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.

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.
  • Micke

    I think California is overdoing the stop signs in general. There are innumerable intersections where the stop sign at best has the functionality of a general speed reduction device, and where they, from a traffic-flow point of view, would benefit from being replaced by yield signs which would apply to everybody.
    Save the stop signs for where they really are needed, and reduce the tolerance for rolling stops where the stop signs remain – because they are needed.

    If, on the other hand, we would permit cyclists to roll past these stop signs provided that one is ‘hugging the curb’, or however you’d like to describe it, is probably going to increase the respect for the stop signs in other circumstances.

  • grrlfriday

    Great article, but you misspelled “supersede”. I know, I didn’t believe it, either.

  • The phrase “Bicyclists shall always yield to others at intersections, …” is problematic. This could be interpreted as meaning they have to yield to everyone, even when it is their turn. Better words would be “Bicyclists will take their turn according to right-of-way rules at intersections, …”

  • @Micke – This is pretty much nationwide. Go overseas and STOP signs are rare, because they expect motorists to know and follow the rules for right-of-way. In the U.S. we have mostly given up on that and use STOP signs to try to slow motorists down a little bit.

    Last night I went to a book-reading by an author who’s making an inventory of STOP signs in Amsterdam. They’ve only found 3.

  • murphstahoe

    Jym is right. It’s become self-fulfilling. At this point people who approach an intersection without a stop sign in their face assume the opposite road has a 2 way stop – the concept of an uncontrolled intersection is completely foreign (pun intended).

    We have a 3 way intersection on our street where the opposite occurs – the road T-ing into our street has a stop, but ours does not. Motorists come up to the stop sign, stop, and then proceed regardless of oncoming traffic which has no stop sign and a 35 MPH speed limit. They just assume that it’s a 3 way stop. Collisions are not very rare.

  • jd_x

    Interesting. I was wondering how they dealt with this in the bicycle capital of the world. Would love to hear more about this. It’s high time the US starts learning from the best, which is Northern Europe, when it comes to livable, safe cities.

  • Andy Thornley

    Ah, yes, a page out of “Idaho, the Golden Rule, the SFPD, and You”:

    http://sf-now.com/sf-bike/PKSF51_APT.pdf

    And San Francisco definitely needs to get competitive with Amsterdam on STOP sign eradication, and learn what those shark’s teeth mean (at least we’re using them) . . .

  • GarySFBCN

    Like I’ve stated before, I’m not sure this is going to work in San Francisco, but holy crap, develop good data indicators and good data collection methods, establish solid baseline data, then implement it for 2 years and evaluate the outcome. Institute any needed changes to the ‘program’ by the end of year one.

    If more pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers are getting injured/killed and/or there are more collisions because of this law, scrap it.

    Otherwise make it permanent.

    Bicycle advocates may want to develop messaging that states why this benefits everyone, not just bicyclists.

  • Easy

    It’s a great sign when you have two Supervisors that are on opposite sides of the traditional political divisions both arguing in your favor. Thank you Avalos and Wiener!

  • Mountain Viewer

    Maybe, Amsterdam (and other overseas locales) use more red lights (pun unintended) than stop signs for controlled intersections and for protecting pedestrians?

  • Matt Laroche

    Supervisors Avalos and Wiener are on opposite sides of SF’s political spectrum, but I disagree that they’re “on opposite sides of the traditional political divisions”.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What do they disagree upon, other than the advisability of building market rate housing?

  • dat

    According to some, if this passes, it will be the end of civilization as we know it. End times. Armageddon. A disaster of Old Testament Biblical proportions. Adjectives will fail to be able to describe the unmitigated horrors that will follow. Better get to CostCo and stock up on staples and such.

  • Prinzrob

    Agreed. We would all be much better off if there was more of a focus on enforcing right of way rules (including yielding to pedestrians at marked AND unmarked crosswalks, both controlled and uncontrolled) as opposed to simply adherence to stop signs and signals. People should be encouraged to pay attention and be prepared to yield everywhere, not only when there’s a sign/signal, but our obsession with them ends up yielding unsafe and inefficient streets, especially for the most vulnerable road users.

  • Prinzrob

    This is especially true on bike routes which are often routed through neighborhood streets with many more stops, and even when on more free-flowing arterials signals are likely to be timed for car speeds which means more red lights for bikes. The sheer amount of stops bicyclists encounter basically trains them over time to not take them seriously, which is troublesome because most of the time they’re right but every once and a while will lead to a collision.

