Getting nostalgic for stop signs

Is anyone else getting nostalgic for stop signs? Oh, I’m not talking about the everyday stop sign, the kind that is unnecessarily put at any intersection between two small suburban streets. I’m talking about the real stop sign, the kind on an intersection between busy streets that actually requires that vehicles stop. At the stop signs I’m interested in, having multiple vehicles at the intersection at once isn’t a rarity, it’s the norm. These real stop signs used to be a lot more abundant in number, but they’ve been whittled away at over the years, being replaced with traffic lights.

Why am I nostalgic about stop signs, you might ask? Because they create actual human interaction on the road, which is so rare these days where nearly every real crossing is minded by mechanical masters. Following a colored signal on a box in the sky is a menial task an unskilled robot could do. But tracking every car in queue at an intersection and negotiating who has the right of way next — that requires human interaction. And it creates a feel-good feeling too, graciously letting others that arrived at the stop sign before you proceed ahead, then receiving that same courtesy in turn when it is your turn to go. Stop signs restore faith in humanity. And they even restore faith in human intelligence, as it’s especially nice when more sophisticated coordination occurs and more than two vehicles pass through the intersection simultaneously — for example, two cars in one set of opposite roads making rights and then two cars in the other set of opposite roads making lefts.

The best stop sign intersection I’m aware of is at the corner of Edgewood Rd. and Rhode Island Ave. in College Park, MD. Edgewood Rd. has a median down the center of it, and each of its faces onto the intersection is two vehicles across. This allows the negotiation of some nice simultaneous intersection crossings with more than four vehicles, the kind that are pretty much only handled by traffic lights anywhere else. The dance as as a long line of cars during rush hour make a nice, orderly crossing of the intersection is a sight to behold. And I’m going to cherish that intersection as much as possible, because inevitably the county is going to come through and put up a traffic light at some point, ruining all of the magic and taking just another tiny step toward removing all human interaction from our journeys on the road.

11 Responses to “Getting nostalgic for stop signs”

  1. T2A` Says:

    I go through two four-way stops to and from work. They’re not that cool, tbh. They create just as much frustration as they do otherwise. For every time you let someone go ahead of you and get to feel “gracious,” there’s another time when some idiot doesn’t understand how the thing should work. Whether he guns it when it’s not his turn and cuts people off or sits around waiting for a written invitation, it sucks for you.

  2. drinian Says:

    Warning: unnecessary accidents caused by self-regulating traffic may affect your “feel-good feeling.”

    If you want human interaction, walk or take the Metro.

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    T2A`: Maybe the drivers where you live are more inconsiderate or something? I very rarely have that problem over here.

    Drinian: There is, of course, a counterexample.

  4. drinian Says:

    I’ll agree that design of secondary roads has long been tilted too far in favor of cars; I live in an old neighborhood from the time of the Model A or so, and the roads are about as narrow as possible while still being usable (we have off-street parking) as well as laid out in a grid. The roads tend to be seen as a common space for use by the community, a place to play catch, or have a street-wide barbecue, etc., rather than just as a way to get in your car and go.

    On the other hand, making drivers nervous about navigating intersections isn’t going to make for an enjoyable driving experience. Not to mention the counter-counterexample of truly chaotic traffic, as in India, which recently released statistics showing that traffic accidents were causing more fatalities than some infectious diseases.

  5. Kelly Martin Says:

    They’re all over the place in Chicagoland. You’ll be moseying on down some major road and *bam* there’s a four-way stop sign there. The cross street is typically a mid-sized neighborhood street, not large enough to merit a light but large enough for a traffic management device on the main road. These also serve to discourage the use of surface arterials as an alternative to the expressways, I suppose, reduce overall speeds on the surface arterials, and facilitate safer use of the roadway by pedestrian traffic.

  6. Jeff V Says:

    “The best stop sign intersection I’m aware of is at the corner of Edgewood Rd. and Rhode Island Ave. in College Park, MD.”

    I immediately thought of that exact stop sign. I enjoy that stop sign. Although I will say many intersections would be terrible if it weren’t for lights.

  7. T2A` Says:

    IMO, roundabouts are superior to stop signs in every conceivable way. They put one in at Tech awhile ago, and it turned that intersection from one to avoid to one that was always fun and efficient to go through.

    Not only do they fix up the confusion involved with who goes next — you go when the going’s clear — but they’re quicker and more fun to navigate. Inside a roundabout you always have right of way, so you can do laps around them if you want without getting into trouble. :]

  8. Cyde Weys Says:

    T2A`: Well here’s at least one way they’re not superior that you didn’t think of: a roundabout takes significantly more land area than a simple stop sign intersection.

  9. drinian Says:

    On the other hand, very large roundabouts can be made into a nice chunk of public space, especially good for meeting people.

  10. Ed Says:

    How about some extreme traffic calming and nerve wreckin’ example from the country where (probably) 95% of intersections are roundabouts?
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Swindon_Magic_Roundabout_eng.svg
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Roundabout_(Swindon)
    To confuse you guys even more, this is left hand side of the road drive, eheheh…

  11. Rich Says:

    Boy, you guys must never drive in Washington, DC. They have completely and utterly ruined the traffic circle in all conceivable ways, making the traffic circles the most dangerous and time consuming intersections in the city. The first mistake was made when some idiot decided that the traffic circles weren’t enough traffic control, so they did the only thing they could think of and added lights. Basically as many lights as they could conceivably fit. I’d say on average at any given time you can see the front side of about 10-15 different lights, and about 3 of them apply to you. Then they decided that 4 lane traffic circles with bazillions of lights were still too dangerous, so they divided them into inner and outer portions (Of course each with their own sets of lights). At some random intervals, the inner circle forces you to either turn (illegally?) to get back into the circle or go “straight” to leave the circle. The experience you end up with is just utter chaos. You get that feeling of safety and control from the lights, but you really should be scared shitless cause cars and peds and bikes are coming at you from all directions basically having no idea when they should do what, and always having to swerve at the last second to get where they want to be.

    So yes traffic circles can work in some situations, but they are painfully easy to bastardize into accident machines.