They do things a bit different in Idaho
You may have heard that in the state of Idaho, bike laws are a little different than in California. In Idaho, bike traffic is allowed to treat a Stop sign as a Yield sign. A lot of people think this kind of law would be a good idea in San Francisco, but as the current rule stands, people on bikes must act like drivers in almost every sense of the word, including coming to a full stop at stop signs.
Idaho’s version of the stop law for bicycles makes sense, though. Bicycles are incredibly efficient modes of transportation when in motion; the act of coming to a full stop that is what’s inefficient. Allowing people on bikes to come to “rolling stops” at stop signs, where they are required to slow down and check all directions, enables riders to travel both safely and more efficiently. Don’t be mistaken; the Idaho Stop Law does not support cyclists carelessly barreling through stop signs. Rather, it exists to enable the rider to preserve that important bit momentum so that the person bicyclist can travel with the most efficiency. As always, its essential we all respect the right of way for everyone — on foot, bike, and in car. The video below by Spencer Boomhower elaborates on all of this and explains why Idaho’s version of the stopping law for bicyclists makes more sense.
So why isn’t San Francisco more like Idaho? This 2009 SF Streetsblog story, Should California Enact an “Idaho Stop” Law for Cyclists? explains why that type of change isn’t quite that simple. And, this 2009 post from Bicycling Magazine blog provides additional information on the topic.
Is anyone working on getting an Idaho-style stop law for California?
Planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission were looking at prospects for an Idaho stop law during the summer 2008, but they quickly learned what the SF Bicycle Coalition and others have long known: changing the law would likely be very difficult, if not politically impossible. In short, San Francisco can’t make its own stop sign law because we can’t pre-empt California law. So, it would have to be a statewide legislative effort, which would likely be strongly opposed since most cities and counties don’t have the same ridership numbers as San Francisco, and could be perceived as seeking special treatment for bad behavior on bike. In 2009, the state of Oregon tried to pass a similar bill. Once it made it to the floor of the house and became a larger state-wide issue, public opinion turned and politicians received strong opposition. In the end, the bill was not passed.
Prioritized Enforcement Policy and Actions in the Bike Plan
While there’s no Idaho-style policy for enforcement prioritization in the 2009 SF Bicycle Plan, check out Chapter 5 (Enforcement) to learn what San Francisco has committed to as a city. You can also check out an article we released in 2012 on the SFPD priorities to improve safety on our streets titled Getting Enforcement Right, in which we urge the SF Police Department to focus its efforts on the most dangerous behavior by road users at the most dangerous known intersections.