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I’m Putting My Foot Down on 4-Way Stops

September 15, 2007 Planning & Design, Scooters, Transportation 30 Comments

Despite St. Louis have way too many 4-way stops, this post is not about reducing the number of stops.  No, I’m tired of the way 4-ways are treated in this town.

First we have the locally famous rolling stop.  This involves letting off the gas and potentially applying the brakes in a very token effort.  Very common among the locals, including police.

We also have the basically ignore the stop sign types that simply fly right through the intersections as if nobody else existed.  These people are the reason we look left & right before proceeding.

Then we have the folks that think because they are on the bigger road that they have the right of way — regardless of who stopped first and who was to the right of whom.  Conversely, we have the people that are on a smaller side street that have the right of way but refuse to go until the person on the bigger through street go first.

And then we have people that see me on my scooter and they simply freak out — “oh my gosh, a scooter, I don’t know what to do!”  Seriously, it is often like people have never been to a 4-way stop before.

The rules are simple folks, whomever stops first has the next right of way.   Same time?  The person on the right has the right of way.  If someone is turning left, they need to turn behind the car that is going the opposite direction.

But drivers see my scooter and all of a sudden they want to toss out the rules and wave me through.  I appreciate the thought, really I do, but we need to focus on following the time tested rules of 4-way stops — not toss them out because of a really cute scooter.

I continually face drivers at intersections where, due to timing or placement, know that the other person has the right of way.  Often I get drivers that have the right of way try to wave me to go — but I know they have the right of way and that they will be turning right behind me.  Don’t wave me through and then get right behind me — that really steams me.  If it is your turn at the intersection, go.  I’ll be behind you and that is just fine.  Too often I’m working on stopping and balancing when someone already at the intersection is already trying to wave me through.
Now most skilled riders of 2-wheel vehicles can come to a nearly complete full stop without putting a foot on the pavement — balance is an excellent skill to have.   I’m pretty certain that technically a rider is considered to have run a stop sign if they don’t put a foot down but don’t quote me on that.  So from a balance perspective at least I don’t need to put a foot down but I often do a 4-way stops with other drivers simply trying to communicate to them I am coming to a complete stop.  Depending upon the situation, I will use my left or right foot to use body language to tell others drivers that I am still working on stopping.  It helps sometimes.

The other day, near my house, I pull up to a 4-way stop.  A guy in a large passenger van had already stopped at the left of me.  He was on the bigger street while I was on a narrower side street.  I looked at him and he wasn’t going.  Mind you, I don’t just take off through an intersection in front of 3-ton vehicles that have the right of way.  He had the windows down and started yelling something and making hand gestures (more than a single finger).  But I couldn’t tell what he was saying.  Finally, in a stroke of brilliance, the guy figured out a way to communicate what he’d be trying to say — he put on his right turn signal!!  Yes, somehow using the turn signal to signal a turn had escaped him.  Once I saw the signal I knew I could safely go.  I went as soon as another driver that had pulled up to the intersection from the right made a right turn in the same direction I was going.  Had the original driver communicated his intentions by using his turn signal things would have been so much easier.

I also see the people that try to wave me across but forget that it is dark outside and it is nearly impossible to see inside their car from across the intersection.  I’ve also seen people, barely, driving cars with tinted windows trying to do the same.

Of course you have the opposite where people pull up to the stop, wait a few seconds and then go — without looking to see who else is around.  Sometimes drivers simply assume that all intersections are 4-way.  I’ve had people pull out in front of me because they stopped and just assumed I was going to stop as well even though my street didn’t have a stop sign.   Better yet are the ones that stop at the intersection even though they don’t have a stop sign.

What are your favorite 4-way stop observations?


Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. Mark B says:

    Driving west on Delmar from the Loop late at night, I saw someone blow through a blinking red then stop at the following blinking yellow.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    No good stories, just total agreement with your observations. The only thing I can add to our local fascination with 4-ways is the unintended consequences reflected on my corner: “STOP” on top, followed by “2-WAY”, followed by “CROSS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP”! Everywhere else, the standard response would be “Duh”? Here’s, it’s a necessity due to “local custom”!

