Wiggle Riders to Show Folly of Stop Sign Law By Complying With It

Demonstrators plan to muck up the flow of traffic on the Wiggle by daring to follow the letter of the stop sign law on bikes. Photo: Aaron Bialick

What if everyone on a bike followed the letter of the law and made a complete stop at every stop sign, as if they were driving a car?

“It would have disastrous effects to traffic patterns,” say the organizers of a “Wiggle Stop-In” demonstration planned for Wednesday evening. “That’s what we intend to show.”

Organizers at the Wigg Party hope to demonstrate the absurdity of the state stop sign law, which fails to account for the way people negotiate stop signs on bikes. It’s a response to plans by SFPD’s new Park Station captain to institute a crackdown on bike behavior (particularly at stop signs), diverting enforcement resources from violations that actually hurt people.

The group “want[s] to gather 50-100 cyclists to ride around the Wiggle/Lower Haight and stop at every stop sign in single file order,” the Wigg Party wrote on its Facebook event page. “We want to make the point that, in fact, requiring cyclists to come to full stops at every stop sign is a really terrible idea for everyone on the road.”

On the average day on the Wiggle, people walking, biking, and driving move mostly without incident. Reports of injuries involving bicycles are rare. The vast majority of bike commuters practice typical common-sense behavior at stop signs: slowing down, looking, and being prepared to yield to others with the right-of-way.

When bicycle riders who clearly have the right-of-way avoid unnecessary stops that kill their momentum, drivers and pedestrians can get moving faster, too.

The practice, which officers in Park District follow too, was legitimized by Idaho more than 30 years ago.

But Captain John Sanford, fixated on compliance with unrealistic expectations, wants riders to follow the letter of the stop sign law even if they’re clearly not violating anyone’s right-of-way. Sanford has justified his decision by misconstruing the statistics behind the SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign to target the most dangerous driver violations, transposing it to people on bikes.

Sanford, who joined Park Station in April, is poised to repeat the mistakes of former Park Station Captain Greg Corrales, who attemped a Wiggle bike crackdown in 2013. Both captains have said their efforts are a response to complaints, not data.

The Wigg Party’s Morgan Fitzgibbons told Streetsblog at the time:

Everybody wants to eliminate the about five percent of cyclists who violate other people’s right-of-way. Nobody wants to defend those people, but trying to put a constant police presence on the Wiggle to make people follow a law that really doesn’t make any sense is not the right way to go about it.

It will never solve the problem — it’s patently absurd.

The “stop-in” is scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., and will be centered at Waller and Steiner Streets.

  • Let the discussion war, begin! Personally, the law is the law, you have to come to a complete stop, regardless if you a car, truck, motorcycle or bicycle. If you think blowing a stop sign or red light is perfectly fine, the police will eventually catch you in the act and you can fork over the money to the state.

    The only way to change the traffic laws is to get your state legislature to change them. Doing some protest against the SFPD’s Park station captain won’t do much.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    “Negotiating stop signs?” Is that like “negotiating” with a bank teller to hand over some money?

    Once a scofflaw, always a scofflaw.

    (Of course, this nothing like when courteous, upstanding, safety-minded motorists go 50 in a 30 zone and then negotiate their way out of a ticket.)

  • David Marcus

    Expecting bikes to stop at every stop sign is patently absurd, but is this really where we want to focus our advocacy energy? “The SFPD should focus on dangerous driving” sounds like a winning argument. “We have a right to roll through stop signs” is a tough sell, especially to our fellow voters who don’t bike but are often supportive of safe streets initiatives.

  • What the law is is to be defined by the Legislative branch. The Judicial branch interprets those laws. The Executive branch also interprets those laws, prioritizes enforcement efforts (time, place, infractions of importance) and enforces those.

    While I agree that the “well, the Idaho stop blah blah blah” is carted out like a spambot gone wild in most cycling-related commentary, you don’t have to be obtuse about how law enforcement departments and officers can choose when, where, and what to enforce.

    Bay to Breakers: we could have a World-Series Riots scale escalation, calling in for buses of forces from the neighboring areas to help root out all alcohol and public urination, but we don’t…instead we have far fewer officers ignoring most of the ‘people behaving badly’, performing infraction triage in having many dump out their alcohol with no other penalty while looking for more dangerous behavior.

  • “Critical Manners” rides again!

    I never was able to get myself to one of the Critical Manners rides…can anyone who participated or witnessed that report on how that went?

  • als

    I think one of the best ways to demonstrate that the law needs to be changed is to show through an “action” how the law does not work – by following the law to the letter of the law.

  • What is the purpose of the law? Most vehicle codes purport to be about safety, not enforcement, but how does a full stop rather than intelligent yield by bicyclists at stop signs contribute to safety? There is no evidence that I am aware of that enforcement of this code on bicyclists increases safety. If the law is the law, then every motor vehicle driver on the road is in almost continual violation of one to many vehicle codes, and should be continuously cited. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • the_greasybear

    The fact we cannot say definitively that ticketing cyclists for not making full and complete stops necessarily decreases injuries or otherwise reduces collisions gets to the very heart of the issue: Sanford’s impending crackdown is not data-driven.

    No, focusing scarce resources away from the most objectively harmful behavior by the most objectively dangerous road users, –motorists–and onto bicyclists is driven by something else, something more political and susceptible to SFPD’s traditional and ongoing anti-bicyclist bias.

    And all the while, this crackdown will better enable motorists near and far to continue, without consequences, to commit the five traffic violations that the data clearly shows us are causing the greatest harm to the most road users.

    Bias, bias, bias.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    Following traffic laws must violate CEQA, right? That’s why motorists never follow laws?

    Time to sue! I’m sure our friend Bob Gunderson is drafting a complaint as we speak.

  • Dave Slavik

    Why is it absurd? I do it on the bicycle every day, and routinely pass the people that swarm around me and blow the light/sign. It isn’t really that hard, or that much effort to get back up to speed, and hell, I’m in my 40s.

  • murphstahoe

    Your analogy is meh. Let’s discuss Red Light Cameras. The law is the law, unless it’s enforced by a robot against drivers, in which case it’s a repressive revenue grab.

  • murphstahoe

    Let me dig through my kids 4th of July drawer and get you a medal.

  • murphstahoe

    This is street theatre. I think it’s very telling that in the 100’s of comments on the SFist thread, none are discussing Morgan’s actual event, just going back to add another 200 or so comments on Sanford’s position.

    I’m not even sure if this is really even related to the actual problem – I mean it’s an interesting hack, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the crackdown.

  • Dave Slavik

    I make them out of flattened beer cans, I’m good. Also why I’m chubby.

  • Dave Slavik

    Seriously though, what is the big problem with it? I live out in BV/HP and not stopping and checking at lights and signs is pretty much suicide. (Hell sometimes even stopping and checking is sketchy, just yesterday I stopped and checked and some tool in a big white SUV came tearing down Lane street at 30 over the limit, blew the sign, almost took me out, and even looked out the window and mouthed “boo” at me as he slid around the corner onto Oakdale)

  • baklazhan

    Sure, but intersections are not identical. Stop signs are a blunt instrument for dealing with a variety of situations. Sometimes it’s poor sightlines. Sometimes they’re put in on one street to allow drivers on the intersecting street to proceed at full speed without having to worry about cross traffic. Sometimes it’s just as a speed control measure.

    What if you didn’t have a stop sign when the tool barreled through? Sometimes it’s not safe to roll through, even though you have no stop sign. And sometimes it’s perfectly safe to roll on through, even though you do.

  • baklazhan

    If the question is serious: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=define+negotiate

    Meaning 2: “find a way over or through an obstacle”.

  • Dave Slavik

    Intersections without stops freak me out. Whether I’m on a bicycle, motorcycle, or in a car. I get extra cautious, because I know in my neighborhood the rules kind of go out the window, and I’m the crumple zone if anything happens on two wheels.
    Even with stop signs there is something (can’t quite recall the proper term) of ‘unrevealed threats’ that car that just careened around the corner and is coming down the block at 50mph. Something you can’t see because that panel truck is parked right at the corner. Those kind of things give me pause and I hold off a second. In my last case I heard the squealing tires and just hit the brakes in time. There are a few cross streets in my area why I may have a stop, but cross traffic doesn’t, and I hate those, because there is always a large vehicle right on the corner, so I am playing the “edge out and try to look” game.

  • vcs

    As someone who lives near the Wiggle, I have to say the bike-pedestrian interaction has been extremely improved in the last year or so. I haven’t been buzzed or barreled-down on or sworn at for being in the crosswalk in quite a while. Maybe SFPD deserves credit, maybe not. But things are better now.

    Anyway, nobody cares if bicyclists stop. Just try to pretend to stop if there’s someone in front of you, or say a cop car sitting there. (Of course, that would require paying attention enough to notice essential things like cop cars.)

