Why you, driver, have never stopped at a stop sign either; according to me, a cyclist

January 10, 2018

This is totally off-topic but just something that I think about a lot when biking around Oakland. 

 

Yesterday, I saw that once again a very useful proposed law allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs died in the California state assembly. And when I’m out on my bike, slowly rolling through stop signs (after making sure I’m not cutting in front of anybody’s right of way) I feel like I sometimes get dirty looks from drivers. But here’s the simple truth: from the perspective of a bike, no car actually comes to a full and complete stop at stop signs either. Allow me to explain.

 

What part of a bike is most similar to the motor of a car?

 

Any six-year-old could probably tell you that it’s the pedals and gears. Both turn the wheels of the vehicle and provide forward momentum. One uses the energy found in gasoline and the other the energy available in my legs. When you press down on the gas pedal in a car, the vehicle accelerates. But even if you don’t, the motor continues running. When I turn the pedals of my bike, I get to go faster. But I can also just chill on pedaling for a minute and let my bike drift forward, relying on the momentum I’ve gained from earlier effort.

 

Why is that important?

 

Let’s think about what happens when a car comes to a stop sign. Yes, the driver is supposed to push their brakes and yes, they (often) come to a stop but guess what: they get to keep their motor running. Even when a car is not moving, it’s still burning fuel and converting it into energy, which can instantly be used to shift the multi-ton vehicle forward.

 

But when a cyclist comes to a full and complete stop—squeezing the brakes and putting their feet on the ground—it is not the same as a car doing so. That’s because when I stop pushing on my pedals and kill all my forward momentum, I have completely killed my engine. Maintaining even a little bit of forward momentum is like leaving my engine idling so that I can easily start moving again. Asking a cyclist to come to a full and complete stop is like asking a driver to stop their car, put it into park, turn off the engine, and take the keys out of the ignition. If cars were legally forced to do that at stop signs, how high of a compliance rate do you expect we’d see?

 

So here’s what I propose:

 

Either we make the Idaho stop legal and allow cyclists to do their thing or we update our laws so that they mandate all cars coming to a stop sign have to kill their engines and remove their keys from the ignition before starting up again.

 

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