Bikes Are Not Cars: Why California Needs an “Idaho Stop” Law

If you follow just about any major media coverage of street etiquette and safety, by now you’ve probably seen a piece vilifying people on bikes for “running” stop signs. But hop on a bike yourself, and you’ll start to see why safely rolling and yielding at stop signs makes sense.

The stop sign law in effect in almost every state has a fundamental flaw: It assumes that bicycles are just like cars, creating the unrealistic expectation that someone on a bike should make a full stop at every stop sign, even when there are plainly no cars or pedestrians nearby.

The problem with this is that it effectively criminalizes the way that people naturally negotiate stop sign intersections on a bike: by slowing, checking for traffic, and being prepared to yield to others. Try the experiment a million times, and you’ll get the same results: everyone, including SF police officers (and probably the lawmakers themselves), will negotiate this way.

The reason behind this is, basically, that operating a 30-pound bicycle is quite different from driving a multi-ton, motorized vehicle. A bicycle doesn’t encase the user in a bulky metal frame that hinders vision. Bicycles can also stop on a dime compared to cars. It’s for these reasons that when driving a car, the care needed to avoid a crash is drastically higher.

To reflect this reality, Idaho amended its stop sign law to allow bicycle riders to treat stop signs as yield signs. This means that while a bicycle rider still can’t blow through stop signs or violate anyone’s right-of-way — which is dangerous and should be enforced — they are allowed to slow down, check for traffic, and proceed legally. The law has clarified expectations between road users, and, as the above video (produced by Spencer Boomhower in support of an effort in Oregon to pass an Idaho-style law) notes, it has a 30-year track record.

SFPD demonstrates effective practice of the Idaho stop sign law.

Meanwhile, the current law in California and all other states leads to an unproductive fixation on this behavior. While more serious safety issues go neglected by SF’s police department, people on bikes are arbitrarily fined hundreds of dollars for using a safe, common practice that most people are used to, filling courts with frivolous cases. People are then discouraged from riding bikes at all, or castigated by reporters like KRON’s Stanley Roberts.

Bike advocates have pushed to change California’s law, but the hurdles are enormous. Instead, the SF Bicycle Coalition urges the SFPD to focus its limited resources “on those known areas where people are being hit and injured and the most dangerous behaviors, rather than reacting to media or political pressure,” said Executive Director Leah Shahum. “If the enforcement were based on the data of actual problems, we would see greater benefit to public safety for all road users.”

While bicycle stop sign violations aren’t even on the map as a frequent cause of crashes, 96 percent of the 899 pedestrians injured in 2011 were hit by car drivers. That’s about three a day. The most common cause of pedestrian injuries in San Francisco is failure to yield by motorists (42 percent of all cases). According to SFPD data, some of the intersections with the highest number of injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists in 2011 were Market Street and Octavia Boulevard (a freeway ramp), Divisadero and Oak Streets, and Market at Fifth, Sixth, and Valencia Streets. Robert Yegge, the only bicycle rider killed this year, was struck by a truck driver who failed to yield at Oak and Franklin Streets.

Despite all this, you could still be sure to find police officers stinging bicycle riders on the Wiggle this week to enforce a law they won’t even follow themselves.

“The reality is that the vast majority of people bicycling and driving are doing so responsibly,” said Shahum. “We do need a smarter, more data-driven strategy toward improving that bad behavior among some that garners so much public attention. And the city needs to update its enforcement strategy — along with policies and infrastructure — in order to actually encourage safe behavior.”

Note: KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts got in touch with Streetsblog and said he sticks by his letter-of-the-law approach: “Change the law, and I won’t have to do the segment.”

  • We really need the SF Bicycle Coalition to come out explicitly for the Idaho Stop or some version of it. We haven’t been a leader on this issue, so we should at least be a good follower. 
    The Idaho Stop is not enough because it doesn’t include red lights, but it’s a start.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, even police on their own bicycles do a “Idaho Stop”. Also, what about the riding in single file rule?

