By Megan & Maureen:
Bicycle Operation Approaching Intersection
Concerning the regulation of bicycles approaching intersections.
On May 3, 2018, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed into law SB144, or what’s commonly referred to as the Idaho stop, also known as a safety or rolling stop or “stop as yield.” In effect in Idaho since 1982, the law allows cyclists to treat a stop sign like a yield sign and a red light like a stop sign. In 2017, Delaware adopted a limited stop as yield law.
Interestingly, the new Colorado law isn’t actually a state law – it’s recommended language, which each individual city or county may now adopt at its option.
C.R.S § 42-4-1412.5 provides a statewide standard on the regulation of bicycles approaching intersections which local governments can choose to implement: Idaho stops were already legal in Aspen, Breckenridge and Dillon, as well as Summit County, prior to the passage of this new law.
(1) At intersections with stop signs, a cyclist should slow “to a reasonable speed and yield the right-of-way to any traffic or pedestrian in or approaching the intersection.” The cyclist may then turn or go through the intersection without stopping.
A reasonable speed is considered 15 mph or less. Local governments may reduce or increase the reasonable speed but will be required to post signs at intersections stating the lower or higher speed limitations.
(2) At red traffic lights, cyclists are required to completely stop and yield to traffic and pedestrians. Once the cyclist has yielded, they may “cautiously proceed in the same direction through the intersection or make a right-hand turn. A cyclist may not go through the intersection at a red light if an oncoming vehicle is turning or preparing to turn left in front of the person.”
The law further states that a cyclist may only make a left-hand turn at a red traffic light if turning onto a one-way street. The cyclist must stop and then yield to traffic and pedestrians before turning left. NOTE: It is not legal for a cyclist to make a left-hand turn onto a two-lane road (one lane in each direction) at an intersection with a red traffic light.
This law does not give cyclists the right to blow through intersections: they still have to yield.
(Example see video at right: our friend Katie running a stop sign (part of a cycling video series the City of Golden is making-don't worry, this was a controlled intersection!)
At all other times, cyclists must comply with the rules set forth in CRS §42-4-1412 and 42-4-221 regarding the operation of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles.
The main argument for the Idaho stop appears to be that it increases safety for cyclists. Senator Andy Kerr, who authored Senate Bill 18-144, is a cyclist himself. He maintains that the most dangerous time for a cyclist is when they are stopped at an intersection. Colorado’s local bicycle advocacy group, Bicycle Colorado, was also strongly in favor of this new rule and was actively involved in its passage.
If a cyclist is not waiting at an intersection, they are less likely to be hit by a car. The faster they can get through the intersection and out of the way of motorists, the better. Additionally, when a cyclist can proceed through an intersection and get out in front of traffic, there is less chance of getting hit by a vehicle making a right-hand turn.
A study by Jason Meggs titled ‘Bicycle Safety and Choice: Compounded Public Cobenefits of the Idaho Law Relaxing Stop Requirements for Cycling’ found that a year after the Idaho stop law was implemented, cyclist injuries declined by 14.5 percent in Idaho. Meggs further stated that there is no evidence that fatalities increased as a result of the adoption of the law in Idaho.
“I'm an ‘Idaho Stopper’ who approves this change in traffic laws that favors cyclists. As a threatened road user group, cyclists need the added protection of bike-specific laws that promote safer cycling like the Idaho stop and 3-foot passing.” (Richard H.)
Another argument in favor of the law is that it legalizes what most people already do. A study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that only about 1 in 25 cyclists come to a complete stop at stop signs. Two out of three cyclists go through red lights when there's no cross traffic. (See also- CU Study).
It has also been argued that it takes significant energy for a cyclist to start again after having to stop at stop signs/traffic signals. The DePaul study suggests that “when cyclists sense there are no immediate safety risks, their desire to maintain forward momentum and conserve energy almost always exceeds their desire to strictly adhere to traffic laws.”
We solicited comments and feedback via our Facebook page and share below, some of the varying thoughts we received:
“I think it's a good thing for cyclists, codifying what a lot of people, frankly, were doing anyway. It doesn't absolve cyclists of a responsibility to ride safely, but just acknowledges the realities of bike riding.” (Brandon R.)
The new law could also improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion by getting cyclists and motorists through intersections more quickly.
Another argument: traffic signs and signals were not created with cyclists in mind. Cyclists often have to wait at traffic lights until a motor vehicle triggers a sensor to change the light:
“I approve of this, especially the red stop light law. So many times I come across stupid stop lights that won't change unless they detect a car. This will allow cyclists to proceed without fear of a ticket.” (Kerry N.)
Not everyone is in favor of the new law. Opponents argue that bicyclists should follow the same rules as motorists. They further maintain that bicyclist behavior will be even more unpredictable and dangerous:
“All users of the road have to abide by the same set of rules. Confusion will abound and accidents will occur.” (TJ R.)
Many worry that the new law should be implemented statewide and will lead to confusion for both drivers and cyclists since counties and municipalities can decide whether to adopt the law:
“The opt-in aspect is disappointing and will create significant confusion for motorists, cyclists, and law-enforcement. Imagine if Denver opts-in but Lakewood does not. So east of Sheridan you can use the Idaho stop, but west of Sheridan doing so will get you a ticket. Someone driving through Lakewood who sees a cyclist getting a ticket for rolling a stop sign will assume that behavior is not permitted anywhere. So when a cyclist does it in front of them in Denver, they're going to get angry and annoyed at the cyclist for (incorrectly) believing the cyclist is breaking the law. While I understand the need to add that piece in order to make the legislation palatable for the state legislature to pass it, the inability to have a uniform law that would improve cyclist safety is disappointing.” (Kathryn W.)
Some suggest that the law may create even more tension between motorists and cyclists:
“As a cyclist, I think it makes a lot of sense, but motorists aren't likely to see it that way. So, if widely used, I think it is going to inflame the notion that cyclists are an elite group who believe ‘the rules don't apply to them’ (because many motorists will be either unaware of the change or just dislike it). I also think you are safest on a bike on the road when you do predictable things - meaning that you act like a car. When you move in between being-like-a-car and following some pattern that drivers aren't used to, that is when people make mistakes because something happens they weren't expecting.” (Greg M.)
We ran an informal poll of Golden-area cyclists to ask them if they were in favor of this rule, or opposed to it. While some who live out of city limits did accidentally vote, the overwhelming majority voted in favor.
Moving forward, the challenge will now be to educate motorists, cyclists and law enforcement about the new law – if, and when, cities and counties decide to adopt it. As of now, cyclists must still stop at stop signs and red lights until this language is adopted in their jurisdictions. And of course a cyclist always has the option to remain stopped at the red light until it turns green.
We'd love your feedback/comments- what do you think about your local city or county adopting this legislation? If you have a strong opinion, we recommend you let your local city council members know -chances are, they are debating this very issue right now!