OK, I’ve decided that Vancouver needs my help. I think I’m going to blog a series about what you’re doing wrong on the road. First up: stop signs.

Right then. Stop signs. You know, 8 sides, red, ‘STOP’ written on them? Usually on the right-hand side of the road at unsignalled intersections? Ok, so we’re all on the same page now.

First I’m going to describe what typically happens on my commute to work. In fact, today’s commute consisted of 3 cars and one cyclist exhibiting this typical Vancouver behaviour:

A vehicle approaches an intersection, and is faced with a stop sign. They touch their brakes and slow. If they’ve looked left, then it’s been as they’re approaching the intersection. Actually, I suspect I’m being overly optimistic, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. You know, looking left first is good, but as a vehicle approaches the intersection the most that can be seen is at best 20 or 30 feet. Typically by the time I see them, they’re looking right. The vehicle rolls past the stop line, and then the driver looks left. Sometimes. And often, I’m laying on the brakes or swerving out of the way by this point. If the driver is cautious, they will come to a stop several feet beyond the stop line or edge of the intersection. If not, they’ll either accelerate through the intersection or … at least coast through.

This is not how it should be done. Do you know why? To start with, I’m on a bike. Typically I’m cruising along at 30 km/h. Let’s start with that. At that speed I happen to be covering about 30 feet every second. Remember that first glance that might have been had to the left? If 30 feet of road was seen as the driver was looking left, I’m impressed. Now they look right. Let’s say that it takes one second to do the glance left and the look right. If I happened to be just out of sight on the initial glance left, by the end of the second I’m probably just about to drive right in front of the vehicle by the end of the look right. Maybe surprising for you, terrifying for me.

The first thing you should know about stop signs, stick with me here, is that you should stop. Now I’m not unreasonable. I’m not a driving examiner. I recognize the effort required in bringing a vehicle to a full and complete stop. If you want to do a ‘rolling stop’, that’s OK by me. But let’s agree on something: a rolling stop only qualifies as a stop if the speedometer drops below 10 km/h. At 10 km/h, you cover about 9 feet in one second. 9 feet is a fair bit, but I can easily swerve around 9 feet of car. Obviously the closest you can bring your vehicle to a stop, the safer we all are. I’d be happier with 5 km/h, but I’m a realist too.

So you’ve brought the vehicle to a ‘stop’. Look left. No, no, not there. Look LEFT. Look to see if something is going to smash into you immediately. After looking up the road a fair bit, looking for motion, now look right. That direction deserves a good look too, but for some reason drivers seem to see oncoming vehicles better when they look right. I don’t quite get it. After you’re done looking right, look left AGAIN. Yes, again. If both directions are clear, proceed through the intersection. Promptly please, but not racing through. After all, I’m probably bearing down at you at the rate of 30 feet every second.

Now, I have to say that this conversation applies to all vehicles, not just cars and trucks. Bikes, I’m talking to you too.

OK, I feel better. To the 4 people who weren’t aware of the proper operation of stop signs today, I hope I don’t encounter you tomorrow.

Next up, how to deal with traffic circles … and the dozen or so of them that I deal with every day.