  • Andy Chow

    Not just the momentum issue, whenever you do a complete stop, you lose your balance and will have to put your foot down. That makes ceremonial full stop unpleasant, as supposed to someone who is driving on a four, or someone in a motorcycle who can start accelerate using hand throttle rather than foot pedal. Most of the stops at stop signs (especially 4 ways stops in residential areas) are ceremonial, where you’re not waiting for the traffic to clear.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree.  Then we could move on from the silly finger-pointing about bikes and stop signs.

  • Anonymous

    Most car drivers don’t come to complete stops at stop signs either. Car drivers try to justify it by saying they were going much faster before the stop sign, but in reality they still run the stop signs at higher speeds than bicyclists do. Car drivers have poorer visibility of pedestrians than bicyclists, so the cops would have a bigger impact on safety by cracking down on car drivers instead of bicyclists. Even in Stanley Roberts’ video, you can see several cars running stop signs (eg right behind the pedestrian whining about bicycles) and the cops not doing anything.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to preface this by saying that biking is my main means of transportation. It has been so in Seattle and in San Francisco. I stop at red lights and am still able to make it  places faster than the unaware and reckless folks that ride without helmets and blow through red lights. When visiting anywhere else, it’s my main mode of transport as well. I say that because I am sure the following comments will ruffle the feathers of some people:

    Dude, no one in California comes to complete stops at stop signs. Drivers, cyclists, what have you. We don’t need an Idaho stop law simply because, in most cases cops don’t care. I rarely put my foot on the pavement near police, but I do slow considerably, and they do appreciate that. All that an Idaho stop law would do in California is give the impatient and unaware red light running cyclists a bit more entitlement to run red lights (which is way more dangerous than slowly rolling through a four way stop). California isn’t Idaho. San Francisco isn’t Boise. Los Angeles isn’t Couer D’Alene. This is the most populous state in the country. Just as many people live has as the whole of Canada. It’s far more dense, and far more dangerous on the road. What we do need to do is to penalize everyone – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – who violates traffic laws. If we all followed the rules, we’d be a lot safer. 

    There are other places (Seattle and Vancouver come to mind right off the bat) where cyclists and drivers are more strict about following the rules, and surprise! Everyone gets where they are going AND there are less collisions. Novel concept, eh?

  • timmmii

    I’m from michigan and have lived in California 12 years. Oiseaux is exactly right when saying “no one in california comes to complete stops at stop signs.”

    when i first moved here, i couldn’t believe how often cars routinely blew through stop signs and red lights. i still can’t believe it, actually. 

    “If we all followed the rules, we’d be a lot safer.” – so true.

    i bicycle AND i own a car, so i see it from both sides and any sane person can see that a bicycle is NOT THE SAME as a car.

  • @oiseaux:disqus Do you even know what the Idaho law is? The fact that you think this would increase red light running leads me to believe you don’t.

  • The single file rule isn’t a rule:

  • Anonymous

     Idaho Stop does include red lights:

    (2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching asteady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersectionand shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he mayproceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that aperson after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way ifrequired, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto aone-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding toother traffic.

  • Anonymous

    Sean – Yep. They’ve been trying to get it passed in Washington for a while now. You are obviously missing the point. Either that, or you are trying to miss the point. Stupid people already run red lights all the time on major streets like Valencia and Market. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. The sort that ride with headphones in and their head fixed straight ahead (also known as tunnel vision) will see this as an elevating cyclists above common road use laws.

    If people already are running red lights, and if everyone is rolling through stop signs when the law states that all vehicles must come to a complete stop, then some people will think “well, I can now legally do that at stop signs. Why not stop lights?” It’s human nature to test those boundaries, but unfortunately the rise in cycling in California has also come with little to no education. Anyone can hop on a fixie and ride down the road, but most people do so without actually knowing how to be respectful to other human beings and to also just follow the rules. Road safety is just that; safety. 

