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Stop Signs

May 26, 2010

If you’re a rider of public transit, you’re also a pedestrian, at least for the 10 yards from the stop to the parking lot. You’re probably a driver on occasion as well (I ride a scooter). You probably come into contact with intersections marked with stop signs signaling one or all directions of traffic. Some stop signs are created specifically for pedestrian crossings when there are no light signals. In fact, pedestrians, ANY crosswalk striped into the asphalt, even at intersections or crossings where there are no signals or signs, is for the right of way and safety of the traveler on foot. Too bad most drivers (not even bus operators in many instances!) are aware that this is a friggin’ fact of law. Sometimes, I swear, I want to wear a sandwich board sign that says this, and then go play in crosswalks.

What got me started on this train of thought? Slate’s article about the design of the stop sign. (And that I almost ate street at a stop sign yesterday, my first time riding on open roads after I ate street and a Nissan at a stop sign last year.)

  • Writer Tom Vanderbilt covers a bit of stop sign history,

    Indeed, historian Clay McShane writes that in 1914, “Detroit police sergeant Harry Jackson cut the corners off a square sign to create an easily recognized octagonal shape for first red stop sign[…] By 1927, a rough standardization of the sign was set in place[…] An octagonal shape, with red letters on a yellow background. It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that the current design—white letters on a red background—was settled upon[…]

  • A bit of traffic engineering and study in the ensuing years,

    For nearly a century, it seems, drivers have been ignoring stop signs. In a 1934 study[…] examined driver behavior at an intersection with a stop sign with approaching cross traffic. A majority (75.5 percent) of drivers came to a full stop—no surprise given the imminent danger. […]A 1968 study in Berkeley, Calif., published in Law & Society Review, found that just 14 percent of drivers brought their cars to a full stop “without being forced to do so by cross traffic” (the so-called “California roll” was the norm).

    (I did that all the time when I was driving, except I called it the “Hollywood roll” because I thought it had something to do with privileged movie stars.)

    In his culminating 1997 masterwork, “Stop Sign Compliance: A Final Look,” Trinkaus revisits his old intersection and finds that the percentage of people making a full stop had dropped from 37 percent in 1979 to a mere 3 percent.

  • And some solutions, from those currently used, such as roundabouts, to utterly sweet and idealistic:

    Lauder proposed a hybrid “stop-yield” sign, simply labeled “Take Turns,” paired with the instruction: “If cars are waiting please stop and alternate.”

    I’ll be greatly interested in any advances in maneuvering intersections, on foot or on wheels.

    And now, a video!

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