An “Idaho Stop” is a law in some states that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh recently proposed adopting the law in DC, but some people say it would turn traffic law on its head.
There are a few reasons to support the Idaho Stop:
- It’s important for cyclists to conserve momentum, since starting up a bike requires muscle power.
- The most dangerous place for bikes is at intersections with cars, so giving people on bikes permission to go through intersections when there are no cars nearby rather than forcing them wait (while one might pull up behind them) makes intersections safer for everyone. It also makes it less likely cars will get stuck behind bikes.
- Since bikes move at relatively slow speeds, people using them have plenty of time to gauge oncoming traffic. That means there’s less need to stop and look around at every intersection; you can look around while moving slowly.
At yesterday’s DC Council Transportation Committee hearing, in response to Cheh’s proposal, police officers and representatives from the insurance industry said allowing Idaho Stops would lead to confusion. Specifically, DC Insurance Federation executive director Wayne McOwen said he thinks allowing Idaho Stops would confuse children.
We teach our children when the light is red we stop. We teach them when they see a sign that says stop to stop. We teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. We teach them to cross at the crosswalk. Now we are beginning to say follow those rules except if there’s no one around, you can run across the street anyway.
We teach drivers to drop at red lights, but then we allow them to turn sometimes. WHAT?!? How does anyone know what to do?— sharrowsDC (@sharrowsDC) December 8, 2015
there are dozens and dozens of laws that are different for different modes. I don't see why permitting the Idaho stop would be so fraught— sharrowsDC (@sharrowsDC) December 8, 2015
Others pointed out that people walking don’t have to stop at stop signs and that children aren’t allowed to drive until they reach an age where they can think more critically. One Twitter commenter noted that the law already allows cyclists to proceed when the light is red and they are following the pedestrian signal.
Whether cyclists should have special rules is always a heated debate. For one, there are some cyclists who ride very fast and can keep up with drivers, while others tend to go at a slower pace.
@sharrowsdc In terms of mass, yes. In terms of pace, not always. Treating cycling as “walking+” sells many of us cyclists short.— Rudi Riet (@randomduck) December 8, 2015
At the hearing, cycling advocate David Cranor noted that allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs would send more cyclists on slower, safer, residential streets.
The Idaho Stop debate was only one part of the Transportation Committee hearing. If you want a good recap, Dave Salovesh live tweeted the hearing and posted a Storify of the twitter conversation.