Monday, April 6, 2009

Idaho Stops

I've been sick the past few days. "Something's going around." But then around here, it always is... I almost don't remember the last time I felt the euphoria of a nice long ride. But on to today's subject.


It looks like the Idaho stop may actually have a chance in Oregon. The Idaho Stop is the a law that in general cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs, red lights as stop signs. Honestly, it's what most people do anyway when they're on a bike. They roll slowly up to a stop sign, check to see if the intersection is clear of cross-traffic, and if it is evident that it is clear, they ride on through without coming to a total stop. Is it always a good idea to roll through stops? Obviously not. Is it true that every time a cyclist rolls through a stop sign they do so responsibly? Obvious not. But then the Idaho law doesn't say it's always okay for cyclists to roll through stops. What it says is (italics mine):

(1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.
(2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.
(3) A person riding a bicycle shall comply with the provisions of section 49-643, Idaho Code.
(4) A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle beforeturning,owing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

For some reason, Idaho has been able to live with this law for 27 years without carnage. Now Oregon is once again proving it is more enlightened than its southern neighbor by treating the idea seriously. The idea of an Idaho stop was floated in San Francisco last year, and the response was a spew of frothy rage. Some of the sentiments:

  • "Cyclists don't deserve to be rewarded with special favors as they show disrespect for the law": First, "cyclists" are not an autonomous group, "cyclists" are people, like all people, who happen to be on bicycles. And among people as a whole respect for the law, sorry to say, isn't very high. How many of these critics report their inter-state purchases and pay the mandated sales tax every April 15? How many cross streets only at cross-walks? How many double-park their obscenely oversized vehicles at church every Sunday? The list goes on.
  • "If you give them a little, they'll take even more." I have never seen any evidence for this. If anything, unreasonable laws breed contempt for the law, not increased compliance. As I just noted, people don't respect the law, they (hopefully) respect each other, and respect more general rules of social conduct. When the law deviates from these general principles, people tend to view the law as silly, and pay it as little respect as they feel they can get away with. What are these rules of social conduct? On the roadways, I'd say they are to be safe, respectful, and predictable. Within this restriction, people then wish to get where they're going as quickly and easily as possible. Really, traffic laws are all designed to promote respect, predictability, and safety. If they fail to do so, they should be fixed.
  • "It's only fair the same rules apply to bicyclists as to cars": This is really dumb. Fair? If the neighbor's kid runs out into the street, I on my bike swerve and avoid him. The guy in the pick-up truck smears him into road kill. What would be "fair" would be that bicyclists and drivers were each held to a high standard of risk they present to their fellow beings. It makes as much sense to conclude cyclists need follow the same rules as drivers as it does to conclude the same standards should be applied to a water pistol as to a 45-caliber handgun.

Anyway, I really hope this thing passes in Oregon. California is California: it like to talk the talk but the reality is in progressive social issues, especially those threatening the supremacy of the car, it often lags behind. But with the more other states move ahead on rationally treating cycling as a specific transportation mode, the more California will be prompted to follow.

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