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Old 02-11-08, 01:26 PM   #1
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When is it okay to ignore traffic laws? Groups do it so it must be okay?

I've been having a little trouble with this one. Since retiring, I've been trying more group rides and it seems like groups are much more likely to ignore them than individuals.
As a solo, when I come upon another solo, they generally are pretty concientious about compliance.
Groups seem to have a tendency to plow through whatever the 'offending' sign or signal is.
Seems like the faster the average speed, the more likely they'll proceed without even a slowdown. Granted, many times there is no opposing traffic for the leaders but the trailers seem to be at risk.
Is there a common protocol about how many riders can use the lead 'look and go' before someone else should slow down and observe?
I know there's this trust thing that can get in the way of good judgement on occasion.
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Old 02-11-08, 02:26 PM   #2
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I've been having a little trouble with this one. Since retiring, I've been trying more group rides and it seems like groups are much more likely to ignore them than individuals.
As a solo, when I come upon another solo, they generally are pretty concientious about compliance.
Groups seem to have a tendency to plow through whatever the 'offending' sign or signal is.
Seems like the faster the average speed, the more likely they'll proceed without even a slowdown. Granted, many times there is no opposing traffic for the leaders but the trailers seem to be at risk.
Is there a common protocol about how many riders can use the lead 'look and go' before someone else should slow down and observe?
I know there's this trust thing that can get in the way of good judgement on occasion.
If the guy in front can safely and easily slow and then stop in time for a red traffic light, then he definitely should. But, a bunch of riders riding in tight formation, whether it's 2 or 200, bring interesting challenges. The law says each is an individual driver, yet physics says riders in tight formation cannot behave independently. Personally, I think physics trumps the law. For example, say the front rider enters an intersection on green, and the rest of the group, in tight formation at 25 mph, proceeds as the light turns yellow. Now, there is a point in the group where if you were riding solo you would definitely be able to stop in time, and everyone at that point and behind should arguably stop... except, that identifying exactly where that point is is practically impossible, and if one rider unilaterally decides to stop while the rider behind him decide he can still go, you can easily have carnage and mayhem. This "gray area" problem applies all the way to the back of the group - to everyone but the ones at the very back with no one behind them. Now, if the group is big enough, there is a point at which some slowing down is possible, and, if that slowing leads to a gap, then more slowing and eventually stopping in time can happen. But the group has to be pretty big for that to apply. In the end, I think it makes sense for the group to act and be treated as one large vehicle. When the light turns yellow for a tractor trailer, the truck driver does not unhitch the trailer so it can stop at the light while he proceeds... I realize it's not good for bicycling advocacy - people generally resent bicyclists doing this - but I see no reasonable and safe alternative, other than abandoning the practice of riding in fast/tight formation, which is one of the most rewarding activities you can do on a bike.

Overall, a group of N riders riding in tight formation has less of a traffic impact than all N riders acting like drivers of independent vehicles.
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Old 02-11-08, 04:33 PM   #3
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I'd feel like an inconsiderate ass running a solid red light if cross traffic was nearby, large group or not. Maybe the pack shouldn't be tailgating each other at high speeds when approaching intersections. There's a proper time and place for that stuff.
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Old 02-11-08, 05:35 PM   #4
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When is it okay to ignore traffic laws?
Never. 1 bicycle with rider = 1 vehicle.
The physics excuse doesn't wash. If it did, then it would be perfectly fine for me to run a redlight in the car because I was drafting off the car in front of me.
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Old 02-11-08, 05:39 PM   #5
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I'd feel like an inconsiderate ass running a solid red light if cross traffic was nearby, large group or not. Maybe the pack shouldn't be tailgating each other at high speeds when approaching intersections. There's a proper time and place for that stuff.
Easier said than done. Most organized group rides try to avoid high traffic areas, and even ride slower through those areas, but sooner or later on just about any route to which enough people live close enough to do on a regular basis in significant numbers, you're going to run into a red lights. Again, the front of the group should definitely stop. But once the front of the group has entered the intersection, decades of experience seems to indicate the best approach is to "act like a bus". Just keep rolling...

I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but it seems to be the best approach.

