Legislative Update: “Idaho Stop” and Pedestrian Signals to Be Heard Next Week
Two bills very pertinent to bicyclists and pedestrians are set for hearing at Monday’s Assembly Transportation Committee: one would allow bikes to treat stop signs as yield signs, and the other would make clear that pedestrians are allowed to cross while their signals are counting down.
IDAHO STOP LAW
The authors of A.B. 1103, Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia), bring bipartisan support to a bill that rationalizes the vehicle code for people riding bikes.
Obernolte says he became interested in the issue when he first heard about the so-called “Idaho stop law,” which has been in place since 1982 and allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. In Idaho, a bicyclist must still slow down and check for other traffic, and the right of way rules are no different. But riders can slow down, pause, and negotiate the right of way, without being required to come to a full and complete stop, especially if there is no other traffic.
Before that, said Obernolte, “I was not aware that other states had tried this. So I did some research; I found the UC Berkeley study, and others, that support the idea that this could save lives—that it is far safer to do it this way than the way CA currently has its laws.”
The UC Berkeley study is the work of Jason Meggs, who researched the law while completing a dual Master’s degree in environmental health science and city planning.
Meggs found reports that indicated that after the law passed in Idaho, bicycle injuries fell 14.5 percent. He also compiled data on fatalities per bicycle commuter, and his results showed that “over the last fifteen years, Idaho is half as dangerous as California,” he said.
Meggs also searched for a city comparable to Boise, Idaho, to do a thorough comparison between a city with the law and one without. The best parallel he found was Sacramento, California. Not only do the two cities have similar weather and topography, he said, “They have similar land use structures; they both have a river going through them; they are both capital cities with many one-way streets. They both have relatively high levels of cycling and bicycle commuting” —not high, he pointed out, just higher than most other U.S. cities—“and there are many children and college students on bicycles. All those things and more matched up very well” between the two cities, he said.
“And lo and behold, in terms of injuries per commute, it’s twice as dangerous in Sacramento as in Boise,” he said.
“Of course there are other differences between the two states,” he said, “and I’m not claiming that the Idaho stop law caused the difference in injury rate. But it’s very clear that the Idaho stop law is not causing mass carnage. Everything I found supports the idea that this bill should increase bicycling and reduce injuries.”
There are many possible reasons to explain why allowing bike riders to treat stop signs as yield signs is safer. One is that it can clear up uncertainty about what behavior is expected. Current enforcement of stop sign law is inconsistent, and frequent stop signs along bike routes are enough of a hassle that many otherwise law-abiding cyclists don’t stop when there is no cross traffic. Changing the law to legalize rational, safe behavior choices could also remove excuses for the kind of uneven police enforcement that leads to incidents like the recent jaywalking beat-down that happened in Sacramento.
Such a law would also allow bikes, which are fundamentally lighter and more agile than cars, “to get out of the way and clear intersections where there is an opening,” said Meggs. Because bicyclists lose momentum when they come to a stop, they spend more time in an intersection and take longer to clear it than most cars, which adds to the potential risk of injury. This could also reduce delay for motorists, as well as reduce their risk of colliding with a bike.
“Intersections are the riskiest places for bicyclists,” said Meggs, “and the faster we can clear them the better.”
“There are a lot of risks bicyclists face that have little to do with stop signs,” said Meggs, “but more do to with whether other people see us or not. Bikes are more like birds; momentum is our friend. A bike rider can more easily slow down, speed up, and gracefully glide through” an intersection than a car can.
There are also a lot of good reasons for a bike rider to avoid coming to a complete stop, despite what car drivers may believe. “For someone on a bike, every stop take a lot of extra time and energy, as well as wear and tear on the body and risk of injury. There’s an extra strain on knees.” And if you’re carrying any kind of load, for example on a cargo bike, it is much “easier to keep going, even if very, very slowly, then to start up from a complete stop,” he said.
But, noted Meggs, the bill “does not change the right of way law. Bikes can roll through [a stop sign], but they don’t take precedence when someone else is there—whoever is there first still have right of way.”
Specifically, A.B. 1103 would
authorize a person operating a bicycle approaching a stop sign, after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way, to cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping, unless safety considerations require otherwise.
For his part, Assemblymember Obernolte sees other benefits from the bill. He hopes that making streets with a lot of stop signs more attractive to bike riders “will incentivize bike traffic to divert off arterials and travel on slower side streets. They aren’t there now, because of the stop signs,” he said. “That would encourage a more compatible mix of bikes and cars, especially on quiet streets,” he said.
And another big reason to change the law is that “a lower incidence of crashes will encourage more people to try biking, which will help California meet its greenhouse gas emission goals,” he said.
His fellow author, Phil Ting, represents San Francisco, which tried—and ultimately failed—to reform local enforcement of bikes stopping at stop signs. The law itself needs to be changed at the state level, however.
When asked about the chances of the bill’s passing, Obernolte said, “It’s hard to handicap that. But when you have a Republican from one of the most conservative parts of the state joining with a Democrat from one of the most liberal parts of the state, that’s a good indication you have a strong, bipartisan bill.” He is, he said, “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s chances.
On the other hand, the same organizations that recently opposed a bill to allow the use of speed enforcement cameras in a pilot program—the California Police Chiefs Association and the AAA—are also opposing A.B. 1103. That’s no surprise, really. Unfortunately those groups seem to pull a lot of weight, and they succeeded in stalling the speed camera bill.
The other bill to be heard on Monday, A.B. 390, would clear up a different gray area, this one affecting pedestrians at crosswalks.
Current law states that pedestrians facing a flashing or steady “Don’t Walk” or “Wait” signal may not start to cross an intersection, but newish countdown signals that have gone in around California aren’t covered by the law.
From a pedestrian’s point of view, it’s pretty clear that the countdown is just a more accurate source of information about the time remaining to cross a street than a random flashing hand. The countdown number varies with the width of the intersection—it can be as long as 26 or even 30 seconds, if the crossing is especially wide. Since some people can make it across more quickly than others, presumably the decision would be left up to the person crossing as to whether they can walk fast enough or not.
