Bike law change #12: Turn stop signs into yields, and red lights into stop signs

We’ve all been there.

Maybe you have the good sense to take a back street through a quiet neighborhood, rather than ride on a busy, traffic-choked thoroughfare. Except then you have to stop for a stop sign on every corner.

Of course, you could do what so many other riders do, and just blow through it as if it wasn’t there — which could result in a sizable ticket if you don’t happen to notice the cop parked around the corner. Or maybe you make the same compromise I do, and brake just enough to stop most, if not all, your forward momentum, then roll through the intersection before you have to clip out of your pedals.

Or maybe you find yourself at a deserted intersection in the middle of the night, enduring a seemingly interminable wait for a red light to change — even though it should have detected the presence of a cyclist.

Fortunately, there’s an easy — and obvious — solution that’s been proven to work in the state of Idaho for over a quarter of a century.

Of course, California isn’t Idaho. And what works there won’t necessarily work here with our heavy traffic and angry, indignorant drivers. But given some very minor modifications, it could be a very effective solution for our state, as well.

So follow the Idaho solution for stop signs, and allow cyclists to treat them as if they were yield signs — slow down, look around carefully, and in the absence of any conflicting traffic, proceed through the intersection.

For red lights, just come to a complete stop, ceasing all forward momentum, though not necessarily stopping so long that you have to put your foot down. If there is other traffic at the intersection — whether cross traffic or other vehicles on the same street waiting for the light to change — remain stopped and wait for the green light.

Because frankly, too many California drivers would get pissed off if they had to wait and you didn’t. Which means either they’d go through the light as well, or take out their anger on the next rider they see.

But if you’re the only one waiting at the light, you should be able to treat it like a stop sign. And once any cross traffic has passed, continue on your way without having to sit an wait for the light to change.


Damien Newton has recently discussed misleading press reports that make cyclists seem responsible for accidents that their fault (here and here); the Bicycling Lawyer addresses the same theme in his most recent column. The Times’ sister publication discusses how to get back on a bike if you haven’t ridden in years. And a tribute to a fallen cyclist is held in Kentucky — as the police investigate yet another cycling accident.


  1. disgruntled says:

    Blimey – you’re on a roll. I’d add ‘make one way streets two-way for cyclists’ – stop signs aren’t such an issue here in the UK but impenetrable one-way systems that are designed to funnel cars into through streets can be a real pain for someone trying to keep to the quiet back roads.

    Hope you’re getting some biking time in as well as all this!

  2. bikinginla says:

    No bike time for me this week. Between the Santa Ana winds and the smoke from the various brush fires, I haven’t been able to breathe all week. Maybe next week, once the winds shift…

  3. Lauren says:

    I confess that what I usually do on residential streets, when approaching a stop sign, is first look for that “ALL WAY” sign that indicates cross-street traffic must stop also. If it’s an all-way stop, I’ll squeeze my brakes lightly, stand up to give myself better visibility (to me and for cars who would see me), scan right and left before I hit the intersection, and if there’s no one there, sail through at considerable speed. If it’s not an all-way stop I’ll slow down a bit more and be more vigilant for cross traffic. If there’s a car behind me I make more of an effort to slow down and them know I am not cavalierly cruising through the intersections.

    Of course, if there’s a car arriving or waiting at the stop I’ll come to a full stop and wave the car through. I’ve found that even when cars have the clear right of way at a 4-way stop, they’ll often wait for me to make a move, unsure of what I’m going to do, so I often have to wave them through. While I admire that so many drivers are this cautious, it actually slows me down when a driver waits instead of taking their right-of-way. I think the problem is motorists just don’t trust bicyclists to follow the traffic laws and expect us (not unreasonably) to behave erratically.

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