Berkeley Police Are Ticketing Bicyclists for Running Stop Signs on Bicycle Boulevards

What are they trying to achieve?

Berkeley PD ticket a bicyclist on Milvia St, a bike boulevard. Photo by Liza Lutzker
Berkeley PD ticket a bicyclist on Milvia St, a bike boulevard. Photo by Liza Lutzker
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In Berkeley, a city with a relatively high share of people riding bikes for commuting, shopping, and pleasure, the police have been using federal enforcement grants to ticket bike riders who roll through stop signs on quiet streets with very little vehicle traffic.

Police departments around the state use federal traffic enforcement funds from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to conduct enforcement aimed at bicycle and pedestrian safety. The police departments frequently announce their campaigns in the local press, using boilerplate language based on the grant applications. Those announcements strive to achieve a balance between modes, saying the enforcement is aimed at changing the behavior of bike riders, pedestrians, and drivers.

But that “balance” creates ambiguity, and room for interpretation means misinterpretation is likely. What does “bicycle and pedestrian enforcement” mean? To some it means “giving tickets to drivers violating bicycle or pedestrian safety.” To others it means “giving bike riders and pedestrians tickets.”

The OTS simply supplies a list of goals the cities are to meet, such as reducing the number of bicyclists or pedestrians killed or injured. It’s up to the individual police departments to decide how to go about meeting those goals.

The question that comes to mind: how exactly does ticketing careful bike riders increase safety?

In the last few weeks, there have been multiple reports of traffic cops ticketing bike riders on Milvia Street, one of Berkeley’s bike boulevards. Traffic diverters discourage through car traffic but allow bikes to use Milvia as a through route into and out of downtown Berkeley. This stretch of Milvia also has a four-way stop sign at every block.

Brktix2Liza Lutzker, a local advocate with Bike Walk Berkeley, has witnessed numerous bikes being stopped, “one after another, during the morning commute. Meanwhile, there were all sorts of vehicle violations” that could have been ticketed but were ignored by the police. Lutzker watched a truck pull through the barrier at Blake and Milvia, for example, and she saw cars pulling dangerous u-turns. But the police only pulled over bicyclists.

“These are not stops that are increasing safety,” she told Streetsblog. “It was clearly targeted enforcement.”

Chris Edmunds was one of the bike riders caught by the dragnet. He was riding a tandem bike with his daughter, taking her to day camp before heading to work on BART. Riding south on Milvia, he approached Blake Street, where car traffic – but not bike traffic – is blocked from continuing or turning onto Milvia south of Blake.

“I did my usual back and forth head sweep of the intersection and proceeded right through, as the intersection was clear of any other cars, bikes, or pedestrians,” he said. “I would estimate I was going five miles an hour. . . I even saw the two officers who were parked on Blake, both on motorcycles. I really thought nothing of it, as my ‘violation’ seemed so innocuous. As I passed through the concrete planter barricades on Milvia, one of the officers turned on his siren and told me to pull over.”

The cop wrote him a ticket for going what he estimated as seven miles per hour. He also lectured Edmunds about “needing to be extra careful” because he was riding with his daughter.

It seemed clear to Edmunds that the two cops were targeting that intersection. “I don’t know if it was just bikes or cars too,” he said, “but it seems odd to do that enforcement on a bike boulevard if it’s not for bike targeting, especially when cars can’t even get through that intersection on Milvia.”

Berkeley police spokesman Byron White would not say whether the enforcement on Milvia was targeted at bikes. He told Streetsblog the police decide where to deploy enforcement actions based on data from the department’s traffic analyst about which intersections are the most dangerous and which generate the most complaints – presumably from local residents.

But the corner of Blake and Milvia doesn’t show up as a high-injury spot in Berkeley, and the Milvia corridor itself, while it has problems, is one of the low-stress bike boulevards Berkeley has built specifically to encourage bicycling among residents and commuters within its borders.

It’s not clear what the police hope to achieve by targeting bicyclists on Milvia. The police cite safety, pointing out that bike collisions have been rising in Berkeley and that between a third and a half of those collisions are the fault of the bicyclist. So far this quarter, according to White, Berkeley police have stopped 55 bicycle riders and pedestrians, and cited 36 of them for some violation. During the same time period, 143 motor vehicles have been stopped, and 106 citations issued.

“We are trying to prevent anyone from getting hurt,” said White. “There are too many collisions in this city–as Public Information Officer, I’ve had to announce a major collision every month since January,” he said.

But there is a big difference in safety risk between a bicyclist who checks to see if there is traffic and proceeds through a stop sign when it is clearly safe, and another who rides blindly through without glancing at cross traffic. Clearly, given Edmunds’ experience, the police are not differentiating between the two.

Yes, current California law says that bicyclists must stop at stop signs. That doesn’t mean it always makes sense. Before arguing about this in the comments, see this old article for a discussion of the physics of why this is so.

