S.F. Supervisors Pass ‘Idaho Stop’ — But Mayoral Veto Looms

A San Francisco police officer issues a ticket to a cyclist near The Wiggle during an enforcement crackdown in 2012. (David Lytle/Flickr)

A closely divided Board of Supervisors has passed an ordinance that would direct police to make ticketing bicyclists who safely roll through stop signs their lowest priority.

Tuesday’s 6-5 vote to approve the ordinance by Supervisor John Avalos was two votes shy of the supermajority needed to override Mayor Ed Lee’s threatened veto. The ordinance is expected to pass a second reading Jan. 12. Lee would then have until Jan. 22 to veto it.

Avalos’ “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” would not legalize rolling stops and does not discourage police from ticketing cyclists. Bicyclists would still be required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and vehicles at intersections.

“Nobody condones unsafe bicycling by cyclists, but common-sense enforcement of the law would make our streets safer and more predictable,” Avalos said before the vote.

But he added that strict enforcement of bicyclists who safely pedal through stop signs “takes scarce enforcement away from more dangerous violations” and “is contrary to the way most bicyclists and drivers currently navigate intersections.”

Bike advocates say the San Francisco Police Department should be focused on dangerous drivers, who cause most serious injuries and fatalities on the city’s streets.

The legislation was sparked by an ongoing crackdown of bicyclists who roll through stop signs along The Wiggle, the popular, non-hilly route between Market Street and Golden Gate Park. At one point, hundreds of bike riders held a protest along the route to prove that having every cyclist stop at every stop sign slows traffic and causes more congestion.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, a co-sponsor, said it was unrealistic to expect that bicyclists were going to stop at every stop sign, especially on streets where there is little traffic and “so little risk of anything happening.”

“Cyclists are not going to stop at every single intersection, and that is the reality of the world, not just in San Francisco, but in every city that I have ever seen. It is a fantasy for us to think they are going to do so,” he said.

Wiener and Avalos cited the example of a cyclist, Katrina Sostek, who said she was recently given a ticket on The Wiggle for rolling through a stop sign while riding less than 5 mph. The fine for the violation: $200.

“The time and effort the police spent giving me a ticket would have been far better spent focusing on legitimately unsafe drivers and cyclists,” Sostek wrote in a letter to the supervisors.

Avalos noted that Vision Zero, the city’s program to end all traffic deaths by 2024, requires police captains to focus traffic enforcement on the top five most dangerous intersections in their districts. None of those intersections, he said, are along The Wiggle.

Supervisors David Campos, London Breed, Jane Kim and Eric Mar also co-sponsored the ordinance and voted yes. Supervisors Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Aaron Peskin, Katie Tang and Norman Yee voted against it.

“It sends a message to everybody in San Francisco that one mode of transportation in our city has a different set of rules than everybody else,” said Farrell.

Disability advocates have been among the staunchest opponents. The Mayor’s Disability Council opposed the legislation and said it would be “counterproductive” to Vision Zero. Some advocates worried it might endanger people with disabilities, a concern echoed at the meeting by Supervisor Cohen.

“If this ordinance passes, it will potentially put them in harm’s way,” Cohen said. “I have a real concern that this ordinance will confuse the issue and further create an even greater misunderstanding between cyclists, between drivers and also pedestrians.”

Natalie Burdick with Walk San Francisco said the pedestrian advocacy organization has taken a neutral position because there are no data about how the bike yield law would impact pedestrian safety.

But Walk SF did succeed in tacking on some amendments, including evaluating the effect on pedestrians and requiring that bicyclists slow to no more than 6 mph when approaching a stop sign.

The legislation would also require the Police Department to issue quarterly reports on traffic stops that would list the citation and mode of transportation for each offense and include a breakdown of stops by race or ethnicity, age and sex.

Mayor Lee sent a letter to the board in September saying he would veto the legislation: “The so-called ‘Idaho Stop’, while expedient for some bicyclists, directly endangers pedestrians and other cyclists, and I cannot allow it to become law. Trading away safety for convenience is not a policy I can allow this city to endorse.”

One idea that has emerged as a potential compromise is a pilot program along The Wiggle.

S.F. Supervisors Pass ‘Idaho Stop’ — But Mayoral Veto Looms 16 December,2015Bryan Goebel

  • richensf

    People who are against this do not have any context with which to support their argument and offer little more than doorstep opinions based on out-group homogeneity, confirmation bias, and availability heuristic. There is simply no data to support their beliefs.

    All accidents occur when there are misaligned expectations or when both parties are not paying attention to their surroundings. What this policy proposal does is acts to address misaligned expectations by normalizing what already occurs regardless of legality.

    Accidents will still occur when both parties are not paying attention to their surroundings, but if enacted, they will occur less often due to confusion about how to proceed through an intersection.

    • DrG

      You’re missing one vital point which negates your entire thesis. WHY DON’T BICYCLISTS JUST OBEY THE LAW? Remember that construct? The Law? It’s childish and immature to point the finger at others, saying “well they do this”and “they do that.” The buck starts with yourself. Just obey the Law. And if you don’t like the Law, go up to Sacramento and get it changed.

      • richensf

        Why don’t bicyclists just obey the law? Why don’t pedestrians just obey the law? Why don’t drivers just obey the law? Why don’t you see you are still operating on implicit bias? Bicyclists are not a particularly lawless cohort, you only think so because you only care to remember violations that confirm your belief system. It is the same cognitive fallacy people use to confirm the belief that all women are poor drivers when a woman cuts them off, but when a man does, it is just that particular man that sucks at driving.