But in some areas, like downtown L.A., the police have applied the law as currently written to countdown signals, and have ticketed people for jaywalking when they step off the curb after the countdown starts. It’s pretty ridiculous.
But A.B. 390, authored by Miguel Santiago (D- Los Angeles) and, again, Ting, would clarify that the intent of those signals is to give information to pedestrians:
This bill would authorize a pedestrian facing a “countdown” signal to proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal if there is sufficient time left on the countdown to reasonably complete the crossing safely.
Currently there is no formal opposition to A.B. 390.
51 thoughts on Legislative Update: “Idaho Stop” and Pedestrian Signals to Be Heard Next Week
That’s quite the proviso!
At many busy crosswalks where I live, the pedestrian signal lasts only a few seconds (in roymeo’s example, 6 seconds, and I’ve seen shorter examples). Even those pedestrians who were already waiting to cross may not be able to enter the crosswalk during that time, for instance if they had to wait for one or two red-light-running motorists from the far side or if a driver cut them off and turned in front of them rather than yielding.
Gneiss: Umm. Pedestrians already have the right of way over vehicles. Why do you insist on making everything more difficult than it already is for drivers downtown? Look, I get it; in a perfect world, everyone would walk or ride bikes. But for people who live in the suburbs, that is not an option. I think “Share the Road” should apply to pedestrians and cyclists as much as motorists.
I agree with Akit. Pedestrians can cross whenever they want, provided their signal is green. But turning left in a vehicle? It’s virtually impossible during rush hour downtown. I’ve been stuck trying to turn through five (five!) cycles of the light, which backs up traffic for a half mile. That said, I am astounded that BoDo has so few left turn lanes and signals. How did the city not foresee the population growth? Very, very poorly planned streets.
> Would you say that it’s somehow safer if cars speed through intersections?
If you truly believe that accelerating an already-fast-moving vehicle into an intersection instead of proceeding at normal speed is comparable to cyclists moving through an intersection at slower-than-normal cycling speed instead of starting from a complete stop (especially in terms of the effect it has on their ability to react to unexpected events that occur while they are crossing the intersection), or that drivers and cyclists face exactly the same safety concerns, then there’s no way we’re ever going to agree on this.
> Because if you look at the law in Idaho, it mentions the word “Stop” numerous times. So if you come to an intersection and there’s traffic coming, you have to stop. It says so in the law.
I still don’t understand your obsession with this point. Do you actually believe that, e.g., a driver in CA has no obligation to stop to avoid hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk, because the law doesn’t specifically use the word “stop” in saying that cars must yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks? If so, you should probably be contacting your representatives immediately, because if every single scenario where vehicles are required to yield the right of way is completely undefined and unenforceable in CA that would be a much, much bigger problem than this proposed law.
Well, years ago I met this extraterrestrial…
Seriously, you’re 100% right. You can’t avoid intersections, obviously. But the statement that it’s safer if you spend less time in an intersection because most accidents happen in intersections isn’t a correct interpretation because there is no study that discusses the amount of time spent in intersections.
My analogy: I don’t want to die in an airplane crash. So I’m going to take shorter flights, which means I spend less time in an airplane.
Even if you don’t like that analogy, just consider common sense. Most automobile collisions happen in intersections as well. Would you say that it’s somehow safer if cars speed through intersections? I think I can find plenty of videos where that didn’t work.
I won’t quote the rest of your comments–you’re, again, 100% correct. In which case, this is another example of where the laws of the two states differ. Because if you look at the law in Idaho, it mentions the word “Stop” numerous times. So if you come to an intersection and there’s traffic coming, you have to stop. It says so in the law.
Again, this is California. This is not Idaho. There are lots of differences between the two and to say that, “Gosh, this worked in Idaho…” doesn’t mean that it will work here.
> No, it’s safer if you avoid the intersection.
> But if you had stopped, you wouldn’t be in the intersection
Apparently you have discovered a magical way of biking in a city that doesn’t require going through intersections. Please share it, since I’m sure many of us would be interested. I’d be the first to agree that if I could magically never enter an intersection while riding, I would be safer.
Unfortunately I’m still stuck in a world where I am forced to go through intersections constantly–as often as every block!–and so hypothetical argument about how I’m safer if I avoid intersections, or just sit, stopped, forever, on one side of them aren’t very useful.
> There is no mention of the laws concerning yield.
“after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way”
> When does a cyclist have to stop? […] There’s not even a mention of the word “stop.”
You should read CVC 21800-21807. The CA laws about yielding in general don’t explicitly discuss stopping either. Instead, it constantly uses the phrase “yield the right-of-way”. Hm, that sounds oddly familiar…
> Who decides whether the cyclist entered the intersection “cautiously”? The cyclist?
Let’s look at some of the language in a somewhat similar law: right turn on red (CVC 21453).
“A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.”
Who decides what “reasonable safety” is? Who decides whether something constitutes “an immediate hazard”? The driver? (The answer to this question, and your question, is the same: Yes. Until/unless something goes wrong, in which case others weigh in on that decision: police, insurance companies, maybe even juries.)
The CVC is full of language like this. I recommend reading it and comparing this law to how the rest of the CVC is phrased, instead of holding it to some strange standard of use of terms and absolute objectivity that you’ve made up.
> When does a cyclist have to stop under this new law?
Here’s a project for you: find language in the CVC that describes when a car approaching a yield sign has to stop.
Imagine yellow lights were 10 seconds long, and you lived in the UK, Oregon, or some other jurisdiction that required you to stop for a yellow light if you safely could, instead of going through a yellow if you safely could, like in most states. So, you come to a stop at a yellow light, and have to wait 7 seconds before it even turns red. How frustrated and annoyed would you be?
That is basically how walkers are treated at signals. The countdown is timed for older and handicapped people walking at 3.5 feet per second. That’s as it should be, but prohibiting all people from crossing the street during that time wastes their time, since almost all of them can cross in less time than that.
