They’re hard to miss, those big red-and-white signs in the shape of a octagon that declare “STOP.”
But some Boise-area motorists — including at a main intersection at Bown Crossing — are interpreting stop signs as more of a recommendation than a requirement. Drivers often slow to a crawl and drift through a crosswalk, and then punch the gas to quickly clear intersections.
Some Canadians call it an “American stop,” according to Boston Globe columnist Ben Zimmer, who investigated the linguistics of bad driving.
A 3-minute, 45-second video recorded by the Statesman at the intersection of South Bown Way and East Riverwalk Drive shows a half-dozen vehicles blowing through the stop sign at the intersection. Others made half-hearted stops, hitting the brakes and showing every intention of stopping though not quiiiiiiiite doing it.
Just one person made an indisputable, full stop.
“This is one of many intersections that we are aware of where people do not come to a full and complete stop,” said Haley Williams, a spokeswoman for the Boise Police Department.
Failing to stop is a traffic infraction; the fine is $90 and includes three points on your driving record.
There were 6,878 vehicle trips on Bown Way during a 24-hour period last May, according to the Ada County Highway District. That’s a midrange volume for a midsize road, ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana said. For comparison: ParkCenter east of Bown has 6,820 daily trips, while ParkCenter west of Bown has 9,170 daily trips. Boise Avenue at Eckert has 7,215 daily trips.
Riverside Elementary School is in that area, and there’s a fairly new attraction that will surely boost motorized, bicycle and pedestrian traffic: the Boise Public Library’s newest branch, the Library! at Bown Crossing at 2153 E. Riverwalk Drive.
Williams said Boise traffic enforcement officers regularly go out to areas where they receive complaints, and Bown Way/Riverwalk Drive has been a focus in the past.
And Boiseans aren’t shy about reporting their concerns.
“We receive complaints daily from all over the city of traffic complaints ranging from speeding, stop signs, red lights, inattentive driving, school bus violations, etc.,” Williams said. “This particular location is similar to dozens or even hundreds of intersections within the city.”
Quintana doesn’t see an “infrastructure fix” for the lack of driver compliance at Bown Crossing.
“The intersection already has a bright, well-positioned stop sign, a bold stop bar and crosswalk markings,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll upsize the stop sign or add rumble strips in advance of the stop bar to get the driver’s attention, but that’s an approach mostly used in rural locations. These drivers are paying attention and making a choice to roll through.”
Sarmad Jasim, manager of the Boise Fry Company that’s on the corner of Bown and Riverwalk, watches motorists roll through the intersection regularly.
“It’s almost every other car that does not make a full stop,” said Jasim, who noted that it can be difficult to turn from Riverwalk onto Bown when drivers aren’t really stopping. “They’re rushing through it.”
Quintana said this “near-stop behavior” at intersections is common across the country, especially in places where the cross traffic is light.
“It’s the nonstop behavior, where the driver doesn’t slow at least to walking pace, that’s the greater concern,” he said. “A couple of drivers don’t seem to even touch the brakes in the clip (at Bown Crossing), and that’s a concern.”
It does appear to be a universal issue. In 2011, the police chief in Upper Nazareth Township, Pennsylvania, had signs posted in the hopes of reducing rolling stops, according to the Eastern Express Times. They read: “Complete stop, Free. Rolling stop, $110.50. YOUR CHOICE.” In another Pennsylvania town, the signs were credited for reducing crashes by 12 percent in less than a year.
Idaho Transportation Department ran a check on the number of crashes at the Bown and Riverwalk and found very few crashes in the past few years. From 2012 to 2016, there were three collisions, including one pedestrian being hit in 2014.
“I see Bown every day and cross it frequently with my daughter,” said Don Kostelec, a road safety advocate. “From what I’ve observed while sitting at Locavore on many mornings is that people tend to treat the stop sign as a yield when there are no other traffic conflicts but they stop when there are other users — motorized or not.”
Idaho stop law
Except when directed to proceed by a peace officer or traffic-control signal, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop:
(a) at a clearly marked stop line, or
(b) before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or
(c) at the point nearest the intersecting highway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting highway before entering it.
After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways.