How to make city traffic worse

If there is one thing San Francisco doesn’t need, it is a truly kooky plan to make city traffic more confusing and dangerous for everybody. But that is exactly what the bicycle advisory committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering.

The idea is a bicycle version of the very same “California rolling stop” temptation that gets motorists ticketed if a police officer is lurking near the stop sign. If the MTC bicycle committee recommends “stop and roll,” staff will report on the idea and possibly bring it before the regional transportation agency’s governing board, which could then propose state legislation to change the California vehicle code.

If this misguided proposal ever becomes law, bicycle riders could legally treat stop signs as yield signs and interpret red stoplights as stop signs. Today, California bicyclists must actually stop and put one foot on the ground at stop signs and follow the same stoplight rules as drivers.

Of course many of them do not — perhaps even the majority, according to police. Instead of having to pump hard on the pedals to resume speed after coming to a complete halt, it is so much easier and more convenient to simply roll through a stop sign or a red light — as long as no cross traffic is traversing the intersection.

The “stop and roll” concept is based on a reportedly successful state law in Idaho. Unfortunately, the MTC committee does not seem to have considered that Bay Area urban traffic is far more crowded and rage-inducing than anything likely to be found in Boise or the Idaho potato fields.

This potential law change is envisioned by MTC bike advocates as a way to encourage bicycling as gas prices soar. And it comes only months after San Francisco officials unveiled a program to nearly double The City’s existing 44-mile network of bicycle lanes.

There is no denying the ecological, congestion-reducing, money-saving and exercise benefits of replacing more motor vehicles with bicycles for daily commutes. However, it also would produce the likely side effect of getting more bicyclists killed in vehicle collisions. Already 56 Bay Area bicycle riders died between 2005 and 2007 after being hit by cars, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Of course, if bicyclists are given a roll-through pass at stop signs and no longer need to wait for red lights to change, many motorists and pedestrians will be unaware of the news — especially San Francisco’s many out-of-town visitors. The all-too-predictable result will be more vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians moving across intersections at the same time.

So “stop and roll” might just as well be titled: “Open season for California bicyclists being hit by drivers and for pedestrians being hit by bicycles at dangerously confusing intersections.”

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