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Sign of the times: Cyclist group wants SF to update policy on when to stop

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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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Bicyclists shouldn’t be required to stop at stop signs. Instead, they should yield.

That’s the position of the cycling group The Wigg Party, in response to a proposed crackdown on cyclists who run stop signs and red lights in SFPD’s Park Station district, which oversees the Panhandle and Haight neighborhoods, among others.

The Wigg Party is named after a local bicycle route, “The Wiggle,” which winds through San Francisco’s hilly east-west corridor.

To protest this cyclist crackdown, The Wigg Party plans to gather hundreds of cyclists along a popular bike route today for a novel style of protest: They plan to come to a full stop at every stop sign, obeying the absolute letter of the law.

Morgan Fitzgibbons of The Wigg Party said it’s actually dangerous for cyclists to do so, hence the protest to prove the point.

Rather than come to a complete stop at every stop sign, he said, cyclists should be legally allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs. If a car or pedestrian is present, cyclists should stop, but if no one is present, cyclists should be allowed to roll through.

This is known as the “Idaho stop law,” as cyclists have legally treated stop signs as yield signs in Idaho for more than three decades.

“The primary value is it would normalize, and legalize, behavior people are doing safely anyway,” Fitzgibbons said.

A month ago, Park Station Capt. John Sanford called for increased enforcement against cyclists. “There’s a thing called a stop sign that bicycles are supposed to stop at,” Sanford said at a June 6 Park Station meeting.

Some law enforcement officials and others in Idaho said the cycling law has been positive for cyclists and motorists.

Kurt Holzer, a personal injury lawyer in Idaho who also works with BikeLaw.com, has long worked to reform the rules of the road in Idaho. In 1982, he said, police in Idaho were also proposing a crackdown on cyclists, much like Capt. Sanford is now. But traffic judges saw these tickets clogging up their courts.

“The judge came to them and said, ‘How do we stop this?’” Holzer said. In response, Carl Bianchi, a retired administrative director of Idaho state courts, introduced a law allowing stop signs to be used as yield signs.

“I’ve been practicing [law] for 20 years in Idaho,” Holzer said. “I’ve never seen a single incident of injury for a cyclist arising from the stop as yield law. Not one.”

It also reduces congestion, he said, because if a bike comes to a full stop “You can’t hit a pedal and be up to 20 miles an hour, it takes a bike as much time to clear an intersection as two or three cars.”

Cpl. Tom Shuler of the Boise Police Department told the San Francisco Examiner that car drivers often struggle to understand the benefits of the law. But the law makes the road safer for cyclists because it gets them out of the way of cars, he said.

When asked whether such a law could work in dense San Francisco, Shuler said it works fine in Boise’s downtown. “It’s not like San Francisco, but there are businesses, banks and high rises,” Shuler said.

“I’ve been a bike officer for about 16 years, I take advantage of this law also,” he added. “If you rode a bicycle in Idaho, you’d say, ‘Wait, the rest of the world doesn’t do this? This is ridiculous!’”

Locally, the Green Party at one time advocated for the Idaho stop, as has SF Streetsblog, a transportation advocacy publication. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition took no position on the Idaho stop in San Francisco.

One local politician in support of it is Board of Supervisors President London Breed, whose district includes Park Station.

“I think that’s how it should be,” she said, when asked if she supported San Francisco introducing Idaho-style rolling stops. “A bicycle is not a car, and they should be handled differently.”

Of rolling stops, she said, “On my bicycle, that’s what I do.”

Supervisor London Breed (center) riders a bike with SFMTA head Ed Reiskin (left) and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition head Noah Budnick (right). COURTESY SF BICYCLE COALITION

Supervisor London Breed (center) riders a bike with SFMTA head Ed Reiskin (left) and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition head Noah Budnick (right). COURTESY SF BICYCLE COALITION

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