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Right-of-way at Stop Signs on Trails

There was some discussion a couple weeks ago in the comments section of a post at Cycle Twin Cities about whether cars or trail users have the right-of-way at crosswalks where a stop sign is used to direct trail users to stop. Does the presence of a stop sign require trail users to forfeit the right-of-way to roadway users?

madison bike trail and road intersection by Luton, on Flickr

madison bike trail and road intersection by Luton, on Flickr

In absense of a stop sign or traffic signal the question of right-of-way is simple: trail and sidewalk users always have the right-of-way over roadway users at all crosswalks, including mid-block crosswalks and unmarked crosswalks at intersections (MN state laws do not make any distinction between marked and unmarked crosswalks). At all uncontrolled crosswalks, drivers are expected to stop for trail and sidewalk users regardless of traffic volumes, traffic speeds, vehicle platooning patterns, or any other criteria. The only drivers that aren’t required to stop for trail users are those who are close enough to the crosswalk when the pedestrian arrives that they can not safely stop. All others must yield.

Engineers may reassign this right-of-way to other users wherever they deem appropriate using traffic control devices. For example, traffic signals and the accompanying pedestrian signals override the presence of a crosswalk at an intersection. Bikes and Pedestrians are required to follow the traffic signal, which cyclically reassigns the right-of-way to other movements and roadway users. The right-of-way assigned by the traffic signal clearly trumps any right-of-way conventions implied by the crosswalk (other than turning vehicles must still yield to pedestrians in crosswalks).

Today’s question: does the presence of a stop sign along a trail or sidewalk similarly reassign the right-of-way to roadway users, or does it simply require the trail users to come to a complete stop before asserting their legal claim to the right-of-way? Engineers will disagree on this question, and in practice, stop signs are used in both situations with different intentions (but users have no way of knowing the engineers intent). State statutes and engineering guidance do not explicitly address this situation, so it’s not an easy question to answer. I have an opinion, but there are good arguments on both sides of the question.

Since a traffic signal clearly trumps a crosswalk, I can understand an argument that a stop sign would similarly trump the crosswalk.  However, (this is where engineers may disagree) I also understand the opposing argument, that they merely dictate an action (stopping), and after a roadway or trail user has complied with this direction their actions are dictated by other right-of-way conventions and laws.

I tend to think that a stop sign does not automatically reassign the right-of-way, and that trail users still have the right-of-way after coming to a complete stop (other than at unmarked mid-block locations that are not legal crosswalks), but my reasoning is based more on what I believe the intent of crosswalk laws are, rather than what the laws explicitly state.

What do you think? When you encounter this situation on local trails, how do you react?

5 comments to Right-of-way at Stop Signs on Trails

  • Excellent summary of the issues. Where, though, does state law make an exception to pedestrian right-of-way in a crosswalk for signs indicating otherwise? I can only find reference to exceptions for intersections with traffic control signals (MN 169.21 subd 2), and statute seems to be consistent in differentiating between signals, signs, markings, and devices overall.

    Otherwise, MN169.20 subd 3(b) grants right-of-way to the vehicle not controlled by a stop sign, implying that bicycles (as vehicles) yield right-of-way in the situation you describe. However, not even a lawyer can argue that a pedestrian is a vehicle, and MN 169.222 subd 4(f) grants bicycles in crosswalks “all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances”, which MN 169.21 subd 2(a) states are that “the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.” If state law requires drivers to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and cyclists legally using crosswalks, and state law also gives right of way to users not controlled by stop signs, it seems to me that the placement of stop signs on trails is in violation of state law.

  • hokan

    Minneapolis Public Works has a new guideline (Guidelines: For the Installation of Traffic Control Devices at Intersections of At-Grade Shared-Use Path and Public Streets, published 2009) that makes clear that a shared-use path is not a sidewalk. Crosswalks may be marked at SUP crossings, but when the SUP separates bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the crosswalk is aligned with the pedestrian portion only. Cyclists must behave just the same (follow the same right-of-way rules) as if they were on any other road.

  • I agree with Alex. “A person lawfully operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.” (169.222)

    Even if (as Hokan) said, we do not consider the trail a sidewalk, a marked crosswalk is a crosswalk no matter what: “Crosswalk” means (1) that portion of a roadway ordinarily included with the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at intersections; (2) any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface. (169.011)

    Therefore, a bicycle operating across a marked crosswalk has right-of-way (as a “pedestrian”. I am not certain if the STOP sign is still valid (in requiring the action), but it is quite clear that the bicycle still has right-of-way. It’s a little harder of a case to argue if there are no crosswalk markings — but there usually are where an SUP meets a roadway.

    All in all, I don’t think most engineers actually intend bicyclists to stop at trail STOP signs — this is a belt-and-suspenders approach to traffic safety, hoping bicycles will exercise extra caution upon seeing the little red octagons.

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