And so, people choose to drive short walkable distances, increasing congestion, air pollution and health care costs.
How do traffic engineers decide whether to use a stop sign or a yield sign? A lot depends on visibility at the intersection and the speed of approaching traffic.
If side road drivers cannot see main road traffic as they approach the intersection, a stop sign is required. If they can see well, a yield sign can be used. The visibility distance needed depends on speed. The faster you’re moving, the more visibility you need to safely yield as opposed to stopping.
Most intersections can safely be treated as yield signs at typical bike speeds (10-15 mph), even if they need stop signs for typical vehicle speeds (30 mph+).
Yes I am. Mostly because they are brought up in favor of the law–as if they have been proven rather than mere speculation.
“Oh, it’s safer if I spend less time in the intersection!” No, it’s safer if you avoid the intersection. “Oh, if I’m in the intersection and somebody comes zooming at me, I can avoid them because I’m more maneuverable!” But if you had stopped, you wouldn’t be in the intersection when the person came zooming at you and you’d have a better chance of seeing them. “But I’m a cyclist and I have superhuman powers of observation, beyond those of normal drivers.” The evidence doesn’t seem to support this–cyclists are hit all the time when running stop signs. “Stopping makes my knees weak!” Use your shifters.
Again, the best explanation is that it encourages cyclists to take alternate routes away from the main drag. I can ride on a “quiet” street without the penalties of stopping regularly. I mean, I’ll be the first to agree that there are lots of stop signs out there that are used to “calm” traffic–keep somebody from going 40 MPH down a suburban street by making them have to stop every 100 yards. I’ll agree further that there are plenty of cases where this is pretty silly in the case of a cyclist (and would be pretty silly in the case of a car as well, if we could keep people’s feet from weighing down the accelerator).
My attitude, though, is that we should consider those routes and do something about it on those routes–at the local level where there’s ground truth to the benefits and deficits of doing this–rather than making it true for all intersections and hoping that cyclists will use as much common-sense as their motoring brethren.
Now here’s the issue with this law, though. There is no mention of the laws concerning yield. In fact, it’s somewhat of a misnomer to refer to this as being “like the Idaho Law” because the Idaho Law says that cyclists can treat a stop sign as a yield sign while California’s has some mealy mouthed phrases about how a cyclist should consider stopping if they feel like it.
Okay, I’m being a bit inaccurate and snarky, but let’s go back upstairs and look at the text of the law:
Who decides whether the cyclist slowed to a “reasonable” speed? The cyclist? When does a cyclist have to stop? It’s never mentioned. Who decides whether the cyclist entered the intersection “cautiously”? The cyclist? There’s not even a mention of the word “stop.”
When does a cyclist have to stop under this new law? Never?
It’s all very vague–on purpose, according to Jay Obernolte, one of the bill’s authors. I don’t like vague laws.
If you want to say that California cyclists can treat stop signs as yield signs, okay. That’s fine. Say that. We’ll look at the California Laws on yielding and see if they’re applicable for bicycles. I might agree or disagree. But this law is too vague, uses evidence from environments that are very different from what a good number of Californians experience, and relies on ridiculous speculation to justify the evidence. A better solution is to move this to a local level where the efficacy of each stop sign can be considered in regards to whether it’s reasonable to change it to a yield or a bicycle yield.
> Up above, it was said that this was going to make things more predictable.
Up above there was speculation that perhaps the drop in injuries might be partially due to an increased predictability of behavior. Maybe having all cyclists treating stop signs as yield signs makes it easier to reason about their behavior than the current world where some treat them as yield and some treat them as stop signs. Or maybe it doesn’t, and that’s not actually at play here.
You are hyper-focused on the speculation about the reason(s) for the outcome rather than the resulting data about the actual outcome, for some reason.
> Suppose the cyclist has poor judgement and gets injured and/or, through his actions, injures others?
Suppose a car or cyclist approaching a yield sign has poor judgement and gets injured and/or, through his actions, injures others?
Yield signs aren’t new. This isn’t uncharted territory.
> You have a situation where the car doesn’t legally have to stop and the cyclist doesn’t legally have to stop.
Please describe such a scenario. If the car doesn’t have to stop, then it has the right of way, in which case the cyclist legally has to yield the right of way–stopping if necessary, as with any other yield.
> But Idaho also has an interesting law concerning yields that California doesn’t have. […] In short, if you go through a yield sign and something bad happens, it’s your fault because you didn’t yield.
It sounds like you think that currently, in California, if someone blew through a yield sign and hit someone else that had the right of way in the intersection, the first person wouldn’t be found at fault. Is there some reason you believe yield laws aren’t taken into account just like other traffic laws when determining fault?
And, in fact, residents of Idaho warn against implementing it.
For instance, the bike lanes are between the bus stop and the sidewalk. The cyclists go through when school buses are unloading and there retractable Stop sign open. Children get injured. Crossing guard stop signs, and those are employees of the police dept., would also be ignored.
Not if you ask them.
Some areas in Europe have a yellow-to-green light that gives you a little heads up that the green is coming. Implementing that in the US’s light cycle should be pretty simple and cheap to do, since the yellow is already there.
But wait! Up above, it was said that this was going to make things more predictable. Now, if I’m driving a car and I see a cyclist approaching an intersection, I have to try to discern whether the cyclist “feels” like stopping?
True. But cyclists are safer when they aren’t moving–ie, stopped and waiting for traffic to clear. Not trying to judge, as they approach an intersection trying to conserve as much momentum as possible–whether they should stop or not.
Not a bad idea in a libertarian paradise. You take responsibility for your actions.
But is a cyclist’s judgement now law? Suppose the cyclist has poor judgement and gets injured and/or, through his actions, injures others?
This is another issue where I have a problem. The law is vague–on purpose, according to one of the authors. The idea is that the cyclist will judge what is safest. But if the cyclist judges poorly, there’s nothing about who is at fault. You have a situation where the car doesn’t legally have to stop and the cyclist doesn’t legally have to stop.