On Milvia, with a stop sign at every corner and relatively little traffic, for a bike rider to come to a complete “legal” stop at every block would be exhausting and pointless. A careful bike rider will always slow and check for traffic, but if there is not a single car on the cross street, the only reason to stop would be if there were a cop waiting to write a ticket – but only if you thought they might waste their time writing that ticket.

The point here is not to argue that stop sign laws shouldn’t apply to bicycles (that argument can be found here), but to point out that writing bike riders tickets for what is basically safe and logical behavior will not increase safety for anyone. The impact on a careful bike rider of getting such a ticket will be anger, stress, and irritation, which will be a continuous anti-blessing as these feelings will come up every time they think about getting on their bike.

It certainly won’t make riders stop at every stop sign on Milvia, or any other quiet street where it doesn’t make sense to do so. Instead, they will: consider not riding at all, search for alternative routes that may be less safe but have fewer stop signs, stay away from Berkeley if they can, or even resort to driving when they could instead have ridden a bike.

Milvia tixAnd this is leaving out the expense of a ticket, which can be as high as $300 after court costs. This is no small amount, and it can be prohibitive for students or low-income people, of which there are many in Berkeley. If people have difficulty paying the fees, the costs can escalate quickly and lead to further consequences like the loss of a driver’s license.

It’s fair also to think about the difference in impact on a car driver vs. a bike rider for getting a stop sign violation ticket. The costs are the same. While the bike rider is not supposed to get a point against their DMV record, a car driver might. However, that car driver has the option of attending a day of traffic school to expunge that point.

The idea of traffic school is to take advantage of an opportunity to provide continuing education on safe driving practices to the drivers that most need it. Because there is no threat of a point for bike riders, there is also no incentive for them to attend traffic school.

California law allows cities and police departments to create a “diversion program” for bike riders who get tickets. Usually it gives them a monetary incentive: they can have their fine reduced if they attend an approved bike education course. It’s an opportunity to educate bike riders, who are otherwise not required to prove any knowledge of the vehicle code at all.

But few places have these programs. The University of California at Berkeley does, but it only applies to university-issued tickets, not the surrounding city of Berkeley. Robert Prinz, education director for Bike East Bay, says he has tried to get the city of Berkeley to set up a diversion program, but initial interest has not resulted in any action.

“It’s clearly not a priority,” he said. “But if writing a bike ticket is a priority, then it has to be. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t say dangerous bike behavior is such a high priority that you have to spend limited enforcement money to write tickets for bicyclists, and then say that a diversion program isn’t a priority.”

Another issue here is street design. Even though Milvia is a bicycle boulevard, its design is hostile to bike riders if they are required to stop at stop signs. “If you were to put a stop sign at every intersection along, say, Martin Luther King Blvd,” said Prinz, “How many drivers would quickly stop paying attention to them? It’s a double standard. Berkeley has put three times as many stop signs on a parallel route that is a bike boulevard, and then it says: if you fail to observe that stop sign, even with a slow roll, we’re going to ticket you.”

Prinz suggests thinking about it the way the state approaches speed limits. “If 85 percent of drivers are speeding, the speed limit becomes unenforceable,” he says. “Cities either have to raise the speed limit or change the design of streets to bring down speeds. Maybe we should apply that same thinking to bike boulevards and stop signs.”

The ticketing is happening Berkeley, which has bike infrastructure that, while imperfect, is leagues ahead of other California cities. What happens in areas where the streets are even more dangerous and bike riders fewer? What goes on in cities where a larger percentage of bike riders are people of color, who are more likely to be subject to police enforcement actions?

If anything, this whole episode points out the problem with relying on enforcement to solve problems. While enforcement has a role to play, it also creates unintended consequences that undermine its own stated goals.

Because budgets are tight, in many areas the grants from OTS are the only funds police departments have to conduct any enforcement at all. But the state Office of Traffic Safety does not provide guidelines for police departments on how to use these grants, and requires only a quarterly report on a city’s progress towards the general goals of each grant.

The mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, responded to accusations on Twitter that he had “ordered” the police department to ticket bicycle riders. “I have no statutory authority to order the police to do anything,” he wrote to Streetsblog. “My role is a policy maker.”

But that role – as a policy maker – may be the only proper way to guide enforcement efforts. If the state won’t do it, local communities have to take it on. San Francisco’s “Focus on the Five” policy, with all of its problems, is one example of a data-driven policy that could actually affect safety. The Oakland Police Department’s traffic division, for another, says it has pretty much stopped giving out tickets to bike riders and pedestrians, instead issuing warnings for violations.

The city of Berkeley has been working on adopting a Vision Zero action plan, which Lutzker of Walk Bike Berkeley says the police department has been an integral part of. “It’s very clear that the number one most important part is that it will be data-driven,” she said.

