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Avalos Proposes Ordinance Urging SFPD to Let Cyclists Yield at Stop Signs

Supervisor John Avalos plans to introduce a policy urging the SFPD to let people on bikes treat stop signs as yield signs. It could legitimize the safe, practical maneuver already practiced by the vast majority of people on bikes, which is legal in Idaho.

John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.
John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.
John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.

While SF can't supersede the state's flawed stop sign law, Avalos' ordinance would set a "San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy" that would "make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority," said a press release from Avalos' office:

The California Vehicle Code requires bikes to follow all the same rules as cars. But bikes are very different than cars. We’ve learned that traffic flows better when we give bikes certain considerations like bike lanes, sharrows, and bike boxes. Strict enforcement of stop sign laws for cyclists is counterproductive for several reasons:

  • It takes away scarce enforcement resources from more dangerous violations.
  • It is counterintuitive to the way most bicyclists and drivers currently navigate intersections.
  • It discourages people from bicycling.

"Nobody condones unsafe behavior by cyclists, but common sense enforcement of the law will make our streets safer and more predictable," the release says, noting that a 2010 academic study found that injuries have decreased in Idaho in the 32 years since it changed its law. "The study also found that Boise, Idaho had much lower injury rates than comparable cities such as Sacramento and Bakersfield."

"We can minimize these conflicts if we all take our turn at intersections and avoid being a ‘right-of-way thief,'" Avalos said in a statement. "Our streets work best when we all follow the ‘golden rule,’ and treat others like we want to be treated."

With City Hall on legislative recess, Avalos can't formally introduce his ordinance until September. If approved, SF would become the first known city in the state to recognize that the stop sign law isn't realistic when applied to bicycles.

Avalos, who ran his 2011 mayoral campaign on a strong pro-bike platform, announced his stop sign proposal after SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford ended his attempt to force compliance with the stop sign law with a two-day crackdown. The crackdown has also been opposed by Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener.

There is precedence for similar legislation. In 2006, SF voters passed an ordinance establishing possession of marijuana as a "low priority" crime for SFPD. But when Greg Corrales became captain of Park Station in 2012, he launched a crackdown on marijuana possession anyway, and targeted innocuous stop sign violations on bikes the following year. Two captains later, Sanford is one for two when it comes to rogue crackdowns at Park Station.

Like the marijuana ordinance, the non-binding stop sign legislation would need support from SFPD officials to have a substantial impact.

Here's the text summarizing the proposed "San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy":

  1. To promote safety, tolerance, and harmony on our streets, all users of San Francisco streets shall respect others right-of-way and take their turn when navigating intersections.
  2. All users of SF streets shall yield to emergency vehicles.
  3. All users of SF streets shall yield to Muni vehicles.
  4. Drivers and bicyclists shall always yield to pedestrians and be vigilantly aware of pedestrians.
  5. Bicyclists shall always yield to others at intersections, but they may slowly proceed without fully stopping at stop signs if the intersection is empty.

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