Face it: they’re there for a reason. They’re there for bikes too. And stop signs aren’t thrown down on the road haphazardly. Well…maybe in some cases their placement can be a bit confusing. But even if they’re in an odd location the ultimate purpose of a stop sign is to let you know that other road users are expecting you to stop.
Sure, they also help with safety. But primarily they shape people’s expectations of behavior on the road. Does it scare the crap out of me when a car comes careening past the stop line and into the pedestrian zone? Absolutely. Does it drive me batty when a cyclist bombs through a stop sign without looking for traffic crossing their path? Definitely. But in most cases the careening car and the bombing cyclist probably did look both ways and are aware of their surroundings. Even though they may not be endangering their or my safety, it still can be frighting to see someone roll through a stop sign because you can’t read their mind or know exactly what they’re planning on doing.
That’s why I really enjoyed this article from the Washington DC area about a bicycle “social contract”. It’s not about making sure every car and cyclist stops right on the stop line every time, but it is about making sure people know what’s going on around them, being civil, and not driving or cycling like a maniac.
And on top of that, in order to shake the silly “scofflaw cyclist” image, every cyclist needs to be an ambassador for all other cyclists. Again, it’s not about the letter of the law. (How many times do you see a car fully stop behind a stop sign when there isn’t opposing traffic?) But it is about obeying the spirit of traffic laws and being polite to other road users regardless of the mode they choose to use. And that means coming to a reasonable stop at stop signs.