In March, I shared a presentation I gave to the Metroplan Orlando BPAC highlighting the misuse and overuse of stop signs on our MUP (multi-use path) system. After that, I was asked to present to the Management & Operations subcommittee. The presentation was very well received and it was agreed that the issue should be addressed. A Trail Traffic Control Working Group was set up. We began meeting in September and will meet monthly on the 3rd Thursday. Below is an overview of the process, challenges and possibilities and what you can do to help.
The purpose of traffic controls is to clearly communicate right of way in the interest of safety. Thus, the installation of any control device such as a yield sign, stop sign or traffic signal is supposed to be based on warrants — criteria to determine if it is appropriate and which approaches should be regulated. This is what the MUTCD says about assigning right of way:
Section 2B.04 Right-of-Way at Intersections
01 State or local laws written in accordance with the “Uniform Vehicle Code” (see Section 1A.11) establish the right-of-way rule at intersections having no regulatory traffic control signs such that the driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle or pedestrian already in the intersection. When two vehicles approach an intersection from different streets or highways at approximately the same time, the right-of-way rule requires the driver of the vehicle on the left to yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. The right-of-way can be modified at through streets or highways by placing YIELD (R1-2) signs (see Sections 2B.08 and 2B.09) or STOP (R1-1) signs (see Sections 2B.05 through 2B.07) on one or more approaches.
02 Engineering judgment should be used to establish intersection control. The following factors should be considered:
A. Vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic volumes on all approaches;
B. Number and angle of approaches;
C. Approach speeds;
D. Sight distance available on each approach; and
E. Reported crash experience.
03 YIELD or STOP signs should be used at an intersection if one or more of the following conditions exist:
A. An intersection of a less important road with a main road where application of the normal right-of-way rule would not be expected to provide reasonable compliance with the law;
B. A street entering a designated through highway or street; and/or
C. An unsignalized intersection in a signalized area.
04 In addition, the use of YIELD or STOP signs should be considered at the intersection of two minor streets or local roads where the intersection has more than three approaches and where one or more of the following conditions exist:
A. The combined vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian volume entering the intersection from all approaches averages more than 2,000 units per day;
B. The ability to see conflicting traffic on an approach is not sufficient to allow a road user to stop or yield in compliance with the normal right-of-way rule if such stopping or yielding is necessary; and/or
C. Crash records indicate that five or more crashes that involve the failure to yield the right-of-way at the intersection under the normal right-of-way rule have been reported within a 3-year period, or that three or more such crashes have been reported within a 2-year period.
05 YIELD or STOP signs should not be used for speed control.
Most of the stop signs in question do not meet the criteria to justify them. The examples in my presentation include:
- Stop signs at streets with less traffic than the trail.
- Stop signs at private driveways. The path is a public right of way. It has priority over a private driveway.
- Stop signs on sidepaths where the intersecting street traffic is required to stop or yield before entering the adjacent roadway. That traffic is required by statute to yield to traffic on a sidewalk or sidepath.
- Stop signs where sight lines are sufficient for yield signs.
- “Walk bike” regulatory placards which are not supported by any statute, thus not legal.
In a perfect world, one could look at all of the above intersections where the stop signs are clearly unwarranted and simply yank ’em out. But this isn’t a perfect world. This is a world governed by layers of bureaucracy, frozen by fear of litigation and public backlash. Like it or not, that’s the system we’re working with.
Risk Management Pucker Factor: Despite the fact that failing to use established guidance should be what opens you to liability, the fear is that changing something — even something that is wrong — will create a liability problem. If we remove a stop sign and someone gets hit, the personal injury attorneys are going to hone in on the deepest pockets they can find. So, we need more justification for a decision to remove unwarranted stop signs than the guidance that should have prevented their installation in the first place.
One method is to support the cause with crash data. But there are some challenges with this: 1) crash data makes up a tiny fraction of overall conflict experience; 2) the tell-tale crash data will not be at the intersections with the unwarranted stop signs, it will be at downstream intersections where stopping path traffic is more likely warranted. The main safety issue is that unwarranted signs habituate people to ignoring signs. Mighk has complied crash data for the prioritized paths. There is evidence of the correlation we expected — high crash counts at Cady Way Trail and Baldwin Park Street follow a section of path where there are 6 stop signs at minor intersection in 1,500 ft. There is a similar pattern on the West Orange Trail.
Another safety issue that is impossible to count with crash data is created by a pattern of compensatory behavior. In many places, motorists who are accustomed to bicyclists running the stop signs are stopping and waving bicyclists through all-way controlled path intersections. The bicyclists who use those intersections regularly become accustomed to this. This habituates regular users to operate based on assumptions rather than in response to clear guidance. It’s all in good fun until one motorist doesn’t get the memo on this unwritten protocol.
Public Input & Potential Backlash: Another problem we have is the widespread and not-unwarranted perception that bicyclists ignore stop signs. Removing unwarranted stop signs is likely to be viewed by the non-cycling public as rewarding scofflaws. It’s pretty much impossible to make the nuanced point that overuse of stop signs where they are not appropriate increases the propensity to ignore them. Even typically law abiding bicyclists are not going to stop every 500 ft at a bunch of dirt driveways.
Behavior counts. It’s hard to have a conversation on behalf of bicyclists with people who have routinely been run off the path or had the crap scared out of them by reckless bicyclists. These are the people who will show up at a public meeting to oppose removal of stop signs. So, aside from being polite on the path (as I suspect most of our readers are), we need to be willing to show up if this does come to a public input process. We will post alerts to let you know when and where.
Another way you can move this process along is to add your public input now. Are there intersections where you have had problems: had close calls, witnessed close calls, where you experience confusion (deadlock of “you go” “no, you go”)? If you’ve ever had a crash that was not reported (most minor ones are not) as a result of a confusing intersection, please tell us about that too. Write to Mighk Wilson (MWilson@metroplanorlando.com). You can also tell us about it in the comments.
While the process for removing unwarranted signs will probably not be a short one, it is possible. All the engineers, planners and trail managers on the workgroup are interested in making it happen.
Another thing to come of this endeavor will be a set of metro-wide standards for all future MUP projects. With the focus on Close the Gaps and the political support for our path network, we have an opportunity to prioritize trail traffic. For example, in The Netherlands, “chance of stop” is a design criterion. On an arterial path, the maximum number of stops per kilometer is specified as .5 (that’s one per 2 kilometers).* Cady Way would be an example of an arterial path. Right now, between Beach Street and Lake Baldwin Lane there are 7 stop signs in one kilometer.
Bicyclists are intimately aware of energy loss from frequent stops. If we want to promote bicycling as an alternative, we need to promote equitable standards for stop controls. Giving right of way priority to every other street and driveway, no matter how minor, punishes bicyclists and eliminates any hope of improving bicyclist compliance.
* Source: Trail Intersection Design p 3-9