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Bicycle Safety

Should California Enact an “Idaho Stop” Law for Cyclists?

12:23 PM PDT on March 24, 2009


Oregon lawmakers have been engaged in a heated debate about enacting an "Idaho Stop" law, which would codify what most cyclists already do: treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.  The issue has come up before in Sacramento, but has never been so close to adoption.

SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley notes that the organizing hurdles would be enormous, that it would require a statewide campaign that few bicycle organizations are willing to waste political capital on, and that opponents like the California Highway Patrol would make passage of the law particularly difficult.

Locally SFBC would rather focus on enforcing laws that endanger the most vulnerable users, including when the violator is a cyclist.  In a letter (PDF) to SFPD Chief Fong, Thornley called these violations "right-of-way theft":

Not only do many bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities result from failure to yield right-of-way, but rampant uncited "right-of-way theft" by all road users (including bicyclists) nurtures a perception of anarchy and permissiveness, that "anything goes" on the streets, which in turn gives license to further misbehavior, ranging from simply discourteous to gravely dangerous. Motorists must take their turn and give way to bicyclists and pedestrians at intersections before turning, instead of bullying their way (consciously or distractedly) through the turn. Likewise, bicyclists must take their turn and yield the right-of-way to all users as appropriate, stopping for pedestrians and motorists and other cyclists alike.

This reflects the spirit of the code of conduct in Paris, where each user is responsible for the safety of the users who weigh less and are more vulnerable, so motorists look out for cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists look out for pedestrians, etc.  This is explained in this wonderful Streetfilm about the streets in Paris:

What do you think?  Is the de facto situation in San Francisco satisfactory or should a better law be devised?

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