Greater Greater Washington

Do red lights encourage reckless choices?

I almost hit a cyclist last week while driving. The cyclist would have been at fault; he ran a red light. But did the red light encourage his bad behavior, and would a stop sign be safer?


Red light photo from Shutterstock.com

I was driving down 18th Street mid-morning, approaching P. The light was green and I was traveling about 25 mph. As I started to enter the intersection, I suddenly saw a cyclist ride into the intersection from the right at a full cycling speed.

I hit my brakes, he hit his and swerved. We both stopped before reaching the point where our paths would have crossed. Fortunately, had either of us not seen the other, we probably would still not have collided, but it was very harrowing.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I thought about why this man would have ridden this way. He surely knew, as he rode at a good clip from Dupont Circle to 18th, that the light was red; it had been for tens of seconds already and the pedestrian countdowns showed it wasn't about to change. What we he thinking?

Some people are just foolish, but perhaps he was not expecting any cars to come down the road. I hadn't been in a long line of cars; the road was pretty empty. While that's no excuseand even for people who believe in the Idaho Stop, the only safe thing to do at a light is come to a complete stop before proceedinghe might have drawn the wrong conclusion from the street's emptiness.

I've spent a lot of time waiting at that light as a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver. Except when in a car I've gone through it, too, though only after stopping. Since, outside rush hour, there really is not much traffic here, maybe we need to ask a deeper question: should there be a traffic light here?

Why not a stop sign? Or if 18th is so busy at rush hours, how about a flashing 4-way red (which acts as a stop) at other times?

There are many intersections that could have stop signs instead of lights

Several similar intersections come to mind just in Dupont, which I'm very familiar with, and there are surely others in other neighborhoods. The light at 19th and R forces drivers on R to often wait a long time before getting to queue up to cross Connecticut Avenue, while little or no cross traffic passes on 19th. There's a triangle of lights at 18th and New Hampshire where you more often spend time waiting for no apparent reason than actually getting somewhere.

At 18th and N, if you're driving north on 18th, it often turns red just as cars cross Connecticut, forcing an immediate stop; driving south on 18th, almost everybody is turning right on N to cross Connecticut, but the odd person who wants to turn left often has to wait for northbound cars and block everyone else.

People race on P from 16th over to 17th to beat a light they know might change at any moment, making them wait 30 seconds while few cars pass on 17th. The list goes on. At all of these places, pedestrians and cyclists routinely go through red lights because there is so much time when no traffic is going through with the green.

Stop signs manage traffic better on medium-traffic streets

A stop sign may let fewer cars move through an intersection per minute when there is heavy demand, but when it's light, it actually can reduce the amount of delay each driver encounters because they have to just take the time to stop, not wait a somewhat random amount of time for the light to change.

Certainly stop signs are not appropriate on the major multi-lane streets like Connecticut and 16th, but for the many intermediate streets, even ones that are longer-distance through streets, stop signs (or part-time flashing red stop signs) could make the road network work better for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

In our discussion of Portland cyclists stopping at red lights, Paul H wrote,

On the question of stop and proceed at quiet residential street traffic lights, these are exactly the kind of places that should have simpler traffic controlslights (expensive to operate and maintain as well) should be replaced by four-way stops, four-way stops replaced by mini-traffic circles (familiar in Portland, Arlington and MoCo). Smplifying traffic controls at intersections without heavy traffic encourages all users to pause, evaluate, negotiate with each other, and proceed cautiously. Stress, danger, cost, and travel times are all reduced.

Similarly, as a downtown cyclist and pedestrian, I'm always amazed at the decision to time lights that run 60-90 seconds. In the burbs it can be two minutes or over. Add a bunch of those together and it's maddening, particularly when the streets are empty but also when one local street has clearly been timed to facilitate long-distance travel over local passageunderstandable for arterials, not cool for neighborhood streets.

Shorten interval times, I'd be much more likely as a pedestrian and cyclist to participate in the motorist management system (we all know the lights and signs exist primarily to manage cars, if there were only bikes and peds it would look extremely different and in many places wouldn't exist). As a driver, yes I do, I'd be more likely to drive calmly and cautiouslynothing makes you feel the urge to floor it like a yellow light when you know that you'll be waiting forever.

Stop signs can also be good for buses, which tend to spend a lot of time waiting at lights before or after they drop off passengers. With a stop sign, the bus can just continue after the doors close.

The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the traffic engineers' bible, defines standards for when an intersection can or should have a stop light, stop signs, nothing, or other options. But there is leeway, and many decisions in cities end up being political. Often residents think they want a light, assuming that one is always better, but it's not.

Had there been a stop sign at 18th and P, I would have been stopping that day instead of driving on through. Even if the cyclist hadn't stopped as he legally should have, there would then have been less chance of a crash. I'd much prefer to have that, even when I drive.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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It's nice of you to be considerate of the biker's safety, but the biker was in the wrong. If you are going to run a red light as a biker, there are ways of doing it that limit the potential of an accident, and this person seems not to be aware of them. I'll guess the traffic lights are part of a thought out traffic flow pattern, but I could be wrong, and at that intersection could handle a stop sign, but I don't know.

by Thayer-D on Jul 2, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

It actually sounds more that the cyclist was a moron. An Idaho Stop is predicated on being acutely aware of one's surroundings, and only proceeding through a traffic control device when everything is clear. To me, as a longtime urban cyclist, that means slowing down and looking in all directions at stop signs, and coming to a complete stop before proceeding through a red. Honestly, I only run reds when there is zero traffic on secondary roads.

by Slappy J on Jul 2, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

It's quite possible the cyclist just didn't register that the light was red. To blatantly blow through a light with oncoming traffic is foolish regardless of the mode choice.

Traffic signal warrants with specific conditions like number of lanes, traffic volume, etc. dictate the use of lights vs. stop signs. While public pressure and engineer discretion can and should be used so that the infrastructure complies with good safety practice and simple common sense, I'd hazard a guess that traffic volume along dictates the need for a light here.

The answer is the cyclist should have stopped. Period. Lowering the speedlimit to 20 or 15mph on this street could help ensure that a boneheaded move such as this need not be fatal.

by jeff on Jul 2, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

Your solution attacks the symptom without addressing the underlying problem, which is a lack of adherence to the rules. Had the cyclist both followed the rules of the road, there would have been no near-collision. You did your part by going the speed limit, allowing yourself time to move your auto.

It's the whole "soft bigotry of low expectations" issue, in my opinion, but this is a case of it.

This system works if people obey it. It isn't an unreasonable system. Sometimes people need to suck it up and come to a stop.

And I'm a frequent biker. I come to complete stops at reds, and rolling stops at neighborhood 4-way stops. Because I know I'll lose any collision with a car, so why risk it?

by The Truth on Jul 2, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

Some people are just foolish, but perhaps he was not expecting any cars to come down the road.

It would have been foolish not to expect any cars to come down the road. So maybe this should have been an "and" instead of a "but".

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

>Your solution attacks the symptom without addressing the underlying problem, which is a lack of adherence to the rules.

I disagree. People choose not to follow rules when the rules don't work for them. Changing the rules (ie replacing needlessly long red lights with more flexible stop signs) would make the rules work better, and likely result in more people following the rules.

If I'm reading this post correctly, that's its whole point.

by BeyondDC on Jul 2, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

Wouldn't "road user managment system" be a better term than "motorist management system?" And making it actually cover all road users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists etc. etc. That would take everyone into account, and be far better able to manage the roads for everyone. I'd also like to see more sensible red light intervals, bicycle-activated signals, etc.

by DaveG on Jul 2, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

There is a viewpoint that traffic signals can make an intersection less safe, particularly where the warrant levels are barely exceeded, and a three or four way stop could work. The reason is that motorists, anxious that the light will turn red for them, speed up as they approach the intersection to make it across. This makes the situation less safe for pedestrians, bikers and other motorists. I know of two situations in which DDOT warned residents who were considering a traffic signal that it could result in unintended safety consequences.

by Alf on Jul 2, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

The Truth said it best. A bike will always lose against a car, no matter who had the right of way or who was supposed to stop or not. It's astoundingly foolish to blow through a red light like that.

