marek-warszawski

Should cyclists be allowed to roll through stop signs? Hey, I do it

Fresno-area cyclsists ride down Blackstone Avenue during last year’s Mall 2 Mall Bike Ride. The California State Assembly is considering a bill that would make it legal for cyclists to roll through stop signs “unless safety considerations require otherwise.”
Fresno-area cyclsists ride down Blackstone Avenue during last year’s Mall 2 Mall Bike Ride. The California State Assembly is considering a bill that would make it legal for cyclists to roll through stop signs “unless safety considerations require otherwise.” sflores@fresnobee.com

In the eyes of many Fresno-area motorists, not to mention our local police, I am an unrepentant scofflaw.

What that means is I routinely break the law – and without the slightest bit of regret or contrition.

What transgression am I confessing to in this most public of arenas? The crime of rolling through stop signs on my bicycle without coming to a complete stop.

Gasp.

I know what some of you are thinking: That criminal. Someone ought to lock him up, or at least put thorns under his tires. Cyclists like me are the cause of all our roadway ills. In fact we’re all horrible human beings with no regard for anyone except ourselves.

Of course you’re dead wrong about that, and a couple of our elected representatives in Sacramento would agree. In fact, they want to bring scofflaws like me under the umbrella of law.

That’s the gist of Assembly Bill 1103, now awaiting a vote at the committee level. Introduced by Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear) and Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the bill would “authorize a person operating a bicycle approaching a stop sign, after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way, to cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping, unless safety considerations require otherwise.”

In other words, rolling stops for cyclists would be a go.

Most people that I pitch the bill to, their first reaction is, ‘Oh my god, that’s a terrible idea. Someone’s going to get killed.

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, co-author of AB 1011

Why on Earth would two assemblymen, from both sides of the political aisle, craft such a bill? Because although it may sound misguided or counterintuitive, such a measure would make our streets safer for cyclists without having any impact on motorists.

Although certainly part of it, this is about more than saving energy or not wanting to lose pedaling momentum. Cyclists are at their most vulnerable while stopped at intersections. This is where they’re most likely going to get hit from behind or sideswiped by an inattentive motorist – with no way to take evasive action.

When I’m on my bike and approaching stop sign I do so with the goal of getting out of the danger zone as soon as safely possible. I squeeze the brakes to slow down, check both ways to make sure the coast is clear and roll on my merry way. No harm, no foul and no need to be a sitting duck for any longer than necessary.

When I’m on my bike and approaching an intersection I do so with the goal of getting out of the danger zone as soon as safely possible.

That isn’t to say I always roll through stop signs. I certainly don’t when cars are present, just so not to end up as an oversized hood ornament. Nor do I blow through stop lights. Press the button and wait for the signal just like everyone else.

AB 1103 didn’t just materialize out of nowhere. It’s modeled on a 1982 Idaho law, one that appears to be working as intended. This assertion is based on a 2010 study by a UC Berkeley researcher that found bicycle injuries in that state declined 14.5 percent the year after the law was enacted. The study also followed up and showed there have been no increase in accidents in the decades since.

“There is no less expensive and more effective way of increasing bicycle safety in California than to reform the laws for stopping,” Obernolte told The Sacramento Bee.

The bill will certainly draw the ire of law enforcement and motorists – as well as many of you reading this.

What I’ve learned from past experiences writing about this subject is that many Fresno-area motorists treat cyclists as a nuisance. Others bear open hostility for anything on two wheels, and sometimes for good reason.

Just because I like to ride around town doesn’t mean I don’t drive as well. And I cringe whenever a cyclist blows through a crowded intersection or exhibits reckless, stupid behavior. This includes riding two or three abreast in the bike lane on narrow foothill roads, something I consider a dangerous practice.

Ever heard of the California rolling stop? It happens every hour at every intersection in Fresno.

Automobile groups will come out against AB 1103 for the simple reason that if cyclists are allowed to roll through stop signs, motorists should be, too. Of course that’s lame logic. Ever heard of the California rolling stop? It happens every hour at every intersection in Fresno.

And police groups will grouse about the potential for confusion and the difficulty of enforcement – even though it’s simpler to enforce than the “3-foot law” that California enacted in 2014.

Has any motorist around here ever gotten a ticket for driving too close to a cyclists? Last time I checked, the answer was no.

Letting cyclists roll through stop signs, provided no cars are present, is a small measure that will make our streets a tiny bit safer. Even if that’s hard for motorists to appreciate.

Besides, I’d rather not be a law-breaker.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

  Comments