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Guest Post: How Oregon got Idaho Stop

Posted by on December 26th, 2019 at 1:14 pm

… Or just yield. Whatever is safest.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Ray Thomas is a partner at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost*.

Bjorn Warloe was living in Corvallis in 2003 and remembers reading a story in the Oregon State University student newspaper that Oregon had passed an “Idaho Stop” law which allows a bicycle user to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. It turned out the article was wrong (it had passed the House but had failed to even get a hearing in the Senate) though it did accurately identify Eugene Senator Floyd Prozanski as the legislation’s chief proponent.

Idaho Stop had failed, but the idea to correlate stop sign law with natural and safe riding behavior stuck with Bjorn. And 13 years later he would still be around to see a stops-as-yields law finally pass the Oregon legislature.

Here’s how it happened…

2007 Portland Police Bureau photo of a stop sign enforcement action at Ladd’s Circle.

Four years after Bjorn first read that article, when he was living in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood of Portland, he became frustrated that Portland police were citing bicycle users for stop sign violations on quiet neighborhood streets. It seemed like a huge misallocation of scarce law enforcement resources to enforce a law that did not make sense and to then not enforce laws that protected vulnerable users. Bjorn contacted Portland Bureau of Transportation bicycle planner Roger Geller to ask that the city remove the stop signs at Ladd’s Circle. When Roger detailed the engineering it would take (including interviews with the street-side residents who were complaining to the police about bike riders not stopping), it seemed like an impossible effort.

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So in 2007, Bjorn contacted Scott Bricker who was then lobbyist for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now the Street Trust) and urged him to consider another legislative effort in Oregon, this time with more widespread grassroots support from the community. It was late in the session but both Senators Jason Atkinson (who in 2012 referred to himself as, “The most hardcore cycling fan who is also a registered Republican” and is now running for Congress) and Lane County Democrat Floyd Prozanski were receptive. Through the BTA Legislative Committee, Bjorn and other bicycle advocates worked to get the bill started.

(Prozanski, the politician; Warloe, the advocate; Thomas, the lawyer.)

While they were unsuccessful in 2007 (passing Oregon’s Vulnerable Road User Law was the organization’s top legislative priority that year), The Street Trust made Idaho Stop legislation a top priority during the next session in 2009 and put lobbyist Karl Rohde in charge of the effort.

This time around, an “Idaho Style” group formed by Bjorn had the advantage of excellent support materials. Jason Meggs, a UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduate student, had conducted a time-based comparison study of the effect of the Idaho Stop on injuries. In his research (titled simply “Stops Harm Bikes“) Meggs discovered a 14.5% decline in injuries after passage of the law in Idaho.

Another member of the Idaho Style group was Portland-based animator and illustrator Spencer Boomhower. He created an excellent video that displayed the logic behind the law change and published it online. The video quickly spread and became a key weapon that boosted awareness and respect for the concept.

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With these tools at their disposal, the bill received a few hearings, but the idea became a lightning rod of controversy. It attracted anti-Portland sentiment among many legislators and ultimately failed to advance. The combined efforts of the Idaho Style proponents and The Street Trust’s lobbying was unsuccessful again. It was a dispiriting defeat. The Idaho Stop effort of 2009 turned out to be the last major traffic law reform to emerge from the The Street Trust’ss Legislative Committee (which was gradually dismantled after its new Executive Director, Rob Sadowsky, felt the grassroots pre-occupation with minutiae of Oregon traffic law took too much staff time that would be better spent on the Vision Zero movement).

Former Republican Senator Jason Atkinson was an early and ardent supporter of the law.

While the Idaho Stop movement became dormant as the Street Trust focused its legislative efforts on major infrastructure and non-motorized transportation legislation for the next decade, Bjorn never stopped thinking about Idaho Stop. When he heard that Delaware passed its own version of the law in 2017, he wrote to Senator Floyd Prozanski and suggested it might be time to try again. Senator Prozanski knew that Oregon Democrats had a supermajority in the legislature and that he could use a placeholder bill – a bill drafted to provide a means to advance a new concept or amend an existing statute usually late in the session – to introduce a Delaware-style stop sign law. (Delaware Stop allows bicycle riders to treat a stop sign as a yield sign and yield the right-of-way to other vehicles before entering the intersection.)

