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« The Invisible Cyclist: Part I | Main | Sharrows »
Thursday
Feb042010

The Idaho Stop

I am riding my bike though a quiet residential neighborhood; I come to a four-way stop. I slow to what is almost a standstill; there is not another vehicle in sight in every direction, so I roll though the intersection.

Technically I have just broken the law because I did not come to a complete stop with my foot to the ground. However, is there any harm in what I just did; is it not in the interest of safety and convenience for myself and others that I clear this intersection and be on my way?

Often if I hear a car approaching from behind and even though the way ahead is clear I will come to a complete foot down stop. For all I know this car could be a cop and I could get a ticket; also drivers expect cyclists to run stop signs, so by stopping I am showing that not all cyclists are scofflaws.

Other times, if there is traffic present I come to a complete stop and wait my turn just as I would in my car. It is not only the law, it is good manners and when any vehicle goes out of turn it just confuses everyone.

Traffic lights are a whole different matter; I always come to a complete stop for a red light, whether there is opposing traffic or not. The only exception would be, for example, early on a Sunday morning and there is no other traffic. My bike will not trip the light, so I will proceed, but always after stopping and waiting a reasonable period.

The State of Idaho has had a law in place since 1982. It allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, (Allowing a rolling stop.) and traffic lights as stop signs. (Proceed after stopping if the way is clear.) This law has worked well in Idaho for over a quarter of a century.

A similar law has just failed to pass in the State of Utah; last year other stop sign bills failed to pass in Montana, and Oregon. (See above video.) The failure of the Oregon bill in passing was partly blamed on negative press. Time and time again I see such legislation described as “A bill allowing cyclists to run stop signs and red lights.”

This is not what it is; there is a huge difference between negotiating a stop sign in the manner I described at the beginning of this piece, and blowing on though without even an attempt to slow down. Even though the cyclist may be able to see the road is clear and there is possibly no danger in “Blowing though.”

It is bad form, do it often enough and there is the potential for an accident. Nothing pisses off a motorist more that passing a cyclist, then as he is waiting in line at the next light, have the cyclist ride up the inside of the line of cars and blow though the red light as if it wasn’t even there. Then the motorist must pass the cyclist again and there is a repeat performance at all the following lights.

There is an argument that it is safer for the cyclist to clear the light rather than wait for the green, and move off with all the motorized traffic. This is a valid point, but it still does not excuse “Blowing through” without first stopping.

Personally I do not find it a hardship to stop for a red light; Utah legislators may have done better to concentrate on the stop sign issue first, as Montana and Oregon did. Many of us choose to ride on quiet residential streets, and it is on such streets that there are stop signs every block, when there is little traffic and a simple “Yield” sign would have sufficed.

What are your views?

 

Reader Comments (15)

Dave,

I think you covered the issue quite well but let me add an historic perspective. Remeber the days of clipping into one's pedals and snugging down the toe strap? Waaay back in the previous century, we would stop for the traffic lights and stop signs but not put a foot down, instead, performing a track stand. Were we scofflaws in the eyes of the law? Perhaps we were more of a daredevil nature by practicing our track stands at sometimes busy intersections. I do not recall anyone getting hurt by this practice, save a bruised ego when balance was lost and a cleated cycling shoe provided no traction for the now earthbound cyclist. Of course, little has changed with the advent of clipless pedals as the term rider down has come to denote someone who forgot to unclip when they came to a stop.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim

I fully agree with the Idaho Stop concept. There's a big difference between 200 pounds of bike and rider rolling at 1 mph and 2 tons of vehicle rolling through a stop sign at 10 mph. The rider can still stop instantly if necessary, but the driver can't. The rider also has much better visibility when approaching an intersection.

The one problem I see with this is that car drivers will feel justified to continue doing rolling stops when they see bike riders doing it legally.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

I'm in agreement with you, I guess ... the Idaho stop law is a thing of beauty but I'm not burning for it here in Oregon.

The bigger problem is that people have forgotten 1) the right of way rule and 2) to drive at a slow and safe speed in residential or other high-foot-traffic neighborhoods. Stop signs pop up in Portland every spring like tulips but they would be mostly unnecessary if people drove (and rode) as if lives depended on it.

Less dumb laws, more smart drivers!

BTW in most states you needn't put a foot down to stop. You only need to "come to a complete stop," so a skillful track stand theoretically suffices.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

If automobile drivers shut off their motors when they come to a stop at red lights or stop signs, I'll be sure to put my foot down at the same lights or stop sign.
OK, perhaps turning off the engine is excessive. (Although not all that dissimilar from having to completely stop pedaling at a light or stop sign.)
They only need to shift into neutral, every time.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Baumann

Robert Hurst's book / the Art of Urban Cycling--Lessons from the Street / address this issue & many more. I have seen this book in book stores under a new title. Marla Streb penned the Forward for this book & I take delight from a couple of sentences from her Forward which read: Robert Hurst reminds us that if we cyclists don't skillfully exercise our right to the road we lose our right to the road. This empowering urban cycling book should come in the glove box of every new car sold.
Ride friendly everyone.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Knoblauch

I've heard rumors of contemplations to attempt pushing through similar legislation here in Ohio, so I suspect it's an occasional topic in most states. A friend of mine told me an interesting story last spring:
In a local community here, where the police have a reputation for being a bit over-zealous, this rider was observed to stop for a traffic light, turn right-on-red, and then perform a U-turn, effectively running red light lawfully. He was pulled over. The officers asked him, "What the heck was that maneuver?" and he explained that he could not trip the light and this was his way of getting through it. The cops' response: "Don't do that... we know you can't trip the lights. Just stop, check traffic, and go when it's safe. We understand."