“There needs to be clear direction from the mayor to focus on safety and shift towards diversion, and actions need to be in support of city plans like the bike plan, the pedestrian plan, and the climate action plan,” said Lutzker. “There needs to be a strong voice from leadership to say this is not the right direction.”

And maybe the OTS needs to take a more proactive role by stating exactly what it means by “bicycle and pedestrian enforcement.”

93 thoughts on Berkeley Police Are Ticketing Bicyclists for Running Stop Signs on Bicycle Boulevards

  1. You make the claim that stop signs shouldn’t apply to bikes. On what basis?

    Sure, there’s more collision history with motor vehicles. They’ve also driven 3.2 trillion miles in the last 12 months. We don’t have good data on bicycle miles traveled, but it’s safe to say it’s at least a million times less.

    None of the articles linked provide any evidence that a yield rule is demonstrably safer. It’s hypothetical, not empirical. It’s also contrary to the decades of engineering, and the many technical committees responsible for setting design standards for our transportation system and for traffic control devices. If you think a yield rule makes sense, propose your change to the NCUTCD and the FHWA. Until you do, federal law requires a particular meaning for a stop sign, that includes bicycles.

  2. Would we? There are lots of reasons why people use cars–not everyone works a desk job where the only thing that travels with them is their lunch and a laptop. You’re not going to eliminate motor vehicles. A lot of them serve to improve health, safety, and the environment.

    You might be able to envision some system where there’s a viable alternative, but you have to get buy-in. A minority of people choosing not to drive doesn’t suffice. As it stands now, moves to make parking more difficult are merely resulting in more rideshare vehicles circling aimlessly waiting for a fare. As autonomous vehicles become more common, you’ll be able to get from point A to B, and send your car back to A until you’re ready for it again. What have you accomplished by eliminating parking then? Lots more emissions.

    We have an aging population, people with disabilities, tradespeople, retail shops, visitors from other cities…you name it…that can’t get to where they need to be with a bike or other public transit.

    You’re living in a world ignoring how the milk gets on the store shelf, how grandma gets to the doctor, and how someone from Carson City goes to a Giants game. You’re simply suggesting that none of those are necessary if they can’t be done on a bike, and for that, you’re nuts. You’re hurting the people that want to be able to bike safely, by organizing everyone who still needs other transportation to oppose anything bike related.

    Stick to making cycling safe. Making everyone who doesn’t bike an enemy doesn’t do you any favors.

  3. I’m not making a “claim” I’m pointing out the biased nature of your reasoning. But there are definitely reasons to treat bikes and cars differently at stop signs, as many, many articles linked elsewhere in this article and thread can show you, if you were bothered to look past your windshield perspective.

  4. You’re missing the point. Everything we do is social engineering. If we try to make things better for a popular mode at the expense of others, we are implicitly reinforcing that mode’s popularity. But due to impacts to health, safety, and the environment, we would be better served to encourage people to use a different one.

    Make it obnoxious enough to drive (parking is the most effective lever for this), people will figure something else out.

  5. The pavement quality on Milvia is so horrible for half of it, slowing down is hazardous. You might loose your balance in one of those giant potholes at every intersection. It is such and energy sucker on Milvia just to get through the terrible pavement.

  6. #ridemlk

    This has been bugging me all day – I guess the issue here is Justice vs Law – there exist plenty of bad laws that are enforced and make little sense, so the need here is clearly to change the law.

    These “bike boulevards” should be for and about making and promoting the use of bikes, or ban them from the streets and get more cars out there, which is the clear alternative. I am being encouraged to drive a car given the liabilities to my health and pocketbook, and detriment to all others in my path or breathing my exhaust.

  7. It’s also completely reasonable not to. When 100 cars sit idling waiting to pass through a stop controlled intersection that doesn’t need to be, the exact opposite of what you’re hoping for–reduced emissions and associated harms–is what happens.

    Now, if you simply think cars are evil, then there’s no amount of logic or reason that can help you. They have their faults, but for a lot of things, there’s nothing better available to do the job.

  8. Why should it still apply to motor vehicles if there’s no collision history? More cyclists are killed when they’ve run their own stop sign than when motor vehicles run stop signs. Where’s support for your claim? Or is this simply about wanting your preferred mode of transportation to get special treatment at the expense of everyone else?

  9. Berkeley should simply make Milvia a proper bike boulevard by converting the 4-way stops to 2-way stops in favor of traffic on Milvia.

  10. Great potential for a livable streets guerrilla action here: under cover of night, replace all the stop signs in the primary bicycle direction of travel with yield signs. Conforms with safe riding practice while still requiring stops if there are other riders or vehicles on the scene first. Done and done.

