Opinions vary as the Fort Collins Bicycle Advisory Committee and City Transportation Board consider the potential cycling ordinance.
Aug. 18, 2013
A Colorado State University student riding his single-speed bike on a Friday evening down Remington Street approaches the intersection with East Olive Street.
Slowing down as he nears the stop sign, he looks left for traffic. He looks right, then looks left again, further applying the brake.
No cars are in the area. So he starts pedaling, rolling through the stop sign on his way to Old Town.
Currently, in Fort Collins, and in most of Colorado, this maneuver of failing to stop at a stop sign is illegal.
But, as discussions about a possible stop-as-yield ordinance heat up between the Fort Collins Bicycle Advisory Committee and City Transportation Board, someday it could be legal to roll through stop signs.
Fort Collins Bikes Program manager Tessa Greegor said the goals of implementing stop-as-yield in Fort Collins are to improve bicycling safety, increase bicycling, and establish bicycling as a safe, comfortable and efficient mode of travel.
Some Fort Collins Bicycle Advisory Committee members want Fort Collins to lead a statewide effort to create a new law, similar to the Idaho Stop Law, passed in 1982.
Others aren’t so sure about the stop-as-yield idea.
“I’m on the fence about the whole thing,” said BAC chair Sylvia Cranmer, who worries about the ambiguity of a stop-as-yield ordinance. “I think unequivocally trying to communicate the message would be extremely challenging.”
What has heads spinning about the stop-as-yield idea is the language of the concept.
Does it mean cyclists are allowed to now “blow through” stop signs all the time?
According to the Idaho Stop Law, no. The law states that a person on a bike approaching a stop sign shall slow down, and if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed, or stopping, the cyclist shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection.
No new right-of-way privileges are given to cyclists and a cyclist who fails to yield the right-of-way and causes a crash is at fault, according to the law.
Rick Price, a League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor and supporter of stop-as-yield, said that if another vehicle or pedestrian is present at an intersection, the cyclist must follow the stop signs and traffic signal lights.
“It would be unsafe to pass a vehicle on the right at a stop sign as it could turn right, for example,” he said. “We need simply to specify what we mean by yield.”
The scenario with the Old Town cyclist is common; a cyclist avoiding as many stops as possible is the most efficient way to travel.
It’s a scenario, such as a four-way stop with cars present, that has some — both cyclists and motorists — worried.
Kevin Carlson, a three-times-a-week bike commuter said at last week’s BAC meeting, stop-as-yield would create two different flows of traffic at four-way stops, creating confusion and potentially dangerous situations.
And what about children cycling? Price suggested any ordinance only apply to cyclists over the age of 14. Younger riders still would stop at all stop signs.
Fort Collins Police Services isn’t ready to take a stance on the issue, said patrol captain, Jerry Schiager. The department hasn’t studied the stop-as-yield concept, he said, and any study would involve also looking at city crash data. Schiager said the No. 1 priority regarding any possible new cycling ordinance is safety for both cyclists and motorists.
“One of the common things that contributes to accidents or confusion is bikes behaving in a way that motorists don’t expect, like riding the wrong way in traffic, coming out of crosswalks, things like that,” said Schiager who added that Fort Collins Police Services doesn’t focus a lot of resources on bicycle enforcement. “I’m not sure how this would impact that. I don’t know if it would contribute to the problem.”
More efficient, but more safe?
Greegor, in her recommendation to the BAC to support stop-as-yield, said that cyclists have more vulnerability on the roads.
“We have a motivation to protect ourselves when we’re out there,” she said. “Most of us aren’t going to do something that would threaten our safety.”
But is stop-as-yield safer?
What little research has been done on the concept says yes.
A 2008 study of the Idaho Stop Law by the University of California-Berkeley showed that Boise roads have become safer, citing a 14.5 percent decrease in bicycle injuries the year after its adoption.
The study, however, doesn’t specify which types of bicycle-related crashes declined, but says that cyclists, motorists and police accept the law as a sensible policy.
Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn cited the 2008 study in February as the city council discussed the issue. In June, Aspen enacted a stop-as-yield ordinance.
“The study determined that bicyclists are actually at greater risk when they stop at stop signs because of a few factors,” Linn told The Aspen Times. “One of them being that there is always an unknown element when a bicyclist comes to a stop sign to the motorists in the area. Is that bike going to stop or not?”
The study said cyclists complying with stop signs complain of driver confusion about right-of-way as motorists either disregard the cyclists’ right-of-way, or concede right-of-way improperly, urging the cyclist to go, creating awkward delays and ride-out risks. Cyclists also complain of motorist frustration and anger due to delays from stopping, the study said.
The study also said that many motorists and cyclists don’t understand the law.
That’s the ambiguity of the rules Cranmer referred to at last week’s BAC meeting, citing Colorado’s Share the Road Law.
“What does being in a lane mean? Motorists can be like, ‘What are these bicyclists doing in the middle of the road?’ We’re teaching people to take the lane in our bicycle safety education classes, but not everyone is aware (of the law),” Cranmer said.
That awareness of and cohesiveness among cyclists and motorists in Fort Collins is evolving, Schiager said.
“My sense is that it’s better than it used to be,” he said. “Internally, many think, ‘Hey you’re on a bike, stay out of the way of cars.’ But, as we move forward accepting biking as a legitimate form of commuting, that culture will change.”
Still, he said, any potential change that would appear to give cyclists more privileges on the roads would not sit well with many motorists.
“People will ask, ‘Well, if it’s OK for a bike, then why isn’t it for cars?’ ” he said. “People want everyone held to the same rules of the road.”
Currently, Aspen, Breckenridge and Dillon are the only Colorado towns with stop-as-yield ordinances.
State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, said in a statement he supports stop-as-yield, and that the discussion has been brought up in Denver for several years but has never gained traction.
Last week, the BAC voted to further research the idea, tabling any possible recommendation to the City Transportation Board until next month’s BAC meeting or later. From there, the recommendation, possibly a pilot program, would have to gain City Council approval.
Questions about where the ordinance would take effect in Larimer County would have to be addressed. For example, in Breckenridge and Dillon, the stop-as-yield rule does apply to Colorado Highway 82 through an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
For now, the Old Town cyclist who rolls through a stop sign still will be doing so illegally — though chances are they won’t receive a ticket.
“We get calls all the time, ‘Why don’t you do something about these darn bikes running stop signs?’ ” Schiager said. “People want us to increase our enforcement on bicycles, but really, that isn’t our top priority.”
• Stop-as-yield, enforced in Idaho as the Idaho Stop Law, allows a bicyclist to treat stop signs as yield signs.
• A person on a bike approaching a stop sign slows down, and if required for safety, stops before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed, or stopping, the cyclist yields the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection.
• No new right-of-way privileges are given to cyclists, and a cyclist who fails to yield the right-of-way and causes a crash is at fault, according to the law.
• Aspen, Breckenridge and Dillon are the only Colorado towns with stop-as-yield ordinances.
• Fort Collins Bikes recommended the city adopt stop-as-yield at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting in August.