Saying that motorists and bicyclists don’t always get along is not only a massive understatement, but at this point it feels like beating a dead horse. Now, as San Francisco debates the possibility of allowing cyclists to use an “Idaho…
Several weeks ago we wrote about a proposed bill that would make San Francisco the largest U.S. city to adopt a stop-as-yield law for cyclists. Earlier this week San Francisco supervisors on the Land Use and Transportation Committee voted in support of the law, which would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.
With a renewed uptick in the enforcement of cycling laws, the proposed stop-as-yield law would help redirect SFPD’s focus toward enforcing the types of behaviors most likely to cause traffic collisions (none of which involve bikes).
Many cyclists have complained about the seemingly arbitrary enforcement of existing bike laws. Earlier this week, SFPD had officers ticketing cyclists who failed to stop at the stop sign on Townsend and 5th. While treating this intersection as an “Idaho stop” is a ticketable offense, placing a police officer at the end of a bike lane littered with parking violations and dangerous automotive behavior seems like a massive misuse of resources.
One commenter on Streetsblog SF shared the following video that clearly shows the amount of vehicles breaking various laws along this short stretch of road:
If safety is the primary concern, it’s hard to justify ticketing cyclists for an incomplete stop while allowing multiple vehicles to obstruct the bike lane leading up to the intersection that’s being policed.
While it’s impossible to ignore the fact that some cyclists do indeed ride recklessly, the proposed stop-as-yield law would still require cyclists to give pedestrian traffic the right of way, allowing cyclists to proceed without fully stopping at stop signs only if the intersection is empty. This proposal would in no way diminish SFPD’s ability to ticket the small fraction of cyclists who legitimately flout the law, and would protect the large percentage of riders who exercise good judgment and just want to make it safely from point a to point b.
The bike-yield law will go before the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors on December 15th, and it’s currently unclear whether there’s enough support to overcome Mayor Ed Lee’s promised veto of the proposal. However, as Streetsblog pointed out this morning, changing the rules of the road (to make them safer for cyclists) won’t cause chaos. If anything, it will provide a more common sense approach to policing what is largely a non-issue.
The “Idaho stop” makes sense for a number of reasons. As Abigail Zenner points out in a post for Greater Greater Washington:
There are a few reasons to support the Idaho Stop:
1. It’s important for cyclists to conserve momentum, since starting up a bike requires muscle power.
2. The most dangerous place for bikes is at intersections with cars, so giving people on bikes permission to go through intersections when there are no cars nearby rather than forcing them wait (while one might pull up behind them) makes intersections safer for everyone. It also makes it less likely cars will get stuck behind bikes.
3. Since bikes move at relatively slow speeds, people using them have plenty of time to gauge oncoming traffic. That means there’s less need to stop and look around at every intersection; you can look around while moving slowly.
Despite some motorists claims to the contrary, embracing this proposal would improve traffic congestion for cars and drivers alike, encourage cycling, and increase safety for cyclists. Hopefully enough supervisors support this proposal next week to make it a reality.
UPDATE: The proposal passed on December 15th by a vote of 6 to 5. Unfortunately, that’s two votes short of what’s needed to override Mayor Lee’s veto.