Bill to Allow Bikes to Treat Stop Signs as Yield Signs Spiked

Insurance Industry Freaks Out: Chaos. Unpredictability. “Personal Interpretation” of Laws, Oh My.

A.B. 1103 would have allowed bikes to legally proceed through a stop sign without stopping when it is safe to do so. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
A.B. 1103 would have allowed bikes to legally proceed through a stop sign without stopping when it is safe to do so. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

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Last week, the authors of a bipartisan bill that could have brought the so-called Idaho Stop to California—wherein bicycle riders could treat stop signs as yield signs—was amended to instead create a pilot program in three cities rather than statewide. A controlled pilot program would have had the added benefit of providing much-needed safety data, but even that wasn’t enough for insurance industry representatives, who remained opposed to the idea. This is despite the law having been in place in Idaho for many years, and despite Delaware’s recent adoption of a similar law.

The authors, Assemblymembers Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear) and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), opted to pull the bill in the face of the opposition. Because there is a deadline for last year’s bills to be passed by their house of origin by Friday, that effectively kills it.

The proposed change to state law would have recognized that stop signs are part of a traffic control system designed for cars, which approach and move through intersections differently than people on bikes. Although the idea seems to anger people who don’t ride bikes, it shouldn’t. The law would not create a free-for all, and would still require caution by bicycle riders at intersections. It just doesn’t require them to come to a full stop. Allowing a bicycle to yield at a stop sign brings many benefits to all road users: it can help a bicyclist maintain momentum, keep better control of the bicycle, and move through an intersection more quickly and efficiently, avoiding unnecessary collisions.

In his testimony on the bill last May, Assemblymember Obernolte pointed out that “this bill does not change the rules on right of way. The problem is, it’s against the law to do what most bikes do. . . because of the physics of riding bikes.”

“Bikes are not cars; they have very different strengths, and very different weaknesses. To treat them the same is doing a disservice to everyone in California,” he said.

The California Bicycle Coalition had pointed out that if California is serious about encouraging bicycling as a regular mode of travel, it needs to recognize that penalizing bike riders with unnecessary enforcement at stop signs has the opposite effect.

But all the opposition could see was potential chaos, which they blame on people who are not in cars. For example, the California Teamsters objected that “this bill would insert unpredictability into the traffic safety equation, and our members, driving 80,000 pound vehicles, would be left to wonder whether any approaching bicyclist is going to stop or dart out into the intersection.”

Much of the opposition, as expressed in letters to the bill’s authors, focused on unfounded fears and assumptions that changing the rules as they now stand would be unsafe and “detrimental to all road users,” as AAA put it. Rather than seeing that a pilot program could test the idea and provide important safety data, they charged that creating “different rules across local jurisdictions” would just confuse people.

Dave Snyder of Calbike responded to the death of the bill graciously. “We are grateful for Assemblymembers Obernolte and Ting for trying to insert some common sense into traffic law,” he said. “It’s a hard sell. We learned some lessons about how to promote this idea and look forward to future efforts.”

  • California has more than 10% of the nation’s population, so counting this by number of states probably isn’t the best metric to use. Approving it here would move it well beyond “rare”.

  • When did motorists start coming to a complete stop at stop signs?

  • The term California Stop was not coined because of bicyclists.

    A thousand times this.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    *Everyone* (whether in a car or on a bike) tends to treat four-way stop signs as yield signs whenever that is safe. I tend to think the law should be generalized so that this behavior is legal for everyone (maybe with a limit of 5 mph for vehicles that don’t stop).

    Changing a statewide rule is much easier and cheaper than digging up every single intersection where a stop sign has been designated (especially given how many of those intersections really don’t need stop signs, but just yields – I don’t think I’d ever seen an intersection with a Yield sign in California, but they’re all over my town in Texas).

