Slowing, Stopping, Stopped

by Bonnie McClun

"Slowing" and "Stopping" are two simple words that, when not used, can turn an enjoyable group ride into a calamity. If the cyclists in front of you don't declare their intention to slow down, you may find yourself having a close encounter with the rear wheel of the bicycle in front of you, causing you to have a close encounter with the pavement. If all cyclists could remember that they don't have brake lights, we would probably do better at calling out our intentions ("slowing" or "stopping") and making the universal signal (left arm extended out and down at a 45 degree angle with palm of hand facing rearward). Safe, street-smart cyclists are predictable and follow the rules of the road.

Speaking of rules of the road, imagine that you are riding your bike and are approaching a stop sign. How will you respond? In general, we bicyclists get most of our bad press from the behavior we exhibit at stop signs. How often have you seen a cyclist ride at full speed through a stop sign? Have you ever rolled through a stop sign? Just what is a "stop", anyway?

Effective CyclingTM points out that the Uniform Vehicle Code Stop-Sign law requires two distinct actions: first a stop and then a yield. If a stop is defined as no longer rolling, then the bicyclist has to put his or her foot down and the motorist has to come to a complete stop. That being the case, then cyclists "stop" about as well as motorists do. A motorist usually will slow for the stop sign, then creep into the intersection and check for oncoming traffic. If there is no traffic, the motorist accelerates. If there is traffic, then the motorist stops. Is the process different for bicyclists? No.

stop sign

A bicyclist can perform this kind of stop as well as a motorist. The cyclist can slow, check for traffic, yield if necessary, or stop if traffic requires. As a cyclist. you don't have to put your foot down to yield the right of way. However, you must be in control of your vehicle and be able to stop if necessary.

With your feet still on the pedals, you are best able to get moving again after the stop sign. It is to your advantage to keep rolling as slowly as possible and pause between the visibility point and edge of the traffic line. That pause gives you time to see and choose a gap in traffic that will let you to cross the intersection, merge into the flow of traffic, or come to a complete, foot-down stop, if needed. Some local municipalities may ticket you if you don't come to a full, foot-down stop. You'll need to know the idiosyncrasies of your local law-enforcement agencies.

Follow the rules of the road. Stop for stop signs. Be predictable. There is nothing more delightful than to watch the look of astonishment on the face of a motorist when a bicyclist correctly yields to them. Let's be our own best advertising for our right to share the road.

Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American Bicyclists, Nov/Dec 1995.
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