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False Stop 

Wednesday, Aug 19 2015
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In San Francisco, some lawbreakers are also lawmakers.

At least three members of the Board of Supervisors advocate the "Idaho Stop," the maneuver — named for the one state in the country where it's legal — wherein a bicyclist treats a stop sign as a yield and rolls through without coming to a complete stop as long as the way is clear.

This is a touchy subject. Bicycle etiquette — or the lack thereof — is a sore point with the motorists and pedestrians who believe that San Francisco's cyclists, the number of whom have tripled in the last decade, are an entitled menace. This summer's short-lived San Francisco police crackdown on scofflaw bicyclists did have support from walkers and drivers before a Bicycle Coalition-organized outcry canceled it.

But as many point out, the Idaho Stop is what nearly every bicyclist already does, including Board of Supervisors president London Breed, as she admitted to the Examiner. And as was demonstrated during the recent law-abiding protest in the The Wiggle — when bicyclists stopped completely and proceeded one-by-one through a Duboce Park intersection, thus slowing traffic to near gridlock — following the law to the letter is untenable.

The law is also unlikely to change. What San Francisco police enforce on the streets is the California Vehicle Code — state law.

And despite support for the Idaho Stop from local lawmakers such as Breed and Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the current state of affairs "unrealistic" in a recent Medium post, there are currently no plans to introduce a bill to legalize the Idaho Stop in the state legislature.

The Idaho Stop isn't a priority even among the bicycle lobby.

"Everything we do is focused on what it will take to get more people to ride bicycles in California," said Dave Snyder, a longtime transit advocate who now serves as Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition. That means lobbying hard for transit funding to rebuild streets with bike-friendly improvements and more bicycle paths — not amend a law that almost nobody follows. Snyder added, "The current inappropriate stop sign law is not a real impediment to people riding bikes."

But it is an impediment to law-abiding peace on the streets. In the short-term, Supervisor John Avalos has introduced legislation that, if passed, would instruct police to treat cyclists yielding instead of stopping at stop signs as the "lowest law enforcement priority."

That's how SFPD is already supposed to treat low-level marijuana crimes. Thus, rolling through a stop sign could soon be no worse than rolling a joint in public — though judging by the size of the tickets ($100 for illicit marijuana, $200-plus for stop signs), this city has already picked its priority.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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