  • How hard is to understand here people. The laws were carefully applied exactly the same to these vehicles for safety or whatever.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Holy cow! A nuanced opinion in a comment thread? A+

  • murphstahoe

    Well there you go. You stop because it’s dangerous not to do so. That is not the typical case on the wiggle. But if there is a car coming through the intersection, it is. And that’s exactly what you observe there.

  • murphstahoe

    Intersections without stops freak me out. Whether I’m on a bicycle, motorcycle, or in a car. I get extra cautious

    You’ve just made the case for intersections without stop signs!

  • vcs

    When I was a kid, my neighborhood had a lot of “uncontrolled intersections”. Let’s just say it wasn’t very bike- or ped-friendly.

  • eugene

    does anyone know if the Park Station updated its “focus on the five” intersection list? Besides focusing on the top violations, I thought one of the efforts was to focus on the top intersections as well.

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/03/11/sfpd-park-stations-most-dangerous-intersections-not-on-the-wiggle/

  • Transpo_nerdette

    So you would be fine with being ticketed for entering a crosswalk at a light just after the countdown starts? And if your local PD station decided to crack down on “jaywalking” because some pearl-clutchers complained? The blitz would of course include scofflaw pedestrians who complete crossing well before the countdown ends, but have the audacity to use their own judgement as to whether they can safely begin crossing after the countdown starts. But since they weren’t following the letter of the law, they would have no right to be upset or criticize the enforcement action – just “fork over the money” and, um, write a letter to their state representative?

  • I recall that intersection focus being mentioned, but not entirely sure it was FotF. But then here’s a mention of it at Taraval Station: http://www.taraval.org/?p=610

  • Prinzrob

    I come to a complete stop at all stop signs and signals too, but mostly because I work on bike advocacy and planning efforts and by following the intended design experience I have a full appreciation of how it is broken and what needs to be fixed.

    Looking and yielding to other road users with the right of way is what we should be focused on achieving, not just obedience of signs and signals. Stop signs exist because they help drivers to better see and yield to other road users, but it is the looking/yielding that is important not the stopping.

    If a bicyclist wants to treat a stop sign the same way as an uncontrolled crosswalk or traffic circle (slow, look, and yield if necessary) I have no problem with that, and in fact more yields on our streets as opposed to stops would help train people to slow down and start paying more attention in general.

  • murphstahoe

    Mine had all uncontrolled intersections and every kid walked and biked everywhere. I walked to school starting in kindergarten – unsupervised.

    Now there are stop signs and the kids don’t walk. More a function of parents eschewing the bus to drive their kids from outlying areas, making the walk catchment kids less safe.

  • Prinzrob

    The argument is about which enforcement priorities will have the largest positive impact on safety, not about whether bicyclists should be allowed to ignore traffic laws.

    If you think that blanket ticketing stings of bicyclists will have a significant impact on reducing traffic injuries and fatalities in San Francisco then that’s a legitimate position, although not one backed up by the crash statistics.

  • dat

    You’re right! We also need the SFPD to start handing out tickets to all motorists who go 1 mph past the posted limit because IT’S THE LAW!!!

  • dat
  • dat

    Oh man. A wiggle thread just is not the same without that one dude who used to describe crossing the street on the wiggle like it was a scene from Mad Max at every intersection.

  • SFer

    I walk through this area daily and find it rare to see a car make a full stop at a stop sign unless there are vehicles or pedestrians in the intersection (California Stop).

    I have never had an issue with bikes in the wiggle when walking. Most people stop or yield when I’m in the crosswalk. How many complaints has Park Station received? It’s likely fewer than the backlash to their planned enforcement

  • Morgan, et. al. now is the time to start demanding that SFPD monitor and enforce the 3 foot passing law while this is going on.

  • Dave Moore

    Theory:
    – Pedestrians are less at risk than they perceive because cyclists are more nimble than drivers and able to avoid collisions even though they have many close calls.

    This might explain why there are many complaints but low crash statistics, and why both pedestrians and cyclists feel they are in the right. From the cyclist’s point of view they went through a crosswalk and navigated successfully around pedestrians and never felt at risk. From the pedestrian’s point of view they just missed being run over by a cyclist and felt unsafe. I know when I’m on my scooter I’m pretty attuned to everything around me. I can only assume a cyclist feels the same way. The interaction could feel like it’s moving slowly and there was never any danger of impact. But the pedestrian was walking along at a slower pace and to them it feels like they were just buzzed by a speeding bike.

  • djconnel

    Try riding in Vietnam. It’s alarming at first but you get used to it and the population seems to survive well enough. It all comes down to courtesy and predictability.

