SFBC, 3 Supervisors Say Law Should Let Cyclists Treat Stops as “Yield” Signs

The SF Bicycle Coalition announced its “unfettered support” today for a “Bike Yield Law” that would enable cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and cautiously roll through when there is no cross-traffic.

Photo: SFBC/Flickr
Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Until now, the SFBC has had no official position on the stop sign law, focusing instead on the message that police enforcement of bicycle riders who harmlessly roll through stop signs distracts from efforts to enforce violations that actually hurt people.

But when SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford attempted to crack down on bike commuters at stop signs earlier this month, the idea of changing the current law gained steam. After his first bike ride in many years, Sanford told Streetsblog that he can see how the “bike yield” practice can make sense, and that police already use “subjective” discretion in their enforcement. Last Thursday, he took a ride with a group of bike advocates to make amends.

Letting bicyclists treat stops as yields would entail changes to city ordinances and state law, which the SFBC refers to under the umbrella of the “Bike Yield Law.” The organization wrote in a statement:

The Bike Yield Law clarifies that people biking absolutely have to yield to people walking, but no one should waste time cracking down on people biking safely. The SFPD deserves this clear direction on how best to keep our streets safe, and that is the goal of the Bike Yield Law, which we support.

The SFBC plans to throw its support behind an ordinance proposed by Supervisor John Avalos, which Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener plan to co-sponsor, that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.”

But for now, there’s no broader campaign to change the state stop sign law, which is more challenging. California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder told SF Weekly last week that while the current law is “inappropriate,” the organization’s energy is focused on creating safer streets.

A similar law has been in effect since 1982 in Idaho, where it’s been credited with reducing injuries and clarifying expectations between drivers and bicyclists. Idaho’s law also allows bicycle riders to proceed through red lights when safe, and Paris adopted a similar law last month.

In the Bay Area, there was an effort in 2008 at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to endorse a “bike yield” law, on the tails of an (unsuccessful) effort in Oregon to change its law. But the MTC legislation stalled and was never approved. MTC staff wrote in a 2007 memo [PDF], “Allowing cyclists to roll through takes the ambiguity of the law away and allows law enforcement to focus on more serious violations.”

  • shotwellian

    An Idaho-style change in state law is a good long-term goal, but in the short term Avalos’s ordinance instructing SFPD to make harmless bike violations its lowest priority should be the main focus, and the former shouldn’t be allowed distract from the latter. Based on his repeated vetoes of even the innocuous 3-foot passing law, I’d be surprised if Jerry Brown would sign an Idaho Stop law.

  • Sean Co

    The law would have to changed at the state level and any change would have to be clear so that cyclists complying with the law would have a legal defense if they rolled through a stop sign. The issues I raised in the memo from 2007 are still things that need to be discussed.

  • It’s basically a ‘recommendation’ to the SFPD, not a law. It doesn’t matter what the law says if the police aren’t enforcing it e.g. driving 3 mph over the speed limit, 3-foot passing law, donkey in the bathtub, etc. etc.

  • Dark Soul

    Good luck with Pedestrian Safety if this Law passes.

  • @Dark Soul – Yes, that’s exactly what it would be: good luck for pedestrians. Because it is a directive to focus on the behavior that’s actually dangerous to pedestrians.

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