The point is, while I would not encourage breaking the law, it may be worthwhile to check with your local police departments to see if they have an unwritten, unofficial, non-enforcement policy on this issue. Of course, if something goes wrong (such as an accident)... all bets are off, and the spotlight understandably gets pointed at you for your error.

Dave, your policies are nearly identical to my own: If there's another vehicle present to observe my actions, I follow the law exactly - and I'm usually rewarded with eye contact and a wave-through. One of my greatest irritations is to be stopped at a red light, in heavy traffic, only to see another cyclist blowing a light and pissing off the drivers I'm trying to gain respect with.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Personally I think an Idaho-style law would be quite sensible. Within the next year or so they'll be rolling out some kind of system in Massachusetts that will make tickets for cyclists far more enforceable than they are currently, so there's a great deal of expectation that, once that comes about, there'll be far more enforcement than there has been in the past (the one exception being Cambridge, where they got some sort of exception to allow them to pay cops overtime to enforce cyclist violations, funny how $ often comes into play).

Anyway, the advantage I see of an Idaho-style system is that it recognizes that, in a very dense and heavily trafficked urban area, bicyclists are helping to reduce congestion (and emissions, by my understanding this is a popular new legal angle for cycling advocates)... forcing them to stop and wait at every red light would largely negate the chief benefit of cycle-commuting in Boston (it's far faster than public transportation or travel by car). Why not give them some benefit via smarter laws?

The chief problem, I think, is that one would have to educate drivers as to what's going on... and emphasize to cyclists (and enforce) a strict right-of-way law to protect the roadusers approaching a green signal; i.e. cyclists treating a red light like a stop sign means treating a stop sign the way everyone is *supposed* to use them... if you have a stop sign and approaching traffic does not, then they have right of way and you should wait. And then similarly for stop signs (if rotaries are any indication, a lot of people in Massachusetts have no understanding of the meaning of the word "Yield").

All that said, I admit I am not most law abiding cyclist ever... in the last 20 years I can't say I've ever been ticketed. But I also know the lights I ride through like the back of my hand... and admittedly in my slowly advancing age I'm far less likely to blow through an intersection *appearing* not to have looked (not speaking for other people, I see a lot of people blow through intersections really appearing not to look, and it kills me...). I'm ok with the coming laws though, 15 years ago when I was something of a scorcher the car-bike situation in Boston was far more adversarial; motorists have been making a big effort to improve their behavior, it's only fair we come to a reasonable solution that improves motorists' impression of cyclists.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Urgh, what a time not to be able to edit... please excuse my terrible writing and bizarre malapropisms/dropping of words. With a little creativity I think one can imagine my point; sorry!

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

The point of law is based on the "spirit" of the law. Stopping does not mean putting one's foot down. Going through a red light when it is more dangerous for a rider to wait until green is in fact acceptable.
The nit-picking comes into play when one snubs the letter of the law, or draws attention to oneself flaunting disobedience.
Otherwise don’t worry about “braking (sic) a law” when you are an experienced and responsible rider. And stop debating what ‘responsible’ means, we who know, know. Those that don’t, perhaps they'll learn.
Steve

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

My view is DO NOT RIDE ON THE STREETS ALONE. I know this is not possible with some, BUT always try and ride with a mate or two, Strength in numbers. Motorist have enough to worry about with OTHER motorist, without having to look out for bloody cyclists. SO avoid riding the streets when ever possible.Even if you are in the right, you WILL loose. Its not worth the risk.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

The real question is, how inconvenience is it to stop at a red light?

there's no reason to jump a red light, I find that if I stop at every light, even at 12am in the evening when there's no one around on a peds crossing, it's good to make a habit of it so it doesn't feel like a 'drag' slowing and stopping.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Scoble

John Crump, don't be a scaremonger.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Scoble

In the college town where I live, there is a wide variety in driving and riding tendencies, from cautious to aggressive, and I have found that as a daily bike commuter I need to model bike safety practices that are "beyond reproach" in the eyes of motorists. Even so, the rolling stop serves well, particularly at four-way stops where I can make eye contact with the drivers. Occasionally I have performed a kind of "hitch" maneuver, where in a four-way stop with a long line of waiting cars, I coast up to the car in front, then match its progress through the intersection, being mindful of course of whether the car is indeed going straight.

Traffic lights are another matter. There is enough unpredictability around here that treating any light as a stop sign is asking for trouble. The scale of the town is a factor, I suspect; intersections out west are likely far more predictable.

February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDon

In California you need not put your foot down. It is not in the statutes. Full and complete stop, cessation of all forward motion.

One good reason for allowing the stop sign yield for cyclists is that it may take cyclists off major thoroughfares. Even with good bike lanes it is not pleasant to ride on arterial streets. The reason I ride there and on expressways is that tehy are faster. (Surprise, the same reason cars use them.) If I can use a smaller street wtih less traffic that will get me there in a similar time frame I'll take that route. I'm not going to use a road where I stop every block or fight through a maze to get where I'm going. Possibly more people wiould ride a bicycle because they have a percieved safer way to go and don't have to stop every block.

It will be hard to educate drivers. Signs might have to be posted STOP / bikes yield. Many drivers have little knowledge of the law. Most drivers take a written test once and then never do it again. That has to change. There shoudl be no excuse not to have written tests on line every time your licence come up for renewal with emphasis on new regulations.

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

I live and commute on a bike year round in Boise Idaho. I never even considered that our bike laws were an anomaly; they just make so much sense. The actual language of the law recognizes the fact that bicycles are under human power and have a greater ability to scan the intersection. The only real problem with the law is that cyclists all know it, but motorists don't. Even friends of mine who know that I ride year-round and don't own a car, will rage to me about other cyclists not stopping at stop signs, at which point I have to explain that that stop sign says 'yield' for us.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan

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