    If we applied the same 85% speed limit standard to stop sign compliance (for both people on bikes and in cars) I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of them failing, which would justify yields instead so as to formalize the existing use while encouraging more realistic vigilance regarding right of way.

  • Prinzrob

    This is one of my pet peeves, stop signs are not traffic calming! They only slow down people who are already being careful and attentive enough to see and respect the sign, and they only affect the intersection while doing nothing for the rest of the street. Very regularly I see drivers gunning it from one stop to the next, oblivious to the fact that what they are doing is probably even more dangerous for pedestrians than rolling the stop sign itself.

  • extra

    This is terrible policy. If Avalos wants to succeed as a politician and improve society, he should take initiative to have the state law changed, not instruct SF residents to break a law and prohibit local cops from enforcing it. This strategy calls into question the legitimacy of all traffic safety laws, and all laws in general.

  • @Mountain Viewer – They use red lights (signalized intersection in general) much as we do. At most intersections, though, there are no signals and no requirement to stop. There may be yield guidance in the form of signs and road markings.

    It’s completely different form the default configuration here, which is to have STOP signs at every intersection.

  • As Andy and Jym mention, it’s about priority and thinking – not worship of signs. The Netherlands using “teeth” indicating priority, but this now being implemented in Poland, too.

    Even the Czech Republic has a priority system on small streets without lights…. for many years. It’s not cycling-optimized but nevertheless makes things much safer for cautious people then does stop signs.

  • murphstahoe

    NAKED PEOPLE!

  • murphstahoe

    No kidding. Just like that loser Gavin Newsom, who should have gone and had state law changed to specifically allow same sex marriage instead of just going out willy nilly issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. It pretty much destroyed his career, what he did. And it’s caused a pretty much lawless society.

  • extra

    So you want a whole society of people who think that the law doesn’t apply to them. I would rather have a legal system that works for, and protects, the people.

  • murphstahoe

    You would probably tell that to Ghandi. And then go have a drink with the Brits and laugh about it.

  • jd_x

    There is a reason protests exist: it’s to fill a gap in a system where laws can’t be changed in the formal official way. This happens all the time, that we realize laws were bad; see slavery for (an extreme) example. And you act like it will be anarchy with this precedent, but yet there is no legitimacy to obeying rules when the statistics show disobeying causes no harm. Instead, enforcing this laws to the letter only becomes institutional discrimination against a minority. However, as is the case with bicyclists rolling stop signs as long as they yield, the statistics actually show that this behavior is safe. So sure, we need to change the law, but that ain’t happening anytime soon and it’s utterly ridiculous to make bicyclist act like cars in the meantime while our car-centric society spends years (at a minimum) to wrap their heads around other ways of transit.

    And if you want a legal system that actually protects people (as opposed to being afraid to change the car-centric status quo), then getting more people to bicycle and considering their unique needs in road design and law enforcement would undisputedly make our society safer (see any study on the health, traffic, resource usage, and environmental benefits of bicycling compared to driving and even public transit usage). People who act like the laws making bicyclists pretend they are cars like to think these were some carefully thought-out laws that some highly intelligent people created for our own safety when they patently were not and were instead done to do something with the second-class citizens that are bicyclists since they didn’t want to give them their own infrastructure, especially in the heady car-centric post-WWII decades when most of our cities were turned over completely to cars. We as a society just said, “We’re not going to make a third parallel transportation system (since pedestrians already have sidewalks, their own lights, etc. and obviously cars have their own system) on our roads and we’ll just lump bicyclists in as cars since … well … since they have wheels! (as in almost every other way they are much closer to a pedestrian than a car, be it weight, speed, power, visibility, maneuverability, etc.)” It’s completely nuts that people can’t release that treating bicycles as a cars was purely an afterthought to avoid dealing with them and not because it will make our society safer.

  • SFnative74

    Might as well allow drivers to treat stop signs like yield signs – that’s what happens all over the city already. I say this partially tongue-in-check, but there’s a reason why everyone blows stop signs…in most cases, it’s an excessive request. There are way too many stop signs in this city, especially four way stops. It’s bad design but they have been put in over the decades due to bad driver behavior (let’s be honest) that has resulted in speeding or not yielding properly. We drive like idiots and our street designs treat us like idiots. Some very dense cities – especially in Europe – have zero stop signs, because people there know how to yield. Stop signs should be used sparingly. Since they are not, 99%+ of people out there basically ignore them and treat them like “slow down” signs.

  • SFnative74

    It used to be the law that people of the same sex couldn’t marry or that women couldn’t vote. There are plenty examples of bad laws that need to be revisited.