    I’m not concerned about a new law when it comes to stop signs. Everyone rolls through them already. We don’t need a new law for that. We do need to be cautious of what laws we do think of though, because there are LOTS of people in this city who don’t actually know what sharing the road means and are also super uninformed about the laws currently in place. Someone hears you can roll through intersections and I guarantee you that someone will also think that goes for all of them.

    It’s usally the novice or fashion-conscious “look at me” cyclists that don’t follow the rules and end up getting hurt. They’re also the people that complain about rules that frame the rights of road users. What is so hard about following those rules? I don’t get it. (again, not talking about stop signs, because Californians stop differently than most of the rest of the country anyway) You can get to where you are going and you can do it without endangering yourself (and possibly others) All you have to do is be aware. Take out the earbuds. Watch the road. Wait your turn.

    Sure there needs to be specific road rules for bikes, but only when we finally have proper infrastructure. We’re not there yet. The sad thing is that most  people don’t slow, look, and roll through as it is. If they did that, then MAYBE we could adopt a rule from a state with maybe a 16th the density and 10% percent the population. First comes education. Then comes infrastructure. Then finally come different rules. Why do we have to act like cars currently? Well, who are we sharing the road with? Bingo.

  • @oiseaux:disqus the reason we need to codify what we know everyone is doing is precisely to set boundaries. Right now all the laws we have were designed with cars in mind. Reasonable people know where and when to bend them, but it all goes to hell when some curmudgeon complains and the cops set up a Wiggle sting. 

    I am a little more pragmatic and believe that you would see more respect for the law  if it respected the fact that the physics of a bicycle are completely different than that of a car. Very few would complain if the SFPD set up a sting to catch the people blowing red lights. Instead, we have arbitrary enforcement of a law that even the police ignore.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with having a law on the books that almost everyone bends with few consequences is that if you are involved in a collision while bending said law it WILL be used against you in court to your detriment. This is exactly why I currently come to a complete stop at all stop signs while still fighting for a version of the Idaho “stop as yield” law in this state (Yes, I do live in California, but I don’t feel like counting on being one of the “most cases” that you describe). If every cyclist who currently disregards the law instead worked to change it we would already have an Idaho-style law here, but with the existing state of apathy nothing is likely to change.

    “San Francisco isn’t Boise.”
    No, but Boise is very comparable to Fremont, CA, in population and density, except that Boise has a higher bicycle mode share than Fremont and a better safety record for cyclists. Despite your apparent contempt for Idaho you should at least note that they do have traffic and intersections in their cities just like San Francisco, so if they are able to promote bicycling and safety via this law then it is probably something a super “bike friendly” city like SF should be looking into.

    A law like this for California would give the police specific guidance to not bother ticketing cyclists who roll safely through stops, and spend more time cracking down on the “stupid people” that you describe who are causing a legitimate safety concern.

  • Anonymous

    I like the stop sign part of the Idaho law, but the stop light part gives the state an excuse not to spend money making sure that their traffic signals detect and accomodate bikes efficiently. I’d rather wait at the light and have it change for me just like it would if I was driving a car, as opposed to being forced to navigate through the intersection on a red.

  • peternatural

    Rules of the road: Look where you’re going. Take your turn. Don’t run over the pedestrians.

    Notice there’s nothing there about stopping at stop signs.

    Even if 0.000001% of the population enjoys debating this topic in online forums, in the real world it’s long been settled. Stop if there’s anyone to stop for, or if police are watching, or if there’s a KRON camera on the scene. Otherwise, keep calm and pedal on 😉

  • Mario Tanev

    I think it’s better to change the law to reflect what is safe for both cars and bicycles. The law should require yielding for traffic with the right of way, for slowing down to 2 mph at the intersection for 3 seconds, and for accelerating to no more than 10 mph by the end of the intersection.That’s what bicycles that operate safely do, and if a car operates this way then fine (and when they do I don’t mind them at all, it makes traffic flow more efficient). 
    Allowing crossing on red lights is a terrible idea – I agree with other commenters that a better solution is to ensure a light cycle so that a bicycle has the chance to cross. In case a light cycle is impossible, then the road or cameras should detect the bicycle to give it the right of way.I am disappointed that the bicycle coalition is not pursuing a change in the law. I operate very safely, by slowing down at every intersection and yielding to pedestrians and other traffic if they have the right of way. I fully stop at red lights. I think that’s pretty safe, yet I am worried that I will get ticketed just for not putting my foot on the ground. This fear must be discouraging many potential cyclists from riding.

