Let’s go for Idaho Stop


Opinion is divided even among two-wheel-and-pedals enthusiasts, but allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs deserves more consideration in Minnesota. Although bicycles can replace motor vehicles for many transportation uses and users, there is no compelling reason that lightweight, foot-powered conveyances should be bound by the same traffic laws as multi-ton, high-speed automotive menaces.

The Idaho Stop has been the law in the conservative Gem State since 1982 without measurable harm to public safety, but aside from a few towns in Colorado it hasn’t caught on elsewhere. Bills to bring it to Minnesota introduced by state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, an avid bicyclist, languished without committee hearings in the late 2000s.

The case in favor is neatly advanced in a video posted by Twin Cities Streets for People. The Idaho Stop would legalize the existing safe, rational, energy-conserving behavior of many bicyclists while removing the stigma of scofflawism applied by motorists who think nothing of rolling through stop signs or exceeding speed limits.

Opponents in the bike-osphere argue that the change would disadvantage and endanger pedestrians. That won’t happen as long as bicyclists follow Idaho rules that require yielding the right-of-way.

Dorian Grilley of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, quoted by Ben Adler in Grist, raises an even weaker objection “that bicyclists are regarded as scofflaws … a reputation that BikeMN is working to change.” Changing the law instead of bikers’ reasonable habits should solve that problem, although there’s no accounting for drivers’ self-serving prejudices.

Neither stop signs nor traffic signals were introduced in America until well into the auto age. Before that, bicyclists, pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles coexisted mostly in safety at unregulated street intersections. As Minnesota’s bicycling-for-transport numbers grow, we shouldn’t discourage this salutary trend by blindly holding them to rules created for vastly more dangerous motor vehicles.