When he learned that Arkansas had also passed its own Idaho Stop bill in March 2019, Prozanski saw an opportunity. “I figured if Arkansas can do it, a native Texan can get’er done in Oregon.” (Prozanski, who is also an avid road cyclist, drafted and shepherded the Oregon Safe Passing Law in 2007, which came about as the result of an unsafe pass by a log truck that caused the death of Eugene triathlete Jane Higdon.)

Bjorn, Prozanski and bicycle advocacy groups (including the Street Trust now led by Executive Director Jillian Detweiler) worked together to spread the word and considerable grassroots support arose for the measure. By the time Senate Bill 998 made it to the House Rules Committee, over 198 citizen letters had been submitted into the legislative record!

Less than five months after Bjorn contacted Senator Prozanski, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 998. (Even though the bill passed the Senate 21-8, it barely passed the House 31-28.) Prozanski’s staffer, Kevin Moore, observed, “I never saw Floyd beaming so much after a bill passage as he was after the House vote on SB 998.” On August 6, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law with an effective date of January 1, 2020.

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Below is the salient text of the new law:

A person operating a bicycle who is approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign [or flashing red signal] may, without violating ORS 811.265, do any of the following without stopping if the person slows the bicycle to a safe speed:
(a) Proceed through the intersection.
(b) Make a right or left turn into a two-way street.
(c) Make a right or left turn into a one-way street in the direction of traffic upon the one-way street.
(2) A person commits the offense of improper entry into an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign if the person does any of the following while proceeding as described in subsection (1) of this section:
(a) Fails to yield the right of way to traffic lawfully within the intersection or approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard;
(b) Disobeys the directions of a police officer or flagger, as defined in ORS 811.230;
(c) Fails to exercise care to avoid an accident; or
(d) Fails to yield the right of way to a pedestrian in an intersection or crosswalk under ORS 811.028.
(3) The offense described in this section, improper entry into an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign, is a Class D traffic violation.

Keep in mind, the new law applies to stop signs and flashing red signals. It does not apply to standard traffic signals. Idaho added this provision in 2006 and many bicycle riders feel it’s a natural and logical extension of the stop sign provision. However, there are some bicycle advocates who worry that people may be less cautious if this aspect of the law was changed and would mistakenly ride into an intersection where other road users with a green light (who may have timed the light sequence) hit them and cause a major crash. On the other hand, the instinct for self-preservation comes to the forefront here; bicycle riders very rarely pull out in front of motor vehicle users. It also makes little sense for a bicyclist to sit at a red light waiting and waiting when there is no one to stop for.

When asked when he might add the signal to the law for Oregon as a next step, Senator Prozanski said, “Well, come see me in another few years on that one.” Since it appears Idaho’s signal law has been working well there for 13 years it is likely that the evolution of the Idaho Stop in Oregon will include further calls to add traffic signals into the equation.

Until then, enjoy your new freedom to yield at stop signs and flashing red signals. And remember to do it only after making sure it’s safe to do so.

For more on how Oregon got its Idaho Stop law, listen to Bjorn and I on a recent edition of the Sprocket Podcast.

— Ray Thomas

*TCN&F is a financial supporter of BikePortland

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Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

This will be a helpful law change on January 1.

Am I reading the law correctly in regard to an intersection with a 4-way stop with a line of vehicles waiting at the stop sign in all four directions: I think people on bikes will be allowed to ride up the right shoulder if safe to do so (as they are allowed to do currently), and then continue rolling through the stop sign without stopping, as long as they get to the stop “line” at the point no opposing vehicle that would cross their path is entering or currently in the intersection?

In other words, an opposing vehicle has right of way if it is in the intersection, but otherwise whoever enters first obtains right of way at that instant, even if that person is on a bike and did not stop under the new law? I think this is the case based on the new law and the fact current Oregon law does not grant right of way at four-way stops based on who was there first, or based on who is on the right (even though common courtesy might say otherwise). The situation would also be different if the cross traffic had no stop sign, since the person on a bike must allow enough space for them to slow down and not cause a hazard before rolling through.

Seems like 4-way stops with waiting traffic in all directions are one of the more confusing scenarios with the new law. Obviously if any doubt, it’s better for the person on the bike to stop and then go, same as before.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Would be nice if this information was widely distributed to motorists. Although they will probably continue to look at us as those “scofflaws on two wheels” anyway.

9watts
Subscriber

Hurrah for the determined few who made this (finally!) happen!!

soren
Guest
soren

I habitually violated ORS 811.265 on my bike for decades (often in full view of Portland police). It amuses me that now that this is finally legal, I had switched to habitually violating ORS 811.265 on an e-scooter (my primary transportation mode).

