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Mayor rejects ‘Idaho Stop,’ citing danger to pedestrians, cyclists

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Bicyclists negotiate The Wiggle on Haight Street in San Francisco on Tuesday July 28, 2015. (Special to S.F. Examiner/Natasha Dangond)
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As soon as the bike yield law got rolling, the mayor stopped it in its tracks.

Mayor Ed Lee announced earlier this week that he would veto Supervisor John Avalos’ “Bike Yield Law,” if it were to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s our responsibility to balance the needs of our constituents and protect the most vulnerable,” Lee wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. The Bike Yield Law, he wrote, “directly endangers pedestrians and other cyclists, and I cannot allow it to become law.”

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“If it is sent to my desk,” he wrote, “I will veto it.”

This has left advocates on both sides — bike and car supporters — wondering which supervisors will support Avalos’ new law.

A mayor’s veto can be overturned by eight votes of the board. The Bike Yield Law now has six co-sponsors: Supervisors Scott Wiener, Jane Kim, David Campos, Eric Mar, London Breed and Avalos.

That leaves five supervisors as unknowns, two of whom would need to vote for the Bike Yield Law for it to beat the mayor’s veto.

The proposed Bike Yield Law takes inspiration from an Idaho state law known commonly as the “Idaho Stop,” which allows bikes to treat stop signs as yield signs. If cars or pedestrians are present, they must stop. But if they see neither, cyclists can roll through stop signs cautiously.

Notably the Bike Yield Law doesn’t mirror the Idaho Stop law — it merely tasks San Francisco Police Department with lowering its priority of ticketing cyclists who yield at stop signs.

Avalos and the measure’s supporters, including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, contend it would make streets safer for cyclists.

Avalos, who authored the legislation, seemed undaunted by the mayor’s opposition.

“The door is not completely closed,” he told the Examiner, “and if it’s closed we’re still going to run it.”

He said he’d need to enlist his colleagues’ support. Supervisors Julie Christensen, Malia Cohen, Katy Tang, and Mark Farrell are unknown votes for the law.

Supervisor Yee told the Examiner he would not support it. Traffic laws, he said, should be “consistent.”

Supervisor Tang is seen by board watchers as less likely to vote for the bike yield law, as she represents the more conservative Sunset district.

Tang told the Examiner she is “open” to the law, and realizes cyclists coming to a complete stop and “waiting for 20 seconds sounds ridiculous.”

Still, she said, “Everyone who uses the road needs to follow the rules.”

Supervisor Farrell’s office told KTVU news that he supported the Bike Yield Law shortly before the mayor announced his veto. When asked if that changed his position, he said “It’s obviously part of the overall political context.”

Supervisor Cohen is also an unknown on the vote, but said she is “weighing the facts.”

Supervisor Christensen represents North Beach and Chinatown, as well as other neighborhoods in District 3.

Her position is seen as the most contested, as on the one hand she is heavily backed by Mayor Ed Lee in her supervisor race this election, but she was also endorsed by the powerful San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

She told the Examiner, “I know this is important to cyclists but it’s not necessarily a priority in my district.”

When asked if the mayor’s veto would affect her vote, she said when she came into office, “I made a vow to weigh legislation on its merits.”

The law is expected to go to committee in November, a prerequisite to going before the full board for a vote.

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