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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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idlebytespruss2nyChris ITodd EdelmanJosef Schneider Recent comment authors
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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.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

Appreciate the reply, but I’m not convinced. It’s now “stop as yield” for the person operating a bike. So the stop sign is a yield sign for the bike, as the bike approaches the intersection. The other stop sign remains a stop sign for the automobile cross traffic. So, it seems the cross traffic should remain stopped as the bike approaches since the bike has a yield sign. If instead the cross traffic enters the intersection anyway, and does so before the bike, then they gain right of way from the bike, because based on Oregon law right of way seems to be given to whoever is in the intersection first, in this situation. I think.

This is why the new law says “within” rather than “stopped at” here: “However, the cyclist will be violating the law by making an improper entry into the intersection if the cyclist: Fails to yield the right of way to traffic lawfully within the intersection or approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard…”. And obviously the “approaching” part only applies if the cross traffic has no control device.

Confusing? Yes, somewhat, but it’ll work.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I see what you’re getting at, and please don’t do it. Behavior like this will get the law repealed.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

I agree, which is why I’m pointing it out. The original stop sign law granting ROW is poor, not necessarily the new law.

AndyK
Subscriber

No, I think pausing and analyzing the situation “frame by frame” won’t accomplish anything, since the second half of this part of the law covers a lot of potential scenarios:

“(a) Fails to yield the right of way to traffic lawfully within the intersection or ***approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard;” ***

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

“whoever enters first obtains right of way at that instant,”

not a lawyer, but think u might be taking this too literally. ROW at a 4way intersection is determined at the stop signs, not by who physically “enters” the intersection first…think in terms of if 2 cars reach intersection at same time, ROW goes to the vehicle on the right.

I would have assumed (prior to reading your interpretation) that if a bike comes up to an intersection where the other 3 directions already have vehicles fully stopped, that those vehicles would already be considered to be “in the intersection” in that they are presumably in that instant meting out ROW amongst themselves. If the bike were to roll thru the stop sign in order to “beat” the other vehicles physically into the intersection, that the bike would be in the wrong.

mark
Guest
mark

You might want to read the Oregon law regarding right of way at 4-ways stops. I had wrongly thought that the first person to stop had the right to go first, but that’s not how the law is written. The first person to *enter* the intersection has the right of way. Stop signs are usually placed before the intersection, so being stopped at the sign wouldn’t count as having entered the intersection.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

I see how ROW is written, but just trying to make sense of it without i guess reading thru case law. Its just simple logic why I’m wondering if engaging with the stop sign isn’t considered de facto entrance into the intersection. Otherwise if ROW is purely determined by which vehicle enters the intersection first, the implication is that I can blow a 4-way stop sign and be liability free so long as I was “first”
…and clearly thats not going to be a defense worth floating.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

agree the language is subpar, but we are still trying to be too smart by half arguing over ROW granted by being “at” vs “in” the intersection….

think the bill’s own sponsor clarifies it best:
” ‘Whoever is AT the intersection first, has the right of passage prior to the next vehicle,’ said Prozanski…So, if a vehicle is there before the cyclist, the cyclist must stop and wait.”

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!!

Pete
Guest
Pete

Glad this article got posted or I would have missed this wonderful birthday present. Thanks for the hard work to make it happen! Whatever happened to the bill relating to being stuck at a red light that doesn’t sense your presence? Man I wish America had consistent road rules…

Pete
Guest
Pete

Sorry 9, nesting bug not meant in reply. So glad we do agree for a change, tho! 😉

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).

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I am kind of wondering if you are going to be applauding if Portland police officers also do not respond to motorists breaking the law?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Based on previous comments, I would guess “yes, because traffic enforcement is racially biased”.

soren
Guest
soren

The fact that you equate a vulnerable human being riding a scooter at 12 mph with a someone driving a 4-8 ton motor vehicle above the speed limit speaks for itself.

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!

Frank Selker
Guest
Frank Selker

Animation is great and I bet the gentle, sensible, likeable presentation made a big difference – thank you!

It’s inspiring to see a person use their talents to bring positive change.

Spencer Boomhower
Member

Thanks, much appreciated!

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.

 
Guest
 

This is actually a really good idea that as far as I can see has precisely zero downsides to anyone. Why is this not done?

Pete
Guest
Pete

Amen. IMO this has been as illogical as having 50 different sets of laws to test against, to begin with, not to mention that modernizing DMV test platforms could also help.

My most recent test was about 10 yrs ago in California, saw no questions about peds or cyclists but the one I got wrong was that you have five days to report the sale of a used car… wiil people die if I waited six or more? Also I used a pencil… apparently a DMV office in Silicon Valley wasn’t aware computer-based testing was a thing.

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.

9watts
Subscriber

“At every red octagonal I just pull a traffic stand on the fixie, look for traffic, and proceed”

Um, and how is that scenario you favor meaningfully different from what the Idaho stop law now invites us all to do?

AndyK
Subscriber

What is a traffic stand?

Mick O
Guest
Mick O

Track stand in an urban context, I’ll wager

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

In your scenario the driver is violating at least two laws and driving recklessly.

Under ORS 811.020, it is unlawful for a driver to approach from the rear and pass a vehicle that is stopped at a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway.

Also they’re not supposed to be to the left of the center line at an intersection ORS 811.305

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.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

My complaint Jim was that very limited police resources were being diverted from actual safety issues to run stings targeting cyclists on streets that have no history of injury or death. Of the 51 people killed on our streets this year I am aware of none that were caused by a cyclist treating a stop sign as a yield sign. Idaho Style isn’t a safety issue, and the only way to stem the waste of enforcement resources was to legalize stop as yield in the same way that Idaho did in 1982.

chris
Guest
chris

“Idaho Style isn’t a safety issue”
It is when other bikers don’t follow the rules.
Last week I rolled up to a 4 way stop with my arm out signaling left (south) , started pedaling after stopping, and a biker riding south who got there after I did blew right through the stop, nearly t-boning me.
I’m assuming you’re supposed to yield the right of way to the person already in the intersection, right?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Correct. That rider was not following the law. Assholes like him will continue to be assholes.

Frank Selker
Guest
Frank Selker

We need to do MUCH more to keep people safe, but that is no reason to not make other improvements like this.

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?