An ordinance was introduced to the Rolla City Council for its first reading that would allow cyclists in Rolla to treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign. Idaho and Arkansas are the only states that have both a yield rule and a red light exception that allows a cyclist to proceed through a red light after yielding.

The law — commonly known as the Idaho Stop — would add a new section to Rolla’s general traffic ordinance to give cyclists the right to treat stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs. Arkansas became the second state in the nation to legalize the Idaho Stop in April 2019, one of the most significant advances yet for the 37-year-old bike safety law.

The law was introduced to Rolla’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, and after review, the committee recommended the submission of the proposal to the city for the council to consider, Rolla Public Works Director Steve Hargis said while introducing the proposed ordinance to the council.

Idaho’s stop-as-yield law originated when Idaho House Bill 541 was introduced during a comprehensive revision of Idaho traffic laws in 1982, and the law was later revised in 1988 with a provision authorizing the elimination of bicycle safety education programs from the law.

In 2005 the law was amended to specify that cyclists must stop on red and yield before proceeding straight through the intersection, and before turning left at an intersection — the revision of the law took effect in 2006.

The Idaho Stop per Section 49-720 Stopping – Turn and Stop Signals dictates:

— A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle 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 person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

— A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

— A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

Idaho and Arkansas remain the only states in the nation to have both a yield rule and a red light exception that allows a cyclist to proceed through a red light after yielding, and the law continues to be met with resistance, according to Hargis.

“It doesn’t mean the bicycle has any more rights than the car does; it just means that you don’t have to come to a complete stop. If you come up to the stop sign, and there is nobody there, you treat it as a yield and go on through,” Hargis said. “To be quite honest on a street that doesn’t have any traffic if you roll up to a stop sign, I say 95 percent of the time you aren’t going to come to a complete stop and you are going to roll on through.”

Ward 5 City Councilor Jim Williams felt the proposed ordinance was unnecessary for the city to adopt, since bicyclists already practice the Idaho Stop, while Ward 3 Councilor David Schott expressed support for the proposed ordinance because the Idaho Stop promotes bicycle safety.

“I think this is stupid and a law we don’t need because 99 percent of the bicycle riders get out there, and they come up, and they will come up to what you call an Idaho Stop, and if nothing is coming they go on,” Williams said. “A majority of the bicyclists that are pro-bicycle riders look both ways, and they go on about their business, and this is a stupid law.”

However, if the city passed the ordinance, no public improvement money would be involved, Hargis noted.

“One of the components of this particular law is that the law says that this is a bike friendly improvement that doesn’t cost anything,” Hargis said. “This is just a change in the law. There are several cities throughout the country that have adopted this. Arkansas just adopted this state-wide.”

DePaul University published a study in 2016, evaluating policy options to help manage the growth of people using a bike for transportation in Chicago. The study reviewed municipal ordinances around the state of Illinois and field observations of 875 cyclists at six intersections in Chicago to provide details on the behavior of cyclists in the city — particularly in regards to safety.

Recommendations based on the data were made for municipalities. One recommendation based on the study’s findings, was the Idaho Stop at four-way stop intersections, which would enable cyclists to determine whether to stop or yield based on traffic conditions in order to maintain their momentum.

Roy Jacobs, of Rolla, spoke in support of the Idaho Stop at the city council meeting, and Jacobs, an avid bicyclist and runner, said some of the reasons why bicyclists don’t want to stop at stop signs or intersections is because they have Strava, a mobile app designed to tracks cyclists’ rides.

“We want to make a good time on our ride, so we are always timing our rides, and we don’t want to stop,” Jacobs said. “That being said when I come to an intersection I try to make eye contact with the driver on the right or left of me at the stop, and make sure he sees me, and I see him, and we go, even as a runner I do that when I’m crossing intersections.”

Stop sign intersections, especially four-way stops, tend to be less risky for cyclists practicing the Idaho Stop, the study, published by DePaul University found, because even if cross-traffic is present, motorists are required to stop. Further the study found that stop sign intersections also tend to be in lower-traffic areas, such as residential areas, where traffic, overall, moves at slower speeds.

The study showed that only one-in- 25-cyclists complied with the law to come to a complete stop in Chicago, and an analysis of 707 instances of bicycle crashes from 2010 to 2013, taking into account type of intersection and traffic controls, showed that signaled intersections were associated with more bicycle crashes, yet “If cyclists are legally permitted to yield and proceed through an intersection when cross-traffic is not present, they can clear the intersection before more traffic becomes present.”

A study by Denver Nixon published in 2012 found that nearly 94 percent of cyclists interviewed consider it a negative physical experience to have their momentum interrupted by a stop sign or red traffic signal. The majority of bikers surveyed reported that they actually make an Idaho Stop, even when the law forbids it –the study found a 150 pound cyclist producing 100 watts of power, with one stop every 300 feet, incurs a 40 percent drop in their average speed.

“Observations from this study show that enforcing existing rules at these intersections would seem arbitrary and capacious, with only one bicyclist in 50 complying with the law when cross-traffic is not present.”

The study from DePaul University had further surmised that permitting the Idaho Stop at stop sign intersections would also help bikers feel more confident that law enforcement efforts were being directed toward cyclists who have legitimate safety risks.

Another study published in 2017 by Asmara M. Tekle’s titled 'Roll On, Cyclist: The Idaho Rule, Traffic Law, and the Quest to Incentivize Urban Cycling’ found that in Idaho a mere 2 percent of motor vehicle accidents involved bicyclists between 1997 and 2014, and of these accidents, 27 percent the bicyclist either failed to yield the right of way, failed to obey a stop sign or failed to obey a traffic signal.

The most significant contributors to motor vehicle accidents involving cyclists, Tekle found, were bicyclists who biked on sidewalks and cyclists who crashed into a motor vehicle driver exiting or entering a driveway.

The study further looked at cyclist fatalities to measure the implications for safety under the Idaho Stop. The study found that the cyclist fatality rate in Idaho was below the national average of 2.2 percent.  Idaho’s cyclist fatality rate was 1.1 percent ꟷ— the 12th lowest rate in the nation.

“If preliminary research shows that the Idaho Stop rule’s advantages outweigh its costs, why haven’t more jurisdictions adopted it, more than a few jurisdictions with bike-friendly reputations have rejected Idaho-style legislation in recent years,” Tekle noted.

Ward 3 Councilor David Schott said he doesn’t know the exact science behind the Idaho Stop, but he believes the law will support cyclists’ safety in Rolla.

“My thinking, by having to force yourself to stop when in reality you can kind of cruise through to the right knowing that there is another vehicle coming, but they aren’t there yet, whatever the situation may be, by having to stop and re-start; you are potentially setting yourself up for more danger,” Schott said.

The proposed ordinance amends Article III, Chapter 27, of the Rolla City Code relating to traffic and adds Section 27-28 to Chapter 27 of the city code with the title: “Pedestrian and bicycles.”

A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle per the proposed new Section 27-29 – Pedestrian and bicycles will have the following ordinance to abide by as part of the city’s code:

— A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle 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 person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

— A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided, however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required,  may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

— A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

The ordinance will be in full force and effect if the council decides to pass the mandate and the council will have the second reading of the proposed ordinance on Monday, June 3 at Rolla City Hall in the council chambers at 901 N. Elm St.