        Many cyclists roll through stop signs and reds at intersections with no opposing traffic, and so do motorists and pedestrians. Very few, like 10% or less will barrel through an intersection denying right of way to another, and you will find they are usually the same high-risk under-25 crowd that auto insurance companies identify for higher premiums.

        Drivers also operate recklessly, and I would argue at higher rates than cyclists due to the illusion of safety in their enclosed steel box and the high stress conditions of traffic congestion. Cyclists roll through stop signs and reds, but drivers drive at unsafe speeds, make unsafe lane changes, fail to yield right of way, fail to signal, block intersections, make illegal turns, drive distracted, double park, etc. “Why don’t they just obey the law”??? Pedestrians j-walk, cross streets without looking both ways, walk and text. These are also illegal or unsafe habits. Do you see the common denominator here? It is people. Not cyclists, people.

        You see people view laws as a set of rules that should be applied to maintain order when order is needed across society, but also believe they have the ability to assess what makes sense for their specific situation. Sometimes those assessments are wrong, most of the time, they cause no harm outside of some trivial inconvenience to another person. I am a city driver, city cyclist, and city pedestrian, and I always observe right of way, but this is not about what I do or what you do. This is about a broken policy that treats 5-40 pound bicycles the same as 2500-8000 pound motor vehicles. The policy is a law, yes, but not all laws are logical or good for society. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself what good the war on drugs has done for the Americas. That is precisely what this policy proposal seeks to remedy.

        Unless you actually drive a car and also ride a bicycle commute through the city, it’s easy to overlook and even trivialize the vast differences in effort to initiate, rate of acceleration, speed, reaction time, situational awareness, visibility, maneuverability, inertia, braking distance, and salient risk of harm to the operator, and that seems to be exactly what is happening here. Yes the law sees bicycles and cars as the same, but if that its your guiding light to understanding the world, then you are missing the picture.

        • DrG

          Whine, whine, whine! You’re still doing the same thing: “Why not pick on them? They’re breaking the law too!” How about some personal responsibility? Stop looking at others and YOU do the right thing. I’m sick and tired of bicyclists who CONSTANTLY point out the inadequacies of others without looking inwards at their issues. Grow up!!! Start taking some personal responsibility!! Once you do that, then you can point the finger. Until then, shut your trap, and clean up your own house.

          • richensf

            It’s funny you think I’m whining when I’m merely shining the mirror back on your own style of argument. I’m picturing an old man yelling “Get off my lawn!”

          • DrG

            That’s where you’re wrong my dear. And it’s quite obvious you lack the intelligence to see it.

        • City Resident

          Your eloquence is spot on. Thank you!

  • jeffJ1

    I am a regular bike commuter in San Francisco. Yes, I have seen car drivers do horrible things, and I’ve seen bike riders have lots of near misses with cars. But I easily witness three or four times the number of bike riders doing insanely dangerous things, and it’s often at or near a stop sign. Supervisor Wiener is right that it’s a fantasy to imagine all bike riders will stop at all stop signs, but I worry that this “idaho stop” proposal will encourage unsafe bike riders to be even more unsafe. Four way stops can already be ambiguous without having the added worry of a bike rider flying through the intersection without even hesitating, which I already see on a daily basis.

    This is just my two cents based on a few years of daily observation. I know people get REALLY worked up about this topic.

    • City Resident

      Would a $200 ticket for rolling through a stop sign at 2 mph, when no one else is at the intersection, change your mind? While bicyclists are ticketed on the Wiggle, pedestrian safety is blatantly ignored on Fulton and dozens of other streets as pedestrians patiently wait for a gap in traffic to dart across four lanes of traffic (traffic that is, I might add, often disregarding the speed limit as well as the pedestrian right-of-way). And where is the SFPD? Unsafe violations should be ticketed. San Francisco’s streets are teeming with safety problems. Slow-moving bicyclists rolling past stop signs at empty intersections isn’t on the list.

      • jeffJ1

        “There is X problem in Y location, so why are you enforcing the law about A problem in B location?” is not a persuasive argument to me, although I understand where you’re coming from. I agree that it’s a waste of police resources to stake out an intersection waiting to ticket cyclists when there isn’t even any cross traffic. I’m not gonna lie – I don’t come to a complete stop at every stop sign when the streets are deserted. However, I am quite certain that changing this law will only increase unsafe behavior at signed intersections, and may increase it drastically.

        • City Resident

          I understand your concern, but I respectfully disagree. We are fortunate that a majority of SF supervisors have, I believe, the wisdom and vision to recognize and prioritize threats to public safety/safe streets. Vision Zero clearly lists these threats. This “Idaho stop” law shifts the focus away from following the letter of the law (no matter how inappropriate for the particular mode of transportation) to safety. This measure is about safety. Ongoing discussion about the Idaho stop in San Francisco has helped to promote awareness of what it takes to be safe on the street and many bicyclists (and others) have taken notice. Yielding/respecting the right-of-way, traffic safety enforcement (as outlined by Vision Zero), and slower speeds (25 mph and less on most streets) are what makes the streets safer for all.

          • DrG

            And that includes obeying the law. Because if everybody obeyed the law, we wouldn’t have need for this discussion.

          • Vic

            That’s fine. So when a cyclist blows a stop sign and goes flying over the hood of my car because I had the right away my insurance company and myself are immune from lawsuits?


Bryan Goebel

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco, and an anchor/editor at KCBS Radio. He’s a lifelong Californian and has also worked at radio stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento.

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