Even an Idaho Stop, as Slappy J mentioned, requires coming to a stop at a red light.

by Froggie on Jul 2, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

I think a lot of people are getting fixated on the setup of this and are not really addressing the underlying issue David is talking about, which is understandable but not really productive.

In terms of the thought that goes into whether a stop sign or a traffic light is placed at an intersection, I am curious how often those decisions are reviewed. I assume (not necessarily wisely or correctly given what I know about the DC government) that some thought went into the decision rather than just local pressure or laziness. However even if it is the result of a study or reasoned process, presumably traffic patterns change over time and need to be re-evaluated. The intersection in question in the article perhaps warranted a traffic light at one point, but now a stop sign might be better.

by Joe on Jul 2, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

@BeyondDC

So basically your approach is to change rules to adhere to people's antisocial behavior.

If you read DA's account, the biker raced through at a high speed, implying that he never intended to stop at the red light.

My approach in that case is, run the right light at your own risk. DA isn't responsible for other people's antisocial behavior, and rightfully wouldn't have been at-fault in the event of collision.

by The Truth on Jul 2, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

The cyclist was lucky to have such an empathetic, considerate driver in this case. I do think it would benefit everyone to try a different mode of transportation to work occasionally. We should all know what it's like to drive w/jaywalkers, to bike w/long red lights, and to walk near anyone on wheels moving aggressively.

by yup yup on Jul 2, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

Details of the anecdote aside, David's main point here is right on.

I would estimate about half of the signalized intersections in DC would be better of with stop signs and/or mini roundabouts.

by jonglix on Jul 2, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

I disagree. People choose not to follow rules when the rules don't work for them.

That seems to be a strange blanket generalization without very much to back it up. At the very least, I think David would have waited at a stop light at 18th and P, even if there were light cross-traffic and he could have safely proceeded. He would have most likely followed the rule, even if it did not work in his favor. Am I wrong, David?

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

I fully agree that having a blinking red phase for most of the day outside of peak traffic is a tool thats severely underused.

by JJJJ on Jul 2, 2014 11:03 am • linkreport

This system works if people obey it.
Yes.

It isn't an unreasonable system.

Eh, I'd disagree. I'd also argue that it should be in the city's interest to reexamine the rules and the infrastructure required to maintain them since the city has a goal to increase cycling overall.

They're doing good things like adding bike lanes but maybe the de-escalation of intersections should be considered as a part of overall traffic calming.

by drumz on Jul 2, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

Rationalizing rule-breaking on the grounds that it is inconvenient is the foundation for anti-social behavior.

The larger point is that the system in place was the correct one to avoid an incident. The problem is that one person, the cyclist, chose not to adhere to the rules (which were in place to protect him). He did do at his own peril and was lucky that there was an alert motorist.

by The Truth on Jul 2, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

Yes, aboslutely, there are a lot of red lights that can be switched to stop signs.

And a lot of stop signs that can be elimated.

I'm glad David recogonizes that.

I was driving on T and 18th, going west on T, and a car barelled through the stop sign. About four people honked at him, and he braked after the intersection -- probaby did not see the sign and panicked after the noise.

Honking at cyclists that break laws -- salmoning and blowing through red lights -- should be more common.

We have road rules so we can have some degree of predicability on other users.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

Have to agree with comments that the cyclist was acting recklessly here. At the least one should slow down considerably and check for crossing traffic before a red light, though an Idaho Stop is the preferable solution.

I'm glad the driver was paying attention and able to brake in time.

by Ned on Jul 2, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

This is a joke right? The red light (as do stop signs) exists to tell you that there could be someone coming across your path--and that they have the right of way.

Whether it's a stop light or a stop sign it ultimately means the same thing--STOP. And cyclists need to stop and be safe. I hate riding down Penn Ave or 15th St (which I'm learning is far worse) and watch other cyclists blow through lights.

by RDHD on Jul 2, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

Sometimes people just make mistakes.

It might seem like the biker obviously knew the light was red, but that's just speculation. It's just as conceivable that he was lost in thought (distracted riding) and not paying attention to lights; that he was just in the rhythm of pedaling and thinking about that SAS code, or whatever.

People make mistakes all the time, including when driving, biking and walking. That's why it's so important for people to be in the habit of gentle driving -so that when you do make a mistake driving you're less likely to kill someone.

by Tina on Jul 2, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

Scoot: I am an Idaho Stop-ist and so I would have stopped, looked to see if anyone was coming (knowing full well that drivers often race northbound from Mass. to P to beat the light at P), but I would have then gone ahead if no cars were actually coming.

There are too many lights in this area on too long a cycle (as Paul H explained) to make it desirable to wait at all of the lights. When I'm driving, I try to get to an arterial as soon as possible to avoid this; when biking, I want to take the small streets, but the lights make it frustrating.

That's why stop signs would be better; they'd still discourage drivers from cutting through on the smaller streets but would let cyclists and pedestrians navigate more comfortably.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

Rationalizing rule-breaking on the grounds that it is inconvenient is the foundation for anti-social behavior.

I'm not really sure I buy that. Rule-breaking is not necessarily anti-social, and many of us -- maybe even all of us -- intentionally break numerous rules on a daily basis without giving it a second thought. We break these rules because it is socially conventional to do so, and therefore, not anti-social.

The foundation of anti-social behavior is that it is at least done without the consideration of others, with the potential to harm individuals or society as a whole.

Does the cyclist's behavior meet that criteria? I think it would, but there is some room for debate.

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

Do red lights encourage reckless choices?</>

I don't think so. But green lights certainly encourage speeding and other reckless behaviors.

by jeffb on Jul 2, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

Scoot: I am an Idaho Stop-ist and so I would have stopped, looked to see if anyone was coming (knowing full well that drivers often race northbound from Mass. to P to beat the light at P), but I would have then gone ahead if no cars were actually coming.

Maybe I wasn't clear -- I said that you would stop at the light. Are you saying that you routinely run red lights by stopping at an intersection and then proceeding through the light?

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

And yes, please let us switch more lights all over the region to blinking red during certain times.

by drumz on Jul 2, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

I agree with keeping traffic lights, but switching them back and forth as needed from all-way stop to regular green-yellow-red intervals is the way to go. Clearly the entire system should be up for regular review so as to be kept most effective for all road users.

by DaveG on Jul 2, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

@TheTruth and Charlie

"Rationalizing rule-breaking on the grounds that it is inconvenient is the foundation for anti-social behavior."

"We have road rules so we can have some degree of predicability on other users"

So when you drive I take it you drive not a mile over the speed limit?

by KingmanPark on Jul 2, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

In this case the light was an indicator of behavior for both those who were signaled to stop and those given the right of way and ALL those on the road should pay attention and care for their own safety. In this case the bicyclist either didn't care or wasn't paying attention, they were lucky YOU were paying attention. I am not sure this anecdote was the best to use here because ultimately it is more likely that "too many red lights" or "other things that inconvenience" was NOT the reason for this near miss.

I do think that in some cases there are too many red lights or they aren't timed well. However, it will always be the case that some don't care and will do as they want to justifying it however they need to. I doubt change the number of lights, stop signs, and timing of the lights will make things safer because doing so somehow makes people behave better on the road.

