The battle of the yield

traffic circle with yield signA guy on a bike stopping at a yield sign. (Photo © Elly Blue)


My column last week at Grist was about the discourse around bikes at stop signs, and how the way we talk about bikes is different, in this case, than what actually happens on the road.

The response has been interesting, and it keeps coming. This morning I got an email from an Arizona state representative who has been working to pass an Idaho stop law in Arizona. The bill, called the Arizona Bikes Safe Yield Act, failed in 2010, but Rep. Patterson plans to try again in 2012.

He writes, “Ironically, one of the weak spots of support is cyclists who embrace the ‘we must follow all same laws as cars’ position, as you mention in Portland.”

How we handle controlled intersections on our bikes is a perennial hot topic, but I don’t think it will stay contentious much longer. Bike riding occupies a grey area in the law and in infrastructure as well as in what people expect when they head out on the roads every day. As more of us know what it’s like to bike, those expectations will change — including the ones we have for ourselves — and, I predict, the rest will follow.

When you’re on a bike you aren’t walking or driving — the laws and norms of which are both fairly clear. As with any emerging movement, we’re creating our third way as we go, hammering it out one traffic interaction and one legislative session at a time. A decade from now it’ll probably all be reasonably codified in social expectations and in the law books, but til then every space is a contested one when you’re on a bike.

What we’re seeing now is culture changing in front of us. It’s contentious, but exciting.

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3 Responses to “The battle of the yield”

  1. Wayne Myer November 1, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Bike riding occupies a grey area in the law and in infrastructure as well as in what people expect when they head out on the roads every day.

    Just because you say it doesn’t make it so. The law is actually rather unequivocal, but some choose to go a la carte with their compliance. Are the laws right or good? Not necessarily one way or the other, but it’s a decent framework for expectations. Does it need to be changed? Definitely.

  2. Elly November 1, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Glad we can agree that changes are needed! But there are plenty of honest to goodness grey areas, depending on the state. How do you prepare to turn left? Do you pass cars on the left or the right? What about other people on bikes? What do you do when your bike doesn’t trigger a traffic light? How do you cross in a crosswalk by bike? Then there are more grey areas when law enforcement comes into the picture. For instance, most police have a policy of not doing traffic stops for speeding cars within 9 mph of the speed limit; and it’s rare to see a ticket written for an almost-stop in a car. Meanwhile, bikes must be going the speed of traffic in order to take the lane, but what that speed is depends on other road users’ perception and expectations. Standards for enforcing bike traffic are anything but clear or consistent.

  3. browse November 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Wayne, you said, “some choose to go a la carte with their compliance”. I’d say this is true of most American’s relationship with traffic laws, regardless of what vehicle people use. People who are walking frequently cross at an intersection against the signal, or in the middle of a block. People driving cars regularly exceed the speed limit, fail to yield to people walking, rolling stops at stop signs, fail to signal lane changes, and blow through yellow lights to beat the stop light. People riding bikes often roll through stop signs and occasionally through stop lights.

    In some cases, I think people are taking a more common-sense approach to doing “the right thing” rather than following the letter of the law. And in some cases, I think people are being completely irresponsible and boneheaded in their actions.

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