By the way, one difference between Idaho and here, regarding this law, is that Idaho states that a cyclist may treat a Stop sign as a Yield. But Idaho also has an interesting law concerning yields that California doesn’t have.
Here’s the Idaho Law regarding yields. If you don’t want to go through it, I’ll include the important part.
In short, if you go through a yield sign and something bad happens, it’s your fault because you didn’t yield.
Okay! Now I’m getting it! I was confused by the way you put it. Sorry for my misunderstanding.
First, in regards to bicycling infrastructure, I agree wholehearted. The best answer to all of this is bicycle infrastructure.
Okay, so, we have a two lane road and four-way intersection. Just to make things a bit clearer, we’ll say there’s a north-south road and east-west road. The east-west road has the stop sign or stop light. The north-south road does not, though I’m not sure it matters. You and the car in front of you are traveling east and there’s another car traveling west. That car may or may not be signaling a left turn.
Let’s start with the stop sign. It is safer for me to stop at the stop sign rather than follow the vehicle through. Because once the vehicle has cleared the intersection, I am now visible to the person turning left. Problem solved: Obey the Stop sign.
In fact, I would maintain that I’m just as invisible sitting to the right of the obscuring vehicle as I am to the left of the vehicle. If I’m passing the stopped vehicle on the left, I am more visible, agreed. But I don’t know what that vehicle is going to do–he may or may not have his turn signal on. What’s the safest thing for me to do? STOP!
(Random aside, IRT signaling. Here’s my favorite funny thing about signaling.)
The traffic light is a somewhat different story. You make a perfectly valid point about visibility. The thing is, I have a bit of control over how visible I am. If I’m behind a “high-profile vehicle”, for example, I will lay back so that I don’t get lost behind it. This is a good idea in a car as well–my car is a little red roadster which can easily get lost in a sea of SUVs and I’ve learned to hang back a little bit (and drive a brightly colored car) to help my visibility. I’m pretty sure this is in the driver’s manual.
But even given the possibility of what you’re saying, in my example I’d rather risk a car not seeing me–and, again, I have some control over that with my behavior–versus riding up the right hand side and then having to thread the needle and ride “the chute.”
> Ah yes. The “Ubermensch” argument. “As a cyclist, I can maneuver around anything that gets in my way.”
I’m under no illusions that I can maneuver around “anything”. But it turns out the world is not binary. If something goes unexpectedly wrong while I’m going through an intersection (e.g., a car suddenly accelerates into it), I have more options if I’m going 10mph than if I’m going 1mph.
> Frankly, I’ve found that there are far more cases where it’s safer to stop
So feel free to stop in those cases. This law doesn’t require cyclists to enter intersections when they don’t feel it’s safe to do so.
> If this were true–cyclists are so much more maneuverable–why do we have collisions?
All I said was that cyclists are more maneuverable when they aren’t at a standstill. Not that cyclists are magic.
> Because if it doesn’t, people die?
People are dying right now. That’s why trying things that have shown promising results for improving safety is important.
> There are definitely examples that I can think of where this would be a good thing. So let’s find those places
Or we could let cyclists use their judgment in determining those places and times, since that can be done immediately and seems to be working quite well where it’s been tried.
ok, can’t take it any more. It has nothing to do with Ubermensch – just the opposite. As a cyclists (even more so than a pedestrian) your ONLY protection is avoidance. This is ONLY accomplished if you are able to maneuver away from danger. This is not grand theft auto, it is just the ability to get that two feet to the right or left just in time to keep from getting killed.
There are quite a few reasoning mistakes in your posts. Please forgive me for only focusing on one of them: You state that it is safer to remain back behind stopped traffic. Then why do countries with the safest traffic systems for all forms of travel (Northern Europe) not only allow cyclist filtering and moving to the front of intersections but actually encourage it through street design?
Also, in N. Europe, there are many, many fewer stop signs. It is also by design so that drivers are forced to actually interact with other drivers and pay attention by always yielding to the right. (left in UK/IRL). It is basically the Idaho stop for all road users.
The worst part is that the amount of time these signals give you to start crossing is often not physically possible to use safely due to having to make sure there’s no drivers barreling through last-second turns as the cross phase starts.
The thing here is I’m normally riding to the right of motorists anyway. It’s not like I’m riding in the lane, decide to go right to get ahead of the line, pass the red light, get back in the lane, then have a bunch of angry, annoyed motorists who maybe passed me after the last red light trying to do so again. I could see why that would piss people off but it’s not what I do. Apropos of nothing, that’s exactly how a lot of NYC motorists drive. They cut the line at red lights by driving in the bike lane, bus lane, parking lane if it’s empty. They sit at the red light in the far right lane, which is usually reserved for parking or bus stops, often blocking part of the crosswalk. Then when the light goes green they gun it to beat the first car in the traffic lane and often cut them off while doing so. I hope given this type of behavior you can understand why I prefer to be well away from intersections when the light changes.
This is NYC. You can’t safely take the lane unless you’re moving at the speed of motor traffic or you will get rear-ended. Either you won’t be seen or motorists will try to bully you out of the lane if you’re going slower than they are by riding right on your rear wheel and laying on the horn. I never ride on streets where there isn’t enough room to stay to the right of traffic. The only exception is minor side streets where I take the lane and pretty much do the same thing as you. There typically aren’t any lines of vehicles anyway at stop signs or red lights because traffic levels are fairly low on these side streets.
Your entire premise here is based on using vehicular cycling techniques all the time. There are times when those techniques make sense and times when they don’t. When I’m riding and there’s a lot of motor traffic I always keep to the right of it unless I have a tailwind or hill which lets me match the speed of that motor traffic. Therefore, those motorists whom I passed at the last red light will be on my left, traveling nicely in their lanes, and likely not even notice I’m there when/if they finally pass me again midblock. Often that doesn’t even happen because traffic lights in NYC are so frequent once I pass a red light (and the next one and the one after that), the motorists I passed way back at the first light never catch up to me.
