Friday, July 24, 2009

Should Bikes Always Have to Stop at Stop Signs?

The Washington, D.C. area is considered at least somewhat progressive. I mean, we're obviously more forward thinking than mid-western states like... I don't know... Idaho, right? It turns out, they seem to have us beat in at least one area: bicycle traffic law. You've heard of the California stop (and probably execute one every now and then), now consider a type of roll-through stop that should be legal: the Idaho stop. In Idaho, bikes slow down and yield, but do not have to come to a complete stop at intersections with stop signs if no one is at the intersection. Here's a great 4-minute animation with voice-over that explains pretty much everything about it, including associated fines for bikers that are being reckless and examples of how it works in practice.

Whether you're a driver or a biker, you understand the difficulty with coming to a full stop at every stop sign for a bike. Momentum is huge in biking. Just like a car burns a lot more gas when you stop and go, people tire quickly from losing momentum and getting back up to speed.

Bikes should be subject to most traffic laws, but there are exceptions. A driver would be pretty peeved if he wasn't allowed to pass a biker on a double-yellow-lined road. That automotive maneuver would be illegal if a bike were treated as a motor vehicle and the driver would be subject to a ticket. There are certain exceptions to the normal traffic rules for bikes, and the Idaho stop should be one of them in Alexandria. Hopefully this will eventually be adopted state-wide, but why not lead the way.

The Idaho stop idea came from an unlikely source and came with some unexpected safety benefits (tip: GGW):
...It was traffic judges — not cyclists — who pushed for the idea in 1982, according to an April article in The Oregonian (’Idaho Stop’ is a go for bicycle safety“):

“Police were ticketing bike riders for failing to come to a complete, foot-down stop. Judges, however, saw “technical violations” clogging up their courts. “We recognized that the realities of bicycling were a lot different than driving a car,” Bianchi said. But the year after the Idaho Stop became law, bicycle injuries in the state actually declined by 14.5 percent.

If Alexandria is truly going to strive for multi-modal transportation, they need more than an infrastructure of trails, bike lanes, and bike routes, but a culture that's supportive of people using them. One of our own planning commission members, Lawrence Robinson, went on a rant about how bikes are always getting in the way of his car during a July 2 discussion of the outdoor display of rental bikes. He thought any behavior that encouraged more biking was a bad idea. Not the most bike-friendly set of comments you can think of.

Like always, if you support this idea, you can fill out the e-mail form for the Mayor and City Council. You can also make your opinion heard to Yon Lambert, Alexandria's Principal Transportation Planner for the Pedestrian & Bicycle Program (e-mail:, Phone: 703.746.4081).

For more on Biking and alternative transportation in Alexandria, see the City's LocalMotion site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Idaho Stop has the advantage that the cyclist can avoid giving up her balance unless yielding to other traffic requires it. As we all know, a cyclist starting from a full stop is a wobbly menace until he or she regains balance.

I'm not sure Alexandria can rewrite traffic regulations, but they could instruct police officers to enforce "failure to yield to traffic" at stop signs instead of "failure to stop."

Doing so would be a boon to safety, especially if it were enforced.