  • When I busted up my shoulder (FOOSH!) and was walking to work for a couple months through North Slope, I was certainly very wary of cars seeing me, respecting my ROW, etc. But the cyclists blowing through stop signs in the gap between me starting to cross and the car stopped waiting for me really set my teeth on edge. Talk about being a vulnerable road user.

  • Dave Moore

    Maybe it’s also something about predictability. Cars are somewhat restricted in what they do wrong. Every so often one does something crazy but mostly they predictably run through the start of a red light, or coast through stop signs. That’s awful of course but you get used to it. But the things that bikes can do because of their nimbleness can really surprise you. Suddenly there’s a guy going the wrong way down a street, or hopping on a sidewalk or coming to a full stop at a red and then just plowing through a pedestrian swarm. This seems to happen way more often with bikes than cars. So you get more worried about them than the admittedly more dangerous cars.

  • Prinzrob

    Our infrastructure (for good reason) also puts people on foot in conflict more with people on bikes than those in cars, as bike riders are typically toward the far right side of the road, in the space pedestrians enter as they step into the street. This is of course safer than having pedestrians step immediately into the car space, but it does give bike riders much less opportunity to react which might account for some of those “close calls” we hear about.

    Curbside cycletracks or parking-protected bikeways help to improve this situation by increasing the visibility between the sidewalk and the bike space, as opposed to now when rows of parked cars often impede sight lines. Open streets events, multi-use paths, and even bike lanes that do double duty as areas where pedestrians access their drivers side car doors, all prove that people on bikes and on foot can mingle just fine with few to no conflicts, so my sense is that most concerns are overstated.

    From my perspective it also seems that pedestrians have been trained to fear cars but not bikes, which I think is also appropriate but can lead to more bike/ped conflicts. Some people are not wary about stepping into the street when a person on a bike is approaching, whereas I’ve seen many pedestrians cede their right of way to an approaching car driver, out of a substantiated fear that the driver won’t yield.

  • @roymeo – I think a good many of us are well aware about the fact of exercise of discretion. The problem at hand is that these don’t follow policy (Focus On The Five) nor the data. It is essentially an exercise in targeting The Other.

    As for the “carting out” of the Idaho Law, that’s actually not a constant. We’ve put up with these anecdote-driven bicyclist-only stings for years, we have the same complaints, nothing changes. So now the Wigg Party is coming up with something new to do to protest them, and have a germane demand to go with that.

  • @vcs – This is actually pretty close to the origin of the true problem here. Controlled or uncontrolled, motorists are supposed to act the same way, observe the right-of-way the same way, and it’s supposed to be safe for bikes and peds. But motorists fail to do that, so we get STOP signs and just about every single intersection in hopes that they’ll at least slow down a bit.

  • @roymeo – Stealing another ride’s name for the purpose of disparaging that ride is not mannerly at all.

  • @Dave Moore – I believe that the mindset is that cars belong in the streets, they’re expected in the streets, I’ll just stay here on the sidewalk even if it’s my right-of-way, that’s just being savvy. Whereas what are bikes doing here? How could I possibly be expected to anticipate that?

  • Dave Moore

    Maybe, but I invite you to take a look at 4th and Folsom some morning. There’s an all way ped scrum cycle in the lights. Cars stop (although of course many run the beginning of the red). Bikes stop while the cross traffic has a green. Then when it goes all ped walk about half the bikes plow through the swarm of walkers. I can see how they might see it as cyclist anarchy and complain even if the behavior was less dangerous than that of the cars.

    Note: one time a motorcycle next to me came to a stop and when it went all walk he too plowed through the peds. I caught up to him at the next light and he told me gleefully “the cars can’t go!”.

  • Whoa, stealing? I was noting the historical precident and asking how those rides went. Before I went to today’s ride, which I’m returning from now.

  • Hata H. Zappah

    I want to know how the protest went. Because I haven’t heard anything one way or the other, so that leads me to believe that their protest did not go as planned, and no one was bothered by them…wait for it…following the law. . Of course, if we do hear from the Wigg Party, they will most likely color this in the same vein as their strong-arm, er, “open letter” to the SFPD. If ever you needed a visual to go along with the phrase “that went over like a lead balloon”…

  • Hata H. Zappah

    Not every intersection. Just the busiest. And usually not at inconvenient times. I imagine you knew that, but the itch to snark was too great.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What is the accident rate in Vietnam vs. the United States? Or better yet, vs. The Netherlands, where people actually know how to drive.

  • artificialintel

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