Of course lights and stop signs aren't just about controlling bad behavior they are also about insuring vehicles can actually move from one place to another. Look at all the old photos in the early days of cars - one person did what they wanted to and what was best for THEIR situation so did the next, and the next. Pretty quickly - even when there were less vehicles - it was chaos.

by ET on Jul 2, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

18th and S! I do not understand why there's a stop light there, rather than a stop sign.

by Gavin on Jul 2, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

Another thing agencies can do is make the clock "cycle" of the traffic signal shorter. This is what DDOT did on 15th Street. The city uses 100 seconds a the background cycle length which works well during rush hour on the arterial street and everything is nicely coordinated. But...for mid-day or for minor/minor street intersections, especially with narrow roadways and lower traffic volumes, the signal can be timed for a half cycle (50 seconds instead of 100 seconds). This still maintains coordination with the major streets because it is a multiple AND provides twice as many opportunities in any given hour for pedestrians and crossing traffic, plus tightens (slows)the upper bound of traffic speeds.

by Some Ideas on Jul 2, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Also, remember that a lot of traffic signals close into downtown were installed 50-60 years ago when there was a lot traffic downtown...that may not make as much sense today.

by Some Ideas on Jul 2, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Scoot: When on a bicycle, like many others, I treat red lights as stop signs. I'm a suburban cyclist, but I would do the same in the city.

by Reston on Jul 2, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

Scoot: I always come to a stop at the red light before moving on.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

@The Truth "The larger point is that the system in place was the correct one to avoid an incident."

No, the system in place is the correct one to avoid an incident AND maximize driver convenience; there are other systems available that can reduce incidents and minimize uneccesary wait times for pedestrians and cyclists.

As a pedestrian, the triangle formed by 18th, New Hamphire, and Q that DA mentions is particularly frustrating. Pedestrians are a major (if not majority) road users at that set of intersections, and yet long sections of those light cycles are devoted to relatively rare car movements... particularly cars turning left on 18th from north-bound New Hampshire, or right from 18th onto south-bound New Hampshire.

To make matters worse, some of the lights at that set of intersections are asymetric: for instance, northbound NH @ Q has a green light, while southbound NH has a red light; and northbound NH @ 18th has a protected left turn signal, but southbound NH doesn't. As a result, pedestrians may get the false impression that cross traffic has a red light in both directions, when really one direction has a green signal that pedestrians can't see. (Of course, pedestrians can avoid incidents by waiting for the pedestrian signal... but, for all the reasons mentioned in DA's post, maybe pedestrians would be better off with longer pedestrian signals or stop signs)

by Steven H on Jul 2, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

it's a thoughtful look, but flawed in the premise. i find cyclists just as likely, if not moreso, to blow stop signs because all the cars have to stop (or at least slow down) so they are rarely going through the intersection at speed, which i think cyclists take advantage of. to wit, just north of the intersection in question we already have plenty of stop signs at 18th&T, 18th&S, etc. cyclists rarely stop at those signs. at most, there's an "idaho slowdown" (because let's not pretend that's actually a stop, people). i travel all of those intersections along 18th every day (by car and walking), and i see more consistently reckless behavior at the stop signs. nearly every day a cyclist fails to stop and cuts off a driver who had approached the intersection first and stopped. the cyclists also fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians pretty much 99% of the time. at best, cyclists swerve around a pedestrian who has the right of way - and this is yet more reckless behavior because they are moving unpredictably around the roadway. i have NEVER encountered a cyclist who actually stopped at a stop sign to yield the right of way to me as a pedestrian. never.

by jen on Jul 2, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Scoot: I always come to a stop at the red light before moving on.

I'm assuming you move on when it turns green? Not while it's still red? I'm just trying to understand. I don't know too many people who ordinarily run red lights, is all.

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

I don't want to speak for David but I think he is referring to when he bikes rather than when he drives re: proceeding through a red light.

The former is pretty common, the latter would be out of the norm.

by drumz on Jul 2, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

I guess I am confused about Scoot's question.

Driving, I always wait at red lights until they turn green (unless I am turning right, in which case I stop and then proceed if safe, as the law prescribes).

Biking, I stop, look, and if nobody is coming, I continue even if it has not yet turned green. This is the Idaho Stop principle. I would prefer it a) be legal and/or b) we reduce red lights as I've outlined to make it less necessary.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

wait, a bike slowing down to walking speed or less at a stop sign before going through is now "blowing through" a stop sign?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 2, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

@David. Yes, I was referring to driving. I guess I thought the context was clear in light of blog piece. Perhaps not. My point would be that at least anecdotally, people do follow rules even when the rules might not work for them.

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Replacing some lights with signs surely warrants study. But as in this case, if people simply do not obey them (even Idaho style), then it is all moot.

Distracted riding or brazen disregard doesn't matter. In either case you can be just as dead.

by The Truth™ on Jul 2, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

As others have commented, I think the anecdote detracts from the point of the article.

In relation to the main point of the article (as opposed to the biker anecdote), I'd have to agree. There is an assumption out there that the more technology (in this case, traffic lights) are the best management solution rather than the most efficacious. Reading this reminded me of an article I read a few years ago on the removal of the traffic light at a suburban/country road intersection somewhere. (I believe it was somewhere in Britain, but can't be sure since it's been years since I read it and not sure I'd be able to locate it again.) Apparently at this intersection (I believe it was one lane in each direction, 4 ways), it took forever to get through, which was a pain. Then, as a solution the traffic lights were removed and replaced by 4-way stop. After the removal, it actually took less time to clear traffic through the intersection than waiting at the light.

Anyways, my point is that I think this analogous to neighborhood street intersections that are one lane in each direction. People can more efficiently manage the traffic on their own by stopping, yielding as necessary, and then proceeding than a light on metered intervals.

by Janel on Jul 2, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Scoot: I see. I think the thing is that for drivers, stop lights don't feel inappropriate - you can't just squeeze your car across the intersection when nobody is coming since your car has a much bigger back end than a bike.

But one block to the east, where P enters Dupont Circle, there is a "No Turn On Red" sign, but often at non-busy times the light is red, nobody is coming into the circle from Mass., nobody is crossing at the crosswalk, and a lot of drivers still turn into the circle.

Especially because if you do, you have a good shot at getting through the next light at New Hampshire on the same cycle and then past Connecticut soon after; if you wait for the light at P to go to flashing yellow arrow, you'll miss the New Hampshire signal and have to wait an extra cycle to get through to Mass or P.

So here, the signals are telling drivers they have to do something they don't really feel is necessary for safety or traffic operations or anything else, and so they don't obey.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

@David. Perhaps -- or maybe they simply don't see the sign. I don't really know. My guess is that regarding intersections, there are some major cultural and psychological factors at work -- "stop on red, go on green" is kind of engrained in the psyche of a typical driver and one of the most basic rules drivers follow. That's why almost everyone still stops at a red light in the middle of nowhere on a quiet night with hardly anyone (including police) around.

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

I routinely see cyclists engage in reckless behavior like this--in high traffic volumes and in the dark when they are nearly invisible. One day somebody is going to get creamed and I just hope I'm not there to see it.

by Omari on Jul 2, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

Folks are getting confused about the idea being floated here since there is an anecdote about a cyclist included.

Let's take cyclists (and even peds) out of the equation for a moment. If it was only drivers going through this intersection, would it be better served with a normal light during rush hour and a flashing four-way red at other times? There's a strong argument to say "yes", drivers would in fact be better off because they wouldn't have to wait for a green light when no other cars are approaching. They could come to a complete stop at the flashing red, and then proceed.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

I don't think anyone disagrees that lights and signs at particular intersections should be reviewed for optimization.

I think the greater point, which was conveniently illustrated by the anecdote, is that ultimately it doesn't matter much, if the light/sign gets ignored anyway.

Let's assume this bike rider didn't see the light. Then he also wouldn't see the sign.

Now, let's assume he saw the light, but declined the opportunity to stop. Then he would have done the same thing for a sign or flashing light.

Finally, let's assume he was distracted and/or the light just didn't register in his brain. Well, again, it doesn't matter what control was placed at the intersection.

In all scenarios, he blew through an intersection and almost paid the price.