  3. dude says:

    traffic circles are the answer right? I’m often astonished only 40,000 americans perish on our roads every year. That being said, I doubt Americans are the worst drivers in the world.

  4. Greg says:

    I love the people who stop at a stop sign and then don’t go.

    There have been many times I’ve wanted to yell out my window “Are you waiting for it to turn green?!?”

  5. Southside Tim says:

    i think a lot of the problem results from the excessive number of stop signs in stl leads to the abuse of the rolling stop etc. “who’s got time to come to a full stop at all these signs?” i guess it wasn’t always like this, but every time a neighborhood group complained to the alderman another sign was put up. a campaign should be undertaken to have all signs reevaluated as to their usefulness. start doggin the traffic department.

  6. Bob says:

    basically… i assume all drivers are idiots and act accordingly. i refuse to freak out and just deal with it… like dealing with children… soon, this annoyance too will pass.

  7. change says:

    You can thank our traditional neighborhood grid system for being the reason we have so many stop signs.

  8. LisaS says:

    we can also thank our traditional grid street system for having options so that we don’t all wind up at the same stop signs … try combining a four-way stop at every intersection with the suburban cul-de-sac/collector system and it’s an even bigger nightmare …. I’m with Bob, just deal with it. Until our government decides to do something about it (even just enforcing the law) that’s all we can do.

  9. GMichaud says:

    A great mass transit system would compliment the grid system and eliminate rolling stops almost completely. It is almost impossible to design a great, or even a good, or even a lousy mass transit system in the suburbs due to lack of density, roads that curl every which way and vast distances that are needed for travel. The city on the other hand, has the infrastructure for a successful transit system, shovng stop signs into the background.
    I do agree roundabouts are a possible solution, London does without stop signs for the most part, relying on roundabouts. Still, great mass transit will take the pressure off of the road system.
    How about coordinating traffic lights? It becomes tiring driving a block to the next red light. It’s almost as bad a problem as rolling stops and in the end the continual frustration while driving no doubt contributes to impatience at stop signs. Many people run red lights. That may be where the problem starts, it becomes an attitude, too many red lights, too many stop signs, the next thing is auto anarchy.
    What constitutes a balanced, comprehensive movement system? Did horses run stop signs?, or do you even need stop signs with horses? What is a rolling stop with a horse like?
    Correcting the problem of rolling stops may entail a complete redesign of the movement system in St. Louis, in fact that is probably what needs to happen. Coupled with new city plans for housing, shops, public space, parks and other elements (including density), St. Louis may be finally able to tame the auto and curtail the problem of rolling stops.

  10. matt says:

    Ive always been annoyed with major streets like Goodfellow and Riverview that should really have no stopsigns on them, loaded with ’em.

  11. Ben H says:

    Surprised no one has mentioned bicycles yet. Ive estimated that I encounter 20-25 4-way stops signs each way in my commute to work. I probably come to a complete stop at 5 of them, I slow for 10 of them, and I cover the brakes but only slow if necessary through 5. I know the route and I know which ones are likely to have traffic, and which are blind corners, and which are unnecessary. I always stop if a vehicle is anywhere nearby, then signal and wait my turn. I dont think im doing something wrong, just riding on 15 pounds of vintage metal alloy and trying to keep from getting too sweaty. I hear some complaints about cyclists habitually not stopping at stop sign junctions, sometimes they are yelled out minivan windows. I dont deny it, but i will say that when im riding next to a car, and I only slightly slow my speed at a stop, I often find that im going no faster than the car next to me doing the “st Louis stop”. No need to get too worried, its very unlikely you will get impaled by a renegade cyclist on a joy ride.

