Majority of S.F. Supervisors Back 'Idaho Stop' Proposal for Cyclists

Cyclists ride on green bike lanes on Market Street.  (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition/Flickr)

Updated to include Tuesday's comments by San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr (12:55 p.m., 9/22/15)

At least six of the 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors back a proposed ordinance that would, in effect, allow bicyclists in the city to roll through stop signs as long as they take care to "safely yield" to pedestrians and other traffic.

Supervisors John Avalos, Eric Mar and Jane Kim are co-sponsoring the proposed ordinance, which would make strict enforcement of stop signs for cyclists the Police Department's lowest priority. Avalos is expected to introduce the legislation at Tuesday's board meeting.

"It shouldn't be the police's top priority to enforce the law for cyclists who actually yield to pedestrians but don't come to a complete stop at intersections," Avalos said in an interview.

"There are other places to put their resources that will have a much greater impact on protecting pedestrians," he added, stressing the Police Department should focus more on citing drivers who endanger pedestrians by cruising through stop signs and running stoplights.

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The legislation was prompted in part by a planned police crackdown on bicyclists rolling through stop signs along The Wiggle and other popular cycling routes. The new proposal embraces the "Idaho stop," which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

But not everyone's on board with the plan to relax stop sign enforcement in the city.

"Stop signs are pretty simple. They say stop," Police Chief Greg Suhr said during a visit to the University of San Francisco. "They don't say yield, they don't say slow down."

Speaking of cyclists who roll through stop signs, Suhr said "if they are in violation, they will be cited."

But he noted that only about 1 percent of the department's traffic citations are handed out to cyclists.

Supervisor Norman Yee said he'll vote against the proposal. He argues that it's not clear enough and that everyone who uses the roads should follow the rules.

"We do have laws that govern traffic," Yee said. "I prefer that out there in the traffic, everybody follows the same rules. People who share the streets should follow our laws. What I worry about is the safety of all people, and that comes first before any one lobbyist group."

The city's leading lobbying group for cyclists, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, has endorsed the idea. In a press release Monday, the coalition called the proposed "a groundbreaking streets safety measure."

Mayor Ed Lee has not said whether he'd support an Idaho stop ordinance -- though he sounded cool to the idea when cyclists staged a July protest against the Police Department's plan for stricter stop sign enforcement.

"I'm not going to be bending to interests that simply want to disregard public safety," Lee said. "That’s not what our city should be doing."

The board's stop sign proposal needs nine votes to override a mayoral veto. Avalos said he's confident the ordinance can win that supermajority support. But at least three members of the Board of Supervisors have said they're undecided on the proposal.

Supervisor Mark Farrell wants to see the proposed language of the ordinance before backing it. But he is likely leaning toward supporting it, aide Jess Montejano said in an email.

Supervisor Malia Cohen has not yet taken a position on the issue, said aide Yoyo Chan. "We are still continuing to hear from all perspectives," Chan said in an email.

Supervisor Julie Christensen has also not taken a position. Aide Gary McCoy said the supervisor and her office are still discussing the legislation with other advocates and residents in her district.

Aides to Supervisor Katy Tang did not reply to a request for comment.

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Alex Helmick and Tara Siler contributed to this post.

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