The mode is not relevant. A person was moving through the intersection unsafely, despite the best intentions of all the traffic planning in place.

by The Truth™ on Jul 2, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

Janel: This may be the British example you're thinking of: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0

We have a lot to learn about creating streets that rely less on technology and more on design cues to regulate human interactions.

by DE on Jul 2, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

In all scenarios, he blew through an intersection and almost paid the price.

Yes, in all scenarios, the cyclist could have committed the crime. However, if it was a stop (or flashing red), even if the cyclist had blown through the stop, the driver wouldn't have hit him (assuming the driver stopped at the Stop) or near-hit him.

As a driver, I place significant value in not getting into a crash even if there's no risk of injury to my body (or avoiding near-misses since they are stressful). Furthermore, the change suggested here could potentially improve traffic flow during non-rush times.

So, the change being suggested is pareto optimal -- everyone is better off and no one is worse off. How can you argue with that?

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

No one appears to be arguing with that.

Even if a car comes to a complete and legal stop, and while proceeding, runs into a biker who, for whatever reason, has arrived full speed in front of the car, bad things can happen.

Again, make the optimal changes; that' great! Just understand that people will be people (clueless and/or careless) no matter what you do.

IE, changing the sign doesn't change what happened.

by The Truth™ on Jul 2, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Changing the sign does change what happened in this scenario.

Yes, it does. As the driver approached the intersection, if he was facing a Stop (and stopped), instead of a green light, he would have seen the cyclist approaching the intersection at full speed. Even though the driver had the right of way, exercising good judgement he could have avoided a crash by staying stopped and waiting for the cyclist to blow through the Stop. Thus the driver avoids a crash and can make it to his appointment with time to spare for telling people how cyclists never obey Stop signs.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

*Oops, I made my written sentence appear as your quoted text. Your quote is:

IE, changing the sign doesn't change what happened.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

So, the change being suggested is pareto optimal -- everyone is better off and no one is worse off. How can you argue with that?

I suppose you could argue that it incentivizes cyclists to always disregard stop signs/flashing reds, since they know cars will be stopping and/or will be starting from a stop. If I'm approaching a four-way stop and I see a car approaching in another direction, my incentive is to speed up and blow through the stop sign.

That's an ok outcome when it comes to cars, I suppose, but less ideal if there are any pedestrians looking to cross.

by Dizzy on Jul 2, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

I was nearly hit recently by a biker who failed to stop at a stop sign. That's the problem. Many bikers don't obey traffic laws or are too inconsiderate to wait for oncoming traffic that has the right of way.

The solution is not to impose more traffic signals for drivers who do obey traffic laws, but for more bikers to obey traffic laws and learn to be more considerate of others.

by Brett on Jul 2, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

You assume that every car driver can see and/or predict perfectly what may be flying around the corner or trees.

Unfortunately, I usually hear the opposite argued here. IE, cyclists have superior visibility over cars, because cars are lower and have blindspots and they can't hear, etc. So, the driver didn't see the zooming cyclist who was throwing caution to the wind.

I will clarify with this: Changing the sign wouldn't be magical. The cyclist would have still blown through. Maybe he missed the car and ploughed into two kids. The sign didn't fix that.

My point, and my only point, is this: plan and optimize all you want, because over all that's good. But people will always go astray from the best laid plans.

No one is saying you should not swap lights for signs, or provide flashing reds when/where appropriate.

by The Truth™ on Jul 2, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

I suppose you could argue that it incentivizes cyclists to always disregard stop signs/flashing reds, since they know cars will be stopping and/or will be starting from a stop.

Ok, that's a reasonable argument but it would be interesting to see how much the change in incentive causes a change in behavior that actually slows anyone down in a meaningful way vs. status quo.

If I'm approaching a four-way stop and I see a car approaching in another direction, my incentive is to speed up and blow through the stop sign.

That's an ok outcome when it comes to cars, I suppose, but less ideal if there are any pedestrians looking to cross.

The issue with peds could theoretically happen but when I walk in the city, I usually find four-way stop sign intersections safer, quicker, and less stressful to cross then an equivalently busy intersection controlled with a light.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

@DE - Yes, Poynton - that was it! Thanks for sharing the video. I'd only read about it, hadn't seen any video on it. That's a great video. I only wish our "complete streets" were more along these lines!

by Janel on Jul 2, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

My point, and my only point, is this: plan and optimize all you want, because over all that's good. But people will always go astray from the best laid plans.

Agreed. And I think the suggested change assumes that very fact. If everyone obeyed all the traffic controls all the time, there wouldn't be any improvement to safety from the change. The improvement only comes because we assume cyclists won't always obey traffic lights.

And, while a driver's field of vision isn't perfect and they won't see a cyclist speeding to the intersection about to blow a Stop 100% of the time, their chances of doing so are much much higher if they are stopped instead of driving continuously through the intersection.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

The solution is not to impose more traffic signals for drivers who do obey traffic laws, but for more bikers to obey traffic laws and learn to be more considerate of others.

Just to clarify, the solution being proposed is the opposite -- disabling a traffic signal (during non-rush hour), not adding one.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

Ok, that's a reasonable argument but it would be interesting to see how much the change in incentive causes a change in behavior that actually slows anyone down in a meaningful way vs. status quo.

Well, presumably it would speed drivers down compared to the status quo, since they would be going from instances where they would have a green light to always having to stop (stop sign or flashing red).

For cyclists, the incentive would be to go faster and never stop, since they can always be sure that vehicular cross traffic would always stop. The likelihood of a bike-on-bike collision is pretty low, and the default cyclist attitude toward pedestrians in such situations (in my experience) appears to be a combination of "they'll see me and stop" and "I can dodge them."

The issue with peds could theoretically happen but when I walk in the city, I usually find four-way stop sign intersections safer, quicker, and less stressful to cross then an equivalently busy intersection controlled with a light.

I'd agree with that, since the primary danger to a pedestrian is from cars, and a four-way stop 'ensures' that all cars are either coming to a stop or starting from a stop.

by Dizzy on Jul 2, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

How interesting. There was the GGW thread yesterday concerning a report that "94% of cyclists (in Portland) stop at red lights"

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/23437/94-of-cyclists-in-portland-stop-at-red-lights/

What is described in this great post by David A. is all too common because there is widespread disrespect in DC by both pedestrians and cyclists to rules generally.

Eventually DC will put in sensor-enabled roadways with perfectly timed lights, and the city may even adopt things like the Idaho law (although, honestly, how do cyclists intend to gather political support for such a law when they don't follow existing ones?), but unless there is a cultural change these types of close encounters will be all too common for drivers.

by kob on Jul 2, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

If you read DA's account, the biker raced through at a high speed, implying that he never intended to stop at the red light.

Or that he didn't realize the light was red. I have done this, gone through - or started to, a red light because I just wasn't paying attention (both as a driver and a cyclist). I prefer to ascribe this to ignorance rather than malice. Legally and safety-wise the cyclist was in the wrong. But we can not discern what he intended. We can assume, but that's hardly good reasoning.

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

@David Thank you very much for this post. Overengineered signaling is a little discussed but very important problem in my opinion.

I just submitted a DDOT request to resignal Eastern Ave at Varnum in far NE DC. They just spent a bundle to repave and fix up the intersection, but the flow is now much worse, especially for traffic of all modes trying to cross Eastern. They went from 20 second timing on Eastern to about 75 seconds in total, plus they added a light on the outer road that isn't well coordinated for crossing Eastern. Naturally, the cars back up on the cross streets, the cyclists jump the light, the pedestrians jaywalk. Someone will get impatient and someone (or someone else) will get dead soon. Crossing eastern is a major bike route and light but still used ped crossing to get from the houses in DC to the shops in MD across Eastern.

It's a shame. They did something similar when they put in a light at Florida and R Street NE recently. In that case, a light was needed, but the timing was awful at first for pedestrians. In that case, though, they fixed it after complaints.

