Why Changing the Rules of the Road for Cycling Won’t Cause Chaos

Washington, DC, is the latest city to consider changing its traffic laws to require cyclists to yield at stop signs and red lights but not come to a complete stop unless necessary. Similar proposals have recently surfaced in New York and San Francisco.

Photo: Bike Portland
Photo: Bike Portland

The proposed rule is commonly known as the Idaho Stop, after the one state that’s adopted it. Despite the demonstrated safety record of the rule over more than three decades, it hasn’t expanded beyond Idaho.

Abigail Zenner at Greater Greater Washington writes that “whether cyclists should have special rules is always a heated debate.” And sure enough, a local insurance industry executive testified at the DC Council that differing rules will “confuse children.”

Here’s how Zenner lays out the case for change:

There are a few reasons to support the Idaho Stop:

  1. It’s important for cyclists to conserve momentum, since starting up a bike requires muscle power.
  2. The most dangerous place for bikes is at intersections with cars, so giving people on bikes permission to go through intersections when there are no cars nearby rather than forcing them wait (while one might pull up behind them) makes intersections safer for everyone. It also makes it less likely cars will get stuck behind bikes.
  3. Since bikes move at relatively slow speeds, people using them have plenty of time to gauge oncoming traffic. That means there’s less need to stop and look around at every intersection; you can look around while moving slowly.

As for the “confusion” that will supposedly result, there are already rules that say the same signals can mean different things, depending on the context:

For more about the case for the Idaho Stop, check out this excellent video by Spencer Boomhower. We’ll see if D.C.’s leaders can be persuaded by reason.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Wash Cycle mocks the notion that bike trails are responsible for the giant hole in the Highway Trust Fund. And Streets.mn posts a telling graphic showing how families with children account for a declining share of American households.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Aspen, Colorado, to Vote on “Idaho Stop”

|
Almost exactly 30 years ago, the state of Idaho enacted a traffic rule that would come to be known nationally as the “Idaho Stop,” allowing cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs. In three decades as the law of the land, the Idaho Stop has a fine safety record. While the same rule has […]

Refereeing the Raging Debate Over the “Specialness” of Cyclists

|
There’s a tussle going on right now about how cyclists should ride on city streets. Yesterday’s Streetsblog Network post took a snapshot of this debate, excerpting the WashCycle’s response to a Sarah Goodyear piece in Atlantic Cities. Sarah wrote that cycling is no longer a mode for daredevils and mavericks weaving through traffic. Some cities now […]

Cyclists Are Special, and They Should Have Their Own Rules

|
There’s a line of reasoning advanced by the media, angry motorists and, sometimes, cyclists, that goes something like: Since some cyclists don’t follow the rules, cyclists don’t deserve respect. A version of this axiom was repeated yesterday by Sarah Goodyear at Atlantic Cities, in an article titled “Cyclists Aren’t ‘Special,’ and They Shouldn’t Play by Their […]

Today’s Headlines

|
DC Releases Vision Zero Plans (Greater Greater Washington) California Says Self-Driving Cars Must Have a Driver Behind the Wheel (LA Times) SF Supervisors Pass “Idaho Stop” But Mayoral Veto Looms (KQED News) Is a Raised Bike Lane a Protected Bike Lane? (SF Chronicle) Alliance for Biking and Walking Having Financial Trouble (Bike Portland) Savannah Considering […]