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Here’s why I think we should change stop sign laws for bicycle users

Posted by on April 22nd, 2019 at 10:32 am

KATU’s Steve Dunn and I in an interview that aired over the weekend. Watch video below.

Bicycles and cars are vastly different types of vehicles and our laws should do more to reflect that.

That’s just one of many reasons I strongly support Senate Bill 998 currently working its way through the Oregon Legislature. The bill would allow bicycle users to treat stop signs and flashing red signals as yield signs (also known as “Idaho Stop” for a similar law on the books in Idaho for over 30 years). In other words, you’d only have to come to a complete when it was necessary due to oncoming traffic or some other safety-related condition. The law does not allow dangerous behavior and specifically requires bicycle users to slow to a “safe speed.”

As per usual, this reasonable concept causes many people to freak out. I went on local TV to try and calm some nerves and explain why I support the bill.

This is the third time the idea has come up in Oregon and it feels like there is less freaking out this time around. But with Americans’ deeply embedded sense of driving privilege and related bias against bicycle riders — and a media culture that loves stoking us/them divisions — you can never be sure.

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Last week I was invited to the studio of our local ABC-TV affiliate (KATU) to talk about this on their Your Voice, Your Vote public interest show with longtime news anchor Steve Dunn. Just like I did in 2012 when someone wanted to make licenses for cycling mandatory and after Oregon passed a $15 bike tax, I happily accepted the invitation.

In my experience we have much healthier conversations about these sensitive topics the more we get beyond the sensationalism, soundbites, and shouting matches. It would have been nice to debate someone with an opposing viewpoint; but KATU wasn’t able to find anyone who was against the bill and willing to show up. Thankfully, Steve Dunn did a great job asking questions and I think it was a helpful conversation.

Watch the video below and tell me what you think:

As for SB 998, it passed its Senate committee 6-1 and now awaits a committee assignment and vote on the House side. If you support the bill, please contact your representative — especially if your rep is on the House Judiciary committee.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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rick
Guest
rick

Another reason for supporting the law, while I’m moving slowly to observe the safety of progressing through an intersection, I am better able to maneuver out of danger if I’m moving as opposed to stopped.

Mark Reber
Guest
Mark Reber

Well done interview, Jonathan. Near the 14 minute mark in the video, you identify the underlying objection to this law, which is the psychology of opponents who think bicycle users are gaining an advantage not otherwise available to them. This punitive mentality is meant, I think, to bring all of us into some sort of conformance to standards that doesn’t hold up when we talk about what is appropriate for bicycle users, people on foot, and people in cars. Each mode should be treated differently. To the very well articulated, rational reasons why this law should pass, I’d add another. Bicycle users have a much greater field of vision as they move through intersections. That allows us to see where we are going and what is around us and to continue safely. Besides, even when we’re moving “fast,” we rarely move at speeds greater than 15-20 miles per hour.

Scott Mizée
Guest

Thanks for advocating on the airwaves, Jonathan. I only had time to watch the first 7 minutes of the video, but in what I heard, you sounded very rational and brought up some great points for people to consider regarding operating a bicycle vs an automobile in the urban environment.

I especially appreciate the comparison between right turn on red and the Idaho stop law.
Well done.

Burk Webb
Subscriber
Burk Webb

Nice! Loved your point about “the other” and the psychology of the resistance to this law.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

You sound very reasonable! Thanks for going out there and making the case. If Arkansas can get this passed Oregon should be able to. Contacting my reps now.

Al
Guest
Al

rick
Another reason for supporting the law, while I’m moving slowly to observe the safety of progressing through an intersection, I am better able to maneuver out of danger if I’m moving as opposed to stopped.Recommended 1

I think this is exactly right. As a cyclist, my most vulnerable position is when I’m stopped at a light or a stop sign with one foot clipped into the bike. It’s extremely difficult to unclip and move laterally, and in fact there are a lot of videos of people who get a car or truck turning into their space when stopped in that way. My current MO is to ride my bike either well behind or in front of a car that could possibly turn right, and then do a rolling stop through the intersection so that I am definitely ahead of them as I go through the intersection.

Rain Panther
Guest
Rain Panther

Wow, that was surprisingly unhysterical, unsensational, even-handed coverage.

Daniel Hull
Guest
Daniel Hull

Many drivers already have a difficult time with bicycles at 4 way stops. Often cars will yield to me and wave me through even though they have the legal right of way. They act as if they don’t expect me to actually stop. Maybe they are just trying to be nice. I fear this law, which I fully support regardless, will exacerbate this issue. Drivers may get the message “bikes don’t have to stop” and sit waiting for us when they see a bicycle approaching. I much prefer they just follow the law and proceed through the intersection when they have the right of way.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

If everyone were riding fixed they would welcome the opportunity to pull a track stand and observe the benighted motorists trying to sort matters out.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

Gold star!! Fabulous job.

Loved how you reminded people you’re a driver; that we’re trying to get a lot more people biking; that cars and bicycles are fundamentally different from a physics perspective; and how you worked to dispel the “lawless reckless people blowing through stop signs.”

Really, really sharp.