DC should really have a 30 second max in most areas. Nobody wants to wait 90 seconds or more to cross the street in the heat or cold, and the drivers hate those long lights too.

Short light cycles calm traffic and save lives I think.

by Greenbelt on Jul 2, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

Well, presumably it would speed drivers down compared to the status quo, since they would be going from instances where they would have a green light to always having to stop (stop sign or flashing red).

I don't think it would increase travel time for the average driver. Yes, the driver who would otherwise face a green light would be slowed down. But, the driver who would otherwise be waiting 30+ seconds at a red light even though the intersection is safe to clear would have a shorter travel time. Given traffic flow at the intersection (during non-rush times), I think travel times would be shorter for the average driver.

This is assuming status quo during rush hour but flashing red at other times -- and needing to wait for scofflaw cyclists/peds to clear the intersection.

For cyclists, the incentive would be to go faster and never stop, since they can always be sure that vehicular cross traffic would always stop.

I don't know that the cyclists who never stop will slow down drivers sufficiently to negate the benefit to drivers of not needing to wait for a green light once the intersection is safe to clear.

I think we agree that peds are better off with the flashing red vs. a normal traffic light even accounting for marginal increase in cyclists who go faster and never stop.

by Falls Church on Jul 2, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

Lots of good conversation here (thanks Dave for picking up the comment), lots of speculation too. One thing that amazes me is the conversation has had almost no discussion of cars running red lights, actually a far more serious death and injury problem (particularly to people innocently crossing in the crosswalk with a walk sign).

Let's turn to the experts on the question:

https://www.ite.org/safety/issuebriefs/Traffic%20Signals%20Issue%20Brief.pdf

Quote below:

Disadvantages of Signals
Traffic control signals are often considered a panacea for all traffic problems at intersections. This belief has led to the installation of traffic control signals at many locations where they are not needed, and where they may adversely affect the safety and efficiency of vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic.

Even when justified by traffic and roadway conditions, traffic control signals can be ill-designed, ineffectively placed, improperly operated, or poorly maintained. Unjustified or improper traffic control signals can result in one or more of the following disadvantages:
• Excessive delay;
• Excessive disobedience of the signal indications;
• Increased use of less adequate routes as road users attempt to avoid the traffic control signals; and
• Significant increases in the frequency of crashes (especially rear-end crashes).

As angle crashes tend to be more severe than rear-end crashes, traffic engineers are usually willing to trade off an increase in the number of rear-end crashes for a decrease in the number of angle crashes, but if an intersection does not have an angle crash problem, the trade off does not apply, and the installation of traffic signals can actually cause a deterioration in the overall safety at the intersection.

by Paul H on Jul 2, 2014 4:05 pm • linkreport

Hey Alpert, I love your blog and I love this post, but the comments section here is a morass ... next time you get the chance to review the technology here maybe look into Disqus or some other comment system that lets people up-vote the more useful comments. This post is an excellent example where so many commentators are arguing over whether the cyclist was reckless that it is hard to find the few that are contributing to the topic at hand. I'd like to know more about the wisdom of traffic lights vs stop signs and I think flashing red off-peak sounds very savvy.

Cheers,
-danny

by Daniel Howard on Jul 2, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

What is described in this great post by David A. is all too common

If that were true, there would be a lot more dead cyclists. It happens, but it's not that common.

I'll note that even if David A had decided that he wasn't going to stop for some scofflaw, the cyclist still would not have been hit as he was able to stop before reaching the point where their paths would have crossed.

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

Alpert is just trying to make excuses for Bicyclists acting irresponsibly. It would have been worse with a stop sign. Bicyclists seem to treat them like decorations. They blow threw them ALL THE TIME!

by Jim on Jul 2, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

It would have been worse with a stop sign. Bicyclists seem to treat them like decorations. They blow threw them ALL THE TIME!

With a stop sign, there would have also been no crash, but Alpert would have stopped and thus not have been scared.

Drivers blow through stop signs all the time too.

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

@"Drivers blow through stop signs all the time too."

A far larger percentage of bikers run stop signs than cars, even in East Potomac Park where there are signs specifically telling bikers to stop at stop.

http://wj.la/1vxKZ5i

by Brett on Jul 2, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

I don't think it would increase travel time for the average driver. Yes, the driver who would otherwise face a green light would be slowed down. But, the driver who would otherwise be waiting 30+ seconds at a red light even though the intersection is safe to clear would have a shorter travel time. Given traffic flow at the intersection (during non-rush times), I think travel times would be shorter for the average driver.

I meant that broadly speaking, travel speed would be reduced, since they would coming to a stop 100% of the time. I wasn't estimating overall travel time, which takes into account time spent at a red light in a way that "how fast are drivers generally going" doesn't.

I don't know that the cyclists who never stop will slow down drivers sufficiently to negate the benefit to drivers of not needing to wait for a green light once the intersection is safe to clear.

I don't think they will either. I'm saying that I think such a change would generally speed up cyclists, since many of them would stop slowing down for stop signs/flashing reds period, where some number now do stop or slow down for red lights. This is consistent with my observation of general cyclist behavior on such streets (treat Stop signs as invisible, treat red lights as Yield).

by Dizzy on Jul 2, 2014 5:43 pm • linkreport

I repeat - and agree with @David C. - We can not discern intent! Only a clairvoyant can do that! Its equally likely (and I think more likely) this biker simply made a mistake!!

If you are not a mind reader you do not know why this person put himself in danger. I think the explanation is, "he made a mistake".

However, I whole-heartedly agree more lights should revert to blinking red at certain times. I am motivated by being a driver as much as by being a cyclist to embrace that change.

by Tina on Jul 2, 2014 5:51 pm • linkreport

With a stop sign, there would have also been no crash, but Alpert would have stopped and thus not have been scared.

Maybe, unless it was David's turn to go, in which case they may have crashed anyway. Neither stop lights nor stop signs work very well if people are running them without stopping.

As to the wisdom of timing the lights with shorter intervals or changing the light to a stop sign (or red flashing signal). I support that, but in this case I'm not sure if it would have made much of a difference.

If someone is going to blow through a stop light, then my guess is they will blow through a stop sign as well. I could be wrong but I'm not sure that the stop sign, which usually indicates a less dangerous intersection, is going to engender more careful behavior.

As for a shorter interval, David noted in the original post that his light was green for "tens of seconds". Well, the waiting interval in the intersections around 18th and S is usually 25-40 seconds, meaning that if the cyclist decided to stop, he'd probably only have to wait, say, 10-15 seconds before the light changes. Yet he chose not to, which probably suggests that in this instance even if the waiting time were reduced to 10-15 seconds the cyclist would still go through it.

by Scoot on Jul 2, 2014 5:57 pm • linkreport

How is the whole "should bicyclists stop, yield or what?" question handled in Europe? Especially Holland and Denmark?

by DaveG on Jul 2, 2014 8:36 pm • linkreport

I'm a cyclist, and while I've done it too, legalizing the so-called Idaho stop isn't a good idea. People will get too used to it, get sloppy, and tragedy will ensue. Cyclists can wait. Am extra 10 minutes on the commute isn't going to kill anyone...

by Glenmonster on Jul 2, 2014 9:09 pm • linkreport

People will get too used to it, get sloppy, and tragedy will ensue.

Yes, that is exactly what didn't happen in Idaho.

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 9:34 pm • linkreport

A far larger percentage of bikers run stop signs than cars

Really? what percentage for each class?

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 9:46 pm • linkreport

Maybe, unless it was David's turn to go, in which case they may have crashed anyway.

Maybe? Maybe David would have not stopped at the stop sign? That seems odd.

But if we assume he would have, then he would have been starting from a stop with the cyclist not far in front of him, making a crash less likely, thus it would not have been "worse with a stop sign." I'm curious as to how this non-crash would have been worse if David had stopped when he got to the intersection?

