Stop Sign Audit Proposal

 This proposal was submitted by : Andrew Stershic University of Maryland, Class of 2011 Civil Engineering & Economics to bikeUMD.

 BikeUMD -A Fair Solution for Campus Cyclists

The University of Maryland recently a bronze award for being bicycle-friendly. In order to improve this rating, the University needs to focus not on where to cycle and park, but how to bike; currently, it’s easier to drive on campus than it is to cycle –this should change. As an advocate of cycling and cycling safety at the University of Maryland and in the search for the “complete street,” BikeUMD should implore University of Maryland Department of Public Safety to conduct an audit of all traffic control devices and signalization on campus (e.g. stop signs, yield signs, crosswalks, etc.). I believe –and trust that a professional study would show –that the current configuration of traffic control devices at the University of Maryland is not optimal. Particular to the University of Maryland, compared to most other locations in the state is the particularly high volume of pedestrians crossing the street and the particularly high volume of bicyclists on the street.

The great volume of bicyclists on the street merits special consideration for traffic signalization on campus. This issue arises because bicyclists are required to use the street ­-rather than the sidewalk –and follow all of the same traffic laws; on the other hand, bicycles and automobiles are drastically different mechanically. For example, a stop sign on moderately-sloped uphill is simple to manueover for an automobile: simply press the brake, stop, and press the gas. For cyclists, however, this involves braking to a stop, stopping, and struggling to start up a hill. The difference here, most piquant on hills, is that the action of stopping for a stop sign on a bicycle requires the loss of man-made momentum, and the action of restarting and achieving the previous speed requires a great deal of physical effort. When planners place stop signs, usually this cost to bicyclists is ignored, as they are a small proportion of the traffic; at the University of Maryland, however, cyclists are a tangible proportion; thus, this direct physical cost to cyclists should be considered.

Several stop signs in particular strike me as poorly-placed considering the high amount of bicycle traffic on campus: the stop sign on west-bound Campus Drive near Hornbake Plaza, the two pairs of stop-signs on Chapel Drive in front of the administration building, and the stop sign on Paint Branch Drive on the north side of Comcast Center. These stop signs involve no limited sight distance of cross-streets or the street itself; thus, there is no reason to warrant it based on vehicular traffic. Further, for the pedestrian traffic, the crosswalks nearby are marked and thereby already protected by law. The traffic conditions at these stop signs seem to encourage cyclists to disobey the law.

The Campus Drive stop sign, for example, forces an incredible slow restart time, and since that street is heavily trafficked, it is both incredibly intimidating and unsafe to be tailgated by a bus or truck; to avoid this, cyclists frequently ignore the stop sign, as not to lose speed for their own safety, or alternatively ride on the sidewalk where they can take the hill at their own pace. Both of these solutions are illegal, yet the placement of the stop sign there encourages no better alternative. Further, these is no cross-street at this location, only a crosswalk which, again, is already counts as a stop sign by law, when a pedestrian is present. Further, a consistency justification that having stop signs at all crosswalks is also false as the nearest crosswalks both preceding and following this stop sign (of similar pedestrian traffic) have no signage. Perhaps, it would be more consistent to, as in the other locales, have the crosswalk speak for itself.

The Chapel Drive and Paint Branch Drive signs similarly “protect” crosswalks (again, already protected) and are placed at intersections with parking lot exits which has incredibly clear sight. When cyclists approach these intersection and see no cars on the cross-streets and no pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross, they frequently make the natural, though illegal decision to not stop.

These stop signs and many more on campus work passably well for autos, but are blatantly unfair to the large proportion of cycles on campus.

For safety reasons, my best suggestion is to enforce the current laws for automobiles. Stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks and stop signs, for example. While walking, I’ve had to pause ¾ of the way across Campus Drive at the crosswalk by the Math Building to wait for a car that would not stop. Also, while waiting for a bus at the corner of Paint Branch Drive and Regents Drive, my friends and I observed that only a little less than half of the autos made a complete stop at the stop sign. Several made no attempt to stop at all. This is an obvious and perhaps the greatest safety issue for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

I also recognize the danger of cyclists riding on sidewalks, both for the cycle-pedestrian collision possibility, and because the of higher speed at which cyclists cross the road, which can result in auto-cycle collisions. The solution is to make the roads more bicycle-friendly, the first step of which, is fair signalization for cyclists.

It is to be noted some stop signs, such as those in Lot 1, where the last notable cycle-auto collision occurred, would likely be affirmed by such an audit because the high frequency of parked cars near such intersections results in an often-limited sight distance to the crossing lanes.

The University agency responsible for traffic signalization on campus is the Department of Public Safety, which has no professional traffic engineer on staff. (Though interestingly, they change many of the campus stop signs to yield signs on game days, when there are abnormally high volumes of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic… –could this policy be extended?.)

As a solution –rather than propose something wide-reaching as changing all stop signs to yield signs for cyclists or banning all autos, doubling the amount of bicycle lanes, or the like -­I propose simply an audit of all campus traffic control devices with particular consideration of the special needs of bicycles: an analysis of how well the traffic control devices work for ALL users, even those on two wheels. This study, cheaper than installations of miles of bikes lanes and quicker than state-level legislation, could bring UMD closer to the “complete street” that BikeUMD strives for. As an advocate group for cyclists and cyclists safety on campus, BikeUMD should fully support this solution.

Andrew Stershic University of Maryland, Class of 2011 Civil Engineering & Economics

This entry was posted in bike routes, infrastructure and projects, research and suveys. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Stop Sign Audit Proposal

  1. Neil says:

    I agree with the main point: stop signs used for traffic calming are twice as frustrating to cyclists as they are to drivers.

    The stop sign along Stadium Drive west of the construction site is comparable to the rest of the list. Uphill in the evening when there aren’t students around, it’s pretty tough to stop there. (I would really like a climbing bike lane on Stadium Drive… in the evening, some commuters like to take more risks across the double yellow line.) The stop sign just east of the stadium is similar, and could do without the uphill stop by whatever logic provides for a two- of three-way stop here (google maps link). (I’d rather northbound drivers at that intersection have to stop.)

    Thanks for raising the issue.

  2. Andy says:

    I don’t bike on North Campus that often to have noticed, but I agree with you now that I think of it. Thanks for the ideas Neil.

    And a bike climbing lane….. sounds good. Hopefully BikeUMD will pass these ideas on and advocate them, since this issue is probably much more important to cyclists than more parking.

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