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Who is “you” here? Do you think that Streetsblog doesn’t treat pedestrians with decency?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Yes. I believe everyone who is actively discussing this law with an understanding of what it means is aiming to stop scofflaw cyclists who blow stop signs without regard for safety. We also want to stop scofflaw motorists who blow speed limits without regard for safety.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Also, it’s not like this rule change is going to have much of an effect on anyone’s behavior or predictability – it’ll just change the legality of what people have been doing all along. I’ve never heard any teamster gush about how predictable cyclists are at four-way stops under current laws – I don’t expect they’re going to be much different under the new law.

  • DrunkEngineer

    Since you mention Paris, there is just a single stop sign in the entire city.

    I can’t speak for the entire continent, but every single bike-friendly city has a distinct lack of stop signs.

  • SurlyCyclist

    “If only two state treats stop signs as yield signs for bicyclists, then it is rare.”

    Whoa whoa whoa, that’s not what you said at all. You said, “Bicyclists want their bikes to be treated as vehicles, yet want separate rules of the road. Only in rare instances does this occur, so the idea of bicyclists using
    their interpretation of ‘caution’ while other vehicles must come to a
    full stop will probably fail on issue of safety and fairness.”

    I simply pointed out that bicycles are vehicles and there are already plenty of laws that apply to “motor vehicles” that don’t apply to “vehicles” and vice versa. You then decided to move the goal post.

    “It is fair to prevent vehicles that are not safe at freeway speed to remain off it.”

    So now it’s fair because it is safer to keep slower moving vehicles off of the freeways because the speed limits are set high? Well the Idaho Stop is safer for cyclists and reduces the instances of cyclist/motorist collisions. So I’m glad we’re on the same page that if it’s for safety reasons it is inherently fair.

    “Rolling through stop signs is not an incentive like car pooling. More people will not ride bikes because they can roll through stop signs.”

    It isn’t? That’s news to me. Since when has making something that saves money and is healthier safer and more convenient not been an incentive?

    “I ride my bike.”

    That’s awesome!

    “I am not perfect and I have rolled though a few stop signs.”

    Ok, now ask yourself why you rolled through those stop signs.

    “Coming to a stop is not a big deal.”

    Big enough of a deal to where you’ll admit that you’ve rolled through stop signs though.

    It is a big deal if continuing would lower your chances of being rear ended by a distracted motorist. It’s a big deal if you’re older, or maybe have an injury and you may be able to maintain momentum where you wouldn’t have been able to before.

    “If cyclists want yield signs, then they could lobby for circle intersections.”

    I can’t even take this seriously. Beyond the fact that this would be prohibitively expensive and even getting proper bike lanes has proven nearly impossible most places. Most intersections aren’t large enough to necessitate a roundabout. What do you do where side streets dead end into main thoroughfares?

    “This is not hard to understand why this idea is low as a transit issue.”

    It’s not hard to understand why an issue that in it’s first year yielded a drop of cyclist related collisions by nearly 15% where it was implemented is low as a transit issue? Really?

    You seem preoccupied with people getting upset and things being “unfair”. How many lives saved does it take before “fairness” doesn’t matter? You already don’t see the idea that there is an entire system of infrastructure from coast to coast, border to border, and pretty much everywhere in between that is strictly for certain vehicles as unfair for the sake of safety. Why can’t you extend that line of thinking to something that is low impact to motorists and doesn’t require new infrastructure to be built?

    I highly suggest reading this article.

    https://www.bikelaw.com/2016/01/living-with-stop-as-yield-for-cyclists/

  • Stuart

    I repeated the comment because you never had a response until now.

    I did. The paragraph starting “Again, this is simply not true” is a direct response to your claim that all road users follow the same rules.

    I don’t know any exception to basic rules of the road that is common knowledge.

    I’ve given numerous examples. Most notably the fact that a large number of road users (all non-bicycle people-powered conveyances) already have totally different rules for stop signs. Are you just defining “basic rules” to mean “things that don’t have exceptions”? If so, then congratulations on being correct within an arbitrary definition that makes the phrase pointless for discussion of exceptions.

    If you want another, it seems like a lot of drivers “remember” rules (not the limited ones that actually exist, usually) that say that cyclists aren’t allowed to take the lane, so apparently drivers are better at distinguishing between cars and bicycles than you give them credit for.