Yet he chose not to

We don't know that.

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 9:55 pm • linkreport

I really got a laugh reading this. I know DA doesn't drive much, but this exact same thing happens to me a couple times a week. Add that on top of the bikers biking the wrong way down one way streets, jumping from street to sidewalk back to street to avoid stopping at the light by careening through the intersection as a "pedestrian", and blowing through stop signs At full cadence when someone else has the right of way, and you have an average week on DC streets.

"Yes, that is exactly what didn't happen in Idaho."
What? With all 12 people who live there? shocker! There is a reason there isn't one jurisdiction in the US that has formally adopted the Idaho stop.

by Logan on Jul 2, 2014 11:42 pm • linkreport

Well, it's been adopted in Idaho.

And Boise has 200k+ residents. That'd make it a large city in Va or Md.

And some states, including Virginia, have "dead red" laws which allow some two wheelers (so motorcycles as well) to proceed through a red provided some conditions are met.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2014 12:17 am • linkreport

Kind of a weird article. The problem is not the red lights the problem is bikers don't pay any attention to lights or street signs. Foggy Bottom and Dupont are the worst areas I have seen. I don't understand how in the world it could be the red lights fault and not the biker who feels like the law doesn't apply to him. When my office was in Foggy Bottom, I could always count on a couple of near misses with a reckless biker.

I'm not against people biking to work. I think it is great that bike lanes are going in all over the city. I do think that bikers in DC need to be more considerate and learn to follow the law.

by Bri on Jul 3, 2014 6:26 am • linkreport

Maybe someone should form a group where fellow bike riders can commit to give traffic laws their due attention.

We can all sign pledges to that effect, with great pomp and circumstance. Afterward, we have a big pizza party!

by The Truth™ on Jul 3, 2014 7:44 am • linkreport

Are non bike riders invited to the pizza party? May be we can maybe we can get a little good-will going amongst bikers and drivers.

by Bri on Jul 3, 2014 8:08 am • linkreport

Yes Drumz, I didn't say the "Idaho" stop hadn't been adopted in Idaho. And to my point, there isn't one jurisdiction outside of Idaho, even the nations most bike friendly places, that has adopted the "Idaho" stop.

And comparing Boise to the District is laughable. It has 1/3 rd the population and 1/4the the pop density.

by Logan on Jul 3, 2014 8:09 am • linkreport

1. Other jurisdictions have adopted parts of it though. Including Paris.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idaho_stop#Examples_and_legislative_history

2. And comparing Boise to the District is laughable. It has 1/3 rd the population and 1/4the the pop density.

I didn't. But I did point out that it's still a good sized city. Sure there are places where DC and Boise aren't analagous (and neither is DC or Paris for that matter) but saying "DC is too big!" or "there's just too much traffic" isn't proof that a stop as yield law wouldn't work in DC. Especially in light of the fact that may cyclists already ride that way.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport

actually cyclists treating stop signs as yield signs has been adopted in several towns and counties in Colorado.

Proceed on red is now legal in Paris, France.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport

And here is a list of states that have laws that allow proceeding through a red light. Idaho's law is still the most permissive. We all start somewhere.

http://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/idahostop_edit-1.pdf

by drumz on Jul 3, 2014 8:34 am • linkreport

So it appears no one here is going to answer my question about how bike-friendly places in Europe handle the stop vs. yield question...I just thought Denmark, Holland, et. al. might have insights...

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 9:05 am • linkreport

DaveG

My impression is those places tend to have seperate signals for cyclists, and intersections and signals designed more with cyclists in mind - IE they take just the approach DA is suggesting - design the system with cyclists in mind from the get go.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2014 9:11 am • linkreport

@AWITC - which is exactly how we should handle our transportation systems from now on out - with all types of users in mind.

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 9:24 am • linkreport

But the question still remains...how much have Idaho Stop type laws been implemented in the rest of the world?

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport

I like the ubiquitous pedestrian bridges at busy intersections in Japan that have the stairs split down the middle with a ramp. They are not "ride-able" by most cyclists (at least on the way up), but they make it very easy to walk the bike up and over the road.

by The Truth™ on Jul 3, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

DaveG

The only implementation of Idaho stops outside the US I am aware of is Paris, Fr.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

here is a reason there isn't one jurisdiction in the US that has formally adopted the Idaho stop.

In addition to Idaho, three cities in Colorado have the stop-as-yield law.

And the low number of residents does not change the fact that there were no more tragedies in Idaho after the change in law than before. Few residents just means fewer tragedies both before and after, but it doesn't effect the change in rate. #math

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 9:50 am • linkreport

omparing Boise to the District is laughable. It has 1/3 rd the population and 1/4the the pop density

It also starts with a "B". It's a state capitol instead of a national capitol. It was designed by an American and not Frechman. It's majority white. It has a higher Mormon population. All of these differences - and more - are true.

What they aren't, is relevant, just like the differences in total population or population density.

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

Maybe, unless it was David's turn to go, in which case they may have crashed anyway.

Maybe? Maybe David would have not stopped at the stop sign? That seems odd.

I meant if the cyclist had a stop sign and it was David's ROW to proceed through the intersection.

And what if David hadn't stopped at the stop sign? You say that would be odd, but you also said that "drivers blow through stop signs all the time".

by Scoot on Jul 3, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

@davidC, GlenmonsterPeople will get too used to it, get sloppy, and tragedy will ensue.

Yes, that is exactly what didn't happen in Idaho.

My hunch is you both may be right. If serious enforcement of the Idaho stop rule would accompany its adoption, safety would be enhanced. Do you know if that happenned in Idaho?

by JimT on Jul 3, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

I meant if the cyclist had a stop sign and it was David's ROW to proceed through the intersection.

Then it would have been a much slower non-crash.

And what if David hadn't stopped at the stop sign?

Then he'd be wrong/breaking the law/driving unsafely too. But the cyclist stopped in time to not crash with David, so it would have still a non crash. I thought it odd to change multiple inputs (traffic light for stop sign and David not stopping for stopping), and then saying the outcome would be worse because of the stop sign. What if David were driving a tank and fired its cannon at the cyclist? That would have really proven the stop sign worse.

Now, perhaps the question is what if both cyclist and driver blow through a stop sign at the same time?

Then they crash, and the cyclist will be pretty badly hurt. But, I again fail to see how it would be "worse with a stop sign" as that can happen at a traffic light too.

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 10:06 am • linkreport

JimT, The only study I know of showed that safety went up a little bit. Enforcement went down, since that was the reason for passing the law (courts were getting clogged up with bicycle red light tickets).

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

Then they crash, and the cyclist will be pretty badly hurt. But, I again fail to see how it would be "worse with a stop sign" as that can happen at a traffic light too.

No one said it would be worse. The argument was whether it would have been better. Maybe, or maybe not. If David and the cyclist are going to narrowly avoid a collision anyway, then it doesn't really matter what signal was present. But the fact remains that it was a red light, not a stop sign.

by Scoot on Jul 3, 2014 10:14 am • linkreport

No one said it would be worse.

Actually, Jim said just that.

"It would have been worse with a stop sign."

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

@David C. I'm assuming (from context) that "worse" was referring to a lower degree of adherence, not a higher risk of harm.

Alpert is just trying to make excuses for Bicyclists acting irresponsibly. It would have been worse with a stop sign. Bicyclists seem to treat them like decorations. They blow threw them ALL THE TIME!

by Scoot on Jul 3, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

How would "it" have been worse with a stop sign? The cyclist blew the red light, how much worse can one comply than that? With a stop sign would he have blown that while also removing mattress tags?

