I often see or hear the statement “bicyclists run stop signs all the time.” The person making the statement is not just making an observation, but trying to justify some attitude or action on their part, such as “bicyclists shouldn’t be on the road,” “bicyclists should be on the sidewalk,” “bicyclists should be thrown in jail,” “it is OK to intimidate or run over bicyclists,” or “we should not be spending any of our transportation money on bicycle facilities.”
I think that it is time for all of us to confront that statement and end its use. Yes, it is true that some to many bicyclists run stop signs. It is also true some to many motor vehicle drivers run stop signs. To refer back to my earlier posts on stop signs, stop signs are installed largely to reduce vehicle speeds and to get drivers to take turns at intersections. Bicyclists are rarely exceeding the speed limit, so that function is not served by the stop sign, nor by a bicyclist stopping. In the case of taking turns, the issue is taking turns, not the act of stopping. If a bicyclist does not stop at a stop sign, but no other vehicles are present which should go first, then the function of the stop sign to get people to take turns is intact, it has not been violated.
The article misses that the Traffic Safety Fact: 2011 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview (TSF), linked from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) press release, also shows that the injury rate per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) has been flat for three years. What does this mean? It probably means that the number of crashes has not declined, just the likelihood of fatality in a crash. The rate per VMT is the only useful measure of traffic safety. Fatality counts and injury counts are a mis-measure because they are affected by the rate of driving and a number of other factors, rather than the safety of driving.
The TSF provides counts of pedestrian fatalities, up 3%, and bicyclists (the NHTSA uses the obscure term pedalcyclists), up 8.7%. To go with the counting game, this is an increase of 130 dead pedestrians and 54 dead bicyclists in just one year. No statistics are presented on the fatality rate per bicycle mile traveled. Why? I believe that it is because NHTSA is too lazy or too disinterested to compile information on bicycle miles traveled. Though pedestrian miles traveled would be difficult to compile, at least a rate could be developed per pedestrian trip, which would be a more accurate measure of the rate of fatalities. Again, the NHTSA can’t be bothered. I am certainly not the first to point out that pedestrian and bicyclist fatality counts are a mis-measure of safety, yet the federal, state, and local governments continue to ignore the issue.
I’ve only lived in midtown a while, but from the first it was clear to me that here was a walker and bicyclist paradise, at least in comparison to where I’d lived before, Carson City, and where I work, Citrus Heights. It still seems a bicyclist paradise to me, but I’m seeing the dark side for pedestrians. This may be a recent development, or perhaps I’ve just become more aware of the reality. Though I bike more than I walk, I’m certainly a pedestrian too, and there are a large number of pedestrians in midtown.
Many drivers in midtown are aggressive towards pedestrians. At times I think this is mostly commuters who live elsewhere and just work here, but at times I’m sure it includes the people who live here as well. Driver behavior I see on a daily basis:
Speeding: drivers exceed the posted speed limit, especially on the one-way streets
Failure to yield: drivers do not yield to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks; this is a violation of the law
Failure to stop: drivers do not stop in additional lanes when one driver has stopped; this is a violation of the law
Aggressiveness: drivers do not yield to pedestrians waiting to use marked and unmarked crosswalks; this is a violation of human decency