  • “Bicycles can also stop on a dime compared to cars.”
    This isn’t always true: the ability to stop very quickly has a lot to do with how fast you’re going, no? This truth is made explicit in the Chris Bucchare case.
    And it was brought home to me the other day too- I was traveling about 5 to 7 miles an hour and was called upon to stop quickly and found it difficult.
    So does the Idaho Law, or any proposal like it, have anything to say about speed?

  • Anonymous

    I think we are long-past due for the Idaho Stop Law in California and I think it’s high time we stopped this nonsense that bicycles are cars. And I agree that we really need to the SFBC to step up on this issue and make it one of their primary causes. If we can then also get LA on board, that is a huge amount of power to make this happen.

    Some have commented that Idaho is not California and therefore the success of this law in Idaho somehow doesn’t apply to California. That is ridiculous. Take Boise versus SF. Even though SF is 4 times bigger population wise, that doesn’t mean that intersections in SF are 4 times bigger or have 4 times more traffic. Boise has plenty of intersections which are just as dangerous as ones in SF, like this one:,+idaho&hl=en&ll=43.613167,-116.207588&spn=0.00407,0.013078&sll=37.77493,-122.419416&sspn=0.142198,0.41851&hnear=Boise,+Ada,+Idaho&t=m&z=17&layer=c&cbll=43.613167,-116.207588&panoid=kh8cz-nQu5rD9F0BJZcqsw&cbp=12,310.15,,0,0.37

    The difference is SF has a lot *more* intersections than Boise, not that the underlying dynamics between different modes of transit (and between a given mode of transit) are any different in the two cities. There is absolutely no reason why the results of the Idaho Stop Law in Boise are not applicable to SF.

  • Anonymous

    @Prinzrob:disqus  The real advantage of this law are not seen at large, heavily-trafficked intersections. Instead, they really show their strength on streets like Valencia where there are stop lights at almost every block and the cross streets often have little traffic. This are the intersections where the Idaho Stop Law really shines and simply makes legal what everyone already does. As for not installing sensors because of this law, I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case … I’m sure people will still want and demand sensors. Just because the law says you can pass through a red light after stopping doesn’t mean that people prefer this; everyone still prefers a green light, and I see no reason why this law would take away from that desire.

  • Anonymous

     @facebook-722074209:disqus wrote: “This isn’t always true: the ability to stop very quickly has a lot to do with how fast you’re going, no?”

    Yes, but also how much the vehicle weighs and reaction time. Also, on a bike, it depends on how well you use your front brake: using the front brake will stop you the most quickly, provided you don’t use it too much so that you go over the handlebars.

    In the end, I think the dynamics of braking in either a bike or car are complicated and I’m not sure I would say that, from a purely theoretical/academic point of view, that a bike can stop faster than a car if they are going at the same speed.

    However, *practically* speaking, one of the biggest problems that prevents car’s from stopping quick enough is that the driver is distracted and has their vision and hearing dulled by the car. I think this is the dominating factor in determining real-life stopping distance, and hence the reasons, *practically-speaking*, a bicycle can stop quicker than a car. Also, it is important to remember that cars are almost always going faster than bicycles, so therefore they inherently have a larger obstacle to overcome, so to speak.

    Hence, due to the practical issues involved (car drivers are distracted and have their senses dulled and are usually traveling faster than bicyclists), I think it’s fair to say that a bicyclist can stop quicker than a motorist.

  • Charles_Siegel

    When I am bicycling, I find that 90% of cars don’t expect me to come to a full stop at stop signs.  At a 4-way stop, the car will almost always wait for the bike to go through on the cross street.

