To stop or not to stop, is that even a question?

Stop sign courtesty of bob1th on Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr bob1th

It is sensible to think that stop signs do what they say: STOP cars.  Installing stop signs is one of the most common requests we receive to address speeding in neighborhoods as they seem like an obvious, inexpensive way to reduce vehicle speeds.  However, what seems to be a perfect solution can actually create a less desirable situation.

When stop signs are used as “nuisances” or “speed breakers,” there is a high incidence of drivers intentionally violating the stop.  When vehicles do stop, the speed reduction is effective only in the immediate area of the stop sign since a large percentage of motorists then increase their speed to make up for lost time.  This actually results in increased mid-block speeds.

The United States Department of Transportation and Institute for Transportation Engineers also debunked the notion that stop signs are effective speed breakers.

There is no evidence to indicate that stop signs decrease the overall speed of traffic. Impatient drivers view the additional delay caused by unwarranted stop signs as “lost time” to be made up by driving at higher speeds between stop signs.

Unwarranted stop signs breed contempt in motorists who tend to ignore them or only slow down without stopping. This can sometimes lead to tragic consequences.

Stop signs should never be installed as a routine, cure-all approach to curtail speeding, prevent collisions at intersections, or discourage traffic from entering a neighborhood. Stop signs should be installed only after an engineering study determines that there is a need. Stop signs are not a solution to intersection safety problems caused by poor sight distances and deficient road design.

[via Intersection Safety: Myth versus Reality]

For these reasons, the City of Bellevue does not use stop signs as speed control devices.  Instead, they are used to improve safety at intersections where traffic volumes or accidents warrant their installation.

If slowing down traffic is the goal, there are other alternatives that can be implemented that are more effective than stop signs.  In “To Get Safer Streets, Traffic Lights and Stop Signs Aren’t the Answer,” Noah Kazis expresses how stop signs are not effective when used alone but can help slow motorists when used in tandem with engineering techniques, such as speed humps.  Kazis explains:

Instead of stop signs and traffic signals, street safety advocates suggest physically altering the street to slow down traffic. “Because traffic signals and stop signs are not self-enforcing — they don’t come with a physical component that requires drivers to slow down — they can easily be ignored by drivers, especially if there isn’t visible enforcement by the police,” said Transportation Alternatives safety campaign director Lindsey Ganson. “Traffic can be calmed and pedestrian safety improved with other treatments, like speed humps or curb extensions, that are physically self-enforcing, treatments that force drivers to regulate their traveling speed.”

[via StreetsBlog]

If you do have speeding concerns in your neighborhood, please fill out a Request for Action and NTSS staff will work with you to find an appropriate solution to your concern.

More information:

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2 Responses to To stop or not to stop, is that even a question?

  1. This past week (August 5-11, 2012) was National Stop on Red Week and I was browsing through your posts and noticed this post about stop signs and their effectiveness. At the Traffic Safety Coalition we like to remind people how important it is to stop for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Be aware because someone may walk, bike, run or drive in front of your car before you have time so slow down. Instead stop at stop signs and red lights. We are trying to spread awareness about this issue and have been directing people to our video as a reminder about this issue: We would like to think that every week is Stop on Red Week.

    • bellevuentss says:

      Thank you for directing us to the video and the work you do at the Traffic Safety Coalition. As we move forward with creating more content for our traffic safety blog, perhaps we can incorporate some of the information you provide through the Coalition. Keep up the good work!

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