S.F. Proposal Would Make Citing Cyclists Who Roll Through Stop Signs a Low Priority

Supervisor John Avalos, left, wants SFPD to make ticketing cyclists who safely roll through stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority. (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition )

A San Francisco supervisor has proposed legislation, sparked by a recent police crackdown, that would require officers to make ticketing bicyclists who safely roll through stop signs the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.

Supervisor John Avalos, an occasional bike commuter, calls his proposal the right-of-way ordinance. It wouldn’t discourage officers from ticketing cyclists who blow through stop signs and violate someone else’s right-of-way.

“We can minimize these conflicts if we all take our turn at intersections and avoid being a ‘right-of-way thief,’” Avalos said. “Our streets work best when we all follow the golden rule and treat others like we want to be treated.”

The proposal comes on the heels of a San Francisco police captain’s campaign to ticket bicyclists for rolling through stop signs along The Wiggle, one of the city’s most popular bike routes.

Bike advocates were alarmed by the police’s new tactics. The department had pledged to focus on the top five traffic violations by drivers that cause the most deaths and injuries.

Late last month, hundreds of bicyclists lined The Wiggle to demonstrate against the stepped-up enforcement of traffic laws, requiring every bike rider to stop at every stop sign.

On Tuesday, Capt. John Sanford announced the crackdown was over at a Park police station meeting where more than a hundred cyclists turned out to voice their concerns.

Bike advocates point out that a majority of cyclists already safely maneuver through intersections without coming to a complete stop. Many have pushed for adopting the “Idaho stop” (this video explains it well), but that would require a change in state law.

Avalos is proposing the next best thing: requiring law enforcement to make ticketing bicyclists for riding through stop signs a low priority.

“It’s become clear that we need to modernize our outdated traffic laws,” said Noah Budnick, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. He noted Board President London Breed’s support for an “Idaho stop” law in San Francisco.

“Supervisors Breed and Avalos are offering SFPD the kind of clear direction that our police need and deserve in order to keep people who walk, bike and drive safe,” Budnick said.

San Francisco police did not respond to multiple requests for a comment on the proposal.

The city attorney’s office is still examining the draft ordinance, but the supervisor hopes to officially introduce it Sept. 8, according to his office.

From Avalos’ press release, here’s what the ordinance would do:

[The] ordinance would make it the lowest law enforcement priority in San Francisco to issue citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs. However the ordinance would not discourage officers from citing bicyclists who fail to slow to a safe speed at stop signs or fail to yield to another vehicle or pedestrian.

The ordinance would also establish the “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy:”

  1. To promote safety, tolerance, and harmony on our streets, all users of San Francisco streets shall respect others right-of-way and take their turn when navigating intersections.
  2. All users of S.F. streets shall yield to emergency vehicles.
  3. All users of S.F. streets shall yield to Muni vehicles.
  4. Drivers and bicyclists shall always yield to pedestrians and be vigilantly aware of pedestrians.
  5. Bicyclists shall always yield to others at intersections, but they may slowly proceed without fully stopping at stop signs if the intersection is empty.
S.F. Proposal Would Make Citing Cyclists Who Roll Through Stop Signs a Low Priority 17 August,2015Bryan Goebel

  • peanutcrunch

    As a pedestrian, I am strongly AGAINST bicyclists being allowed to go through stop signs/red lights at ANY speed. They should be required to follow the same laws as moving vehicles. Further, I think they should be ‘registered’ and trained (licensed?) in safety. My wife was hit by a bicyclist and permanently injured due because the rider failed to yield.

    • DrG

      You and I and all of us need to testify against this ruling. The only thing the BofS understand is sheer numbers. Get everyone to come and testify against this!!!

  • sfparkripoff

    Its appalling that Supervisor John Avalos supports this type of recklessness from an “activist” group. Perhaps Supervisor Avalos should
    acquaint himself with one of the many arguments AGAINST an Idaho Style “Stop as Yield” Law for Bicyclists.

    1. The extent that stopping is a burden to cyclists is up to the individual. I’ve never considered it to be a problem. If I wasn’t fit enough to start and stop multiple times when riding, perhaps I shouldn’t be on a pedal-bike. And if the delay of waiting for a green light slows me down too much, maybe I should consider a faster mode.

    2. Here’s a scenario to consider: a cyclist approaches a red light (under the Idaho law). She stops, looks both ways, and decides to cross
    or turn left on the red light. Unbeknownst to her, motor traffic on her left or across the intersection has just gotten a green left turn arrow.
    Conflict (or worse) occurs. She wasn’t aware of that because many such signals are not visible to the cross traffic because there’s no reason
    for them to be when all traffic is supposed to obey them according to the same black and white rules. I suppose you could argue that a
    prudent cyclist would not cross on the red light under the circumstance where there was cross traffic waiting to turn left across her path. But
    how many of us would make that determination under those circumstances? My observation of the “judgment” used by many cyclists when choosing to ignore stop signs or red lights is that they often make very poor and dangerous decisions. Making such behavior “legal” won’t reduce the danger to them or others.

    3. Another point to consider: the maturity and traffic experience to make the right decision to treat a stop as a yield or a red light as a stop
    sign safely is certainly within the grasp of many of us. However, as noted above, not every adult has such maturity, experience or good
    judgment. Most importantly – ANYONE, no matter what age and what level of experience, can ride a bike on public streets.

    The “Idaho Stop” runs counter to the principles of vehicular cycling and also violates
    one of the primary elements of traffic safety: predictability. Is it REALLY all that onerous to stop at stop signs and red lights? Cyclists have to make up their minds. Are they co-owners of the road, obliged to follow its rules? Or are they free spirits, obeying no rules and claiming no privileges? If cyclists want their share of the road, they can’t go on pretending that they are above its laws.

    • Lascurettes

      In your video example, that guy would be taken to task by SFPD and cited if he was observed, both for failing to yield and for proceeding unsafely. Did you not really read the article? Same would go for if this guy had done the same thing in Idaho. The Idaho law is not a free pass to proceed through any intersection at will (as was done in this example) and the SF policy is not even going as far as the Idaho law.

  • lemotjuste

    Why just bicyclists? Why not the same for motorized two-wheelers? And, I was talking with another just last evening about this, Why should anyone have to come to a complete stop and pause when there is no visible traffic, noone to collide with? And if we are referencing other cities’ transportation habits, Napoletani navigate their city very well with all traffic laws falling into the category of suggestion. It is terrifying to be a foreign driver in Naples but they manage very well.

  • AllenPalmer

    And the fist time one of these ‘rolling’ cyclist gets killed, no one better complain. This is just another PC action by the SF Board to please the bikers in SF.

  • DrG

    I live in the East Bay but I work in San Francisco, can somebody tell me what I need to do to testify AGAINST this stupid idea?


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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