    But 5% or 10% expect bikes to come to a full stop at the stop sign, creating conflicts. 

    Adopting the Idaho law would eliminate these conflicts by adjusting the law to fit the actual behavior of most people, making the streets safer and more predictable.

    Once, I reached a stop-sign at the same time as a car, and I rolled through the stop sign very slowly, maybe 2 or 3 mph.  Unfortunately, the car also rolled through the stop sign to make a right turn.  Then the driver started yelling at me that I should have observed the stop sign, that she could have made her rolling right turn easily if I had come to a full stop.  (Needless to say, she didn’t know that cars should merge into the bike lane before making a right turn, and instead she hooked across the bike lane.)

  • zscore

    I agree that the Idaho Stop Law is needed in California. Motorists don’t realize that asking a cyclist to ‘come to a full stop’ is equivalent to asking a motorist to come to a stop, put the car in park and turn off the engine. No motorist would ever do this. Bikes are not cars. We need a department of NON-motor vehicles.

  • Anonymous

    “Change the law, and I won’t have to do the segment.”I, for one, am happy to have a crusader like Stanley Roberts on the case. I sleep much more soundly at night knowing a hard-hitting investigative reporter is following every major crime violation where his moral compass tells him he “has” to do a segment. This is definitely some of the best journalism since KRON blew the lid off the Whistle Tips controversy. Bravo, Fourth Branch. 

  • RealityBetraysUs

    As a bike rider I do everything I can to avoid cars even if it means going around their back side so I don’t hold them up and they do not feel obligated to wait for me. If both vehicle drivers and bike riders showed a little more common sense and courtesy -consideration we would not have to try and legislate morality.  A successful bike rider can get in and get out and get to where they are going with the least amount of fuss and strain. If people do not  even know I am there it makes it harder for them to target me or hit me with their stupidity. I believe in defense bike riding so the less I am in their way the better.Semi truck drivers will tell you the same thing; they drive slowly and cautiously but they let the impatient car drivers get ahead of them and go around. They do not try to compete with them. If people tried to stay out of others way and find their own “space” it would make driving any kind of transportation easier and more enjoyable.

  • Andy Thornley

    I’m surprised that the Idaho law itself hasn’t been cited here (Andrew_Mc quoted the red light part), behold:

    It’s linked on the SFBC’s page about the Idaho STOP law, along with lots more to chew on:
    Changing California law would be very very difficult, and even if we somehow got it done a huge percentage of bike riders would still be breaking the law as they’re riding today, ’cause they’re just not yielding (everybody take your turn already). It would be much more productive and realistic to get the SFPD to prioritize enforcement of “failure to yield” violations (by all users, especially drivers), and lay off “failure to stop” violations (perhaps following the precedent of other written / legislated enforcement prioritization policies, see the BoS’ 1996 de-prioritization of cannabis enforcement, now SF Admin Code Chapter 12X).

    That’s why there are STOP signs to start with, they weren’t invented to manage bicycle traffic, they first appeared in Detroit in 1915, they weren’t really needed before then — they’re a blunt tool to oblige road users to give way to each other in a world where some of those users are operating beyond-human-scale heavy / fast / lethal machines that need extra intervention to get them to be less lethal. And of course STOP signs don’t stop lethal vehicular behavior, they don’t even make vehicle operators give way to other road users.

    So let’s have a local Idaho STOP protocol and start focusing on failure to yield, whether the SFPD changes priorities on their own, or the Board of Supes legislate such a priority for the SFPD to follow. And if you’re not already, start giving way, taking your turn, yielding to other users when it’s their turn, no matter what. We’re trying to have a civilization here, and it starts with you, whatever the law says . . .

  • Erik Griswold

    To be fair, Roberts goes after drivers just as much, if not more-so.

  • Rich R

    I am sorry, but the “natural” way of rolling through stop signs is just plain laziness, as is rolling through in a car. I agree that enforcement should be balanced – if rolling through on a bike deserves a ticket, so should rolling through in your car. If the PD is enforcing one and not the other, then shame on them and things should change. However, making stop signs “yield” for bikes is not the answer in my opinion. By the way, I manage to stop at stop signs whether in my car or on my bike. 