Spencer Boomhower
Member

Thanks for the history, Ray, and for all your hard work! Happy to have had the opportunity to in some way help make it happen.

You might be interested to know that it was something you said at one of your presentations about the Idaho Stop that sparked the idea for the animation. I remember you saying that any time you’d go to a community discussion in any way related to cycling, you would have to wait for several minutes’ worth of this-one-time-a-cyclist-did-this-one-thing-wrong stories to die out before a productive discussion could be had. That is of course a pretty natural reaction; personally I find it’s the bad behavior, however infrequent, of other road users that stick in my mind for a long time, while all the other careful and respectful behavior I encounter out there is for the most part forgotten. So I thought it would make sense to make an animation that would present the very common bicycling behavior of cautious and respectful rolling stops to the public, and in the process explain the logic behind that kind of riding and why it should be legal.

Karl Rohde at the BTA was a huge help in refining the animation’s message, and making it more appealing to legislators from around the state.

After it was released I remember hearing (from Steph Routh I think it was) that the video had changed the minds of at least a couple of legislators, and that was pretty rewarding. Unfortunately it didn’t get out there soon enough to do more good than that, at least that time around.

I have been meaning to give the animation an update to make it higher resolution, and of course to get rid of the reference at the end to the ten-year old law that didn’t pass. Would be a great way to celebrate the passage of the law this time around. Just need to find the time!

Vanessa Renwick
Guest

Thanks so very much Bjorn Warloe for carrying the torch for so long for all of us, and all the others who worked on making this a reality.

Vince
Guest
Vince

Here’s a crazy idea: When you get a drivers license, you are tested on the laws as they exist at at time. But laws change. When a license is renewed, DMV should be required to provide a list of traffic laws that have changed since your last renewal. Wouldn’t be that hard to do and could help reduce some confusion.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

What about situations like at SE 60th & Harold, recently made 4-way with octagonal reds on Harold? This is a prominent stop for the #10 Harold bus, with 4 painted crosswalks and curb bump-outs on Harold.

Harold is a moderately busy street, sort of a semi-arterial, scene of several car crashes, one a rollover, due to poor sightlines. This is the reason for making it a 4-way stop. But when a bus is stopped the red octagonal is obscured, and some motorists pull out around the bus and blast through at speed; it is worth one’s life to cross Harold when getting off the bus unless one waits for the bus to clear the intersection so one can see.

Is it now legal for cyclists to do the same?

Further, When crossing either Harold or 60th is is very annoying for pedestrians to get buzzed by bikers at speed who now assume they have right-of-way.

I understand why many cyclists favor the new law. I am not one of those. It creates more problems than it solves for competent and experienced cyclists. At every red octagonal I just pull a traffic stand on the fixie, look for traffic, and proceed.

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

Thank you Ray Thomas for your work on this! Your knowledge of the law, how it plays out on the street, and the history of legislation like this is a treasure!

Everyone: Join us for the “No Stopping Us Now!” New Year’s Day bike ride to celebrate the first effective date of the Idaho Style law. We’ll meet at the SE 3rd & Clay Nossa Familia for free coffee and then head out at 1 pm to yield at stop signs and see other improvments for walking biking and transit during an easy ride for a few hours.

pdx2wheeler
Subscriber

Glad to see that the most efficient way to get to work has been decriminalized.

Becky Jo (Columnist)
Member

This is so very inspirational to read. Thank you so much. I love the animated explanation too. Very cool. I mistakenly thought that since this was passed during summer it was already legal – thankfully I haven’t been cited. Oops. 😀 I appreciate so very much all that came before me, all the work they’ve done, and how they never gave up. What an amazing story.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

51 people killed on our streets this year as snowflakes whine about having to stop.

Jason Meggs, MCP/MPH
Guest

Thanks for the article, and for mentioning the research I pursued. Thanks to all who have persevered! Epic and ongoing.

People may find my presentation from Velo-city Global 2012 (Vancouver, BC) useful in understanding the rationale for the Idaho Law, it synthesizes diverse sources in support of the Idaho Law as well as an estimate of the gains the law is expected to achieve. The history of stop signs and signals was eye opening for me to research, particularly the fact that most stop signs have no safety purpose even for cars – and there was never a study to justify lockstrapping bicycles to stop signs which were developed for the speed and convenience of driving motor vehicles first and foremost, not for safety.

