By John Wenzel The Denver Post
Bicyclists who roll through stop signs and red lights infuriate many drivers. But a “safety stop” bill in the state legislature would legalize the practice, and its supporters say it would make cycling in Colorado safer and more appealing.
Senate Bill 93, introduced Jan. 18 by Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, would permit a person riding a bike or “electrical-assisted bicycle” to pass through intersections without stopping if the rider “slows to a reasonable speed, yields to vehicles and pedestrians, and can safely proceed or make a turn.”
Bicyclists could also legally ride through — and make right turns at — red lights if they stop, look around and determine it’s safe to proceed.
“For most people who drive and don’t ride a bike, absolutely nothing changes,” said Kerr, a bicyclist himself. “Cyclists can hear and see much better than somebody in a car. And studies done on this show that it’s actually safer overall for both cars and bikes to not sit there at intersections.”
Kerr’s bill is modeled after a 1982 Idaho law “where bikers are allowed to treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs,” wrote Justin Fox in a Bloomberg News column.
The law is commonly referred to in the biking community as the “Idaho stop” and is credited with reducing cycling-related injuries by 14.5 percent the year after it was implemented, with no change in fatalities, according to a 2010 study by Jason Meggs, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health.
“I’ve ridden Boise, Idaho, several times for work and stop-and-yield feels safer, so it’s very appealing to me,” said Ryan Schutz, executive director of Denver-based Bikes Together, a nonprofit that promotes cycling for transportation and health. “I don’t buy into this ‘us vs. them’ about people breaking the law, and I don’t think it institutionalizes that. There’s a state that’s been doing this for more than 20 years, and it works.”
Supporters also say getting more people on bikes will play a big part in improving Colorado’s air quality and reinforcing the state’s healthy reputation.
Schutz noted bike-sharing in Denver and across the state is “going up rapidly,” and that Denver exceeds federal air-pollution standards, so getting people on bikes and out of their cars is one of the cheapest, most immediate solutions.
“Studies done on this show that it’s actually safer overall for both cars and bikes to not sit there at intersections.”
Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood
“While we work to have a more inclusive infrastructure for all people bicycling and walking, this is a step to help traffic move safely and efficiently within our current system,” Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, a 25-year-old nonprofit advocacy group, wrote in a Thursday blog post.
Opponents of the bill, including Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said it would only encourage already unsafe behavior.
“I would go in the opposite direction and say there should be more enforcement for bicycles who violate red lights and stop signs,” said Cooke, vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee and a former Weld County sheriff. “If you’ve driven any amount of time here in Denver, you know how dangerous it is when you do that — and (bicyclists) do that quite a bit. Bare minimum, I’d like to see some kind of immunity for vehicles that might hit the cyclists for doing something like this.”
In Colorado, Summit County, Breckenridge and other municipalities have adopted similar laws. But Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs — whose district encompasses some of those areas — is opposed to the bill, a Senate spokesman said. “On first read, he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”
That’s a significant position, given that Baumgardner is chairman of the transportation committee. However, biking advocates are already planning to turn out to forcefully support the bill when it gets its public hearing at the state Capitol, scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 7.
“Coupled with the right education, this could be a great thing,” said Brad Evans, executive director of Denver-based Bike City. “Everyone’s already doing it, so why not defuse the problem? As a driver, I hate it when they do it, but that’s because it’s illegal, right? We’re playing on the same field here.”
Evans, who founded the Denver Cruiser Ride — a themed Denver biking event that attracts about 60,000 riders over 20 weeks each year — believes some in the biking community are likely to come out against the bill for safety reasons, preferring to focus on how bikes should be treated like cars. But Evans, who last summer also launched the Bikes Are Not Cars campaign, said this bill is a more realistic solution.
“Studies have proven over and over again that bicyclists and motorists are safer because of laws (like the ‘Idaho stop’),” said Evans, who plans to speak at the public hearing in support of the bill. “We need a different way of thinking about the conflict between bicyclists and cars, because it’s always the same old things. So what’s next?”
A 2016 study from DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that just “1 cyclist in 25 comes to a complete stop at stop signs, and 2 out of 3 go through red lights when there’s no cross traffic,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The study concluded by advocating for Chicago officials to adopt the Idaho stop.
“We do not typically get involved with policy, but our community is excited about it,” Bikes Together director Schutz said. “We’re not really the spandex crowd. We’re riding to get somewhere, and there are a lot of parts of town where, if you’re stopping at every stop as you should, it really slows you down.”