It's a three way street, and it's blowing my mind (helmet tip to the Seattle Bike Blog)
Just as Avatar added a new dimension to cinema, bicyclists are adding a new dimension to street use. Previously, the distinction between cars and pedestrians, roads and sidewalks, crosswalk users and people who have to stop for crosswalk users was pretty well-defined. Even if not perfectly practiced, the rules were generally understood.
Now that all of us cyclists are on the road, though, it's a brave new world. Much like the mythical griffin that is part-eagle, part-lion, we exist in a gray area somewhere in between a car and a pedestrian. We travel in the street, and yet are as vulnerable to collisions with cars as pedestrians. When riding in the street, we generally ride in the right shoulder, but take the car-lane when we need to, and sometimes we even ride on the sidewalk. We stop at stop lights (mostly), but treat stop signs like they're yield signs.
As a society, we're clearly in the middle of a sometimes messy, and sometimes heated process of figuring out what the norms of the road are for our increasingly three-way streets chock full of bicyclists.
Publicola recently linked to an insightful Portland Tribune article arguing that bicyclists should be legally allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs. And, as the 'Cola points out, Idaho already allows this. Mad love for Idaho, but who would have thought they'd be leading the way? It's a brave new world indeed.
Some forward-thinking locales--mostly in Europe, as far as I can tell--are even removing traffic signals--the thinking being that in the absence of traffic signals, road users are forced to pay more attention to each other, and be more considerate.
My take on all of this? I'm not sure if I'm ready to remove all the stop lights just yet. But, after years of cycling, I've developed some opinions on what the norms of bicyclist road-use should be. It's totally cool to treat stop signs as yield signs, but be very careful. And, please, don't run red lights--you just look like a dick if you do that. I generally ride to the right, but I will take a car-traffic lane anytime I even vaguely think I need to for safety. And I never, ever ride on the sidewalk, except when I'm absolutely forced to in instances such as crossing the Fremont Bridge. At stop lights, rather than ride all the way to the front of the line of cars, I'll generally take the car-lane because I'm scared of a right-turning car slamming into me.
And in general, the more separation between cars, bicyclists and pedestrians the better. Mad love for bike lanes, the Burke-Gilman and the soon-to-exist Broadway cycle track, which the city is developing in conjunction with the soon-to-exist Pioneer Square to Broadway streetcar line.
I'm actually ridiculously excited for the cycle-track. Check out the plans for Broadway's new look:
Thanks to Capitol Hill Seattle for the image.