No Stop Signs For Cyclists Say Consultant


The ongoing and seemingly escalating war between bicyclists and automobile drivers just took a step for the seriously weird thanks to a proposal from Mia Birk, transportation and cycling consultant.

Her idea boils down to this: Stop signs plainly don’t make sense for people on two wheels, and cyclists should be allowed to ignore them.

Mia Birk is the president of the consulting firm Alta Planning + Design, which focuses on bike issues and is based in Portland, Oregon, a very bike friendly town. But Portland also seems to be a city loaded with pragmatists, and this strikes me as being a manifestly dim and bone-headed idea.

“You see, stop signs are placed at intersections to keep two-ton vehicles from crashing into each other. One- to two-hundred-pound riders on bicycles do not need to come to a complete stop to avoid serious injury. While stop signs are an efficient and effective way to delineate right of way for motorists, cyclists need something different,” Birk wrote in the Portland Tribune.

Get it? Stop signs simply don’t make sense for people on two wheels.

Birk continued, “don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for throwing out the rule book. When we bike, we should stop and remain stopped for all traffic signals. And when we drive, we should slow down, hang up, yield to cyclists and pedestrians, and chill out. In other words, we can all behave better.”

Right Mia, right. But I see a few flaws in your reasoning.

First off, there’s your assertion that ” One- to two-hundred-pound riders on bicycles do not need to come to a complete stop to avoid serious injury.” Right, sure. One- to two-hundred-pound riders on bicycles do not need to come to a complete stop if they might, possibly, bump into another one- to two-hundred-pound rider on a bicycle. Bumping into another bike at five miles an hour is not nearly as grizzly a proposition as blowing through a stop sign and getting hit by a two ton SUV operated by a distracted mom who just dropped off a couple of her bratty kids at soccer and is now in the middle of a heated conversation with her husband, via cell phone, over what will constitute dinner for tonight. Or perhaps the cyclist would have a nice, mechanical conversation with a six-ton delivery truck doing 30 MPH.

And then there’s this: ” While stop signs are an efficient and effective way to delineate right of way for motorists, cyclists need something different.” Yeah, I think any oil-soaked gearhead might be able to quibble with the efficiency and effectiveness of stop signs – anyone who is stuck at a four-way stop while two dingus motorists try to decide who is going to be nicest and let the other one go has seen just how inefficient and ineffective stop signs can be (although maybe that’s just blaming abysmally poor driving habits on the sign rather than the drivers). No, it’s the ” cyclists need something different”. Oh? They do? Why? Could you enumerate as to why this should be Mia? She doesn’t, really, just takes as true and continues on from there.

“When we bike, we should stop and remain stopped for all traffic signals. And when we drive, we should slow down, hang up, yield to cyclists and pedestrians, and chill out. In other words, we can all behave better.” Yeah, right, hard to fault that and yes, ” we can all behave better,” but that door swings both ways Mz. Birk. I’ve given up counting the number of times I’ve seen bikes do downright stupid and dangerous things let alone show behavior patterns more aligned with toddlers on Big Wheels.

Share the road means just that: Share. Cars got to give a little, but bikes have to share as well. That doesn’t mean, to give just one example, that a cyclist should be able to blithely ride down the middle of a lane doing 15 miles an hour, hold up a dozen cars, and when the road finally widens snarl at the passing cars, “I have the right to use the whole lane y’know!

Yeah, and I have the right to drink and carry a gun, but that doesn’t make staggering into a bowling alley and using an AK to help pick out my shoes a good idea.

But this is the line that really stood out to me: ” … don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for throwing out the rule book.”

No, what you’re advocating is having a different set of rules for cyclists than for cars and that is manifestly dangerous. Think about this for a second, and you could see how this would start to look like the chariot race from Ben Hur by the end of the first day.

Say you’re the aforementioned harried soccer mom (or the delivery truck driver). Say that you are actually driving okay, you’re paying attention to the road, you’re driving down the boulevard at 30 MPH (the posted speed limit) and then WHAM! A cyclist has just blown through a stop sign because that stop sign doesn’t apply to them, and they are now all over your grill and windshield like a deer that just bounded out of the woods at the wrong moment.

Cops are called. Ambulances and fire trucks arrive. The remains of the biker are carted away in the back of a dark blue panel van and now the driver has to deal with the cop trying to explain that what the cyclist did was okay, just fine, well within the letter of the law and that it was the driver that was at fault and will now be held liable.

Did Mia Birk not even think it through that far? Did she not even clock to the fact of the obvious negative impact, not just to cyclists (which she seems to think would only benefit from a move like this) but to motorists, the health care system as well as the judicial system?

No, it would seem she didn’t.

It seems that she gave this idea about as much thought as the cyclist that says to themselves, ‘I have the right of way, that semi truck should know that.’ Before they pull out in front of a big rig driven by a guy at the end of another 19 hour day on the road and his bennies are starting to wear off and he’ll barely register the THUMP before he wearily pulls over and will later say to the investigating officer, “Man, I dunno. He just pulled right out in front of me. There wasn’t any time to react, let alone stop.”

Source: Seattle P.I. Photo from Flikr user Jimbohayz

About The Author

Tony Borroz grew up in a sportscar oriented family, but sadly, it was British cars. His knuckles still show the marks of slipped Whitworth sockets, strains to reach upper rear shock bushings on Triumphs, and slight burn marks from dealing with Lucas Electric "systems." He has written for a variety of car magazines and websites, Automoblog chief among them. Tony has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He currently lives in a secure, undisclosed location in the American southwestern desert.

2 Comments on "No Stop Signs For Cyclists Say Consultant"

  1. Generally this argument of cyclist not needing to come to a complete stop is meant to propose that the cyclist treat a stop sign as a yeild. It takes significantly more effort to get a bike in motion after a stop, making it especially annoying when at the speed a cyclist travels, with no blind spots, and with their own life on the line, they can make a very rational decision on what needs to occur, stop or go. To suggest that Mia Birk is proposing the cyclist just blow through traffic signals signs is ignorant and misleading.

    I'm a gear head on both sides, I yeild to cyclist, and I've had it out with cyclist that do dumb things in the middle of the road.

  2. I am sort of taking the middle road, not agreeing or disagreeing with both but just in the middle. Sure, people on bikes should slow down when around stop signs/intersections so they don’t get hit by cars. That’s just common sense; I don’t think Mia was saying bike rides should drive just blindly through.

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