Friday, March 26, 2010

Yield on Stop for Bicycles

To promote a balanced and environmentally sound transportation system, one of our societal goals should be to accommodate more sustainable modes of transport, right? The proposed Yield on Stop law for bicyclists does just that. Already in effect in Idaho and proposed for vehicle codes in several other states, this bicycle-related provision allows cyclists to continue through stop-controlled intersections (at a slow speed) if the coast is clear. It recognizes the inherent differences in mechanics and perception of the bicyclist versus the automobile, and would undoubtedly promote cycling as a more attractive mode.

This video does a good job of illustrating the dynamics of the proposed law. Naysayers will point to perceived safety issues, the potential for increased liability for local governments, or the possibility of abuse by aggressive cyclists. But what about the system currently in place, where cyclists are subservient to an incompatible motor vehicle code? What does the current code do for promoting sustainable modes of transport, such as the ultra-efficient bicycle? An article in Oregon Cycling Magazine offers some excellent insights on the Idaho law and how it’s working, as does this article, which takes the position of the bicycle commuter. Making biking easier for the regular commuter could do a great deal for both congestion and the environment.

I’ll offer some personal insight. Cycling in Marin County, California a few years ago, I rolled through a four-way stop sign at an unoccupied intersection. Sure enough, a tailing police officer pulled me over and issued me a ticket, same as if I was driving a 6,000-lb. SUV. Later that same day at a coffee shop, I engaged in casual conversation with a resident and brought up the fresh ticket. She said something to the effect that “that’s unfortunate, but you had it coming.”

This attitude is not uncommon but is also quite understandable. It indicates the need not only for institutional change (i.e. the vehicle code itself), but for focused outreach geared to address these attitudes. Because our public thoroughfares have, over the majority of the past century been largely taken over by motor vehicles, scarce resources are left over for pedestrians and cyclists. These latter user groups are then pitted against each other to fight over the “scraps”, causing friction and mistrust. Granted, just like drivers there are over-aggressive cyclists who will abuse their status, and by making the laws reflect the reality of cycling, these few can be more easily singled out and prosecuted.

What do you think?


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