Stopping for stop signs will end the criticism of cyclists


By B. Marquis, Alexandria
(File Photo) 

To the editor:

It has been amusing to read the recent responses to my letter “We must stop the ‘cycling anarchy’” (August 7), which recounted the behavior of a few bicyclists.

I could have written in advance what they were going to say in response. The cycling deniers all use the same script. They never once address the conduct of the cyclist. Instead, they go right on the offensive and blame others to try and excuse their breaking the law.

First and foremost are drivers. It’s all the fault of cars. Speeders, poor public planning, parking issues, pedestrians, etc., are all cited as excuses for why cyclists feel they can flagrantly break the law. Their reasoning seems to be: If motorists do it then we can too, so there.

But here’s a big difference: Cars have license plates and drivers have licenses. We know who they are. The police stop speeders and drivers who go through stop signs while there are cameras to catch motorists who run red lights. Drivers are ticketed and fined. Insurance rates go up. In some cases, licenses are taken and people even are jailed.

When was the last time a cyclist was stopped and ticketed for blowing through a stop sign or running a red light?

Of course, not every driver who breaks the law is caught, but it is certainly a lot higher number than for cyclists. So cyclists just need to stop the excuses, stop the denials and well, just stop: at stop signs and stoplights. All this criticism of cyclists would stop if they would as well.




  1. The holier than thou rhetoric here is just silly. Many people break the law. Sometimes the law is enforced, sometimes its not. Police set the priorities on where to enforce it based on a mix of public safety (and what is lucrative for the city, but ignore that for a moment).

    From a public safety point of view, ranking the hazard posed to others by jaywalking pedestrians, stop-sign blowing cyclists, and speeding drivers is easy (and I am all three of those… as are most fellow readers). Physically, the greater your momentum and kinetic energy, the greater the damage you can do to someone else. Anecdotally, in the cases I know of where either cars or cyclists blew stop signs leading to collisions–and regardless of whether the car hit the cyclist or vice versa or who was at fault–the cyclist got creamed, and the driver was uninjured. There are certainly a few exceptions.

    Notwithstanding the letter of the laws of man, the laws of physics dictate that pedestrians and cyclists take their lives into their own hands when they disregard traffic rules. When drivers disregard the same laws, they take other people’s lives into their hands. To set these behaviors as equivalent is simply inane, and betrays a puerile sense of fairness that neglects common sense.

  2. Cyclists do get ticketed, and most of us carry ID, (and if you don’t you are still obliged to give a policemen your name and address if you are stopped, and if you lie you are opening yourself up to a perjury charge.)

    And I think you miss the point of noting that driver’s break the law – as do pedestrians, by the way. Its that we accept that there occasions when breaking a traffic law is not dangerous, and that many people doing it is not a big deal (do we want the police to focus their efforts on people who drive 2 MPH over the speed limit? I do not.) Its that the majority of people who do not bike but do drive, take the violations that drivers commit for granted but do not understand what happens when you are on a bike.Most cyclists ARE drivers, and do see both perspectives.

  3. B. Marquis

    I think you are mistaking two different behaviors. Few cyclists blow through stop signs and red lights at full speed without looking, just as few drivers do the same. That is both highly dangerous and relatively rare. Rather, many cyclists treat stop signs just as many automobiles do; they roll through cautiously without coming to a complete stop. This is called the Idaho stop which refers to an Idaho law allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs. It is not legal everywhere including Alexandria and in theory, a police officer could ticket cyclists for moving violations. Using good judgment , many police officers focus on more dangerous behavior such as blatant speeders and catching murders such as Charles Severance rather than ticket people who do not use the crosswalk or cyclists who do not come to a complete stop at all traffic signals.
    Why do cyclists? Simple physics and Newton’s law which states an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. Slowing down and speeding up at every single stop sign takes actual muscle effort. Drivers simply move their foot from the gas to the brake. Some cyclists use clips to attach special shoes to pedals and studies have shown that constant clipping and unclipping to stop at stop signs is actually more dangerous than treating them as yield signs. “STOPPING FOR STOP SIGNS WILL END THE CRITICISM OF CYCLISTS,” will simply never happen, no matter how many angry op-ed letters are sent or even if local police were to ticket every single cyclist and driver who does not come to a complete stop at all stop signs. For cyclists, it is simply physics and for drivers, it is a long-ingrained behavior.

    I and many other cyclists view using the public right of way in order of feet. Feet first, or pedestrians, always get right of way not matter what they do, whether its jogging in the bike lane or stepping off the curb without looking. The next feet are pedals, cyclists get right of way only after pedestrians. Gas pedals are last to get right of way because they require the least effort to move forward and are larger and more ungainly.

  4. Alexandria bicyclist Walter Walsh was killed by a so-called “red light runner” in April 1999 at the GWMP and Slaters Lane. Horrible, tragic and most assuredly a preventable situation. Had bicyclist Walsh, who was moving east to west on Slaters actually stopped for the light, instead of “pacing” and then darting forward as the lights were changing, he’d surely be alive today. The motorist who struck Walsh, heading north on the GWMP, was eventually hung from the highest tree (no surprise). Never mind that the motorist, having legally entered on the yellow, was “clearing against the steady red” due to the dangerously inadequate three second yellow lights.

    Take note: Just six weeks before Walsh was lambasted, because the red light cam enforcement failed to deliver, Alexandria officials secretly increased the yellow lights from three to four seconds at the Patrick and Gibbon red light cam site. “Red light running” dropped instantly almost 80%. Red light cam officials, instead of informing the public about the yellow light safety facts, deliberately chose to sweep those facts under the rug. According to the camera crowd, some things are best kept in the closet when it comes to red light cam scams and the yellow lights.

    Alexandria definitely has inherently dangerous and dishonest red light cam con artists in their midst. When a cam was reactivated at Patrick and Gibbon many years later, it was done under three second yellow lights. Now who do you suppose undid the safety improvement of the four second yellows at Patrick and Gibbon in favor of stealing people’s money with a red light camera, under ongoing dangerous conditions I should add?

  5. Ok all you drivers on Union St. Be prepared for every biker to stop dead at each stop. You will need to cool your heels in your oversized SUVs while we stop too. After all, it is the law. And BTW – make sure your “rolling stops” through those stops signs come to a complete stop. I have almost been run over several times as you make your one second pause through those same intersections. Remember, the same laws and rights apply to both cars and bicycles in VA.