  11. Consistent bicycle stop sign violations, without collision history (which is the case at ~99% of intersections), simply mean that the stop sign shouldn’t apply to bikes. That’s it.

  12. That is just your opinion. If you’re too busy accommodating cars to provide reasonable facilities for anyone using any other mode (because there are more cars at a given moment), then everyone will drive. Given that there has been real, demonstrable harm to public health, safety, and the environment due to driving, it’s completely reasonable to prioritize other modes.

  13. I understand your argument, it just isn’t supported by science or empirical data. Yes, there were more than 200 bike fatalities that included a bike failing to yield right of way. Every motor vehicle accident involving a fatality is tracked in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, paid for with our tax dollars.

    My first triathlon was in 2015, and my road bike is on a stand right behind me as I’m typing. Don’t make accusations for which you have no basis. I DO have experience riding a bicycle, and my partner (who cycles competitively) has been hit while riding one. Yes, stopping takes a little longer, but it could also save your life, especially at a 4-way stop.

    There are plenty of situations where a stop isn’t required, as I’ve said previously. Stop signs are often overused, and often not supported by engineering. But that’s not the argument you’re making–you’re arguing that bikes should get special preference (or at least leniency) at intersections, which is insane. If you can see well enough at a slow roll to proceed without stopping, contact your city council and do what’s necessary to have it removed. Or, if you get a ticket during one of these blitzes, make your case in court that the sign isn’t being used as required by law–call the engineer in your defense.

    I was trying to help educate, but you’ve shown that you don’t want to learn or understand how to improve safety. You just want to be able to have every other road user, car, bike, train, or pedestrian, wait as long as necessary so that you never so much as have to slow on your commute. I sincerely do hope I’m wrong about that, and that you don’t end up one of the roughly 800 people killed on bikes each year.

  14. #ridemlk

    cyclists avoid the nice smooth streets of MLK too long to be pummelled by and now ticketted on bicycle boulevards

    $200 for 1/20th the mass, 1/4 the speed and free pollution on nice pavement makes driving a car a sweet deal!

  15. I’m torn about this because I do understand the logic. The problem is that we dont have a legit bicycle infrastructure to support bikes as a real mode of transportation (at least in socal). I used to live in a small-ish city in France where there were bike lanes everywhere and biking and walking were prioritized. As an american, I didnt stop for a stop sign and got a ticket. The officer was nice enough (his attitude completely changed when he realized that I was American and not Arab so there was most definitely a tinge of French racism going on…) and he explained that cyclists are a part of traffic and thus subject to traffic laws (or the french equivalent).

    Maybe once we install the infrastructure to make bikes a tangible, easy, and accessible form of transportation we can start treating them as carrying the same weight as a person in a car.

  16. This is pointless and rather infuriating. If you seriously believe a person riding a bicycle is a lethal threat by slowly rolling past a stop sign, there is no hope for you understanding what I’m trying to say because that’s my entire point. I’m not going to make up some BS statistic like you tried to do. 200 people a year dying from bicycles rolling stop signs? Please, let’s just end this absurdity. You have obviously have no experience riding a bicycle. Therefor your safety advice is less than useless. I ride every day and I try my hardest to avoid every potential conflict on the road in front of me, and sometimes that means not stopping at every single stop sign.

    I’m a triathlete, so I don’t care about saving any of my momentum. I only care about riding as safely and considerate as possible. Coming to compete stops at every single stop sign puts my life in significantly greater danger and it obstructs vehicles behind me, and I don’t give any fucks if you don’t understand that. I am not going to intentionally put my safety in pearl by riding in a way that increases conflicts with vehicles. Spending 5x as long at every intersection increases conflicts with vehicles and therefore drastically increases the likelihood of a collision. But you’ve never ridden a bicycle so this entire discussion is pointless. I regret ever having started it. It was a compete waste of my morning

  17. The lethal threat is the cyclist ignoring traffic control devices. In 2017, that alone accounted for more than 200 fatalities. Cyclists were killed by far fewer motorists who did the same.

    You’ve presented absolutely nothing to support your claim that a car needs to make a complete stop in the same place where a bike does not. There is no reason. If several hundred dollars is appropriate for one road user, the same several hundred dollars is appropriate for all users committing the same act.

    That said, I’m not arguing that the bicycle boulevards or anything else is sufficient or well designed there. So fix it–don’t simply ignore the law, putting yourself at risk. That kind of attitude leads to chaos, where everyone goes whenever they damn well please, turning from whatever lane suits them, and running into and over one another in far greater numbers than today.

  18. Treating a lethal threat the same as a minor inconvenience is ridiculous. That doesn’t make any sense legally or morally.

    It’s obvious Berkeley doesn’t take bicycle infrastructure seriously, which is why so many people in Berkeley have to resort to driving really short distances all the time. Why is it so difficult to get anywhere safely on a bicycle in Berkeley?