  • the_greasybear

    Yes–calling into question the legitimacy of all traffic safety laws, specifically as they relate to bicyclists, is the entire point of this protest movement. The ‘foot down or ticket’ rule that was selectively enforced against hundreds of bicyclists last week by the biased SFPD–diverting resources from preventing motorists from committing what the data proves are the five most harmful traffic law violations–is of questionable legitimacy, to put it mildly.

  • gneiss

    That is exactly the point. Applying the current California law for stop signs to people who ride bicycles is not protecting people, but rather leading to a rather onerous burden on one class of road users for whom it doesn’t make much sense and does not measurably increase public safety, in fact, if you take data from Idaho it diminishes public safety. Also, let me point out that we already don’t treat bicyclists the same on our roadways. Two examples of differences are: They don’t have the same access to bridges like the Bay Bridge and they are required to stay as far right as practicable, both of which diminish their rights over drivers of motor vehicles.

  • jd_x

    I would also add — and this way too often get overlooks — that bicyclists are nothing like cars when it comes to merging to make a left turn. When I’m riding down a road with a bike lane and there are, say, 2 auto lanes in each direction with traffic going 35-45 mph and I want to turn into a driveway (not at an intersection), I can’t just “put on my signal” and merge to the left lane and then wait there for oncoming traffic to clear to turn. I am not a car and cannot pretend like one because I do not have the power to keep up with traffic and will end up getting a near-death buzzing if not actually hit, all accompanied by horns honking and probably yelling at me. Since I’m so narrow cars will try to pass me in the same lane versus if I’m a car they know they have to change lanes to go around me … and this is assuming I can even get over to the left lane in the first place which I can’t if there is heavy traffic. It’s utterly insane that we think that bicyclist have anything to do with cars other than having wheels.

  • Vegetarian Taliban

    Dog and cats living together.

  • dat

    Tell ’em about the Twinkie.

  • extra

    Oh man, you really nailed that one. How astute.

  • extra

    The activist protest movement was brilliant because it worked within the law to successfully draw attention to an issue that needs fixing and energized a group of people to take action. This bit of political pandering falls flat. Avalos isn’t just an activist anymore, he’s an elected politician who’s papering over an issue when we need actual change. Who’s in charge here? Clearly not this guy.

  • Mountain Viewer

    Do you have a link to the data from your book-reading event? My own observation from having lived in Europe, is that in urban areas, traffic lights are typically used in lieu of the US-type 4-way stops. In rural (or even suburban) areas, you would see yield signs or at times no markings at all. Note in absence of any signs/markings at an intersection, a vehicle/bike coming from your right has priority and you should yield. So even without any markings, there is a default yield rule.

  • Anthony N

    Initial a RECALL JOHN AVALOS campaign now!

  • Dark Soul

    If this bill pass…The Danger to others will increase. What happen of a person makes a sudden move…dead or injured, The safety enforcement resources that expanded to make everyone safer. Fining Bike people making them learn lesson not break the rules. Not long ago(Person got injured because a biker refuse to follow the rule)

  • relentlesscactus

    Avalos, you are a God. May this spread throughout the land. There is nothing more ridiculous than a law that only a tiny fraction of people don’t openly ignore because they know it’s ridiculous. Laws such “bikes stopping at stop signs” trivialize important safety laws.

  • relentlesscactus

    You cannot recall God.

  • relentlesscactus

    Thankfully, you can’t make your argument.

  • relentlesscactus

    God IS in charge.

  • NoeValleyJim

    They can’t even construct a complete and correct sentence in the English language.

  • pablo_skils

    This man should be Mayor Avalos.

  • pablo_skils

    Dark Soul is of course incorrect. Refer to the Idaho case study. There was no reported increase in bicycle related accidents.

  • pablo_skils

    Thank you for saying this. When I came here from England I couldn’t believe how constipated the streets are here. English roads have their own problems, but ridiculous over-use of stop signs isn’t one of them.

  • Sparafucile

    It’s the SF way. Disgusting, isn’t it?

  • Sparafucile

    You’re kidding, on that first front, no?

  • Sparafucile

    SF make a fact & data based decision? It’ll never happen.

  • Matt Laroche

    In many contentious issues in SF, they’re on opposite sides.

  • Sparafucile

    Not really — one’s on the “yes” side, while the other’s on the “hell, yes — more please” side.

  • Matt Laroche

    I would love to learn from you! Which supervisor in SF is on the opposite side of SF’s political spectrum from Supervisor Avalos?!

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