The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), a Portland-based non-profit with over 5,000 members statewide, has proposed a new law that would make it legal to roll through a stop sign while riding a bicycle in Oregon.
In an interview this afternoon, BTA lobbyist Karl Rohde said the bill language is currently being drafted in Salem and it will be officially known as the “Idaho Stop Law”.
“We feel the law needs to change to reflect the safe behavior that’s happening now,” said Rohde, “Coming to a complete stop isn’t necessary for a vehicle (bicycle) that does not pose the same threat to other road users and whose operators have a greater awareness of their surroundings.”
This law would make it legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs. A cyclist approaching an intersection controlled by a stop sign, would be permitted to roll through the stop sign after yielding the right of way if there are other vehicles at the intersection.
Rohde said the language of their bill will be very similar to an existing law in the state of Idaho which has been on the books since 1982 (and by most accounts, it has been implemented without incident and without negative impacts on traffic safety). A similar bill (HB 2768) was introduced in Oregon in 2003. It passed the House but did not make it through the Senate (read our analysis of the 2003 effort).
The Oregon legislature is full of new faces this session, and several of them are likely to be big supporters of the BTA’s Idaho Stop Law. Rohde says that newly elected state representative Jules Bailey (D-Portland) has already pledged his enthusiastic support. Other supporters are likely to include Floyd Prozanski (D-Lane County), Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), Jason Atkinson (R-Central Point) and others.
“…changing the law would eliminate the argument that cyclists are always breaking the law when they are actually acting in a very rational manner.”
— from an FAQ published by the BTA
The BTA’s Legislative Committee has researched this issue for several months. Noted lawyer Ray Thomas is on that committee and is an ardent supporter of the Idaho stop law concept. He published a lengthy article in November that refutes many concerns some people have about the law.
Another member of the BTA’s Legislative Committee that has pushed for this is Bjorn Warloe. You might remember Warloe as the citizen activist who spearheaded an attempt to push for the “Idaho Style” law back in 2007. Warloe received interest for his effort from State Senator Jason Atkinson, but it never progressed into becoming an actual bill.
BTA’s Legislative Committee.
The BTA’s proposal would apply to all stop signs in the state. There’s also a provision in the law that would allow cities to require bikes to come to a complete stop at certain intersections (cities would choose those on a case-by-case basis). In Idaho, the law has recently been extended to include stop lights as well, but that is not something the BTA will pursue at this time.
(According to Rohde, the BTA Board had concerns over the stop light portion of the proposal and he feels it has a better chance of being passed if it only applies to stop signs.)
Rohde says he’s optimistic that the proposal will become law. “Even for people that don’t bike and are not initially receptive this idea, once you explain it to them, they understand why it’s needed.” One tactic Rohde has found works well in explaining the proposal is to equate it to walking. “When you walk up to an intersection in a neighborhood and no one’s around,” he said, “you don’t come to a complete stop. You just look around and then go if it’s safe. We’re just applying that same logic to biking.”
For the BTA, passage of the Idaho Stop Law would accomplish many things, including:
- It would make biking easier and more efficient (having to stop unnecessarily is a “deterrant to many people”),
- it would put an end to the long and controversial legacy of Police enforcement actions (a.k.a. “stings”) at stop signs so they could “focus more of their limited resources on high-risk intersections”,
- it would “eliminate the argument that cyclists are always breaking the law when they are actually acting in a very rational manner.”
The BTA seems to have done their homework on this one. With their preparation and experience on this issue — along with the benefit of 27 years of successful implementation in Idaho and a legislature full of new, young lawmakers — 2009 might be the year Oregon finally goes “Idaho style”.
But even with many stars aligned, stop signs are one of those issues in the bike world (like helmets, fixed-gear bikes, licensing, and so on) that have potential to be controversial. How the media handles this could play an important role in its success (or failure). In 2003, many people think it was the media’s coverage of HB 2768 that ultimately led to its demise.
What do you think about this idea? Is it a no-brainer that will improve biking? Should the BTA just leave the law as-is? Is this a battle worth fighting? Let us know your thoughts.
— We have covered the Idaho stop law extensively. Browse our “Idaho Stop Law” tag for previous stories. In particular, we published guest pro/con editorials in February of 2007: David Dean wrote in support of changing stop sign laws for bikes and law student Rick Bernardi wrote in opposition to the idea. We have also just published an FAQ prepared by the BTA. The Idaho style stop law is also being proposed in Montana. Stay tuned for more coverage.
UPDATE: The BTA has published more on their reasons for pushing this law.