    The bicycle boulevards are the worst pavement anywhere with totally pointless stop signs at traffic circles ( WTF??????????) every few hundred feet, and the bike routes themselves Zigzag all over the place taking much longer then driving, and all Berkeley bike routes have dangerous stunt crossings unsuitable for anyone at least once every mile.

    But go head, keep claiming that cyclists should continue to be extorted for hundreds of dollars every time they slowly and safely roll past one of these ridiculous poorly placed stop signs. Berkeley, cars-first planet last.

    I used to dutifully come to a compete stop at every stop sign when I first began riding. I quickly realized that this practice put my life in much greater danger because inpatient drivers would literally try to drive around me in an intersection all the time. The safest and smartest way to ride is not coming to a complete stop at every single stop sign all the time, and the only people who argue against this logic are people who have no experience riding a bicycle.

  19. “There’s also no “data” showing that slower speeds are safer as a general rule”

    Here is some data from the AAA (Automobile Association of America):
    the average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle reaches 10% at an impact speed of 16 mph, 25% at 23 mph, 50% at 31 mph, 75% at 39 mph, and 90% at 46 mph. The average risk of death for a pedestrian reaches 10% at an impact speed of 23 mph, 25% at 32 mph, 50% at 42 mph, 75% at 50 mph, and 90% at 58 mph.

  20. You’re making the assumption that a car hasn’t already started in motion when the bike runs the stop sign. Keep in mind that of the 801 bikes involved in fatal accidents in 2017, 216 failed to yield right of way or disobeyed another traffic control device (e.g. stop sign, red light, turn prohibition, or bike signal) while a total of 523 had at least one contributing circumstance (e.g. improper lane change, riding wrong way). Among those (where a cyclist was at least partially responsible), 8 killed someone other than the cyclist at fault.

    Think about that for a minute. 216 fatalities could have been prevented if only a cyclist would have stopped or otherwise yielded as required–that’s more than 1/4 of the total. Another 307 might have been avoided if the cyclist was doing something else that contributed to the crash. 278 were solely the fault of other non-cyclists. In 538 crashes, the crash was solely the fault of non-motorists.

    Your claim speaks to basic physics–we know the heavier vehicle has more energy, and with everything else the same does more damage. But at least in terms of fatal accidents, they’re far more likely to be the result of something the cyclist did or failed to do than something the motorist did or failed to do. Everyone needs to be following the same rules, with the same penalties, period.

  21. The fines should be different because a cyclist blowing an all-stop intersection may cause the events that you outlined in your final paragraph, but the likely hood that anyone is seriously hurt/killed is extremely lower than if a car blows the same all-stop intersection. The severity of the outcomes based on the vehicle should absolutely influence the amount of the fine. In addition, freight vehicles should have higher fines than cars.

  22. If you don’t have the crash history, you don’t have a speed problem.
    Not sure how you improve things by slowing vehicles if there’s no
    history of collisions.

    There’s also no “data” showing
    that slower speeds are safer as a general rule, but speed isn’t the
    subject of the article–it’s about running stop signs. The FARS data
    shows 788 crashes involving a bike fatality. 201 of those crashes
    involved a bike failing to yield right of way, and another 75 involved a
    bike failing to obey a sign or signal. Last time I checked, that’s a
    little more than 10%. Those violations may not have been the sole cause
    of the accident, but without those violations, the crashes wouldn’t
    have happened.

    Your criticism of the “accident” term is
    noted, but irrelevant. Many collisions involve unintentional acts,
    acts resulting from carelessness or ignorance, or collisions lacking
    intent. In other words, the dictionary definition of accident. If you
    want to assign blame, you have to acknowledge that a large number of
    cyclists are dead as a result of their own failure to follow the law.

  23. “…Berkeley, which has bike infrastructure that, while imperfect, is leagues ahead of other California cities.” Actually, Berkeley was an early leader, but has fallen behind many other locations. They haven’t done much of significance in years. The pavement quality on the bicycle boulevards has become so bad that many of them are unridable, and I notice a lot of bicyclists have shifted to busier streets which get repaved. Four-way stops at repeated intersections signify that someone is not paying attention. Just like Davis, Berkeley has coasted on its good reputation for years, and it was not until recently that Davis started paying attention again. Berkeley? How about look to your neighbor, Emeryville?

  24. Wanting motor vehicle drivers to go slower has everything to do with data. Higher speeds make crashes more likely to occur, because there is less avoidance and reaction time. For every increase in speed, there is a greater increase in the likelihood of fatality for walkers and bicyclists. Those are facts, not preferences. Your continual use of the word accident instead of the correct term crash (or collision) indicates to me that you’ve already come down on the side of drivers, and want to absolve them of responsibility. Your repeated ‘statistic’ that half of crashes are the fault of bicyclists is bogus. Just because law enforcement officers, with their windshield bias, record incidents that way, doesn’t make it so. Research into the actual causes, looking at the investigation report and the on-the-ground location, concludes that only about 10% are the fault of the bicyclist.

