By on June 24, 2010

What do you call it when you roll through a stop sign with only a perfunctory tap on the brakes? Here in Oregon, the name “California stop” seems to have stuck. But it turns out that Oregon’s petty provincial put-down may just be a backhanded compliment. According to Gary Lauder, stop signs suck and should be replaced, if not ignored. And you know what? He’s got a hell of a point. Check out his recent presentation from the TED conference, and contemplate the possibilities of a post-stop sign world.

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49 Comments on “The Case For “California Stops”...”


  • avatar
    carve

    In Australia and New Zealand, the round abouts freaked me out for the first few days…then I loved ‘em. It saves SOOOO much time not having to stop if nobody is there. Counterintuitively, they’re supposed to be safer, too. You’re forced to pay attention at them, rather than blindly following the commands of traffic lights without looking for unattentive drivers.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Another name is the “California Roll”. Having lived in Europe for over seven years I’ve come to appreciate roundabouts (rotarys to us here in The Colonies). They are self-regulating, increase traffic flow and reduce the severity of accidents (fewer head-ons and less dangerous side-swipes). It would take American drivers some time to figure them out — Darwin at work. I’m sure there are more stop signs in the City of Denver than the entire UK.

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      For the record, we have rotaries in California, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

      What I really miss are “Michigan Lefts” – a right turn followed by U-turn, no left turn allowed.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      SVX,

      They’re called Jersey Lefts in the NE corridor. Make sense for signaled highways, but I don’t know if they’d be practical for suburbia.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    In the midwest they’re called “St. Louis” or “Chicago” stops. Nobody ever stops, they just slow and go.

    When I was a much, much younger man driving in STL I made the mistake of coming to a complete stop at a stop sign because there was a cop behind me.

    Apparently he didn’t expect me to stop – as I saw the nosedive in the rearview, followed by the tap. Not a hard hit, but he got out of the car and enquired as to whether or not I was “f’n retarded?”.

    Regardless, glad to see that the worthlessness of stop signs is finally getting some media traction. Here’s a report from the ITE that has some more granular data for those who are interested.

    http://www.ite.org/traffic/documents/aha99b49.pdf

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    Roundabouts are great until you get behind someone that doesn’t know how to use them. They have been putting roundabouts in where I live, but I have yet to see anything in the papers or local mailings that provides any kind of instructions on use. I can’t count how many times I have almost rear-ended some blue hairs because they stop while in the roundabout. They are great on Saturday/Sunday mornings…..suck during rush hour Friday evenings.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      That’s the beauty of humans having limited life-spans… eventually those never exposed to, or unable to adapt to, a new situation eventually wash-out with the tide of time…

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Roundabouts and mini-roundabouts are a great concept and have been in use in the UK & Europe for many many years. You cannot drive there without learning to use them. They keep traffic flowing far better than a set of lights at the corner of every block.
      However since moving to Vancouver BC, I’ve noticed that 75% of the drivers here have absolutely no idea how to use them – even though the rules of use are clearly published and that driving around several of them is part of the driving test.
      You get people barreling across them without looking, driving the wrong way around them, stopping on them… I’d love to say that roundabouts are complicated and that drivers are rightly confused but… they aren’t. A majority of drivers here in Vancouver are just brainless and don’t pay enough attention.

  • avatar
    thecavanaughs

    I think the safety arguments are good , and the time factor looks fine, so I don’t really have anything to add there. I was stuck thinking about saved energy, instead. I guess there would be fuel savings, but as I think about it, I am underwhelmed. We would have to blaze through rather than creep through to realize any big time fuel savings, because kinetic energy is a function of the velocity squared rather than velocity- so the slowing down from 10 mph to zero could be represented by some constants multiplied by ten squared (100) and the change from 5mph to zero would be represented by the same constants multiplied by five squared (25). Let’s ignore the effect of air resistance so that we don’t all get headaches. Thus, according to my high school sophomore level understanding of engineering, every time you double the allowable speed through the “Stop or Yield” you multiply the energy savings times four. If you were only allowed to creep through at 5 mph, then you would carry through (and therefore not waste) a very small amount of kinetic energy- a mere sixteenth the amount you would save if you blazed through at 20 mph.

    But… everyday, more and more cars can recapture some (but not all) of the energy loss of coming to a stop by running their motors backwards as generators to decelerate- so the fuel savings would diminish for a given number of cars as a higher percentage of them utilized such technology.