And before you imagine how you would feel running a solid red light if cross traffic was nearby, large group or not, imagine how you would feel hitting the brakes and causing dozens to crash, perhaps sending yourself and others to the hospital (not to mention untold monetary damage to $5,000 bikes), all so you wouldn't feel like an inconsiderate ass.
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Old 02-11-08, 05:43 PM   #6
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@Hemlet's argument:
Except that you've already said that even packs of riders should ride with enough distance for safe braking, so that argument is null unless they're riding incorrectly anyway.
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Old 02-11-08, 05:51 PM   #7
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If it's that dangerous then it probably falls under reckless, aggressive careless or careless operation of a vehicle.
In Florida that would be:
316.192 Reckless driving.

316.1923 Aggressive careless driving.

316.1925 Careless driving.
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Old 02-11-08, 07:40 PM   #8
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@Hemlet's argument:
Except that you've already said that even packs of riders should ride with enough distance for safe braking, so that argument is null unless they're riding incorrectly anyway.
You're confusing me with someone else. It's one thing thing to ride that fast and close where your risk is that you might crash into someone in front of you - a risk I accept and take whenever I ride in a group. But I'm also willing to take risks in a group that I know and trust, including knowing and trusting that no one is going to suddenly brake for a light in the middle of the pack, that I wouldn't in groups for which I don't have that confidence. But I also wouldn't ride like that around a blind corner. As usual, it's about reasonable risk.
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Old 02-11-08, 11:46 PM   #9
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And before you imagine how you would feel running a solid red light if cross traffic was nearby, large group or not, imagine how you would feel hitting the brakes and causing dozens to crash, perhaps sending yourself and others to the hospital (not to mention untold monetary damage to $5,000 bikes), all so you wouldn't feel like an inconsiderate ass.
Of course I wouldn't do anything I thought could cause a wreck in a pack.
Do you see causing a wreck by braking hard, or running a red light as the only options here? How about slowing and increasing spacing a little, so you can safely stop without crashing? I don't often ride in groups, so please explain why this is not feasible.

The OP asked "When is it okay to ignore traffic laws". My answer is seldom, and I would not ride in a group that routinely did so. I don't run red lights in my car, and I won't on my bike. I'd prefer to be seen as a responsible driver of my vehicle.
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Old 02-12-08, 01:21 AM   #10
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Of course I wouldn't do anything I thought could cause a wreck in a pack.
Do you see causing a wreck by braking hard, or running a red light as the only options here? How about slowing and increasing spacing a little, so you can safely stop without crashing? I don't often ride in groups, so please explain why this is not feasible.

The OP asked "When is it okay to ignore traffic laws". My answer is seldom, and I would not ride in a group that routinely did so. I don't run red lights in my car, and I won't on my bike. I'd prefer to be seen as a responsible driver of my vehicle.
Yes, it is possible to slow and increase space, so you can safely stop, if you're far enough back when you notice the light turn yellow. But even then, others around are likely to continue, while those behind you shift left or right to pass you too. Then, you ride home alone, which might be fine, but not really the point of riding that day.

It is no question that those in the pack running the light are technically breaking the law. Whether they're violating the spirit of the law is another matter. Those with a lot of experience in this area seem to think no, while the vast majority of everyone else seems to think yes. Anyway, if you don't ride in a group of any significant size (20 or more) that routinely stretches the yellow well into the red, then you don't ride in groups of any significant size (or it's not a very fast group).
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Old 02-12-08, 02:00 AM   #11
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I'd feel like an inconsiderate ass running a solid red light if cross traffic was nearby, large group or not. Maybe the pack shouldn't be tailgating each other at high speeds when approaching intersections. There's a proper time and place for that stuff.
Riding in groups can be a good time, but routing a large group of weekend Lance wannabes through the traffic grid is an exercise in indefensible buffoonery.

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Old 02-12-08, 02:38 AM   #12
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There's a proper time and place for that stuff.
+1. You wouldn't like it if other road users did that.
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Old 02-12-08, 03:05 AM   #13
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You're confusing me with someone else. It's one thing thing to ride that fast and close where your risk is that you might crash into someone in front of you - a risk I accept and take whenever I ride in a group. But I'm also willing to take risks in a group that I know and trust, including knowing and trusting that no one is going to suddenly brake for a light in the middle of the pack, that I wouldn't in groups for which I don't have that confidence. But I also wouldn't ride like that around a blind corner. As usual, it's about reasonable risk.
I thought you said that cyclists should be well spaced for stopping in the "group of bicyclists get hit at an intersection" thread some months ago.