    There are rules for pedestrians at stop signs

    Those are rules for crosswalks, and have nothing at all to do with what signage for vehicles may or may not be present.

    (Even if you want to construe them as rules for stop signs, I have no idea what your point is. Your claim was that everyone on the road has to follow the same rules. Saying that pedestrians do have rules but quoting rules that are completely different doesn’t support that.)

    I doubt California will lead in this since there is not enough evidence it would work in a dense urban environment.

    This is RedMercury’s argument from last time: we shouldn’t try something that is promising, and get data for it here, because we already don’t have data for it here.

    Personally, I’m hopeful that the legislature is smart enough to realize that this bizarre argument would prevent progress on basically anything.

  • MrTemecula

    I repeated the comment because you never had a response until now. I don’t know any exception to basic rules of the road that is common knowledge.

    There are rules for pedestrians at stop signs:

    “Pedestrians may not suddenly leave the curb and enter a crosswalk into the path of a moving vehicle that is so close to constitute an immediate hazard. Pedestrians may not unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a crosswalk.”

    ***.ncsl.org/research/transportation/pedestrian-crossing-50-state-summary.aspx

    I doubt California will lead in this since there is not enough evidence it would work in a dense urban environment. The moment there is an accident the press would be brutal.

  • MrTemecula

    I have driven in Europe and, while not as many, there are plenty of stop signs there.

  • Stuart

    with everybody following the same rules

    Repeating this doesn’t make it true. They follow many of the same rules, but there are also a bunch of exceptions, and having one more exception doesn’t fundamentally change that.

    You’re also ignoring the fact that all the human-powered things that don’t default to the vehicle rules follow pedestrian rules (when there aren’t specific exceptions), which are radically different. Notably, stop signs don’t apply to them. I have a hard time believing that “drivers have to stop at stop signs, cyclist, skateboarders, and roller bladers don’t” is really hard to remember, but the current rule of “drivers and cyclists have to stop at stop signs, skateboarders and roller bladers don’t” is easy.

    instead of stop signs, why not change some intersections to circles or even remove them and have less of them like in Germany and then have a study.

    Sure, sounds good. There’s nothing legally preventing any city that want to do that from doing so. Of course it requires intervening individually in every single intersection where changes are desired, so it would be expensive and slow to scale to the entire state.

    California’s a big place though, so it’s not clear to me why this is an either/or situation. Trying something else in parallel that’s cheap and can scale immediately at essentially no incremental cost seems like a no-brainer.

    Much simpler than trying to educate the populace about new rules of the road.

    SF has something like ten thousand stop signs. You think re-evaluating all (or even a significant fraction) of those is easier than changing one rule and telling people? Keep in mind that “the populace” that needs to be educated about it is really only cyclists, since by definition yielding means the cross traffic doesn’t have to change what they are doing. And it’s fine if cyclists learn incrementally because treating a yield sign as a stop sign is still legal.

    I’d be willing to bet that if AB-1103 or similar were passed, SF could do a meaningful trial with little more than a memo to SFPD and an email to the SFBC membership. That plus the inevitable coverage it would get on the internet would spread the word fairly quickly to a significant number of the people who would need to know.

    Try changing even 100 stop signs with the same amount of effort.

  • DrunkEngineer

    It isn’t an issue in Europe because their traffic engineers tend to avoid using stop signs.

  • MrTemecula

    Is there an European country with a biking culture that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs? I did a quick Google search and only found Paris.

    If progressive Europe does not see any benefits, than progressive California should follow their lead.

  • Vooch

    to start we should toll the entire 15 from Chula Vista to the 91.

    Figure a buck a mile during rush hour.

    that might barely cover the cost of using the 15

  • MrTemecula

    Then you are arguing that motor vehicles are too dangerous for roads and should be banned. Good luck with that.

  • MrTemecula

    Most jurisdictions treat bikes as vehicles with everybody following the same rules because it is unrealistic to expect people to know separate rules depending on the type of vehicle being used. This reasoning simplifies the rules for everybody.