    Maybe the fuel issue is small compared to the time and safety.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      That report I linked addresses the fuel issue.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      In my neighborhood we have 4 way stops on a tertiary road that sees high traffic. To make matters worse the direction of travel that sees the highest traffic is uphill/downhill so the “across” drivers stopping don’t waste much fuel but the downhill/uphill drivers waste considerably more (one wastes energy they payed for going up the hill before they started back down, the other pays extra for going up the hill the first time).

      Changing the signs there would save even Prius drivers a noticeable amount of gas as going up that hill after coming to a complete stop takes even a Prius down to under 5mpg temporarily. Any ability to get a running start (not stopping on a big hill) would save huge amounts of fuel.

      The road I’m thinking of is the main entrance/exit to a subdivision with ~200 homes and something on the order of thousands of cars per day.

      Another issue to consider on uphill/downhill routes is snow/ice.

      What it needs to be in this case is stop signs on the road less traveled and take turn signs on the road with higher traffic load.

      On flat ground or in cases where traffic is high in all 4 directions then all 4 can be take turn signs.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Firestations have lights that operate on the on-demand principle…

      …why not here … such an intersection is a very good place for a traffic light which activates only when the side street has a waiting vehicle (and truly only activates for vehicles turning left onto the primary road – as those turning right could do it on red – a car that had to wait more than was reasonable to turn right would activate the light)…

  • avatar
    Roundel

    Roundabouts have been a part of Mass roads since well… before I was born. And people still don’t know how to use them. If people are too timid, they will never enter and create long queues behind them, others go in guns blazin style. People also NEVER FLIPPIN signal either, so who know where anybody is going.
    Personally I think they are brilliant, but only work if people know how to actually use them. Asking people how to drive properly in America is really a tall order though, so they may never work out.
    @Cavanughs
    What really is the kicker here is volume. I know there are plenty of interestions around like what was presented in a video, the neighbors petition for a sign in a place where its really unneccesary, and all it does is mess up the local traffic pattern. So really less signs, will increase traffic flow. I don’t mind the sign that he created, would make sense to me.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I always wonder what the drivers’ left hands are so busy with that they can’t use the turn signal. In reality, not using a turn signal is but a manifestation of a complete disregard for others.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      Amen, John. I wish TPTB would pay as much attention to enforcing other traffic laws that people seem to ignore (following distance, signals, and headlamps on when it’s raining).

  • avatar
    njdave

    Here in New Jersey,they are removing roundabouts, or traffic circles as we call em. They are most commonly being replaced by – wait for it – Stop Signs!. According to the state studies accidents have been reduced in all intersections where traffic circles have been removed. For what that’s worth.

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    Great if there are no pedestrians. I didn’t watch the video, but the California stop makes it fricking impossible to walk anywhere in California without some douche trying to run you over.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Exactly what I was thinking. Of course, that’s just another symptom of the genral reason roundabouts don’t seem to work well here in the US, a serious lack of attention/ability among those driving.

      I’m actually glad that the City added a stopped intersection near my house. They put it in where a cross street intersects a major road on a curve. Good enough visibility for the typical car drivers, but hell for anybody wanting to cross the street. The only problem is the drivers who blow right through the stop sign because they’re not paying attention. The City could have really made a bundle (and increased safety) by handing out tickets to people who ran the stop sign the first month or two after it was installed.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      In either Farmington Hills, or West Bloomfield, Michigan, there are newly installed (w/in the past 2-3 years) roundabouts, big ones for 2-lanes in, 2-lanes out in each direction … I can’t remember exactly, but at minimum, there was some kind of signage requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and may even have been traffic lights (can’t remember exactly) to block passage over the cross-walk when in use…

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Roundabouts, or “circles” as they used to be called in New Jersey, are a far better intersection management device than stop signs and lights are. Unfortunately, the average distracted and lazy US driver doesn’t seem well equipped to deal with them. New Jersey removed most of them in the 1980s and people cheered. Fools.

    The problem with negotiating a roundabout is that drivers need to actually think about what they are doing and about what the other drivers are doing, and then act appropriately.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    BTW, the single best way to reduce traffic speeds is to narrow the roads. Wide roads result in higher speeds, narrow roads result in lower average speeds.

  • avatar
    caljn

    The good people of NJ are not “fools” for cheering the removal of traffic circles. These were rotaries on high traffic intersections of 4 lane highways we’re talking about. Not a rotary one would find in a suburban neighborhood that takes the place of a stop sign.
    If you ever have driven around one of these infamous NJ traffic cirlces in the 60′s and 70′s, it was truly an “every man for himself”, white knuckle experience.
    Most have been replace with traffic signals.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I grew up in New Jersey and got my first driver’s license there in 1978, so I do know what I’m talking about. And, I do consider a vast number of the drivers on New Jersey’s roads to be fools, or worse.