Note that bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure generally encourages cyclists to ride exactly as I do. You filter forward at intersections and in general keep to the right of motor traffic. Obviously there’s the issue of right hooks but strictly speaking on a street with bike lanes a cyclist going forwards has right-of-way over a right-turning motorist. Of course, I won’t bet my life on that, which is why I tend to either merge into the traffic lane, or hang back, if I happen to hit a light with cars waiting just as it goes green.
Not that it means much, but I rarely have had motorists annoyed with my riding style.
Look, I’ll own it if I screw up passing a red light. It hasn’t happened yet. In general, I *don’t* expect people to watch out for me. I ride as if I’m invisible, meaning I’m not depending upon other road users to take action to avoid hitting me. Of course, I still try to be visible by keeping my tail flasher on day or night (and using a headlight at night).
Is that the behavior you drive a car as well? When an oncoming car is turning left you stop at the intersection and wait for it to turn? This is not how traffic at an intersection is supposed to work. Either cyclists need to follow the rules of the road or have a slightly different set of rules, you cannot have it both ways. And if you (as a cyclist) are behind a car going through and intersection you might not see that a car that is oncoming plans on turning left (not everyone uses indicators – and they might just cut it close behind what they perceive to the the last car, not realizing there is a cyclist behind it). Being behind a pack of cars makes a cyclist less visible at an intersection. This is why Bike Boxes are are intersections where there is more bike infrastructure – to make sure cyclists are more visible at an intersection.
There’s an intersection I used to hit when I would bike to the train–this is in LA, not NYC, so we have wider intersections.
Anyway, I used to ride up the right hand side and wait for the light to go green. Then I would ride across with the cars on my left, get to the other side, and play “thread the needle”, biking along with cars maybe a foot away. If there was anything lying along the right hand side of the road, I was dead. Needless to say, this didn’t make for a pleasant ride.
Now, your argument is that its safer to run the red light then expose yourself to that danger. This way you can get out in front of traffic and take the lane. But then you have a bunch of annoyed motorists stuck behind you.
Well, fuck them, right? Your safety is more important.
The thing is, by taking the lane and waiting, the people who got to the intersection ahead of you don’t get stuck behind you. I also discovered that if I sit up nice and straight and tall with the blinking light on my backpack, motorists would move over into the other lane, if there was one, because they didn’t want to be stuck behind the guy on the bicycle. If there isn’t another lane, well, yeah, it sucks to be that guy behind you.
My argument is that you are the one creating the dangerous situation. You could sit and wait behind the last car in the line but you don’t want to. So you ride up the right hand side, possibly getting doored or a right-hook. You get to the intersection and then risk a trip across the intersection against the light. Then you piss off a bunch of other people and go, “Gosh, I can’t understand why they should be so upset with me.” And if, God forbid, something were to happen? “Oh, people should watch out for me because I’m so vulnerable.”
The analogy I like to use is, imagine you’re waiting in line for some movie. You’re the next person in line, a ticket booth frees up, and some guy walks right past you and over to the booth. To make matters worse, once he gets there, he picks up his phone and says, “Okay, dear, I’m at the booth. What movie should I get tickets for?” Would you have warm feelings for this person?
I’m assuming the US. A car turning left is probably in the left lane. I’m in the right lane. If we’re talking about being on a one-lane road and a car is turning left at an intersection, I can actually stop and wait for him to complete his turn before continuing.
The problem with handling on strictly a local level would be incorrect enforcement, especially if the California police are as unintelligent and as ignorant of laws pertaining to bikes as the NYPD, who frankly remind me of trained gorillas. The NYPD is infamous for making up their own rules pertaining to bikes.
One way around that is if local DOTs take the initiative. For example, nothing is stopping these local DOTs from putting a flashing yellow bike symbol at a signalized intersection when motorists get a red light. They can do that even in the absence of an Idaho stop law. NYC did exactly that on the Prospect Park West protected bike lane: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/20110120_ppw.pdf
The majority of cyclists who are killed in intersections were in fact doing nothing illegal: http://www.rospa.com/road-safety/advice/pedal-cyclists/facts-figures/
‘Failed to look properly’ was attributed to the car driver in 57% of serious collisions and to the cyclist in 43% of serious collisions at junctions.
Other common contributory factors attributed to drivers are ‘poor turn/manoeuvre’ (in 17% of serious accidents involving a cyclist) and ‘careless, reckless, in a hurry (17%). Cyclists are more likely to suffer serious injuries when a driver is judged to be ‘impaired by alcohol’, exceeding the speed limit’ or ‘travelling too fast for the conditions’.
The best argument for an Idaho stop law is that it will finally let cycling organizations like the LAB properly train cyclists on the finer points of yielding at stop signs or red lights, rather than letting the cyclist learn by trial and error. In the absence of a law legalizing what cyclists are going to do anyway, most official cycling organizations are understandably reluctant to do this.
Remember you can still miss seeing a car even if you come to a complete stop. Arguably, it’s more likely to happen when you’re completely stopped because you’re partially distracted by mechanics of stopping and starting the bike.
Another factor which just came to mind is the rider’s speed. Suppose you stop completely, look carefully, ascertain everything is clear, and start moving. It’s obviously going to take longer to clear the intersection than if you had remained in motion. During that time vehicles could potentially enter the intersection which you hadn’t noticed when you started moving. Moreover, if you’re distracted by going through gears or the bike wobbling as it’s starting, you may not notice these vehicles.
I guess your experience runs counter to mine. I find I can safely yield at most red lights and stop signs by slowing down to about 8 to 10 mph. That still gives me plenty of time to stop within the lines of sight, even for vehicles traveling well above the 25 mph NYC speed limit. There are a few places where bridge abutments and such completely block any view of cross traffic. Here I just wait out the full cycle. Anything else would be too dangerous. And there are also a few places with superb lines of sight such that I don’t even need to reduce my speed.
