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Friday, May 23, 2014

Why bikers should live by the same laws as everyone else | Grist


cyclists and peds on city street
All of us who ride bikes know the feeling of not wanting to stop completely at an intersection when there’s no one coming. It’s an understandable impulse. Far more often, though, I’ve been legally walking across a street and had a bike roll through the crosswalk, forcing me to freeze in mid-intersection as it breaks the law and crosses my path. Sometimes, it zips frighteningly close.
But some cycling advocates argue that we should make it legal for bikes to go through a red light, after stopping to check that there are no oncoming cars and pedestrians. This is called the “Idaho stop.” Legal only in Idaho and a few towns in Colorado, it also allows bikes to roll slowly through stop signs, treating them essentially as yield signs.
The idea has been picking up steam for the last few years in local blogs from San Francisco to New York, thanks partly to this oddly popular video. In a recent, widely read article in Vox, Joseph Stromberg compellingly laid out the case, drawing on the authority of physics: “So many cyclists do these things … because they make sense, in terms of the energy expended by a cyclist as he or she rides. Unlike a car, getting a bike started from a standstill requires a lot of energy from the rider. Once it’s going, the bike’s own momentum carries it forward, so it requires much less energy.” (Of course, if we made traffic laws primarily about physical efficiency instead of safety, we’d all be roadkill.)
Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, argues that because bicyclists can more easily see and hear pedestrians than drivers can, rules designed for cars should not necessarily apply to bikes. “We don’t perceive any concern or threat on the part of pedestrians” from the Idaho stop, he says.
But bicycle advocacy groups are split on the issue. Miller’s coalition has not taken a position on the Idaho stop; many of its member organizations support it, but other leading cycling organizations don’t.
Even if the Idaho stop is good for bike riders, it’s not good for cities.
Advocates never put it in these terms, but Idaho stops essentially allow bikers to impose on pedestrians’ green lights and rights-of-way. Bikers would be prohibited from going if a pedestrian is in the intersection, but if a biker gets there first, a pedestrian would have to wait at the corner until the bike passes, possibly running out of time to cross. Do we really want to create a mad dash to be first at an intersection and claim right-of-way? As our population ages, and empty nesters return to cities, this would have a particularly negative effect on the elderly.
Idaho stops favor bikes instead human beings on two feet. But pedestrians are the lifeblood of a vibrant city.
[ Read more on grist.org ]

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