Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bringing the Idaho Stop to Wichita Since 2006

Many thanks to David Watkins of Lawyers, Guns & Money for bringing this superb article on the physics and practicality of making stops while bicycling along public streets to my attention. Like David, I'm a long-time bike commuter; like David, I don't live in an urban area which has much by way of bicycle paths, which means that for the majority of my daily commute I'm traveling down public streets alongside automobiles; like David, I sincerely want to be treated as just another vehicle on the street and thus obey all the expected traffic laws...with the exception of low traffic intersections, where I have, for years, regularly slowed down and then continued through if the coast is clear, rather than stopping; and finally, like David, I've always felt guilty about this--but not guilty enough to resist what my own commuting patterns have long clearly propelled me to do. At last, someone with some real science and common sense has explained myself to me:

While it's obviously reckless for [cyclists] to blow through an intersection when they don't have the right of way, research and common sense say that slowly rolling through a stop sign on a bike shouldn't be illegal in the first place. Some places in the US already allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields, and red lights as stop signs, and these rules are no more dangerous--and perhaps even a little safer--than the status quo....Idaho has permitted it since 1982, which is why this behavior is known as the Idaho stop.

Idaho's rule is pretty straightforward. If a cyclist approaches a stop sign, he or she needs to slow down and look for traffic. If there's already a pedestrian, car, or another bike there, then the other vehicle has the right of way. If there's no traffic, however, the cyclist can slowly proceed. Basically, for bikers, a stop sign is a yield sign. If a cyclist approaches a red light, meanwhile, he or she needs to stop fully. Again, if there's any oncoming traffic or a pedestrian, it has the right of way. If there's not, the cyclist can proceed cautiously through the intersection. Put simply, red light is a stop sign....

Unlike a car, getting a bike started from a standstill requires a lot of energy from the rider. Once it's going, the bike's own momentum carries it forward, so it requires much less energy....A cyclist who rolls through a stop at five miles per hour instead of stopping fully needs to use 25 percent less energy to get back to full speed. This explains why many cyclists roll through stop signs so often....

For drivers, the idea of cyclists rolling through an intersection without fully stopping might sound dangerous--but because of their slower speed and wider field of vision (compared to cars), cyclists are generally able to assess whether there's oncoming traffic and make the right decision. Even law-abiding urban bikers already do this all the time: because of the worry that cars might not see a bike, cyclists habitually scan for oncoming traffic even at intersections where they don't have a stop sign so they can brake at the last second just in case.


That last quoted paragraph--but truly, read the whole thing!--is the real clincher for me; all around, through the residential neighborhoods which surround Friends University, there is a patchwork of thru-streets and one-ways, and it is nearly a daily occurrence for me to move with unnecessary slowness through the intersections, never really certain of which cars will be looking or will give me the right-of-way or will stop. To allow it to be understood that, yes, as I cyclist, I am looking both ways, and I can respond to last-minute threats with much greater efficiency than an automobile, so please let me go my way, would be a great commuter blessing to me. So Idaho, since I can't count on the great state of Kansas being willing to tax itself sufficient to actually start making it's roads at least as bike-friendly as, oh, Tulsa, I implore you: send your law this way as soon as you can. It only makes legal what everyone is always going to do, anyway.

3 comments:

Hunter said...

As a lifelong Idahoan, I am proud of this little law.

Good luck as you navigate unfriendly streets.

John Mansfield said...

Police in Los Angeles stopped me for this once and threatened me with a ticket. It was a residential intersection with no cars anywhere when I rolled through it. The pair of cops must have been a block away when they saw me do it because by the time they caught up with me in their car I was another block further along and had no idea why they were stopping me. It was an annoying demonstration of authority, which seemed to be the point, and here I am fifteen years later nursing the insult.

Daryle Christensen said...

I'm wondering, how would police enforce a ticket issued to a bicyclist? There is no license bureau for bicyclists. As licensed drivers, we are specifically told that driving is a privilege, not a right. With no bicycling license, I would have to assume that bicycling is a right and not a privilege. If one does not pay his traffic tickets as a car driver, one can get his license revoked. If a police officer stopped me on my bicycle and asked for my license, I would remind him that there is no license required to operate a bicycle and offer my student ID or my PADI open water diver card (it has a 20 year-old picture of me). I would not give my driver's license.