

In response to a high rate of intersection collisions on Broadway in the residential stretch with center medians east of 26th St , new stop signs are to be added so that there will be 2 additional 4 way stop regulated intersections.

Currently, 2 of the 6 intersections are 4 way stops require a stop for east and westbound travel. At one point stop signs at every intersection through that corridor to the city border was considered, however there was some push-back by some, including members of Santa Monica Spoke, against diminishing the efficiency of such an important route for bicycling. Notices will be going out to those who live along of the route if they have not already.

Bike riders have a complex and sometimes uncongenial relationship with our prolific use of stop signs as traffic control devices in the United States. Compliance with the exact letter of the laws governing stop signs among bike riders is in many places observably and quantitatively low. Not that drivers are any saints in regards to stop signs, I see people blow them often. However, there are characteristics to bicycling as a mode of transportation, such as differing relative risks of causing harm, official bike route designations, the physics of being your own motor and the route selection of various kinds of bike riders, that complicate the stop sign relationship in unique ways.

The laws can say one thing, but mixed interpretations and conventions that vary along quite a spectrum can create confusion and animosity. There are drivers who (typically giving a pass to their own traffic transgressions), go bonkers over bike riders rolling stops, especially when the cyclist is out of turn with established right of away protocols. This is one of the most common rants I hear lobbed against the bicycling public in many forums. However, there are drivers who are more than happy to give up their right of away to allow a bicyclist to roll through first. Some are obligingly carefree about it whether I go out of turn or not, but I also have gotten cold, clearly upset, stare downs from drivers who waited for me to roll through when I stayed foot down waiting to go after.

There are bike riders who are fairly laissez faire about stop sign compliance, but there those quite insistent on the letter of the law, sometimes with a self policing impulse to decry and disparage other bicyclists they attribute as giving us all a bad name. There are bicyclists who are willing to put up with faster more intense boulevards or routing out of their way to avoid heavy stop sign use on a street, especially if a long route makes many stops. The delays can really add up. But others may hate dealing with stop signs but aren’t about to reroute off calmer streets.

While Gary Kavanagh is on a short hiatus, Ted Rogers and Juan Matute will cover the Santa Monica beat for Streetsblog. This column is supported by Bike Center and the Library Alehouse

I've also heard of at least one officer from one of the South Bay cities refer to using discretion by only stopping those rolling too fast to see the spokes of the wheel, an interpretation going more with the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Another officer, another city may treat it differently, more strictly, or perhaps be too concerned with more important things.

Many advocates around the nation point to Idaho, which long ago changed the legal obligation for bicyclists to one of yielding. Yielding sometimes require a full stop and sometimes does not. There was no apocalypse of problems that resulted. I have some fixed feelings on the Idaho law but it seems worthy of consideration.

Like I said, it gets complicated. I think it’s important we acknowledge this complexity, because reducing the issue to a simplistic binaries around stop signs (and on many other issues), can lead us astray from looking at root causes, or differing expectations among different riders and drivers.

So I would have to say I place myself in the camp of not being a fan of regulating residential streets through mass propagation of stop signs. However reducing crashes, especially those severe enough to cause serious harm, is a worthy goal which I share with those in city traffic engineering making this call.

Traffic calming or mitigation solutions which can calm vehicle speeds and help regulate intersection interactions, but don't penalize bicycling as much as repeated stop signs do exist. Within the framework of our system traffic calming requires a more complex public process and are typically more costly. I understand why the stop signs are going in, but I also get why some bike riders and advocates are frustrated by the move.

In the 2nd post on this topic, I'll elaborate on what long term alternatives to repeated stop signs (or rule changes to their use) for this corridor and other similar contexts in the city might look like.

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