I tend to feel that way only when I’m approaching an intersection where a light has just gone green. I take the lane to join the flow in order to keep from getting right hooked. In situations where there’s a steady red which will remain that way until long after I have time to clear the intersection, I prefer to ride up on the right, look for cross traffic, and get on the other side of the intersection before the light goes green.
Granted, local driving habits may have something to do with our preferences. NYC drivers for the most part drive like apes. They often don’t even see cyclists, much less have any consideration for them. The less I’m near a pack of cars near an intersection the safer I am.
A cyclist has to stop at every intersection that there is cross traffic. This will include the elderly and the disabled if they are in the crosswalk.
“Actually, I’ve found I’m safer behind the pack of cars rather than ahead of the cars. I’d rather have the cars out in front of me where I can keep an eye on them.”
Though you are less visible when you do this, as in an intersection if there are cars turning left they are less likely to see you when you are behind a car.
Actually, I’ve found I’m safer behind the pack of cars rather than ahead of the cars. I’d rather have the cars out in front of me where I can keep an eye on them.
When I come to an intersection, I usually stop behind the last car. Remember, it is safer for me to take the lane than it is to ride up on the right side of stopped cars.
Ah yes. The “Ubermensch” cyclist.
If cyclists have such capabilities, why do cyclists currently get killed/injured at intersections when they don’t stop? Couldn’t they see the car coming?
My argument is that there are a lot more of those than there are of intersections where it is safe. Since the experience is different depending on the locality, I’d rather see this handled at a local level.
It’s proportional to the amount of traffic. Period, Full stop. The amount of time spent in the intersection has nothing to do with it, unless we’re discussing relativistic speeds.
I mean, would you say that it’s safer for cars to go faster through the intersection? How many cars do you see accelerate when the light turns yellow? Do you think that’s safer than stopping?
Ah yes. The “Ubermensch” argument. “As a cyclist, I can maneuver around anything that gets in my way.”
Frankly, I’ve found that there are far more cases where it’s safer to stop than to try to maneuver around these situations. I’m reminded of the old saw that “75% or motorists believe they have above average driving skills–which means that at least 25% of them are wrong.”
If this were true–cyclists are so much more maneuverable–why do we have collisions? Cyclists are supposed to be able to avoid these things.
I mean, hey, I enjoyed “Premium Rush” as much as the next guy, But it isn’t real–it’s a movie.
Because if it doesn’t, people die?
Again, I’m saying that this is something that should be handled on a local level. There are definitely examples that I can think of where this would be a good thing. So let’s find those places and come up with an official state road sign that says, “Bicyclists Yield” and install them at that location.
It’s really pathetic that the pedestrian countdown law is even necessary. Like most other pedestrians on Market street, I’m always starting to cross the street after the countdown started because I know I can safely make it across, and many of those traffic signals only offer 5 seconds of a walk signal for 60 seconds of waiting. Anyone who seriously thinks that pedestrians should only be able to start crossing the street for 5 seconds every 60 should get their head examined! WTF are you thinking!!! Seriously, you expect people to only be able to start crossing for only a 5 second window?
The reason for the countdown timers is to make it safer for pedestrians by allowing them to clear the intersection before the signal changes. The purpose of these timers is not to make it less convenient, slower and more difficult for pedestrians to cross the street.
The signals are very, very inconsistent as to when they present their countdown. I’d love to see a uniform implementation.
On Geary in SF through the Richmond, for example, the east-west crosswalks won’t start counting down until there is 9-11 seconds left on the clock. The north-south crosswalks will start counting down as early as 23 — a whole two seconds after the green. Some of the newer ones that replace previously unsignalized intersections have an early pedestrian start, worth a whopping three seconds. Most don’t.
Offering only a 2-5 second window to step off the curb is insufficient, and is also inconsistent with what’s allowed at intersections that have no walk/don’t walk signals whatsoever, which should be fixed. I don’t think you disagree with that. I don’t think it has anything to do with people’s questionable decisions on the road, however.
One thing of note here regarding “a massive police crackdown significant enough that people would actually change behavior”. Sure, if we did that perhaps we could get very good compliance with the law but this operates of the assumption the activity will be done regardless. Cycling is purely an optional activity. Massive crackdowns don’t result is good compliance. They just result in fewer people riding. Fewer people riding makes things more dangerous for those who remain. Paradoxically then, a massive crackdown to get cyclists to stop at stop signs, ostensibly for safety reasons, will overall make things more dangerous for those cyclists who choose to continue riding (and there won’t be very many of them). Also, former cyclists will now be at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer from lack of exercise, so again the net result is more people dying, not fewer.
There’s a lot of holes in your reasoning:
And density to a large extent also determines how many stop signs or traffic signals per mile of road there are. Look at NYC for example with traffic lights often spaced at 250 feet intervals. It’s in these densest places that a cyclist will derive the most benefit from an Idaho stop (and the law also should allow yield at red signals, not just stop signs). And that’s why it’s imperative that California pass such a law, along with NYC.
I think this reason could have been worded a little better. Maybe something like “it’s safer if cyclists get away from the pack of cars before it starts moving”. However, that’s more applicable as a rationale for letting cyclists pass red lights than stop signs.
Not entirely true. Getting ahead of the pack of cars (and having the street to yourself for a while until they catch up) is one reason. A second reason is the much greater visibility and sensory awareness a cyclist has means a complete stop just isn’t necessary for safety reasons. The state should engineer safety in the least intrusive manner possible. If a yield will do then there’s no reason for a complete stop. However, this doesn’t preclude signing intersections with very poor sight lines to require cyclists to completely stop (or to wait out the full cycle if the intersection is signalized).
Any competent cyclist downshifts before accelerating. That’s not the issue. The issue here is you always use much higher power levels accelerating than cruising. Even with downshifting, the long term effects of repeated starting and stopping are muscular fatigue, leg cramps in extreme cases, and perhaps taxing you aerobic capacity, even if you downshift. That’s not even getting into the fact repeated stopping is highly unpleasant. If you want to encourage people to bike instead of drive, you need to take this (and average speeds) into account. If we designed bike infrastructure to mostly negate stopping as a matter of course the way they do in the Netherlands then we probably wouldn’t even be talking about Idaho stops. However, we don’t. We put bikes on streets with an excessive number traffic controls which exist solely due to an excessive number of automobiles, and then we expect them to obey those controls with no consideration of the biological limitations of human power.