Tad Reeves
Guest

Thanks for doing that interview, Jonathan, your articulate, well-considered and rational answers on that provided a lot of well-needed color for this. It’s interesting to me when people approach this issue of cars & bikes requiring separate treatment under vehicular law, as if it’s something we need to theorize about and think hard about what “might” happen, when there are so many states and countries where this is already the case. There are so many good examples out there already that prove out your point on bike safety, and what DOES happen when you let cyclists treat signals in this manner.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

One of the problems in getting people to understand and support the law change is that lots of people can’t model and visualize the pattern change in their heads. Their brains just don’t work that way. The right of way rules don’t change. Who has to yield to who doesn’t change. But the permission to slow roll a stop sign turns into, “bicycles are blowing through stop signs willy nilly with no regard for anyone.” They can’t see and play through the scenario in their heads.

Another problem is the childish notion that traffic laws have to be the same for everyone, even when they are most definitely NOT already. As Johnathan mentioned some of that is based in the fear that someone else is getting something that I’m not. I think some of that is also driven by this elementary school concept of fairness: the idea that everyone has to be treated equally ever when the requirements for different modes of transportation demand that they not be.

Or maybe that’s the same thing. “It’s not FAIR,” means I’m not being treated fairly.

Phil Moll
Guest
Phil Moll

Well said, sir. Well-spoken, and persuasive.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

PBOT remaining neutral on this topic, huh.

We can have meaningless duff like crossbikes, but the Idaho Stop is just too radical for PBOT.

q
Guest
q

I just used up my week’s supply of “recommendeds”.

Richard Hughes
Subscriber

Well done Jonathan. The most important piece for me is that maybe the law needs to change as it relates to bikes following the same rules as motor vehicles? Bikes are not the same.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

My tactic is to do essentially a California stop; I slow to about 5 mph, do sort an exaggerated look both ways, made eye contact with drivers, arm signal if I am turning, and proceed. I also always wave thanks when a driver yields to me in a 50/50 situation. I never get any negative feedback from drivers. My thinking is that drivers just want to feel like I am trying to obey the law, and not blow through intersections. I know, it is not my responsibility to make drivers happy, but it works for me.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Let’s start with the obvious: Yes, a cyclist shouldn’t have to stop if there’s no traffic coming. But, arguably, neither should a car. As a pedestrian, why should I bother to look both ways before crossing the street if there’s no traffic coming?

I stop in order to determine that there is no traffic coming. I stop, I look both ways and I judge whether or not I can make it across the street safely. I can do this safely because I’m not moving. I stop and assess the environment and decide what to do. This is safer than trying to do it while moving–trying to see around the truck stopped along the side of the intersection or the nice attractive row of trees that block my view of traffic and pedestrians. Why? Because if I’m not moving, I have plenty of time to wait for things to play out. There might be a car that I can’t see because of the parked truck. If I stop, the car won’t hit me. If I keep going, the unseen car may “come out of nowhere.” And, of course, it’s not the cyclist’s fault if this happens–it’s the truck’s fault for blocking the cyclist’s view.

Now, of course, cyclists will respond that they have skills far beyond the those of mortal men. “Why, I’ve run plenty of stop signs and I’ve never had a problem!” There are plenty of cyclists whose epitaph’s are “I’ve been riding for years and I have a sixth-sense about these things.”

Stopping at a stop sign and waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding is the safest thing for cyclists to do. Period.

This is the grouse that I have with the cycling community. They’re all about safety–as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

We need to legalize “biking while black”. All of these little overlooked infractions are just a variety of arbitrary excuses for police to harass someone when they feel like it.

Very well-spoken interview Jonathan.

David Erickson
Guest
David Erickson

The most frustrating aspect of trying to get the Idaho Stop legalized is that many vehicular cyclists are opposed to it. They are so adamant about pretending that a 200 pound bicycle going 12 MPH is the same thing as a 2-ton SUV going 60 MPH that they are automatically opposed to anything that causes bicycles to be treated differently than motor vehicles, even when that opposition is against their own best interests.

LT
Guest
LT

I feel like no matter how much advocacy and protest you do, there will always be that subset of drivers who DGAF. They will ignore all laws having to do with protecting cyclists.

Case-in-point, the other day, I rolled up to an intersection with red light. A guy in a pick-up approached me from behind, wanting to turn right on a red, but I, the pesky cyclist was blocking him. He honked his horn, and yelled for me to get on the sidewalk. It was comical because I have a gopro on my helmet. I turned around and he noticed I was filming. I shrugged and told him to wait his turn. The light turned green promptly and I started forward. As made his right turn he called me an asshole. If I were in a car, the episode wouldn’t have occurred.

Angelo Dolce
Guest
Angelo Dolce

Personally, I’d much rather repeal mandatory bike lane use than have Idaho stops.

In my year in Portland I saw enough people turning right across the bike lane or parked trucks blocking it that I would prefer not to have drivers telling me I still have to stay in the bike lane, or wonder if I’m really expected to make turns from the wrong lane (inconsistent advice from lawyers and police officers).

Michael Rubenstein
Guest
Michael Rubenstein

When I’m a motorist , I’m obsessive about obeying stop signs. When I’m on a bike, I hardly ever come to a full stop. Why the difference? It’s a matter of physics … being able to stop or divert the trajectory of two hundred pounds of rider and bike VS several tons of motor vehicle.