I want to clarify that the 14.5% came from digging through old reports in Idaho, looking for any further data on the effect of the law. My original research looked at comparison cities and underlying rationale which led to a policy letter available to decision makers, a paper submitted to the Transportation Research Board, and presentations.

On the topic of signals, to clarify that in Idaho the update to the law there required stopping before proceeding straight or turning left; one may still yield when turning right. Previously it was ambiguous as to yielding to proceed through a red light signal. This change was motivated politically, not by any safety study. In future laws if this concern arises I would suggest considering differentiating between smaller intersections and larger intersections for red light signals, rather than completely prohibiting Idaho Law style yielding for red lights. The smaller intersections are more like a typical stop sign.

https://meggsreport.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/presentations-from-velo-city-global-2012/

Josef Schneider
Guest

Well done and thank you to all who worked to make this happen!

Todd Edelman
Guest
Todd Edelman

Good news — also the information flashing reds in Idaho is new to me.

However, I’m very curious why these discussions seem to almost intentionally exclude a mention of European best practice which controls un-signaled intersections for ALL modes based on priority – not always for people on bikes – without stop signs, and a speed design much slower than what’s present in the USA. I am going to first discuss speed design here as an intro to the stop sign issue.

I’m a member of the mobility commission in the City of Davis, where a new plan based on form based code and modern street designs is being developed for the downtown area.
In October 2018 an early pre-official draft plan came to us for review – we can only recommend that the Council take actions, and our input can be passed along to other cities commissions and bodies I proposed that the downtown should have both north-south and east-west bike routes that require as few stops as possible. This was supported by the commission.

In October 2019 the official draft downtown plan was released: It included details about priority routes for different modes, a specific shared street proposal for one corridor, and also proposed 20 mph speed design for the downtown’s slower streets, even though California law requires 25 with exceptions for certain areas during school hours – local streets with objective and subjective safety issues can also get traffic calming devices and get signed at that point for a lower speed.

The traffic consultants involved in the plan proposed the 20 design as they clearly had an eye for legislative movement in the state that would allow cities to determine speed design (and signage) for any street they had full authority over, instead of basing it on the 85 percentile mechanism.

The plan came to us again in November. Based on the 20 mph and likely new legislation idea, I proposed a 15 mph speed design in order to create a greater differentiation between the slow streets in downtown and streets on its border and in most of the city – aside from arterial streets – which is signed for 25 mph (the lazy speed design is much higher on these old school streets….) and also because it was more similar to the 30 kmh design present in many European built-up areas (i.e. 15, exceeded a bit was 30 kmh (18.65 mph/”20 is plenty”) but 20 would end up being closer to 25.) I also argued that even a 20 mph design results in a 10% chance of death to a pedestrian, but 15 mph would be something like 3 to 5% and that 15 was already familiar to locals at traffic calmed points as mentioned, and finally that it was closer to the typical green wave speed of 13 mph.

I received a second to my motion, but the vote was either 4 to 2 against or 5 to 1 against. A fellow commissioner said that 15 felt impossibly slow for driving.

My second proposal was about stop signs — I erred in not making it part of the even slower street idea. The plan for downtown doesn’t mention stop signs explicitly; however a staff person present said that un-signaled intersections would be controlled by stop signs, as they are now (four-way stops). To support my proposal that intersection control should be yield-based instead of stop sign-based, I put forth the (common) arguments about pollution caused by unnecessary stopping, user negotiation, and the overall safety and trip duration benefits for yields vs. stop signs. I probably also erred in not suggesting some kind of mini-roundabout as a tool to make yields work. (It’s also clear to me that design intersections for yields would be better than eventually simply replacing stop signs with yield signs, teeth, etc.)
One commissioner made a dismissive remark, something like “can’t just drop the Netherlands into Davis” and the commission chair and others said that they felt it would not receive any significant popular support.

My motion did not receive a second.

However, the commission did vote to re-affirm its support of an “Idaho Stop” law, which of course can only be implemented at the state level. So this was a sad consolation prize.

So California’s Idaho Stop process seems dormant, and I don’t recall it being on the California Bicycle Coalition’s plate for 2020. The City of Davis – the so-called “Cycling Capitol” of the USA – is not doing a thing, and the only thing going forward is the state legislation for local control of streets. The latter – as far as I know – does not have details about yields instead of stops.

Is there any movement in any other state that’s pushing for yield-based un-signaled control for all modes? Wouldn’t motor vehicle users who have little interest in cycling – and lobbies – see the benefits of this over the current situation, and thus be likely allies rather than adversaries in the movement to change the situation?