That’s a good enough reason even if others didn’t exist.
The problem with that is I doubt your average police officer will know which routes it applies on and which it doesn’t. You could liberally sign such routes but that’s a lot of extra money. And it doesn’t benefit cyclists who don’t happen to be near such routes. What would happen most likely is the police would be ignorant of were the rule applies or doesn’t apply, and people will be getting undeserved tickets. Better to just make a blanket rule and perhaps post signs in the few places with poor sight lines where yielding wouldn’t be safe.
The Embarcadero is a goat-rodeo where everything is made of goats, with “plenty of lanes to keep traffic flowing” very slowly. Unfortunately, cities don’t seem to carefully consider and then reconsider countdown timers. Not every intersection is like those, but those intersections DO exist and illustrate the audacity of literal enforcement.
That’s a pedestrian head start (Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI). Daylighting is making sure peds on sidewalk intersections are able to be seen (not allowing parking right up to the crosswalk).
What’s the wait time for pedestrians at that intersection from the second the timer starts til the next time they can walk? What’s the walk time? How does that compare with the left turners?
Maybe someone should get the city to consider modifying the timer/light phases so they can turn left?
I’m interested to know what’s AAA’s view on this law change. They actually encouraged crosswalk countdown timers, especially in its conception.
Wow! You clearly spent a lot of time and thought on your post. But you neglected to consider the fundamental point of the Idaho Stop, whether there is oncoming traffic or not, which totally invalidates your conclusions. The difference between SF and Boise, the different size, the density, have nothing to do with anything but only serve to obfuscate the real issue: cyclists can only go through a stop sign if there is no car at the crossing which has the right-of-way.
Did you just forget about that, or consciously decide to ignore it?
You must not be a cyclist or you would not have tried to explain to us that we need to downshift at a stop as if we were too stupid to know this. Every cyclist I know automatically downshifts at any possible stop. How this would not occur to you is a mystery to me.
You are just plain wrong in your conclusion, ‘a cyclist will ride on the same high-speed roads as a car for the same reasons–fewer stop signs and stop lights’. Here in this hilly city, the first streets to be built naturally went along the flattest routes (think Van Ness and Polk), so for many cyclists those streets are preferable to ride.
> Start with the obvious: California is not Idaho.
That’s not evidence that it’s a bad idea, it’s just a reason that it *might* have different effects.
> Gee, maybe that makes a difference.
You might want to read again before you launch into the snark:
“Of course there are other differences between the two states,” he said, “and I’m not claiming that the Idaho stop law caused the difference in injury rate. But it’s very clear that the Idaho stop law is not causing mass carnage. Everything I found supports the idea that this bill should increase bicycling and reduce injuries.”
Injuries dropped after the law was passed (which you seem to be ignoring), and they have a relatively low rate in general. All he is that there’s some evidence suggesting that this improves safety, and none suggesting that it makes it worse.
> Next, the “reasons” listed for the drop don’t really pass the smell test.
He’s not asserting reasons as justification, he’s speculating on reasons that might explain the conclusions in the data. The justification is the data. If we can improve safety, even if we don’t understand the exact mechanism, that’s valuable.
> The first reason listed was “inconsistent enforcement.”
The first reason was actually: “One is that it can clear up uncertainty about what behavior is expected.” I.e., more predictable behavior.
> Then what you’re saying is that if police enforced the stop sign law in a consistent manner, cyclists would be safer?
Theoretically, sure, there are two ways to make behavior more consistent: change the law to match what most people do so that everyone does it, or a massive police crackdown significant enough that people would actually change behavior. If there are two theoretically ways to do something, one (as far as we know so far) doesn’t have any downsides, and the other would be incredibly expensive since it would require having a massively increased police presence (since occasional random ticketing doesn’t really do much to change behavior, as evidenced by many drivers speeding, many cyclists not stopping at stop signs, many pedestrians jaywalking, etc.), why wouldn’t we do the one that’s easy, practical, and doesn’t contribute to an expanded police state?
But you are misrepresenting what he said, because “cyclists would be safer” would be true only if this were the only reason the change improves safety, and he is very explicitly *not* saying that. He’s just saying it might be one contributing factor. Another possibility is that it’s a non-factor or a very minor factor, and clearing the intersection faster is what matters, in which case your suggestion would in fact make cyclists less safe. We don’t know, and he doesn’t claim we do.
> The risk at an intersection is proportional to the amount of traffic passing through that intersection.
The risk is in the interaction between cyclists and other traffic in the intersection. That’s proportional to both the amount of traffic and the time spent in the intersection.
And you’ve ignored the comment that cyclists are much more maneuverable when they have some momentum, which can help them avoid accidents. And you’ve ignored the fact that this wasn’t a comprehensive list in the first place.
You’ve provided absolutely no evidence of any kind that this is a bad idea. You’re just saying he can’t conclusively prove to your satisfaction in advance that it’s a good one… and it seems that the only thing that would satisfy you would be evidence from somewhere exactly like here. Which we can never get if we use your standard of needing the evidence first.
If we have evidence that it might work, and none that it doesn’t, how about we try it and see? It’s not like we can’t change the law again if it turns out that it actually does backfire here.
Not sure if you are being sarcastic or not in your comment. My statement is, which you describe it a lot better, when the countdown timer is going on, pedestrians should vacate the crosswalk, but I do not want more pedestrians to step off the curb and start crossing. This gives drivers a window after remaining pedestrians clear to allow us to turn.
Just because you mischaracterize the the reasons doesn’t mean they aren’t good reasons.
I bike in LA, and most motorists already expect cyclists to behave like this is the law, sometimes they even wave me through despite being first when they could really go and leave me plenty of time to go after.
