Idaho Stops Now Legal in WA

Politics can be a depressing subject these days, but there are occasional good news, too. Here’s one: Washington State just passed a new law that allows cyclists to roll through stop signs if no other traffic is present. The same law also allows cyclists to proceed through a red light if it does not change because the cyclist cannot trigger the sensors.

The ‘Idaho Stop’ has been adopted in a number of states now: Delaware, Arkansas and Oregon have also made it legal for cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. I wrote about this five years ago, but back then I had little hope of seeing the law change. And yet today the Seattle Times reported on the new law. It was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It provides a ray of hope that what we do and advocate may actually have a positive impact down the line.

Just to clarify: The new law doesn’t allow cyclists to breeze through intersections and endanger themselves and others. All it does is allow cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign: Stop if other traffic has the right-of-way; proceed without stopping if no other traffic is present.

It makes sense – cyclists aren’t insulated from their surroundings, so their situational awareness is better, and it’s usually not necessary to come to a complete stop before assessing the situation at an intersection. Stopping dozens of times during every cross-town ride is also a burden that falls disproportionately on cyclists: Cyclists ride on small streets for most of their journeys, so they encounter many more stop signs than drivers who move off the sidestreets onto arterials that don’t have stop signs. (In fact, a major reason for the stop signs isn’t safety, but to discourage drivers from taking shortcuts through residential streets.) And if we want more people to ride, we need to make it more convenient to travel by bike. There’s also an argument that it actually makes cycling safer by keeping riders out of the blind spot next to cars at intersections.

As to the second part of the law, it finally provides a solution to the problem most cyclists have faced: We wait at a light, but it doesn’t change. Oncoming traffic gets a green light, but our light never changes. We have to wait until a car pulls up behind and triggers the sensor on our side. Now we are allowed to proceed if there is no traffic and if we’ve waited for a full light cycle.

Let’s keep working on moving other areas of politics move in a positive direction as well!

Further reading:

9 Responses to Idaho Stops Now Legal in WA

  1. Mike M September 30, 2020 at 7:49 pm #

    I’m not a fan of the Idaho stop laws, not when the idea of “same roads, same rules” has empowered cyclists for years to ride on the streets. Now it’s same roads, se rules, except for stop signs and red lights. I don’t live in WA, but if my state were to implement such a law, I’ll still stop. It’s not a burden to stop completely and look for cross traffic; and yes, I do ride in urban areas with many stop signs in a row.

    • Jan Heine September 30, 2020 at 8:51 pm #

      I can see your point of ‘same laws for everybody,’ but in pratice that doesn’t work. Just like bikes aren’t allowed on Interstate highways in urban areas where there are many on- and off-ramps, cars aren’t allowed on neighborhood greenways, which otherwise would just become arterials for cars. So the details will and should always be different. And certainly, even with the new law, cyclists must stop if there is any reason why proceeding without stopping could be unsafe – whether it’s pedestrians wanting to cross the street or cars approaching the intersection who would have the right-of-way.

  2. John Duval September 30, 2020 at 9:10 pm #

    The new bike boulevards in California sometimes confuse people. Most employ small roundabouts on small intersections, often with no stop for the bike direction, but with a stop in the other. Cars sometimes stop, sometimes do not, or proceed assuming both directions have a stop. It is actually more unpredictable than 4-ways, where drivers don’t know if a bicycle will stop or not, and so they are more likely to stop and wait.

    • Jan Heine September 30, 2020 at 9:34 pm #

      We had the same problem in Seattle at first, where drivers assumed the bikes had a stop sign, too. But after a few months, drivers realized that the bike boulevards have the right-of-way, and it’s been fine ever since.

  3. Stuart Fogg October 1, 2020 at 12:13 am #

    I live in urban California and observe all stop signs. By observe I mean I slow to a crawl, as slow as I can manage without putting a foot down. I can usually stay up long enough to wave any traffic through. Not the norm here, quite a few drivers seem surprised that I’m not busting the stop signs at full speed. But I’ve found it best not to be in too much of a hurry in a city on two wheels.

    I always stop at red lights. Full stop. And I don’t make left turns off multi-lane roads at signals. I find it a lot safer to stay to the right, go through the intersection, stop at the curb, and wait for the green in the other direction. Around here one has to be careful even going through green lights.

    Here we have a lot of traffic sensors which don’t respond to bikes, motorcycles, or even small cars. I’d love to see all pedestrian walk buttons located where cyclists could reach them, too many are on islands or otherwise unreachable. I try to avoid signals which don’t cycle automatically.

    All this caution is for riding in pretty busy areas. I do like the looser laws for less congested roads.

    • Jan Heine October 1, 2020 at 10:00 am #

      Totally agree: The new law isn’t intended for busy areas. Around here, it’s useful mostly on quiet neighborhood streets where cyclists encounter stop signs every block, with nobody around.

  4. John S. Allen October 2, 2020 at 11:37 am #

    The law allowing bicyclists to treat red lights as stop signs doesn’t get to the root of the problem: vehicle detectors that don’t detect bicycles (or for that matter, motorcycles either). Yes, the law makes it legal for bicyclists and motorcyclists to proceed when the light won’t change. But this law does not levitate them or quantum-tunnel them so they can proceed safely when cross traffic is heavy — when they really need the cross traffic to get a red light. If they do not not get across safely, who will be held at fault for the collision? Probably they will be, for failure to yield. The true solution is with vehicle detectors that work for all legal vehicles. Such detectors have been available for over 30 years, and they do not add appreciably if at all to the cost of an installation. More about these issues is at http://john-s-allen.com/blog/2018/11/traffic-signal-actuators-some-documentation/ .

    • Jan Heine October 4, 2020 at 10:10 pm #

      We need both – better sensors and rules that work with the old sensors that won’t be replaced anytime soon!

  5. David Feldman October 2, 2020 at 12:04 pm #

    One thing to take into account–on a bike your eyes are almost six feet closer to an intersection than when you are in a car in addition to not having windshield pillars and other obstacles to see around.