  25. How so? The rules apply equally in the law now, like it or not, and it’s for good reason.

    Those traffic controls aren’t just designed to punish in proportion to damage inflicted. They’re designed to prevent accidents in the first place. Someone running a red light, regardless of whether on foot, bike, car, or truck, preempts right-of-way controls and can cause an accident. When you do, lots of people pay for that–whether your medical costs, delays, fuel, and emissions from the traffic delays, emotional distress, etc.

    Someone rolling through a stop sign slowly, when I’m approaching the same intersection, creates ambiguity as to who has the right of way. That’s why federal law explicitly prohibits yield and stop signs at the same intersection where the two movements could conflict.

    Read my other comments–if the bike can safely determine that it’s safe to proceed from a roll, it’s not necessary for the stop sign to be there. The mass of a vehicle has absolutely NOTHING to do with it.

  26. I don’t argue with police when I encounter them engaged in this type of boneheaded enforcement, but neither do I produce any identification. I say I left my wallet at the office or at a restaurant the night before and am picking it later that day. If you are polite, they sometimes lecture you and let you move on. Sometimes they persist in writing a citation, and at that point you can decide to tell them all your information, or you can risk arrest by giving false information. I have done both, and I have to say I prefer to take my chances and lie about name, address, and social security. If you are mentally prepared and can do so calmly and without hesitation, I find it works. But then, that is a very personal choice. For me it was the outrage of receiving an expensive ticket for safe and sane bicycling behavior that led me to lie to the police —a novel experience!

  27. What a preposterous argument. Of course bicycle and car moving violations should be treated differently. There’s a pretty huge mass difference. A slow moving vehicle failing to stop or yield at an intersection is a lethal threat to anyone else in the intersection. A person on a slow moving bicycle going through an intersection is at worst a minor inconvenience. The two are not even remotely the same threat.

    Berkeley hates cyclist. They’ve never taking bicycle infrastructure seriously. It’s s nightmare trying to ride anywhere useful in Berkeley because the streets are not designed for bicycling at all.

  28. A good portion of them are, in fact, both illegal and unenforceable. But that doesn’t stop a lot of people from being cited, paying fines and penalties, etc., and we both know that a lawyer isn’t going to bother actually mounting a real defense that would hurt future business.

    Specifically, 23CFR655.603 adopts the MUTCD as the national standard for traffic control devices. It requires that traffic control devices be used only as permitted by the standard, and section 2B.07 specifically describes the stop sign for use with the following language: “Standard:
    When it is determined that a full stop is always required on an approach to an intersection, a STOP (R1-1) sign (see Figure 2B-1) shall be used.”

    If it isn’t necessary for bikes to stop, a full stop isn’t always required.

  29. There’s no need for some vehicles to stop and others not to. The purpose of a stop or yield sign is to control right of way–yield and stop signs on different approaches to the same intersection are prohibited because they’re dangerous. Combining the two on the same approach, based on the vehicle type, would be even worse.

    The people advocating the bike exemption don’t understand the warrants for stop controlled intersections. If you can justify not making a complete stop on a bike, i.e. that yielding is sufficient, the stop sign isn’t needed at all. Change the sign to a yield and the problem is solved for bikes along with everyone else.

  30. “A stop sign is ONLY to be used when necessary for ALL vehicles to come to a COMPLETE stop. And that’s a matter of federal law.” If that’s true, then 90% of stop signs are illegal.

  31. Unfortunately, current signage doesn’t allow an engineer to decide that some physical conditions are such that large vehicles need to come to a stop but small ones don’t. And yet that’s exactly what the conditions at most four-way stops justify. If there were a sign that said “cars stop, bikes yield”, that sign would be justified far more often than “all vehicles stop” (which would still be relevant for a small, slow low traffic street intersecting a large, fast high traffic street).

  32. Those “operations” are things like “targeted enforcement actions” — DUI stop points, stuff like that. Not sure what they mean by 92 of them. It’s not really a relevant bit of information, except that it highlights that enforcement is not consistent–which creates its own problems.
    The City Manager was trying to make it look like they hardly ever set out to ticket bicyclists, but it’s what they’re ticketing FOR that matters for safety. “Bike safety” has to include consideration of driver behavior that endangers bicyclists. It’s pretty hard for a bike rider to endanger someone in a car.

  33. Engineers have their biases, but they also have to consider everyone’s needs fairly. Slowing cars or reducing capacity based on a hypothetical bicycle demand isn’t sound.