Most people who have experience with it already think it’s a good idea, many already behave like it is, both drivers and cyclists.
When a countdown signal begins there’s a distinctive difference between vacating an intersection and beginning to cross.
“Current law states that pedestrians facing a flashing or steady “Don’t Walk” or “Wait” signal may not start to cross an intersection”
Pedestrians are allowed to use the entire green-yellow-red transition to cross in the absence of a countdown signal; however, countdown signals are used to help facilitate when pedestrians may cross an intersection and in many cases when motorists are given a green light.
Pedestrians who arrive at a crosswalk after a countdown begins should wait for the next cycle. As a pedestrian I see it all too often whereby one green light cycle affords one to two cars being able to make turns due to illegal jaywalking during countdown timers.
The passage of A.B. 390 would defy the use and purpose of countdown timers and discourages law enforcement from enforcing jaywalking laws.
As shown on a recent edition of Stanley Roberts Mt. View. PD issued citations to several jaywalkers who violated the countdown signal law and had to explain the law they are not supposed to begin crossing on a stale countdown signal.
The sting included citing motorists and cyclists riding in crosswalks.
It’s so interesting that motorists feel that they should be allowed to have the full green and yellow cycles to make their turns, but that as soon as the hand changes from red to a countdown timer, pedestrians should vacate the intersection. Obviously no entitlement here.
Re on second comment: That is my understanding of the bill as well. But my concern is still still the backup of traffic. The Embarcadero has plenty of lanes to keep traffic flowing, but not all signals have a six second walk with a 25 or so countdown. This is when a city should consider modifying the timer to give a longer cross time, or even consider letting the pedestrian signal go first before the green light (is that called day lighting?).
Here’s an issue I face on a regular basis. At 20th and Winston (Stonestown where Olive Garden is located), I have to make a left turn to southbound Winston, but it also clogs the other cars behind me while I wait for an opening to safely turn. That opening is when the pedestrian signal flashes and the countdown starts; pedestrians finish crossing or wait at the curb, and I can make that turn when it’s clear, and other cars that may also be waiting to turn have their shot too. If the law is changed allowing people to step off the curb while the countdown is in progress, that could potentially back up traffic even more because maybe only one car can get through.
The flashing Don’t Walk signal starts early enough so that even the slowest walkers can cross, since it has to err on the safe side.
As an aside, in China, all lights have countdowns to both red and green lights. Imagine sitting on a red light and you know exactly how long before the light turns green. It’s much better than the red+yellow cycle used in Europe.
On second read of your post, to clarify: my understanding is the bill would let someone step into the street during a countdown (as long as they have enough time to make it across), not during a blinking hand/flashing don’t walk without a countdown.
If you’re waiting to make a left or right turn at a busy crosswalk, what’s the rush?
One guy in a car wants to turn so a bunch of people ought to wait a couple minutes for the 6 second walk signal followed by a 25 second countdown?
(Thinking Embarcadero here, but there are certainly many others where there’s a long countdown, a short walk, and an awful lot of time in between.)
The “Idaho Stop” law is a bad idea for California.
Start with the obvious: California is not Idaho. The biggest city in Idaho, Boise, is about the same size as Sacramento–population-wise. But Sacramento is the sixth largest city in California. This law would apply to every stop sign in California–including the ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Not a good idea.
Next, while it’s interesting to compare by population, you also want to consider population density. Sacramento has a density of 4660 people per square mile. Boise has about 2675 per square mile. Density is going to determine how busy the roads in the city are–the busier the roads, the more chance of someone being hit. And, ‘lo and behold, Sacramento’s density is almost twice as high as Boise’s. Gee, maybe that makes a difference.
Next, the “reasons” listed for the drop don’t really pass the smell test. The first reason listed was “inconsistent enforcement.” Then what you’re saying is that if police enforced the stop sign law in a consistent manner, cyclists would be safer? But whenever the police do this, the cycling community complains about how they shouldn’t be getting tickets.
The second reason listed was that it’s safer for cyclists to spend less time in intersections since many accidents happen in intersections. The problem is that statistics don’t work that way. The risk at an intersection is proportional to the amount of traffic passing through that intersection. The traffic is what is dangerous–not the intersection. If I shut off all traffic to an intersection, you could ride around in circles and never get hit. So how fast you’re going through the intersection makes no difference. What would lessen your chance of being killed in an intersection would be to not use the intersection.
To draw an imperfect analogy, suppose you don’t want to die in an airplane crash. The solution would be to not fly in an airplane. The solution would not be to only go on short duration flights.
The whole “stopping takes time and energy” is basically more of a reason why cyclists don’t stop at intersections than anything to do with safety. However, it’s no more legitimate. If stopping causes such wear-and-tear, the simplest solution is to downshift before stopping–just like a car with a manual transmission. The lower gears allow you to get going faster without as much wear-and-tear on your muscles and you can then shift up to a comfortable gear.
Frankly, the only reason I’ve seen which makes sense is that it will offer an incentive for cyclists to get away from the main thoroughfares, which is safer for them. After all, a cyclist will ride on the same high-speed roads as a car for the same reasons–fewer stop signs and stop lights.
Personally, I’d rather just do it on those routes where it makes sense.
I’m opposed to the crosswalk signal law change. I don’t think it’s ridiculous that it’s currently unlawful to start crossing when the red pedestrian signal hand is flashing.
From a driver’s point of view, if I am waiting to make a left or right turn at a busy crosswalk, that flashing hand on the pedestrian signal while also waiting for those already crossing in progress to clear out, is the window I need to make that turn; if people decide to start to cross while it’s flashing, it can cause the flow of traffic to back up, especially if where you are turning doesn’t have a dedicated turn lane.
These sound like good ideas, but I wonder if the crosswalk thing is fair to the elderly and disabled. You’re allowed to enter the crosswalk only if you’re fast enough to make it.
Remember Mayvis Coyle? http://la.streetsblog.org/2008/02/13/mayvis-coyle-redux/
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