  • Bhk

    There does seem to be a growing movement to allow bicycles to treat stop as yield:

  • Cars have a greater surface area in contact with the pavement and lower center of gravity allowing them to stop faster (believe it or not).

    I was going down a hill side-by-side with a car in the next lane doing ~30mph. A truck pulled out of a side street across traffic and stalled, blocking our lanes. We both laid on the brakes. I was braking so hard I was doing a wheel stand up to the point where I hit the truck. The car was able to stop in time.

  • I wish we used more yield signs, in general, reserving stop signs only for where truly necessary.

  • Anonymous

    I like the European method of using ‘sharks teeth’ road markings to designate which direction of traffic has the right of way. No signs required!

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t it be possible for cyclists to navigate 4 way stops the same way they do 2 way stops already, when they have the right of way? Basically look for cross traffic and anticipate a stop, look for and yield to pedestrians, and proceed.

    I do stop at all stop signs, myself (even when turning right), but I still consider a complete stop quite unnecessary as I have encountered just as many potential collisions at 2 way stop intersections where cross traffic stole the right of way unexpectedly but I still managed to anticipate and avoid a collision. When I see a car or e-bike roll through a stop sign it is indeed pure laziness, but for a cyclist it is more a matter of comfort and efficiency, the same things our road and highway system has designed for car drivers by default.

    The golden rule for cyclists in traffic should be “pay attention, anticipate conflicts, and don’t steal the right of way”. Stop signs are typically put in place with the intention of calming traffic closer to legal speeds, which usually doesn’t apply to cyclists except on downhills.

  • Ccshan

    Up next on KRON 4, Stanley Roberts reports: when will the nation’s reckless, lawless motorists start to obey the speed limit? Bonus segment: Roberts turns himself in to highway police, and hilarity ensues.

  • Mswink

    Yes. The thing that makes me mad too about this is that the police do not equally enforce laws that benefit bicycles. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been through the wiggle and seen policy citing a bicyclist, then gotten up to Fell and Scott where a car is blatantly occupying the bike box. 

  • In fairness, plenty of Stanley’s pieces focus on driver behavior, and I wouldn’t doubt you could find one on speeding pretty easily. Check out his Youtube page: 

  • mikesonn

    He hits drivers pretty often. Newest video:

    Only difference, there aren’t cops giving tickets for drivers rolling stop signs.

  • That Roberts video is at thte top of the masty hill on Alameda in Belmont. I’ve run it 😉

  • Anonymous

    @e62d33769403db96fb21badc1f44bbd9:disqus wrote: “I am sorry, but the “natural” way of rolling through stop signs is just plain laziness, as is rolling through in a car”

    Wait: did you just say that a bicyclist rolling through a stop sign is lazy while in the same sentence comparing them to motorists who, by the very definition of how a car works (only having to barely move your hands or feet to drive), are THE laziest of all people moving through a city? Are you kidding? By that argument, I could argue that every motorists needs to get out of their car and walk or bike to work because they are just being lazy. You do realize the hypocrisy (and bias) in your statement, right?

  • common sensical

    what gets lost in this debate is that laws are not about convenience but safety.  Yes it is inconvenient for a bicycle to come to a complete stop. It is however sfe.  It ensure that both the cyclist and any traffic all have time to take stock of the situation and make sure no one gets hit or hurt.  This is nto a debate of conveneince.  The problem really srems from the current generation of cyclists who all think they are riding the tour de france when they commute.  Naturally it is much more difficult to come to stop then restart if you are trying to cycle at 25 miles an hour.  Unfortunately it is these cyclists who most need to actually come to a stop.  Rather than realizing that they are a part of traffic flow and yes are a vehicle they somehow think that thier right to cycle enshouds them in a safety cocoon.   A good cyclist takes the necessary measures to ensure everyone is safe and should not complain that the rules deisnged to keep them safe are an inconvenience. 