Edit: What was I thinking, the thread consists of you ranting about straw-man arguments vs the entire forum, it must have been someone else that pointed out that spacing is important to be safe.
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Old 02-12-08, 03:51 AM   #14
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Riding in groups can be a good time, but routing a large group of weekend Lance wannabes through the traffic grid is an exercise in indefensible buffoonery.

Robert
Where there's roads, there's traffic. Lance Wannabees are on the road whether we like it or not, where else do you propose they ride?

I support the right of anyone to use any road for any (legal) reason at any time of their choosing. I also think it's reasonable to treat a peloton as a single long vehicle at traffic lights, within limits. As long as they're not unreasonably obsructing any other road users, they'll most likely get away with it. No problem.

I do wonder if these group dynamics are VC or VC+ though.
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Old 02-12-08, 08:01 AM   #15
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Thanks for the range of responses. It's now becoming more clear why I choose not to participate in many group rides. Within any group larger than one there are people on both sides of the issue. Approaching a decision point as a rider other than the leader leaves one at some high degree of risk that has no tradeoff.

Caught in the middle, you better stay with group dynamics.

Trailing, you better enjoy chasing down the group or risk being the statistic.

Somehow funeral processions find a way to get through all signals without stopping and you've got to believe they aren't in a hurry.

Seems backwards that those with the most time, i.e. cyclists, are in the biggest hurry.

Is there anyone out there who has been able to convince an entire group of riders to use the same protocols?

Thanks!
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Old 02-12-08, 09:21 AM   #16
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Thanks for the range of responses. It's now becoming more clear why I choose not to participate in many group rides. Within any group larger than one there are people on both sides of the issue. Approaching a decision point as a rider other than the leader leaves one at some high degree of risk that has no tradeoff.

Caught in the middle, you better stay with group dynamics.

Trailing, you better enjoy chasing down the group or risk being the statistic.

Somehow funeral processions find a way to get through all signals without stopping and you've got to believe they aren't in a hurry.

Seems backwards that those with the most time, i.e. cyclists, are in the biggest hurry.

Is there anyone out there who has been able to convince an entire group of riders to use the same protocols?

Thanks!
Funeral processions usually have police escorts... and probably permits... when pelotons do the same, then they can act like a funeral procession, until then, plan your club ride accordingly and avoid controlled intersections.

Heck, even the military post crossing guards for marching processions.
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Old 02-12-08, 09:27 AM   #17
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In the larger group rides I participate in weekly, red lights are never run. Red lights break up the larger group into smaller ones which is great. (Some rides start with 80+ cyclists, but after several miles break into groups of 5-15)

However, no matter the size of the group four way stop signs are run if there is no other vehicle there first about to go. This seems to work best vs. every rider stopping and then going, especially if other traffic gets there during the process.

At single direction stops the lead riders will stop, but if clear (as indicated by lead riders) other riders will continue without stopping fully.

I asked the group leaders why the organization is so strict about lights, but not about stop signs. They explained that one of the goals of the group is advocacy and in their experience most motorists get upset about blowing red lights, but actually prefer it when a group of cyclists goes thru four way stops as a unit.

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Old 02-12-08, 09:37 AM   #18
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Where there's roads, there's traffic. Lance Wannabees are on the road whether we like it or not, where else do you propose they ride?
I propose they start their rides at a place that will minimize the need to roll through intersections illegally. I propose that when they encounter a red-light intersection, recreational riders stop like other vehicles, group or no group. These groups need to be educated prior to each ride on how to roll through town in a way that doesn't infruriate everybody, but also minimizes the chances of a long group of idiots smashing into the back of the guy in front of them just because somebody wanted to stop for the light. That means having a little talk at the beginning of each ride to let everybody know they will be taking it easy while riding in these areas and stopping at red lights, not pacelining through.

No doubt we have some of the same people who criticize Critical Mass tactics as selfish and counterproductive turning around and plugging up intersections on their Sunday recreational group ride.

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I support the right of anyone to use any road for any (legal) reason at any time of their choosing.
Me too. I even support the right of some individual cyclists to break laws if they do it well as part of their job, like messengers and bike cops, and I recognize the ability of even hobbyist cyclists to stretch the laws safely and reasonably in many situations. Individual cyclists can bust laws in a way that is both safe and respectful of the rights-of-way of other road users. But these large group rides are another matter entirely. When these guys roll through a red light it means somebody else who has the right-of-way has to wait, whether they like it or not. What if you were in some godawful hurry to get somewhere important, and found your rightful passage blocked by a large group of candy-colored riders who seemed possessed of some sense of entitlement to do whatever they pleased for the purpose of a recreational group ride, and to Hell with everybody else?