    Their are many rules for different types of transportation but basically everybody operates with the same rules when on the road.

    Here is a thought: instead of stop signs, why not change some intersections to circles or our even remove them and have less of them like in Germany and then have a study. Much simpler than trying to educate the populace about new rules of the road.

  • Vooch

    Dude – like the rules of the road were only written because drivers proved incapable of operating their hulking death machines safely.

  • Vooch

    when drivers stop killing 40,000 innocent Americans every year, we can discuss fairness

  • Stuart

    as such, need to obey rules of the road

    This is a meaningless statement as an argument against a legislative change to what the rules of the road are.

    If your locale treats bikes as vehicles, then there is usually only one rule that all drivers or riders must follow instead of multiple interpretations of the rule.

    Again, this is simply not true. There are many provisions in the CVC which apply to “motor vehicles” rather than “vehicles”, and a number that apply to “bicycles”. There are also many rules that apply to specific subtypes of motor vehicles. There’s lots of precedent for having different rules applied to different classes of things treated as vehicles.

    I find it odd that people argue against this change by making up false universal claims about how the vehicle code works rather than discussing the merits of the individual exception.

    Bicyclists are going to need more than one study and a couple of low density states

    Here’s a thought: What if we do a time-limited pilot of the idea that a few higher-density areas could choose to opt into? We could require those places that opt in to gather and submit data about the effects of the pilot program, and then we could make a decision about what to do longer term based on actual data from the places that would be affected.

    We could call it AB-1103.

  • MrTemecula

    Bikes are vehicles and, as such, need to obey rules of the road. If your locale treats bikes as vehicles, then there is usually only one rule that all drivers or riders must follow instead of multiple interpretations of the rule. Bicyclists are going to need more than one study and a couple of low density states before this becomes acceptable.

  • Stuart

    “Roads are for vehicles” is a lie created by people who want to monopolize public infrastructure for a single use, and hope that repeating will make true. It hasn’t been true historically, and it’s not true now.

    The reality is that roads are also for cyclists (all quotes are directly from the CVC):

    A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division

    For people on Segways and similar devices:

    A person shall not operate an EPAMD on a sidewalk, bike path, pathway, trail, bike lane, street, road, or highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent

    For people on electric skateboards:

    An electrically motorized board shall only operate upon a highway designated with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less

    For animals:

    Every person riding or driving an animal upon a highway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division and Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000), except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

    For pedestrians:

    No pedestrian may walk upon any roadway outside of a business or residence district otherwise than close to his or her left-hand edge of the roadway.

    Which includes a lot of things people don’t necessarily think of as pedestrians, like roller skaters and skateboarders:

    A means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle.

    Some of those things are lumped loosely with vehicles (others with pedestrians), but that’s not what gives them access to the roads, it’s just a convenience because nobody wanted to re-write all the laws from scratch every time. The reality is that anyone can use the roads however they except when explicitly prohibited, because that’s how laws work. And there’s no law that says that only vehicles can use roads.

    Which is why we have gems like this:

    It is unlawful for any person to ski or toboggan on or across anyroadway in such a manner as to interfere with the movement of vehicles thereon

  • Cynara2

    Forget drivers. Most pedestrians would tell you that is exactly what it means. And it is already terrible.

  • Cynara2

    Has it ever occured to you that you ought to stop the latter? Especially when the people suffering for it are pedestrians?

  • MrTemecula

    If only two state treats stop signs as yield signs for bicyclists, then it is rare.

    It is fair to prevent vehicles that are not safe at freeway speed to remain off it.

    Rolling through stop signs is not an incentive like car pooling. More people will not ride bikes because they can roll through stop signs.

    I ride my bike. I am not perfect and I have rolled though a few stop signs. I don’t understand how pedaling will make rolling through stop signs less upsetting. Coming to a stop is not a big deal. If cyclists want yield signs, then they could lobby for circle intersections. This is not hard to understand why this idea is low as a transit issue.