  • mikesonn

    FTFY: The problem really srems from the current generation of drivers who all think they are driving the Circuit de Monaco when they commute.

    Also: “stop then restart if you are trying to cycle at 25 miles an hour”

    Clearly you don’t often (if ever) cycle. It’s amazing how many people think that cyclists zip around at 20+ (or even 25) mph. Try riding at even 17 mph for an extended period on a steel frame bike on city streets, you’ll be huffing and puffing after a block. Nearly all people travel at 8-13 mph (hence the light timing on Valencia) while on a bike.

    FTFY: drivers somehow think that their vehicle enshouds them in a safety [and freedom from responsibility] cocoon.

  • peternatural

    Meanwhile, back on planet earth, when a cyclist slows to 9 mph at a 4-way stop with excellent visibility in all directions, and it’s clear that no one else is around, it’s safe to roll on through. You can huff and puff all you want, but cyclists will continue to give the law exactly the respect it deserves (i.e., not a lot).

  • Anonymous

    @fb2f0114ee25bb16ec2fa693bba3123e:disqus wrote: “Yes it is inconvenient for a bicycle to come to a complete stop. It is however sfe [sic].”

    Alright, let’s take this argument further then. Let’s force motorists to shift to “park” each time they stop at a stop sign; otherwise, how can we guarantee they have really stopped? Oh, and motorists should wear helmets, too, since car accidents are the second leading cause of head injuries ( And, while we’re at it, it’s *much* safer if all cars travel at 10 mph, so from now on, all speed limits are 10 mph.

    As you can see, rour argument is nonsensical, biased, and shows a complete misunderstanding of how urban cycling really works. Watch the Tour de France less and get on a bike and ride through a city like SF and see how the vast majority of people actually ride and how it actually works.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you that a “stop as yield” law would mostly benefit cyclists in terms of added convenience, but what you are overlooking is that for cyclists increased convenience and increased safety are directly linked. Making bicycling more convenient means more people will choose a bike for transportation, and more bicycles on our streets translates into greater safety as motorists are more aware and vigilant about watching for bikes, have more experience operating around cyclists and a better understanding of the law, and are less likely to intimidate or bully cyclists they encounter on the road.

    Additionally, most of people who are currently on the fence right now about whether to bike or not are not the super strong, 25 mph riders that you describe (although I only see people riding like that on rural highways, never in the city). The people who will be convinced to bike via added convenience are parents, kids, more women cyclists, mature cyclists with a healthy sense of their own mortality. Adding more of these people to the city’s bike ridership will have a calming affect on the status quo behavior, making the streets safer for everyone.

    I used to be unconvinced about a number of proposals and street treatments that I saw as having little inherent safety value. Then I started looking at the big picture and realized that anything we can do to encourage more people to bike, even if the benefits are only perceived, will translate into real gains in safety.

  • The problem here is that what stopping means is black & white.  Slowing ‘enough’ and looking ‘enough’ is gray.  That said, cyclists have a powerful incentive to get it right…. more so than a vehicle driver.  Overall I support “stop means yield for human powered vehicles”.

  • Anonymous

    So, tell me why this ‘Idaho Stop’ shouldn’t apply to cars, too?  Are drivers not able to approach a stop sign, assess the cross traffic and proceed without a full stop if there is no danger?  I will tell you why:  Because being able to anticipate the actions of other cars (and bikes) is one of the key ingredients in safe driving.  In addition, it’s really presuming a lot that a cyclist doing 17, 20, 25 mph on the street will be able to make an entirely accurate and clear judgment of whether there is cross traffic and how it will behave.  And what happens when two cyclists approach the same four-way stop and both decide that they can ‘Idaho Stop’ rather than fully stop?  Allowing bikes to roll stop signs will add an entire level of uncertainty to four-way stops.  Not to mention that we’re not talking strictly about cars and bikes here.  Full stops also serve pedestrians, who are in many ways the most vulnerable on city streets. 