      I have also driven through massive roundabouts in England, Ireland and France which put the biggest circles of New Jersey to shame. The thing is, most of the drivers in those countries seem to know how to drive and generally pay attention to their driving.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Properly designed roundabouts (i.e. not too big) work well. But at normal intersections, you want to legalize not stopping?

    I’ve just about been punted off my motorcycle twice in the past two days by people who were turning right at a stop sign/signal, but neglected to bother looking for traffic approaching from their left (me) first. If drivers are required to stop, I can tell if they are not paying attention. If nobody is required to stop, I can’t.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    For the short term buying land for rotaries is an expense few municipalities can afford politically or economically, even assuming the rest of the land can be sold at a profit (which is another topic, but we don’t even need to go there). To work properly a rotary must be pretty large, and most of the ones I see outside of New England are have stop signs at every entrance. Keene, NH has installed a few so small on the main highway that 18 wheelers have to drive over them.

    In the example of the T intersection I’ll agree having the main road stop is useless unless it’s a very busy junction. Otherwise it’s being done for a neighbor who complains about cars or to give the police an extra opportunity to issue a ticket. Safety and efficiency are very far behind influence and revenue when it comes to local politics.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I predict the day will come when we see hybrid-rotaries with signals governing entry from one or more of the spokes during a time of heavy traffic congestion (i.e. when the waiting line in one spoke gets longer than in the other spokes, or would get in the other spokes if the traffic were stopped to empty the first spoke)… far as I can see, this is the only way to maintain balance in a congested rotary … but by then, perhaps a conventional intersection is makinig sense again…

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    The sad reality in Michigan is that NOBODY (seemingly, other than I) bothers to actually STOP at STOP signs any more, so we may as well get rid of all of them.

    But at the same time, I’d like to see the sub-moronic imbeciles “in charge” down in Lansing, follow Colorado in dumping “no-fault” insurance, so when some knuckle dragging sub-moronic imbecile who takes the decision to NOT stop on a minor side road and rams into the side of my car, injuring or killing one of us, then either I or my estate’s executor can sue the living crap out of the at-fault driver for millions, then sue the state for being so moronic as to remove stop signs.

    Otherwise, no dice.

    The problem with roundabouts / rotaries in the United States is that the average driver in this country is so inept and incompetent, that they have no clue as to how to use them. NONE.

    They’ve put a roundabout near a relatively new High School near where I live and I’ve seen people PARKED on it. They finally gave up and made it a turn-around, only; now to go from east to west, you have to actually go around the other side of the high school over speed-bumps.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      I live in Lansing, and I find it to be just the opposite – at least at 4 way stops. Everyone stops, yet no one (seemingly, other than I) seems to know who goes first. People who clearly got to the intersection before me will wait for me. And almost no one seems to know that the vehicle on your right has the right of way if you both got there at the same time.

      I don’t understand the desire to sue “for millions”. Most of the knuckle dragging types are judgment proof.

  • avatar
    kkop

    Traffic circles are fine in a situation with larger roads or busy congested intersections. Putting them in everywhere (like I saw in Britain; often they’re no more than a white painted circle on an intersection) is overkill.

    In many countries in Europe, unless otherwise posted with signs, traffic from the right has right of way. Period.

    No need for roundabouts, lights, signs everywhere etc. Works very well. In combination with traffic circles for the busier places, traffic flows very well.

    [Where I live (GA), this rule (right has right of way) exists also, but because drivers have come to expect at least two stop signs at every intersection, exactly no one seems to be familiar with that rule]

  • avatar
    njdave

    I think a better idea than a traffic circle or a light in most busy intersections is to put an overpass on the least busy road and let them drive right over the busy road. Probably cheaper than buying land for a circle, too.

  • avatar

    There are several roundabouts in suburban areas that I use frequently, and other than the occasional driver who stops for no reason, everyone seems able to cope with them reasonably well. In these situations, I do think they work better than stop signs or traffic signals. But University Place, a nearby city, wanted to reduce traffic speed on a long, straight street near Puget Sound, and did that by putting in a roundabout at about every third block for several miles. I don’t know if they achieved their objective of slowing down the traffic, but I suspect that the traffic volume is way down in that I’m sure I’m not the only driver who avoids that street like the plague. And I’m glad I don’t live where I would have to use them to get to and from home.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Roundabouts cannot be retrofitted into most urban areas. The space required would mean that many corner properties would have to be taken by DOT, especially if buses are to be accomodated.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Perhaps, but in most suburban areas, with streets wide enough for two vehicles to pass plus parking on both sides, there’s plenty of room for traffic circles.

