As Josh F. mentioned yesterday, we're kicking off a new weekly feature in which I answer readers' bike-related questions. Mechanical, legal, route finding, gear-related, whatever—I'm here to help. Send your questions to [email protected]

Today's question comes from an anonymous reader who asked:

At various points on the Burke-Gilman trail, there are stop signs for those on the trail and a painted crosswalk for motor vehicles. WTF?

To be clear, the reader is asking why the majority of road crossings along the Burke Gilman have yield signs for trail users while some crossings have stop signs (major road crossings, like 15th Ave., have stoplights). I don't think it's accurate to say that the painted crosswalks are for motor vehicles, however. Every road crossing along the trail has a painted crosswalk.

I can think of six road crossings with stop signs for trail users: Brooklyn Ave, Pend Orielle Rd., Union Bay Pl., 40th Ave., 65th St., and 70th St. All six of those roads can be very busy with relatively high-speed traffic. In addition, both the trail and road is obscured at a lot of those crossings because of curving roads, plants, or steep hills. These crossings are more dangerous than others and having a stop sign emphasizes that better than a yield sign.

In the above picture of 70th St, you can see that eastbound cars are coming down a really steep hill. And the bushes and trees at the intersection of the trail and road make it hard for bicyclists to see oncoming cars until the last minute, and hard for drivers to see bikes until they're almost in the street. If a bicyclist blindly sped through the intersection not realizing there was a car barreling down the hill, the result could be disastrous. The stop signs exist to stop bicyclists from darting across the road with the assumption that it's clear or that drivers will see them in time.

Most drivers are appropriately cautious at the trail crossings, but there are plenty who are not, so trail user vigilance and care is still important.

Personally, I use the Idaho Law for the Burke Gilman stop signs. In Idaho, bicyclists are allowed to treat stop signs like yield signs so that they don't lose all of their momentum. When I'm approaching a stop sign on the trail I slow down to just a few miles per hour to make sure it's clear or ensure drivers are yielding the right of way before I cross the road. Maybe a slight bending of the rules, but it's pretty standard operating procedure on the trail, and more importantly, keeps me safe.
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