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

I didn't write the comment so I don't know for sure, but my guess is that he thinks that compliance would be higher with stop lights than stop signs, considering that stop lights tend to indicate a more dangerous intersection or where drivers are going faster and cyclists would presumably take more caution. I've seen cyclists go right through stop signs and stop lights alike, and I've seen cyclists wait at both. Depends on the individual I suppose.

by Scoot on Jul 3, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

I think the point of this whole thread is, safely as possible, to allow road users to not spend more time than reasonably necessary stopped at intersections. Who here disagrees?

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

I think stops at intersections are a great time for personal contemplation and soul searching about our role in this here metropolitzkrieg.

by The Truth™ on Jul 3, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

@davidC: I would not be surprised if the incidence of cyclists blowing through red lights or failing to yield at stop signs actually went down, as both becomes less socially acceptable when the more appropriate line is drawn.

by JimT on Jul 3, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

While there are many posts on this thread that are highly entertaining "Yes, but..." apologia for someone who negligently ran through a red light and nearly caused a collision, one unmentioned item is enforcement.

A vehicle that runs a red light with a camera is issued a $150 ticket.

An officer that observes a vehicle run a red light can issue the driver both a $150 ticket and points on their driver's license.

A bicycle that runs a red light is, obviously, immune from a red light camera ticket. And if pulled over by an officer, they aren't mandated to provide their identification, only to provide their name and address (which, so long as it's not blatantly false, is legally all that an officer can require).

Requiring bicycle license plates is not a workable option. But perhaps mandating cyclists carry identification and must present it to an officer is, as well as increasing the fine amount.

by Lurker on Jul 3, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

But perhaps mandating cyclists carry identification and must present it to an officer is, as well as increasing the fine amount.

Just this week Cathy Lanier said that the MPD didn't enforce bike TCD violations because it caused more problems (blocking a lane of traffic, chasing down cyclists, manpower issues) than it solves (none). I'm not sure rigorous enforcement of a law that should probably change is a solution.

Would 7 year olds have to have ID? Will pedestrians have to have ID?

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

Eventually, technology will provide the answers. No one will be able to move about with anonymous impunity on public roads.

by The Truth™ on Jul 3, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Eventually, technology will allow more fine-tuning of traffic control devices, like we now have for busses.

by Crickey7 on Jul 3, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure that's exactly what Lanier said; but maybe you can provide the link where she admits that MPD doesn't do any bike enforcement b/c it's too hard.

As for bike enforcement not solving anything, that's just a silly non-sequitur. Cars speed. People steal and kill. People cheat on their taxes. We have laws that prohibit those activities. Yet people still do them. Does that mean it's pointless to do any enforcement?

Or, in other words, "Yes, but..."

by Lurker on Jul 3, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

Of course. And some people will still choose to ignore them.

by The Truth™ on Jul 3, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

I fight for truth and justice, one trackstand at a time.*

* Up to 20 seconds maximum.

by Crickey7 on Jul 3, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

Cars speed. People steal and kill. People cheat on their taxes. We have laws that prohibit those activities. Yet people still do them. Does that mean it's pointless to do any enforcement?

Now that's a non-sequitur!

by drumz on Jul 3, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

Sorry no link available. It was at a recent DC hearing and I can't recall which one.

As for bike enforcement not solving anything, that's just a silly non-sequitur.

OK, then what does it solve? Specifically, what would vigorous enforcement and increased penalties for jaybiking solve? And would the price in police manpower, and the reduction in cycling that would result, be worth those benefits? So far almost every city in the world has decided it won't - that's why people everywhere complain about jaybiking cyclists. Perhaps they're all wrong. I don't think so. I think Idaho has it right.

Or, in other words, "Yes, but..."

Really? Then finish that sentence. And what did I say yes to?

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

Idaho Stop type laws correctly address the fact that bicycles should be treated differently than motor vehicles. Treated similarly in many ways, yes, but also not treated exactly the same way. For two reasons: Firstly, they are propelled and operated differently, and secondly, they fall into the category of vulnerable road user when compared to motor vehicles.

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

This also means that bicyclists should behave predictably on the roads (Idaho Stop can be part of that), as that makes everyone safe.

I also always expect that bicyclists will Idaho Stop at every intersection (whether or not that is the law wherever I'm driving).

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

I agree that the laws should treat bikes differently, but as I've said before, Idaho Stop is not addressing any relevant differences. It's like saying handicapped people should get free parking.

Oh, wait.

by Crickey7 on Jul 3, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

@David C:

"Yes, it clearly violates the law, but..."

You don't support bikes having to follow the law and believe cyclists are entitled to ignore the law when they think it suits their situational needs. That's fine and wonderful rhetorical arguments can be made in support of that view.

But then you need to get the DC Council - and any other local legislature - to change the law and eliminate requirements that bicyclists abide by the same laws as vehicles when it comes to stop signs and red lights.

Until then, it's the law and if cyclists choose to violate it, they should get ticketed by police for doing so. Just like police should ticket any other road user that violates applicable laws.

Otherwise, the discussions turn into little more than "Yes, but..." arguments that demand a pass by law enforcement for clearly unlawful actions.

by Lurker on Jul 3, 2014 4:51 pm • linkreport

@Lurker - Apparently MPD does not see any issue with bicyclists safely applying Idaho Stop-like rules at intersections, so yes, I agree the law should be changed. In the meantime, I don't see why bicyclists should be ticketed for disobeying a law that was written mainly for the motor vehicle.

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 4:56 pm • linkreport

@Lurker I support all other traffic laws, but not this one. Keep in mind that traffic laws are there primarily for safety reasons (or should be), not as laws that just be blindly obeyed without any thought. Oh, wait... ;-)

by DaveG on Jul 3, 2014 5:00 pm • linkreport

@Lurker

For starters, I don't see what is wrong with a "yes, but..." argument. That's how one adds nuance. Not all things are black and white. For example. "Yes, it clearly violates the law, but more importantly what this cyclist did was very risky." Or "Yes, it clearly violates the law, but that doesn't mean it needs to be aggressively enforced." For example, in DC it is illegal to whistle in a public bathroom. I don't think that needs to be aggressively enforced. So what's wrong with nuance.

u don't support bikes having to follow the law

Absolutely not true. If I didn't support cyclists following the law, why would I want the law changed? [I don't think bikes can break the law, as they are inanimate objects].

believe cyclists are entitled to ignore the law when they think it suits their situational needs.

I do not believe they are entitled to ignore the law. What are these statements based on?

Until then, it's the law

Just like the law setting the fine low and allowing cyclists to not carry ID's. Sounds like I'm not the only one who needs to talk to the DC Council.

if cyclists choose to violate it, they should get ticketed by police for doing so. Just like police should ticket any other road user that violates applicable laws.

Again, not every law needs to be enforced. In Virginia, it's illegal to have sex with one's girlfriend or boyfriend, but I don't think we need the police busting down doors and dragging people to jail for it. Perhaps my feeling that fornicating is illegal there, but doesn't need to be enforced is just another "yes, but..." argument.

If Lurker is to be consistent, he would not make such and argument and is thus all for arresting fornicators.

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 9:28 pm • linkreport

Let's not defend the bicyclist by blaming the red light instead of him, even when it's blatantly obvious that he broke the law. This forum (I believe started by David Alpert) is generally pro-cycling and anti-driving. Yet here we see two interesting things. David Alpert drives, and he questions whether red lights are to blame for the mistakes of cyclists.

by getreal on Jul 4, 2014 4:34 pm • linkreport

>What is described in this great post by David A. is all too common
If that were true, there would be a lot more dead cyclists. It happens, but it's not that common.<

The reason you don't have a lot of dead cyclists is because the vast, vast majority of drivers are like David: responsible, cautious and scared about the consequences of driving regardless of fault. Most people want to avoid, as David wrote, "As my heart rate returned to normal..."

That there aren't a lot of dead cyclists is a result of responsible driving. That a very large number of cyclists treat stop signs and lights are advisories is just a fact of life and something drivers must deal with.

