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!