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I also think it's reasonable to treat a peloton as a single long vehicle at traffic lights, within limits. As long as they're not unreasonably obsructing any other road users, they'll most likely get away with it. No problem.
They'll get away with it, and leave a trail of psychological destruction in their lycra-scented wake. I'd add that their getting away with it comes at the whim of local law enforcement, who at any time could decide to shut these rides down just like they do with the CM rides, following along with a troupe of moto-cops to write tickets and a truck to haul everybody's Madone to the impound, and they would be entirely within their powers to do so.

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I do wonder if these group dynamics are VC or VC+ though.
If a VC-ist is doing it, whatever it is, it's VC something or other.

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Old 02-12-08, 09:46 AM   #19
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If the guy in front can safely and easily slow and then stop in time for a red traffic light, then he definitely should. But, a bunch of riders riding in tight formation, whether it's 2 or 200, bring interesting challenges. The law says each is an individual driver, yet physics says riders in tight formation cannot behave independently. Personally, I think physics trumps the law. For example, say the front rider enters an intersection on green, and the rest of the group, in tight formation at 25 mph, proceeds as the light turns yellow. Now, there is a point in the group where if you were riding solo you would definitely be able to stop in time, and everyone at that point and behind should arguably stop... except, that identifying exactly where that point is is practically impossible, and if one rider unilaterally decides to stop while the rider behind him decide he can still go, you can easily have carnage and mayhem. This "gray area" problem applies all the way to the back of the group - to everyone but the ones at the very back with no one behind them. Now, if the group is big enough, there is a point at which some slowing down is possible, and, if that slowing leads to a gap, then more slowing and eventually stopping in time can happen. But the group has to be pretty big for that to apply. In the end, I think it makes sense for the group to act and be treated as one large vehicle. When the light turns yellow for a tractor trailer, the truck driver does not unhitch the trailer so it can stop at the light while he proceeds... I realize it's not good for bicycling advocacy - people generally resent bicyclists doing this - but I see no reasonable and safe alternative, other than abandoning the practice of riding in fast/tight formation, which is one of the most rewarding activities you can do on a bike.

Overall, a group of N riders riding in tight formation has less of a traffic impact than all N riders acting like drivers of independent vehicles.
Of course the obvious solution to the problem never crossed your mind - thou shalt only ride in tight fast groups on a controlled course/route or where intersections are few and far in between. Just because you want to play like a pro peleton on the public roads doesn't give you license to break the law, nor would a decent ride leader compromise the safety of his/her group by engaging in such nonsense.
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Old 02-12-08, 09:54 AM   #20
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I think if you regularly ride in paceline in places with lights, and the group chooses to stop at those lights, one learns quickly the dynamics of stopping safely on reds. With a little group communication and heads up by all riders approaching lights, it's not that hard. I do know when we have guest riders from other states/cities with few lights that they often comment on the stop and go nature of such rides and how well it is handled (and how it can lead to quite a workout)

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Old 02-12-08, 10:06 AM   #21
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I think it is far better to break into smaller packs when in an area where there is the potential for lots of lights... then maintain a pace and regroup when the road opens up... really it is no fun to stop and start, but safety should be job one.

A well planned route will be one that has few such stops.
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Old 02-12-08, 10:24 AM   #22
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Is there anyone out there who has been able to convince an entire group of riders to use the same protocols?
In our club the "act like a bus" mantra is universally understood, as is the idea that if you need to brake, just feather them, and others as well. We get newbies, of course, but they usually start in the less advanced and slower groups and learn the protocols before moving up to the fastest groups. Also, pretty much anyone with any group riding experience will know this instinctively. Only the experienced riders take pulls at the front. Not that we never have crashes, but I feel it's pretty well managed, considering we cumulatively cover over 10,000 miles per weekend (200+ riders @ 50 miles each).