  12. Joey says:

    You know what really angers me? I will see someone speedily heading up to a four-way stop so I will continue rolling to guarantee that they stop first; in other words, I am intentionally offering them the right-of-way so I don’t have to bother with the roll-stop-stare for a moment-continue rolling at the same time they start rolling-stop again in unison-angrily waving my hand for them to go. It doesn’t work. People still stop and stare at me dumbfounded; “WhY IS he WaViNG AT ME/? I DNT GET IT!” They assume because they are too stupid to handle a 4-way that everyone else is.

  13. Shimmy says:

    Since when is rolling through a stop sign a local thing? I’ve heard numerous people refer to them as “California Stops”.

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    The traffic engineers know better – they just get over-ridden by the aldermen.

    In many cities with a grid pattern, instead of a 4-way stop on every corner, you get 2-way stops alternating directions (so you have to stop every other block). With mostly 2-way stops, you significantly reduce the number of “problems” associated with 4-way stops (rolling “stops”, who goes next?), thus reducing confusion and increasing safety.

    Southside Tim has it right – it’s time for the Traffic Dept. to show some cojones and look at what’s out there versus what would work best. One way to make this happen is to add a requirement to paint and maintain a white stop line on the pavement on all sides at every intersection with a 4-way stop. This would both make it safer (another visual clue) and by making it an annual expenditure, provide a direct incentive to eliminate any unnecessary stops . . ,

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    A related local curiosity are our Sunday-only stop signs near churches. Nothing like putting up “surprise!” traffic-control devices to confuse our already inattentive and casually-observant driving population!

  16. Julia says:

    I’m a victim of a “renegade cyclist” who appeared to be commuting, as opposed to being on a joy ride. He was following a vehicle that was stopping for a stop sign and passed it on its left, not seeing that I was entering the intersection having stopped at the stop sign at the street to his right. He slammed into me, and rolled over my hood and onto the ground. I was so shaken, I was initially thrilled to see him jump on his bike and ride off, apparently unhurt. Only after a few minutes did I notice the huge dent on my hood.

  17. As I travel around Milwaukee, I get the exact same reaction on my bicycle. “What?! A BICYCLE?! HE MUST GO FIRST!”

    It pisses me off, because I’m not about to cut off a motorist who has the right of way. So instead of slowing and coasting through the intersection behind the motorist, I have to come to a complete stop — losing all my momentum, and having to start up again from scratch. If the driver doesn’t take their right-of-way, I’ve gone through that effort for no reason at all.

    I assume drivers are so used to seeing bikers just blast through intersections like the rules don’t apply, that they can’t fathom that of of them is actually making some effort to obey the rules.

  18. kmneill says:

    if you go into each 4-way stop with the idea that there will be confrontation or headache, then you’re just making matters worse for yourself. give people the benefit of the doubt, or at least the patience that you as a good driver should have, and you won’t have to spend all day thinking about that a-hole who plowed through the stop sign and cut you off.

  19. Joe Frank says:

    “Better yet are the ones that stop at the intersection even though they don’t have a stop sign.”

    I admit I’m still a new driver, but sometimes that is a safer option. You just don’t know if people on the cross street will realize it’s not a four-way stop!

  20. Stop signs are simply a recommendation.

  21. wwspd says:

    I’ll do you one better. The most abused traffic sign is the ‘yield’ sign. St. Louisans actively IGNORE this sign. I’m not even sure they know what it means anymore.

    [SLP — You are so right.  At least with the stop sign they let off the gas and apply a token tap to the brakes.  With the yield it seems like the sign is invisible.  We are getting enforcement cameras at many signalized intersections, I say we add some cameras at 4-way stop and yield situations.]

  22. LisaS says:

    Apparently one German town has decided to do away with traffic laws altoghether:

    The work to remove the road signs will begin Wednesday in the town of 13,500 inhabitants. Sidewalks will disappear, as will the asphalt, replaced by cobblestones. Cycle lanes and sidewalks will be distinguished from the road only by color. The town is putting up half of the project’s €2.35-million costs itself, with the EU and other sources of funding supplying the other half.

