San Francisco has a well-deserved reputation as a city that’s willing to experiment with urban policy. Now that reputation is being put to the test, as legislation that would change the way police deal with cyclists and stop signs makes its way through the city’s Board of Supervisor.
The ordinance, known as the Bike Yield Law, would instruct cops to treat cyclists who roll slowly and cautiously through stop signs as their lowest enforcement priority. It would, in essence, permit the so-called Idaho stop, in which a person on a bike is allowed to approach a stop sign, check for conflicts with drivers and people on foot, then roll through without coming to a complete halt—essentially treating it as a yield sign.
The Idaho stop is called that because it’s been the law in that state since 1982. Idaho, including its largest city, Boise (population 214,000), has served as a large, ongoing experiment in how well this practice works, at least in places with relatively low density. The answer is, apparently, quite well.
A 2010 study showed that bike-injury rates declined by 14.5 percent the year after the law was passed, then remained flat. Comparisons of Boise to comparable cities without the Idaho stop, such as Sacramento, showed that Boise was significantly safer for people on bikes, with collision rates for bike commuters up to 60 percent lower. (The law in Idaho also allows a cyclist to proceed through a red light after coming to a full stop and checking for conflicts, and to make a yielding right on red lights.)
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