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SF lawmaker announces ‘Idaho Stop’-style bike yield law proposal

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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)

Supervisor John Avalos on Wednesday announced plans to introduce an ordinance to make citations for bicyclists who “safely yield at stop signs” the SFPD’s lowest law enforcement priority.

The proposal is called the “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy,” but it closely dovetails what is commonly called the “Idaho Stop.” That state law allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign if no vehicles or pedestrians are present at an intersection.

Yielding at stop signs when no cars are present is a natural cyclist behavior, bike advocates argue, for safety and momentum. Now those cyclists may get their wish: Yielding at stop signs may soon be quasi-legal.

The announcement follows a recent police crackdown on cyclists rolling through stop signs, which prompted an outcry from San Francisco bike riders.

The number of cyclists in San Francisco has boomed in recent years, Avalos noted in his announcement. The SFMTA’s Annual Bicycle Count shows bicycle traffic has increased 206% since 2006.

“This dramatic increase in bicycle traffic has led to an increase in conflicts between bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers,” Avalos said, in a statement. Board of Supervisors President London Breed told the Examiner she supports the “Idaho Stop.”

The Board of Supervisors is currently in recess and will reconvene in September.

Managing enforcement priority is not a new police practice. Low-level drug offense enforcement has been a much lower priority for SFPD than violent crime in San Francisco, starting around 2013.

Cmdr. Ann Mannix, who heads the traffic division, told the San Francisco Examiner previously, in an email, “If the public, legislators, voters want us to enforce anything else they must create it and get adopted as law.”

From Avalos’ announcement of the ordinance:

Supervisor Avalos’s proposed 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:”
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.
All users of SF streets shall yield to emergency vehicles.
All users of SF streets shall yield to Muni vehicles.
Drivers and bicyclists shall always yield to pedestrians and be vigilantly aware of pedestrians.
Bicyclists shall always yield to others at intersections, but they may slowly proceed without fully stopping at stop signs if the intersection is empty.

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