Another week, another Ask BikeNerd. This week's question tackles everyone's favorite subject to get hot and bothered over: how should bicyclist's behave on the road?
Justin asks: 4 way stops. I always tend to treat them with the same approach I do most situations: the bicycle should generally act like a vehicle and follow vehicle laws. This would imply that I get to the stop sign, stop, wait my turn, and then go. But cars don't seem to get this. From other directions, they either yield to me when they shouldn't, or take my right of way when they shouldn't. The cars behind me often come to the stop sign just to my left, mixing it all up. What's the deal?
The simple answer is you're correct. Bicycles must follow all traffic laws, including stopping at stop signs (cue comments about those damn scofflaws that blow through lights, etc, etc). If you're really concerned, or want to get in an egg-headed argument at an intersection, this is covered by multiple bike-related RCWs (all of which are conveniently laid out on the Bicycle Alliance of Washington's website.)
As for the second issue of yielding vs. not yielding at the appropriate time, there's not a whole lot to be done. When a driver yields to you despite it not being your turn, I say roll with it and wave thanks as you pedal through. And since you know people sometimes jump the gun, just be extra cautious and make sure cars are fully stopped and drivers see you before you head through the intersection.
I will say, it sounds like you need to be more assertive in taking the lane at intersections. If you merge into the center of the lane as you approach the intersection (which is fully legal and well within your rights as a safe road users), cars will not be able to pull up next to you at the stop sign. This may, in fact, help avoid the confusion about who yields to whom.
Bear in mind that people are shitty at dealing with four way stops in general. I can't count the number of times on bike, car, or foot alike that people have cut me off at intersections (and been indignant about it in the process).
That's all we've got for this week (note to Glen: I'm waiting on SDOT for a response to your question). As always, send your bike questions to email@example.com.