    Even where the bicycle demand is known to exist, it doesn’t make sense to slow 10,000 cars for 100 bicycles to be able to use a major thoroughfare. There’s a real chicken-and-egg problem, but even if you build bicycle facilities based on a hypothetical demand, the need for auto travel isn’t going to appreciably decrease in most cases. Especially in parts of the country that have winter, significant rain, or simply lower population densities (not defending suburban sprawl, just recognizing that we have lots of small towns and cities that don’t survive alone).

  34. Traffic engineers have their biases also and for the better part of the past 100 years it’s been to move as many cars as possible as fast as possible with other road users needs largely shunted aside.

    There’s been some pushback against this mentality in some areas (such as Seattle, where I’m now located).

    I’m not not sure traffic calming is the anwser because a lot of residents want to make driving a hassle in their neighborhood so that traffic goes into someone else’s neighborhood.

    Personally I hate speedbumps when on a bicycle.

  35. That sounds like stop signs erected as a result of political pressure, not engineering. It’s illegal to do so.

    In many cases though, it is the fault of cyclists. I’m a cyclist too, but many cycling activists are in fact lobbying for anything that makes driving more difficult or slower. I’ve heard the cyclists at city council meetings wanting more stop signs, speed humps, etc., even when speeding isn’t a problem and there hasn’t been any history of crashes. It’s the engineer’s job to say no in those circumstances, both as a matter of law and engineering ethics, but all too often a city council dictates traffic controls, and the engineer bends to pressure instead of doing what’s right, as what’s right is to bite the hand that feeds them.

  36. The realism is though stops are used for speed control and that’s not the fault of bicyclists.

    An example, I grew up in the Waverley Park area of Mtn. View (nice, large tract homes and wide, flat streets). One year, in the late 70s I came home for spring break and I noticed that stop signs near my parent’s home had like doubled.It was crazy–like a three way stop at cul-de-sacs on quiet streets. I asked my mom what the heck happened and she told me a couple teenagers crashed into someone’s home (in a car-not bicycle) and the residents were up in arms and pressured the city council into adding stop signs. On my bicycle riding in that area I roundly ignored them for years because I knew they were so patently ridiculous.

    I encourage you to look up the Atlantic article I referenced in my original post “Distracting Miss Daisy”. It’s not about bicycling, but more about our irrationalities surronding traffic control.

  37. The operations undertaken, and the number of citations written, are key to getting the federal grant money. If you want the city council to have control over traffic enforcement, you have to have the city council paying the bills for the police department, not the feds.

    But as to the numbers, I’m interpreting the citations for both bikes and cars in the article as being written during those targeted operations. A city like Berkeley I’m sure has far more than an average of two traffic tickets written a day citywide.

  38. That’s not correct. Engineers have the ONLY authority to set speed limits. It’s federal law–see MUTCD section 1A, and sections 2B.13. They can’t raise limits higher than statutory limits set by the state, but there’s no mandate to use the 85th percentile. The MUTCD explicitly includes consideration of other factors, as the responsible engineer determines, via engineering study, are appropriate.

    Bikes failing to obey traffic control devices like stop signs and traffic lights make up nearly half of all bike fatalities. If you can roll through and see that it’s clear, a stop sign shouldn’t be there in the first place. Unwarranted stop signs encourage ignoring them, which creates real hazard when you have one that is warranted and ignored.

  39. Incorrect – engineers have only minimal discretion to adjust speed limits beyond +/- 5mph of the 85th percentile if the speed limits and tickets are to be enforceable and hold in up court under state law. And that’s not a safety-based approach. When I was a reckless teenager, I consistently drove 15 mph above whatever the posted limit was because I figured I was skilled enough to not crash and I wouldn’t get ticketed. In retrospect, doing so certainly wasn’t safe, and no one should assume it was and keep raising the speed limit accordingly just because I was speeding along with the other most reckless 15% of drivers.

    I don’t object to ticketing cyclists who violate signs and signals in ways that actually violate others’ right of way or represent dangerous behaviors. But rolling through a stop sign on a bike at <10mph when no one else is coming simply isn't what causes the carnage on our roads as reflected in actual data.

  40. If there is no other traffic around a vehicle, car or bike, and visibility is such that a stop isn’t necessary to be able to see and proceed safely, there shouldn’t be a stop sign.

    But, assuming these stop signs are valid and enforceable (not always the case), an engineer has made the determination that it *is* necessary to come to a complete stop, again regardless of the vehicle type.

    You’re right that a stop sign every 75 yards is likely impossible to justify. Stop signs used as speed controls have been discouraged by the engineering community for more than half a century, precisely because they lead to the behaviors cited among the cyclists in the article. A stop sign is ONLY to be used when necessary for ALL vehicles to come to a COMPLETE stop. And that’s a matter of federal law.

