Idaho Stop

August 21, 2017

by Ameir Mobasheri

So, the obligatory disclaimer:

The law is the law, and in Colorado a bicycle is classified as a vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as a driver. That means that the rules of the road apply to people on bicycles the same as they do for people in cars. This article, and especially this organization, in no way advocates for or condones disregarding traffic laws, but let's be honest: people (bikers and drivers) play fast and loose with most traffic laws anyway. My intent is to inform people of what has and has not worked for me when riding my bike in traffic. So, again, so there is no ambiguity: do not follow me, follow the law and if you happen to take something useful from what I write, that is your problem.

The rolling stop-

Sometimes called the Idaho Stop (in California, bicycle advocacy groups are pushing to codify the practice, leading some to call it a California Stop), when the bicycle rider approaches a stop sign either two-way or all-way and after checking both the left and right side for oncoming cars and yielding to them, rolls through the stop sign without coming to a full and complete stop. While it is highly discouraged for car drivers, this is an invaluable technique when riding a bike. A bicycle rider is able to keep at least some momentum to more smoothly, quickly and therefore safely move through the intersection.

The key to this maneuver is that the bike rider actually slows down prior to the intersection. I'm positive everyone reading this has a clear memory of a bike rider burning right through a stop sign without even pretending to apply the brakes. Please do not equate the two. The Idaho Stop requires observation and consideration on the part of the cyclist, whereas running a stop sign without even glancing at perpendicular traffic is just flat out inconsiderate and selfish.

When I roll up to an all-way stop and there are cars already present, they have the right of way. I will brake and pause, maybe even put my foot down to indicate that I'm waiting for the driver to take their turn. If it seems like the driver and I are arriving at the same time, I will hold my gaze through the windshield and be sure to see eyeballs looking back at me or some other indication that I have been seen, perhaps a wave or a beep of the horn. Since the car should be coming to a complete stop, I apply the brakes moderately to slow down until I feel confident that I've been recognized. I then stand out of the saddle, and with four quick, hard peddle strokes, I'm through the intersection and out of everyone's hair.

While it is highly discouraged for car drivers, this is an invaluable technique when riding a bike. A bicycle rider is able to keep at least some momentum to more smoothly, quickly and therefore safely move through the intersection.

 

The situation changes a little bit if it is a stop light. Waiting at a stop light can be infuriating for drivers behind a biker. On the occasions that I have waited for my light to turn green I have had a chain of drivers pass uncomfortably close as they try to get ahead of me so as to put me out of their field of responsibility. A driver never wants to stay behind a biker, some drivers are just more considerate and safe when they pass bikers. I try not to stick around to find out. At a red light I would prefer to get out of people's way by jumping out early to give myself and the other drivers more time and space to safely avoid one another. I advise stopping, looking both ways and after assessing the speed and position of the cross-traffic and being quite certain that I can survive the crossing, I again stand out of the saddle and give the peddles my all for a few revolutions.

 Last year the Colorado senate had the chance to codify what seasoned cyclists do anyway but they let the bill die after hearing arguments that intersections would be a confusing mess with different standards for different vehicles. While I have a certain sympathy for people who are irritated with bikers for disregarding traffic laws, most of the time it's not because the cyclist put someone else at risk by following the procedure for the Idaho Stop; mostly I believe it is misplaced road rage. I get it, sitting in a climate-controlled, steel coffin can make one's blood boil, but as the past year has shown us quite conclusively, cars can be turned into weapons quite easily. Operating such a weapon is by no stretch of the imagination a right, it is and always has been a privilege, so you'll forgive me if I hold my belief that there should be different standards for bikes and motor vehicles because they are inherently different.