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S.F. Proposal Would Make Citing Cyclists Who Roll Through Stop Signs a Low Priority

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Supervisor John Avalos, left, wants SFPD to make ticketing cyclists who safely roll through stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority. (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition )

A San Francisco supervisor has proposed legislation, sparked by a recent police crackdown, that would require officers to make ticketing bicyclists who safely roll through stop signs the city's lowest law enforcement priority.

Supervisor John Avalos, an occasional bike commuter, calls his proposal the right-of-way ordinance. It wouldn't discourage officers from ticketing cyclists who blow through stop signs and violate someone else's right-of-way.

“We can minimize these conflicts if we all take our turn at intersections and avoid being a ‘right-of-way thief,’" Avalos said. "Our streets work best when we all follow the golden rule and treat others like we want to be treated."

The proposal comes on the heels of a San Francisco police captain's campaign to ticket bicyclists for rolling through stop signs along The Wiggle, one of the city's most popular bike routes.

Bike advocates were alarmed by the police's new tactics. The department had pledged to focus on the top five traffic violations by drivers that cause the most deaths and injuries.

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Late last month, hundreds of bicyclists lined The Wiggle to demonstrate against the stepped-up enforcement of traffic laws, requiring every bike rider to stop at every stop sign.

On Tuesday, Capt. John Sanford announced the crackdown was over at a Park police station meeting where more than a hundred cyclists turned out to voice their concerns.

Bike advocates point out that a majority of cyclists already safely maneuver through intersections without coming to a complete stop. Many have pushed for adopting the "Idaho stop" (this video explains it well), but that would require a change in state law.

Avalos is proposing the next best thing: requiring law enforcement to make ticketing bicyclists for riding through stop signs a low priority.

"It's become clear that we need to modernize our outdated traffic laws," said Noah Budnick, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. He noted Board President London Breed's support for an "Idaho stop" law in San Francisco.

"Supervisors Breed and Avalos are offering SFPD the kind of clear direction that our police need and deserve in order to keep people who walk, bike and drive safe," Budnick said.

San Francisco police did not respond to multiple requests for a comment on the proposal.

The city attorney's office is still examining the draft ordinance, but the supervisor hopes to officially introduce it Sept. 8, according to his office.

From Avalos' press release, here's what the ordinance would do:

[The] ordinance would make it the lowest law enforcement priority in San Francisco to issue citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs. However the ordinance would not discourage officers from citing bicyclists who fail to slow to a safe speed at stop signs or fail to yield to another vehicle or pedestrian.

The ordinance would also establish the “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy:”

  1. To promote safety, tolerance, and harmony on our streets, all users of San Francisco streets shall respect others right-of-way and take their turn when navigating intersections.
  2. All users of S.F. streets shall yield to emergency vehicles.
  3. All users of S.F. streets shall yield to Muni vehicles.
  4. Drivers and bicyclists shall always yield to pedestrians and be vigilantly aware of pedestrians.
  5. Bicyclists shall always yield to others at intersections, but they may slowly proceed without fully stopping at stop signs if the intersection is empty.

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