      I spent five days bicycling through the Netherlands a few years ago, in that entire trip I saw maybe 4 stop signs. Plenty of yield signs though, they just make more sense, save time and gas.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Most suburban areas still need to accommodate school buses and large delivery vehicles, even tractor/trailer combos occasionally. While designing new roadways for roundabouts would be a great idea, retrofitting them into existing settings will rarely be possible without making significant changes to the surrounding landscape.

  • avatar
    BeyondBelief

    Speaking strictly of traffic circles that are cropping up (!) in mostly residential neighborhoods (not roundabouts), these are commonly sold to the residents as “traffic calming” measures, that is to say, a way of reducing vehicle speeds that currently exist on the through street. The problem is, these structures are often installed without regard for the limited sight distance offered by the adjacent properties due to fences and shrubbery and parked vehicles. The result is drivers who used to have to stop now charge right through and collide with cross traffic they didn’t see. Driving through at a reasonable speed even though there’s no stop sign is something for which your average idiot driver is unable to connect the dots.

  • avatar

    I can confirm to everyone here that yes, stop signs do indeed suck.
    All they do is hinder the flow of traffic and cause more pollution as the vehicle has to come to a full stop.
    In Holland they’re removing almost all stop signs because they know constant flow is a far better idea, not too sure we can do that in NA however.
    In my area they’re building more roundabouts to replace the useless four way stops and more are being built as I type this.
    I honed my roundabout skills in Europe so the learning curve was short for me, but yes some people are freaking’ clueless on the concept (yield to whoever’s in the circle and signal your intentions, how hard can that be?).
    Thankfully the city stuck with them and the people learned, so it’s not so scary coming up to one anymore.
    The provincial government is also building them in rural areas where the traffic count is too high for a four way stop (and too dangerous)but not enough to justify an overpass, and they work just fine.
    The experiences I’ve read above in the states are incredible (Parking in a circle?)haven’t had too much of that here, just drivers crawling through the circle or cutting off those with right of way.
    Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt and learn – yes even clueless NA drivers – and we shouldn’t pander to those who can shout the loudest IMHO.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    Kind of off-topic but with reagrd to visibility, municipalities, intersections etc.- with local government budgets strapped, one thing that is being cut is grass-cutting along roadways and more importantly- medians. A lot of grass in the medians here in MD has gotten so high that it restricts visibiltiy and some left tunrs at intersections are getting to be dangerous b/c of the lack of visibiltiy. I can see someone suing the county if they get in an accident at one of these intersections, because they could argue that a contributing factor in the accident was the county’s lack of maintenance.

  • avatar

    Compelling proposal. He stated roundabouts are more expensive to install. I wonder by how much??

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I’d certainly like to see every three-way and four-way stop in this city converted to “Take Turns” signs. I’d prefer that many simply become two-way stops, with the busier road having the right-of-way.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’m not down on US drivers using roundabouts – at least not as much as many of the B&B. We’ve had a few locally for 4 or 5 years now and yes, occasionally someone will stop when there is no reason, but I figure that’s no worse than when it used to be an actual stop. Most of the drivers seem to figure it out in time. Accidents are down considerably. Traffic flows better.

    The funny thing about the “circle” I use most frequently is that it’s near another intersection controlled by a stoplight. A considerable number of cars will turn right on the arrow, at the light, and proceed towards the traffic circle. If the first car manages to get into the circle, all the other cars following will get in too because the traffic from other directions must yield.
    Effectively, the traffic circle is governed by the timing of the nearby traffic light intersection.

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    What frustrates me the most are traffic lights triggered by timers instead of cars. Think of the time and fuel saved if all traffic lights only changed when there was a car in the crossroad.

    • 0 avatar
      rodehardputupwet

      There’s a ‘T’ intersection near my place (GTA Ontario) with traffic lights. The main road light stays green until a vehicle sits on the left turn lane embedded sensor loop on the side street. The signals switch, the sensor is cleared & after a few seconds the main street signal returns to green. Any traffic turning right from the side street has to wait for an opening to turn on red. Not exactly cheap to install but definitely effective. Pedestrian crosswalk lights work the same way except of course with push buttons instead of sensor loops.

  • avatar
    caljn

    Anger much?

  • avatar
    don1967

    Bring on the yield signs and roundabouts, slow-witted Late Adopters be damned.

    Our city is pock-marked with unnecessary stop signs, red lights and speed humps, thanks to city councilors who can’t say no to a single squeaky wheel for fear of losing a vote. It makes driving an inefficient, arduous task, and turns drivers into dangerous, impatient and inattentive zombies.


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