How California is changing its bicycling laws
Here’s a counterintuitive proposal currently circulating at the Capitol: Make California roads safer for bicyclists by allowing them to yield at stop signs, rather than coming to a complete stop, if there is no oncoming traffic.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte is prepared for your skepticism.
“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,’ ” the Big Bear Lake Republican said. But the results of a natural three-decade experiment have demonstrated otherwise, he added. “There is no less expensive and more effective way of increasing bicycle safety in California than to reform the laws for stopping.”
Assembly Bill 1103, which Obernolte is carrying with Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, is based on a law adopted by Idaho in 1982. Though no other states have yet followed suit, the policy remains popular there, and a 2010 study by a UC Berkeley researcher concluded that its impacts had been positive.
The study found that bicycle injuries in Idaho declined by 14.5 percent the year after the law took effect, and there was no evidence of an increase over time. Compared to Sacramento and Bakersfield, two California cities the researcher deemed comparable, Boise had at least 30 percent fewer injuries per bicycle commuter and no regular fatalities.
Obernolte said the “Idaho stop,” as supporters have dubbed it, is effective because it allows bicyclists to maintain some of their speed, thereby more quickly clearing the dangerous part of an intersection, where they are most vulnerable to being a hit by a driver: “They have more tools to deal with unseen vehicular traffic.”
Now awaiting a vote in the Assembly Transportation Committee, AB 1103 has generated opposition from several law enforcement and automobile groups, who argue that it will cause confusion for drivers and be difficult to enforce.
Obernolte, a recreational cyclist himself, acknowledged that the bill is likely to be divisive, especially when so many riders already blow through stop signs. AB 1103 does not change the right of way when a driver arrives first at an intersection, but he said that bicyclists’ behavior is an indication the current approach is not working for them.
“If there is widespread civil disobedience, the law either needs to be changed or enforcement needs to be stepped up,” he said.
May is Bike Month. Other 2017 legislation that could change California bicycle policy:
Senate Bill 1 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose), the recently approved increase to state fuel taxes, includes about $100 million annually to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Assembly Bill 694 (Ting) would allow bicyclists to take a full traffic lane if there are conditions that make it hazardous for them to share with drivers.
Senate Bill 702 (Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles) expands a bike-share program for state workers.