Is that biker you just saw roll though a four way stop breaking the law of the land or just following the laws of physics? Slate commentator Christopher Beam says more states should follow Idaho’s lead and recognize that bikes ARE different than cars and should follow a common sense but separate vehicular code.
Bikes occupy a gray area of the law. They’re neither cars nor pedestrians. Most states do carve out special laws for bikes, but not enough to avoid confusion. Take this scenario: I’m approaching a stop sign on my bike. There are clearly no cars coming from either direction. Do I come to a complete stop? Can I cautiously slide through? The traffic laws say full stop. But in practice, few bikers hit the brake, put their foot on the ground, and then start pedaling again. Are they criminals?
Everything about our road system, from the lanes to the signs to the traffic lights, is designed for the car, often at the expense of the bike.
Beam says cycling advocates are of two minds on the question. Vehicularists are traditionalists who say bikes are just another vehicle on the road and should be treated like cars. Facilitators argue we should change the laws and the environment to recognize the basic differences between bikes and cars to make it safer and easier to cycle for both commutation and recreational purposes.
“Accelerating from stops is strenuous,” says Joel Fajans, professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Fajans argues that a typical commuting cyclist generates less than 100 watts of energy compared to 100,000 watts generated by a 150-horse-power car engine.
In 2005, Idaho updated its road rules allowing bikers to treat stop signs as yield signs. If a biker slows down and sees no cars coming, he or she can roll through a stop sign’€”a so-called “rolling stop.” Although no other state has yet to follow Idaho’s lead, the author makes a strong case for why treating bikes differently than cars makes sense.
- Slate, “Stop Means Stop,” 10/16/2009
- “Why Bikers Hate Stop Signs,” Access Magazine, Spring 2001
- The “Bikes Stop Sign Thing,” Bikes Commute Tips Blog
Photo Credit: m-bike.org