  • SurlyCyclist

    There are many different laws for vehicles and motor vehicles. I don’t think it’s as rare as you seem to think it is.

    From a safety standpoint, once Idaho enacted the “Idaho Stop” they saw a decrease in collisions involving cyclists. So it definitely looks to be a safer option than forcing them to stop as if they were driving a motor vehicle. (which let’s not kid ourselves, most motorists treat most stop sings as yield signs)

    As far as “fairness” is concerned. Are carpool lanes “fair” to people driving alone? Are freeways “fair” to road users with vehicles that are prohibited from using them? No, it’s not fair. But it makes sense to incentivise carpooling to reduce unnecessary traffic as well as emissions. It also makes sense to prohibit slow moving vehicles from using freeways from a safety standpoint.

    If you see something that saves lives as unfair does that make it invalid?

    If you’re really upset with the idea that a cyclist may be able to treat a stop as a yield, instead of getting mad, get out of your car and start pedaling. If I want to use a freeway I don’t jump on my bike, ride to the nearest on ramp, and sit there cursing the motorists that go by because it’s not fair that they can use that infrastructure and I can’t. I hop in my car and use it just like everyone else. This really isn’t that hard.

  • MrTemecula

    Well, then, stay off the roads. Roads are for vehicles.

  • KJ

    Who wants their bikes to be treated as vehicles?

  • MrTemecula

    Bicyclists want to their bikes to be treated as vehicles, yet want separate rules of the road. Only in rare instances does this occur, so the idea of bicyclists using their interpretation of ‘caution’ while other vehicles must come to a full stop will probably fail on issue of safety and fairness.

  • RedMercury

    You’re 100% correct. The California Vehicle Code does get “mealy-mouthed” about this. Which is why, if we’re adopting the Idaho Vehicle Code in regards to this, we should look at all of the Idaho Vehicle Code where it pertains. So if the CVC is a bit weak in this regards, it should also be strengthened. AB 1103 doesn’t do this and it needs to do this if we are making a sweeping change in regards to all Stop signs in California.

    Personally, I have no problem with having the same language–the Idaho language–in regards to cars at Yield signs as well. It makes sense to me.

    I’ve said before, AB 1103 is vague about responsibility. Perhaps it’s because the CVC is vague about it–that’s fine.

  • Cynara2

    Sorry, Charlie. If you guys treated pedestrians with any decency now, things might be different. But, you do NOT.

  • Stuart

    In case anyone thinks this is a reasonable argument against the bill, as discussed in detail in the comments on the previous post (the first link) what RedMercury describes as “mealy-mouth” in AB 1103 is entirely consistent with how all yielding is described in the CVC. (Which he even eventually acknowledged last time.)

    It basically said, “Yeah, you can’t give a ticket to a cyclist who rides through a stop sign” but basically left the whole question of whether or not a cyclist should stop up to the cyclist and said nothing about responsibility if the cyclist chooses poorly.

    By this logic, the CVC currently basically says “Yeah, you can’t give a ticket to a driver who drives through a yield sign”. Or drives over a pedestrian in a crosswalk, for that matter.

    For some reason, RedMercury seems to feel that the lack of explicit use of the word “S-T-O-P” in CVC discussion of yielding is inexcusable when applied to this bike-specific rule, but have no problem with it in all the other rules that apply to cars as well.

  • tiabgood

    I have never heard a cyclist talk about the law that way. But I have heard many many drivers tell me that is what cyclists think it will be.

  • Cartski

    What happened Montreal? There was a similar proposal for a modified Idaho stop: yield at stop signs, but stop at red lights. What’s their current status?

  • RedMercury

    It is for cyclists, yes. I’ve seen plenty of cyclists talk about this law as meaning, “We don’t have to stop for stop signs.” In fact, even in Idaho, cyclists do have to stop for stop signs if there is oncoming traffic.

    In fact, if you look at the law in Idaho, it’s very clear that you have to stop if it is required for safety–not slow down, not cut left or right, but S-T-O-P. AB 1103 goes all mealy-mouth when it comes to the question of when a cyclist is required to stop.