    The idea is based on the European Union-supported “Shared Space” concept of traffic management developed by the Dutch traffic expert Hans Monderman. According to the concept, road users have to negotiate their behavior with each other, rather than have it prescribed by rules — the idea being that people will pay more attention to what other road users are doing and hence cause fewer accidents.


    I have difficulty imagining how this will work ….

    [SLP — I can imagine this working wonderfully in a small European town where the rights of way are narrow, a high percentage of the public walks, bikes or rides a scooter.  Another large percentage us public transportation and motorists often drive very small vehicles.  The likelihood of a 5ft tall woman driving a 3-ton SUV to Sam’s is very minimal.]

  23. Chris says:

    I just returned from living on the East Coast in Washington DC and Baltimore for the last six years. Everyone rolls through Stop Signs out there too–it’s not a St. Louis thing, it’s a large city thing.

  24. stl cyclist says:

    Very funny. I HATE that when it happens on a bicycle. It seems half the people wave me on well before I get to the intersection and the other half swear and yell if I don’t come to a complete stop!!!! It’s not only frustrating, it’s dangerous. All people need to do is be predictable!

  25. Phil says:

    Does anybody remember back in the day when there wasn’t a 4 way stop at January and Holly Hills? January had the stop and HH had the ROW. I remember clearly how dangerous that intersection was. (My babysitter lived a few houses down) Visibility down narrow one-way streets with densely parked cars is extremely limited. After adding the stop on HH the intersection is much easier to “roll” through with less worried you are going to be T-boned by somebody going to fast on a one-way. Not that I advocate the 4 way stop at all intersections, it certainly has its safety merits at some intersections.

    I think adding the curb bump outs and raised cross walks would be better at slowing down the traffic, but 4 way stops are cheaper.

  26. Jim Zavist says:

    Even cheaper would be enforcing our existing laws – no parking with 30′ of a stop sign, no parking within 15′ of a fire hydrant (both would improve the visibility problem), and ticketing speeders and everyone who doesn’t stop. Proper engineering and enforcement is the answer, NOT a 4-way “stop” on every corner, where some do and most don’t!!!

  27. Joe H says:

    Yes, 4 way stop are a major pain… but city do have to manage traffic somehow. Unfortunately, most city planner haven’t taken the time to learn about some other options that have effectively managed traffic in other suburban towns in the Midwest. I grew up in Carmel, IN and this town is actively removing as many 4-way stops as possible and replacing them with roundabouts. With roundabouts, no stopping unless someone is already in the circle…. if someone is just slow down and slip your car in behind them. This really speeds up the intersection traffic and ultimately saves gas from eliminating the start and stop. There is a bit of a learning curve for people who are not used to them… but you get used it and begin to appreciate the design of it. Additionally, the city saves money when these are used in place of traffic light intersections.

    Just a thought.

    [SLP — Agreed.  And just for all the readers out there I want to add that a roundabout doesn’t mean a big deal like 14th & Park.  In Seattle they have round planter areas in the middle of many residential intersections which forces the drivers to slow and go around.  It works quite well from what I’ve seen. Many other 4-day intersections do not have the roundabout feature but also lack stop signs — drivers are then trained to slow and yield.]

  28. high5apparatus says:

    replace “scooter” with “bicycle” and you have my situation bicycle commuting.

  29. christopher says:

    Driver Education, or the American distaste for it is really a problem. Human nature is to drift from learned rules. We become over confident and even forget. Our high school drivers ed programs are really a joke. They teach very little and there is no refresh to speak of. I agree that round abouts are an answer but, only if the public is well educated on how to drive in them. People in the circle have the right of way and entering vehicles must yield. There in is a problem. I recently visited a small town in southern Illinois that has a traffic circle in the main intersection of the town. It has been there for as long as the town has been there. Traffic did not flow any better. people stopped and started at whim. people in the circle sometimes stopped and motioned me on into the circle in front of them which caused traffic to back up behind them. It all falls back to education. Even the best plan is not fool proof.


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