Also, to address Robert's admonition, the big rides are on Saturday mornings, and of course avoid "the traffic grid" as much as possible. We do go through one downtown area of one town, but the pace is slowed and the spacing increased accordingly at that point. Almost all of the ride is on roads where the traffic volume is light to very light.
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Old 02-12-08, 10:45 AM   #23
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I propose they start their rides at a place that will minimize the need to roll through intersections illegally. I propose that when they encounter a red-light intersection, recreational riders stop like other vehicles, group or no group. These groups need to be educated prior to each ride on how to roll through town in a way that doesn't infruriate everybody, but also minimizes the chances of a long group of idiots smashing into the back of the guy in front of them just because somebody wanted to stop for the light. That means having a little talk at the beginning of each ride to let everybody know they will be taking it easy while riding in these areas and stopping at red lights, not pacelining through.

No doubt we have some of the same people who criticize Critical Mass tactics as selfish and counterproductive turning around and plugging up intersections on their Sunday recreational group ride.
Dude, we're talking about "plugging up" intersections no more than a slow moving long truck tractor trailer does when he enters the intersection on a late green. We break up into seven different groups for this reason (and also to have rides at 7 different levels - from total beginners using mountain bikes up to a regular race training ride lead by cat-1 guys). After general announcements, the fastest/longest group takes off first, followed about a minute later by the next one. In the mean time, the other groups are getting the extended talk. This club has been doing this ride, along basically the same route, longer than you've been alive (according to one member who started it 63 years ago).


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Originally Posted by RobertHurst View Post
Me too. I even support the right of some individual cyclists to break laws if they do it well as part of their job, like messengers and bike cops, and I recognize the ability of even hobbyist cyclists to stretch the laws safely and reasonably in many situations. Individual cyclists can bust laws in a way that is both safe and respectful of the rights-of-way of other road users. But these large group rides are another matter entirely. When these guys roll through a red light it means somebody else who has the right-of-way has to wait, whether they like it or not. What if you were in some godawful hurry to get somewhere important, and found your rightful passage blocked by a large group of candy-colored riders who seemed possessed of some sense of entitlement to do whatever they pleased for the purpose of a recreational group ride, and to Hell with everybody else?
You're apparently imagining a situation greatly exaggerated from what I experience in practice. Again, I'm talking about a group entering on late green such the middle and end enter on yellow or even early red. It's true that means at a couple of lights per Saturday a handful of people (again, it's light traffic) have to wait a few extra seconds after their light goes green for a couple of dozen cyclists to finish going through the intersection. It's not a big deal. In fact, the only time it's a big deal is on our annual holiday ride when all 200+ riders ride in one massive group at relatively slow "holiday pace", but then we're treated like a parade (many riders and bikes are decorated - the guy at the front is in a Santa suit). And on that ride we literally only get waves and "happy honks" as we continue rolling through red lights. And that ride goes through a busier part of town (to get to the salvation army to drop off our toys). But our regular Saturday rides cause negligible impact to others compared to that.


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Originally Posted by RobertHurst View Post
They'll get away with it, and leave a trail of psychological destruction in their lycra-scented wake. I'd add that their getting away with it comes at the whim of local law enforcement, who at any time could decide to shut these rides down just like they do with the CM rides, following along with a troupe of moto-cops to write tickets and a truck to haul everybody's Madone to the impound, and they would be entirely within their powers to do so.
Again, the club is very aware of it, and operates accordingly, for over 60 years...

If you're ever in San Diego with your bike on a weekend, the Saturday Ride is not to be missed...
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Old 02-12-08, 06:17 PM   #24
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I asked the group leaders why the organization is so strict about lights, but not about stop signs. They explained that one of the goals of the group is advocacy and in their experience most motorists get upset about blowing red lights, but actually prefer it when a group of cyclists goes thru four way stops as a unit.

Al
Help me understand the conclusion that motorists prefer cyclists running stop signs as a unit. It seems unlikely that anyone has any real supporting data for such a conclusion.
And is this different from the entire group stopping and then proceeding?
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Old 02-12-08, 07:16 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by noisebeam
I asked the group leaders why the organization is so strict about lights, but not about stop signs. They explained that one of the goals of the group is advocacy and in their experience most motorists get upset about blowing red lights, but actually prefer it when a group of cyclists goes thru four way stops as a unit.

Al
Help me understand the conclusion that motorists prefer cyclists running stop signs as a unit. It seems unlikely that anyone has any real supporting data for such a conclusion.
And is this different from the entire group stopping and then proceeding?
My understanding is that the group stopping, and then going, as a unit, is preferred to each cyclist stopping independently, and only one going at a time.
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