    Furthermore, if you look at that Idaho law, I particularly like the last part:

    […] if a driver is involved in a collision with a vehicle in the intersection or junction of highways, after driving past a yield sign without stopping, the collision shall be deemed prima facie evidence of his failure to yield right-of-way.

    In short, in Idaho, if you cruise through a stop sign and get hit, it’s your own damn fault. Again, AB 1103 goes all mealy-mouth about how, yeah, you really should stop, but if you really didn’t think you should, well, we’ll just stay out of that.

    Heck, I have no problem with the Idaho law. But AB 1103 wasn’t like the Idaho law. It basically said, “Yeah, you can’t give a ticket to a cyclist who rides through a stop sign” but basically left the whole question of whether or not a cyclist should stop up to the cyclist and said nothing about responsibility if the cyclist chooses poorly.

  • tiabgood

    Because the “yield” concept is a new one? How would this lead to a lot of accidents?

  • Alex

    I’m glad this didn’t work out. Would have lead to a lot of accidents

  • joe student

    “In his testimony on the bill last May, Assemblymember Obernolte pointed out that “this bill does not change the rules on right of way. The problem is, it’s against the law to do what most bikes do. . . because of the physics of riding bikes.””

    He neglected to mention, as it relates to stop signs, what most motorists do as well. The term California Stop was not coined because of bicyclists.

  • Frank Kotter

    View from Germany: Stop signs are a rarity: most intersections are uncontrolled. You yield to the right. Traffic injuries and throughput in Germany is are far superior to the US by any analysis. This is not difficult and no one needs to reinvent the wheel.

  • Rather unfortunate turn of events. However, maybe this means that we can have a wider conversation about the absurd overuse of stop signs in general. Many could and should be done away with and replaced with yields, roundabouts, or other similar measures.

  • Stuart

    It also contributes to the “scofflaw cyclist” meme, by making it very easy to lump the behavior this would have legalized with the less common, more obnoxious and dangerous behavior of just blowing through stop signs with no regard for right of way. Right now I think a lot of people automatically assume that anyone who does the former also does the latter.

    The catch 22 is that we can’t actually have reasonable discussion about legalizing the former because everyone starts freaking out about the latter, as we see in the opposition (and usually the comments section) every time this comes up.

  • crazyvag

    Look at how long it took before cops stopped giving tickets for pedestrians using countdown lights as an indicator of their ability to safely cross the street.

  • crazyvag

    The teamsters argument is so stupid that I can’t begin to think on how to reply to it.

    Why aren’t California teamsters allowed to check with Idaho Teamsters? i swear that if more people traveled to other places or were willing to educate themselves about other countries and states, we could move the conversation to a more productive level sooner.

  • Melanie Curry

    In many cases, it’s the safest thing to do. But CA law says it is illegal–which means police can ticket people for it.

  • Melanie Curry

    No, the pilot is not happening. At this point, anyway

  • joechoj

    “…pilot program would have had the added benefit …”

    Judging from the tense, it looks like the pilot is dead.

  • Bruce

    So is the three-city pilot still happening, or is that dead too?

  • dawdler

    Isn’t this what most cyclists do already? It’s certainly what I do.

  • Stuart

    our members, driving 80,000 pound vehicles, would be left to wonder whether any approaching bicyclist is going to stop or dart out into the intersection.”

    If members of the California Teamsters don’t understand what to do when approaching an intersection where the cross traffic yields, they shouldn’t be driving 80,000 pound vehicles. Yield signs aren’t a novel concept.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A.B. 1103 would have allowed bikes to legally proceed through a stop sign without stopping when it is safe to do so. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Legislative Update: “Idaho Stop” and Pedestrian Signals to Be Heard Next Week

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Two bills very pertinent to bicyclists and pedestrians are set for their first committee hearings in the California legislature on Monday's Assembly Transportation Committee. One would allow bike riders to roll through stop signs--when safe; the other would make clear that pedestrians are allowed to cross while their signals are counting down.