    The potential harm, bike or car, is the same. An accident could happen. That means a car and a bike collide, and most likely, a cyclist is injured or killed. It may also mean that vehicles collide, or that a vehicle mounts a sidewalk and hurts or kills a pedestrian. Failing to yield cannot be viewed only in the sense of the bicyclist having the freedom to choose their own risk levels–not until we remove the duty of others to avoid colliding when they break the law.

  41. Last night at the City Council meeting, the City Manager defended the practice of ticketing cyclists by saying the BPD had done 92 traffic enforcement “operations” and only 3 were directed at cyclists. Can someone tell me what an “operation” is? Because this article cites BPD data as 36 “citations” to cyclists.

    Why exactly do I care how many operations were undertaken, when the citations number is the relevant one.

  42. I think you need to understand the concept of potential harm. I’m not defending the “right” of anyone to act like a lout on a bicycle, but trying to make the point that if the city wants to get anal about traffic enforcement, then there will be the perverse affect of discouraging many people from riding at all.

    If there is no other traffic around a bicycle presents no menace if it slows at a stop sign and proceeds.

    If someone blows stop signs when it’s not clear, then they should be ticketed.

    The main point of the article however is that a bike boulevard should be better engineered to facilitate bicycle movement. Stop signs every 75 yards does not do that.

  43. Why should fines be any different? If you run a stop sign, you’re just as likely to cause an accident as the car. Your bike still influences the movements of those motorized machines, which have to swerve, brake abruptly, or perhaps hit another car when you break the law.

    The whole concept of license points and suspensions is based on the idea that someone who breaks the law one day, perhaps with no one harmed, is more likely to break the law in the future. Fines and suspensions are designed to coerce people who don’t know or choose not to obey traffic laws to either shape up or otherwise be prevented from causing such harms in the future.

  44. Consistent speeding violations, without accident history, simply mean that the speed limit is too low. That’s it.

    Simply wanting cars to go slower because you think they should has no place in this discussion.

  45. Setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile is based on safety. It’s a first look at what most road users–bikes included–determine is a safe speed. Of course, the 85th percentile is the first cut, and the engineer setting the speed limit has latitude to consider other factors if they’re appropriate.

    But no one gets broadsided at an intersection because of speed. That requires a failure to yield, or failure to obey a traffic control device, which is the subject of this article. When bike fatalities occur, roughly half involve errors like the cyclist running a stop sign or red light.

  46. If the stop sign is lawfully posted, it’s based on an engineer’s determination that it’s necessary for all vehicles (including bicycles) to come to a complete stop. If it’s not necessary to come to a complete stop for a bike, it isn’t necessary for other vehicles either, and the stop signs should be removed.

    If the stop sign was placed without the support of an engineer’s judgement, it doesn’t have any legal meaning and those cited should fight their tickets. But stop signs, like other traffic laws, necessarily apply to all vehicles, bikes included.

  47. Excellent piece. I hope it can be widely disseminated to policy makers in and out of the city.

    It’s absolutely absurd to promote a route as a bike boulevard and then have a four way stop every block. There was an article in Atlantic several years ago entitled “Distracting Miss Daisy” which lamented the (over)usage of stop signs as speed control devices. This will be denied, but it is still an obvious fact. At least 75% of the four way stops I saw in my decades living in the bay area should have logically been two way stops. It also goes without saying that cyclists can see and hear cross traffic better than motorized vehicles.

    Furthermore, citations for bicyclists, should NOT BE for the same amount as an automobile. With rare exceptions, the danger presented by a cyclist is far, far less than a motorized two ton machine. Fines should recognize this and not be so high that they entice the more affluent to chuck the bike and “just drive” or put poorer residents behind the financial 8-ball for rolling a stop sign.

  48. Agree, and I mentioned the 85%ile speed limit rule simply to point out the double standard in how we approach driver violations, but not to justify it.

    In my opinion consistent speeding violations should mandate infrastructure changes, not a speed limit change. I apply that same thinking to violations by people biking or walking too, which is why I see part of the solution as reducing the number of stop signs on the bike boulevards and implementing traffic calming instead.

  49. Great coverage of a ridiculous practice. But we should steer clear of justifying a bicycle stop sign policy on the basis of the terrible 85% speed limit-setting policy. Both speed limits and bicycle stop sign policies should be set on the basis of actual safety data, which alone support both setting speed limits lower than the 85th percentile of drivers’ speeds and making bike riders stop only when it’s actually necessary.

    But the comparison of what would happen and how outraged drivers would be if MLK had a stop sign on every block is an apt one that may help get through to non-cyclists how absurd this is.

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Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Legislative Update: “Idaho Stop” and Pedestrian Signals to Be Heard Next Week

Two bills very pertinent to bicyclists and pedestrians are set for their first committee hearings in the California legislature on Monday's Assembly Transportation Committee. One would allow bike riders to roll through stop signs--when safe; the other would make clear that pedestrians are allowed to cross while their signals are counting down.