What's remarkable is David's self-restraint. Instead of launching into a rant about a cyclist proceeding with abandon, he did an analysis on whether signals might mitigate cycling behavior. I have no idea, but doubt a traffic light timing adjustment will have much impact since this is largely a behavioral and culture issue that were dealing with.

Bicyclists, of course, complain all the time about drivers who do all kinds of things that cause mishaps, other-than-fatal-accidents, and fail to give to a three-foot clearance. Well, there's blame to go around for everybody and perhaps that's the only reasonable conclusion. So from that point view, David's analysis on the lights makes sense. Behavior is extremely hard to change, and the only alternative is to mitigate behavior with safety improvements. I think the District's building of bike lanes has been wonderful to this end.

by kob on Jul 5, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

The reason you don't have a lot of dead cyclists is because the vast, vast majority of drivers are like David:

Good point. If there is one thing DC is known for, it is the responsible and cautious manner in which people in the area operate their motor vehicles. The rigorous dedication to safe driving is well documented and the main reason that DC ranked dead last in AllState's most recent ranking of the cities with the best drivers.

"Thank God for DC's safe drivers" said no one ever.

That a very large number of cyclists treat stop signs and lights are advisories is just a fact of life

Perhaps, but what is also a fact of life is that cyclists overwhelmingly take that advice when a driver is present/ Or else we'd average more than 1 death every 3 years due to a cyclist ignoring a traffic control device.

Behavior is extremely hard to change, and the only alternative is to mitigate behavior with safety improvements.

I would certainly agree that it is one of the best alternatives.

by David C on Jul 5, 2014 10:36 pm • linkreport

Kob + 1,

I have to take avoidance action 2 or 3 times a week, and I only get in my car 4 or 5 times a week. Slamming on my brakes, or swerving to avoid the cyclist who ignored their red and rode straight across 14th street without slowing a bit. So on and so forth...

And I find it funny that you discount the large and obviously effective role drivers play in saving cyclists from themselves by telling us how bad drivers in DC are, while ignoring how awful cyclists are. Didn't DA just write an article 3 or 4 days ago about how only a "whopping" 60% of cyclists both to observe stop lights and signs?

Drivers (such as myself) have both a clear desire to avoid hitting a cyclist as the like result is serious maiming or death, but both a reactionary one as well. Its the same reaction anyone has to something "jumping" in front of them unexpectedly. You nail the brakes, you swerve, you "react", and in many instances the reaction is just as dangerous as the act that caused it.

Discounting the role that drivers play, every single day in saving cyclists from themselves is pure avoidance, especially when there are what, 45 times the number of vehicles on the road every day as their are bikes?

by Damon on Jul 6, 2014 9:27 am • linkreport

"The reason you don't have a lot of dead cyclists is because the vast, vast majority of drivers are like David: responsible, cautious and scared about the consequences of driving regardless of fault."

yet despite that, there are plenty of dead pedestrians, as well as dead drivers in collisions between motor vehicles. As a drive I often have to take evasive action to avoid bad drivers. As a pedestrian, I often have to wait a long time to cross a street where drivers fail to appropriately yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

In my experience (and I am driver, a cyclist, and a ped) cyclists, peds, and drivers are reckless in more or less equal numbers, and unlawful in more or less equal numbers - though they have different laws they typically violate.

I also think its incumbent on us to protect the most vulnerable road users - as a cyclist that's my attitude to
peds, and as a driver, to cyclists.

As a safe driver, I want more enforcement against bad drivers. The problem I have is not with the majority of drivers, but with LE.

I also think there are quite enough bad drivers, that if cyclist behavior wrt Idahos was as bad as some say, there would certainly be massive carnage. I do see cyclists doing Idahos, but I don't think I have ever had to slam on the brakes to avoid one doing so.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 6, 2014 10:07 am • linkreport

Keep in mind that your your car is a rolling box of 3000 lbs. of steel, more or less, and is therefore the most dangerous object on the roads. So when you drive carefully, especially around vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, roller skaters, skateboarders, etc. etc. each time you return home without causing any accidents you have done well. Same is true for any other method of travel. We're all in this together.

Again, I expect that bicyclists, pedestrians, etc. etc. can and do violate the letter of the law at least some of the time, although usually they do that in a safe manner (even though some of you probably think no violation of the law can possibly be safe).

That doesn't mean that, for instance, I am averse to laying on my horn at a pedestrian who's about to step in front of moving traffic against the light because otherwise they'd be endangering themselves and the drivers, too. You might hate me for that, but I'm just glad that because I laid on my horn, a collision is avoided (one in which the pedestrian comes out far worse than the drivers). Yes, I have been in this situtaion before.

by DaveG on Jul 6, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

Discounting the role that drivers play, every single day in saving cyclists from themselves is pure avoidance, especially when there are what, 45 times the number of vehicles on the road every day as their are bikes?

I'm not trying to discount the role drivers play, except to lower it from the 100% that kob appears to be putting it at when he says that "That there aren't a lot of dead cyclists is a result of responsible driving." Perhaps I'm reading that wrong, but it appears that he is discounting the role that cyclists play, every single day in saving their own lives.

Safe travel on the roads is a classic cooperative game. We all have an interest in making it work. Probably all of us have made a mistake that would have been disastrous but for the defensive driving of someone else on the road. I don't discount that at all.

But the idea that the only reason why more cyclists don't get killed is the benevolence of area drivers is ridiculous. Cyclists are actually looking out for their own safety - and that of others - too. In fact, in classic game theory, between cyclists and drivers, those likely to be less concerned about avoiding car-bike crashes would be drivers, since - as drivers love to point out - cyclists have more to lose in a crash.

So if there is any group to more congratulate for the low fatality of rate of area cyclists, it is probably area cyclists.

And pointing to drivers as the great protectors of the scofflaw cyclists would have more credibility if - as I pointed out earlier - DC drivers didn't rank as the worst in 200 American cities.

Still, there are many good DC drivers. Some cyclists probably owe their lives to defensive DC drivers. I'm thankful for that. Others have lost their lives to careless drivers and that's an issue. And many cyclists have, despite practicing the Idaho Stop, have never needed to rely on exceptional behavior from good drivers. So, let's not act as though the only thing preventing Idaho stop cyclists from being killed is the careful driving of DC drivers. Because that is a completely false claim.

by David C on Jul 7, 2014 12:02 am • linkreport

Actually, I'd say that most drivers are rightly terrified of the potential consequences of being at fault in a collision with any other road user. And on a basic moral level, most simply don't want to hurt anyone on the road.

Poorly timed red lights, lack of bike-activated signals when car-activated signals are present, etc. can cause impatience among all road users who are forced to wait longer than necessary, which can lead to the desire to run that red light.

by DaveG on Jul 7, 2014 8:42 am • linkreport

I have to take avoidance action 2 or 3 times a week, and I only get in my car 4 or 5 times a week.

If this is actually what you experience I think you have to wonder whether the problem is other people or yourself.

Actually, I'd say that most drivers are rightly terrified of the potential consequences of being at fault in a collision with any other road user. And on a basic moral level, most simply don't want to hurt anyone on the road.

Agree with this, but given the way you see people driving and texting, talking on the phone, etc. they don't seem to get that driving is an activity that actually requires your full attention.

by MLD on Jul 7, 2014 9:05 am • linkreport

<

Yes, you're reading it wrong.

I think we have established at GWW that the world is imperfect, and that the only solutions are improved law enforcement, public awareness, and continuing design and safety improvements.

And yes, good drivers do save lives, and good cyclists save themselves as well.

by kob on Jul 7, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

Yes, and texting is far more dangerous than phoning while driving. But almost every time I see someone not paying attention on the road, they seem to be on the phone (ancedotally speaking, yes). I support banning both while driving.

by DaveG on Jul 7, 2014 9:49 am • linkreport

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

by Patrick Rathbone on Jul 8, 2014 7:40 am • linkreport

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