  • mikesonn

    Anyone on a bike approaching an intersection at 17, 20, 25 mph will still be breaking the law under the Idaho Stop. Also, please hop on a bike once and ride around the city (and approach intersections) at 17 mph+. Please, I’m so sick of people talking about speeds as though everyday cyclists can easily hit 20+ mph on city streets.

  • Anonymous

    @odypoly:disqus wrote: “So, tell me why this ‘Idaho Stop’ shouldn’t apply to cars, too?”

    The answer is in the article you supposedly read:
    “The reason behind this is, basically, that operating a 30-pound bicycle is quite different from driving a multi-ton, motorized vehicle. A bicycle doesn’t encase the user in a bulky metal frame that hinders vision. Bicycles can also stop on a dime compared to cars. It’s for these reasons that when driving a car, the care needed to avoid a crash is drastically higher.”

    Do you agree that bicycles and cars are very different machines? If so, then doesn’t it make sense that different physics apply and hence different rules might be appropriate? You are suffering from status quo bias, where society pretends like cars are bikes. That is utter nonsense. If anything, bicycles are much closer to being pedestrians than cars (be it by weight, horsepower, speed, and ability to see/hear their surroundings). And do pedestrians needs stop signs when they come to a pedestrian-only intersection (like in a pedestrian-only plaza in a European city, or on a crowded sidewalk)? Why not? How come pedestrians can be walking helter-skelter through a plaza and not kill each other? And of course the answer is: they are moving slow and weigh very little and it’s pretty straight forward for people to avoid collisions (except for the occasional person who forgets to look where they are going). Now, a bike is not a pedestrian, but it’s also not a car — it’s somewhere in between (and again, closer to a pedestrian). Therefore, it makes sense that some of the behavior pedestrians use is appropriate for a bicycle just like some behavior from a car is appropriate. You can’t just say because something is appropriate for cars it is appropriate for bicycles. And as almost every single person who rides a bike can attest, there is *nothing* gained by coming to a complete stop at an empty intersection or when the right of way is clear.

    And again, look to the results of Idaho where this rule has been in effect for several decades with no increase in accident rates. Just like the pedestrians, bicycles can easily figure out how to proceed through an enormous intersection much like a pedestrian can figure out how to walk down a crowded sidewalk without any problems.

    “And what happens when two cyclists approach the same four-way stop and
    both decide that they can ‘Idaho Stop’ rather than fully stop?”

    In that case, then they must stop since right-of-way is not obvious. The Idaho Stop Law says you still have to treat it like a traditional stop sign if the right of way isn’t obvious. And practically speaking, with enormous intersections designed for cars which are much bigger than bicycles, it’s pretty hard for 2 bicyclists to collide even if they don’t stop just so long as they both slow down and use caution. Cyclists do this *all* the time right now in the city without any problem.

  • Mom on a bike

    It’s kind of a waste of time to respond to comments like this, but here goes: It’s not just the sheer killing-ness of cars that makes it necessary for them to come to a complete stop. It’s the acceleration. I live on a cul-de-sac 1/2 block north of a 4-way stop and can attest to how stop-sign rollers cause problems for cross traffic. 

    When you roll through a stop sign, the guy behind you will more likely also roll the stop sign, and so on. As you travel northbound and monkey-see-monkey-do follow the car in front, accelerating to the next intersection, the minor-street intersection traffic has to wait and wait and wait until the clot of stop-sign runners clears. Hence you have witnessed a small example of the ripple effects of a selfish, seemingly ‘harmless’ action like rolling a stop sign when no cross traffic at said stop sign is present.Cyclists can’t attain the kind of acceleration in the length of a half city block that would cause problems for cross traffic. 

  • peternatural

    Because cars weigh thousand of pounds, limit the driver’s ability to see and hear, and can crush a pedestrian even at slow speeds.

    As for how an Idaho stop could never work, that’s funny, because it’s already common practice and has been working just fine. Police almost never give tickets even when they see it happening right in front of them.

  • kexiao