Republicans killed the “Idaho stop” bill that would have allowed bikes to roll through red lights

The bill’s supporters had described it as a safer and easier way for bicyclists to navigate intersections.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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A cyclist waits at the intersection of 12th and Broadway. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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A cyclist waits at the intersection of 12th and Broadway. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

State Senator Andy Kerr’s proposal to allow bikes to roll through red lights failed in a 3-2 party-line vote at the Senate Transportation committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Kerr and the bill’s supporters had described it as a safer and easier way for bicyclists to navigate intersections. The bill would have allowed cyclists to treat traffic signals as stop signs; if a signal is red, a cyclist could stop, check for traffic and proceed anyway. They also would have been allowed to treat stop signs as yields.

The idea was to allow cyclists to maintain their momentum by stopping less often, which they argued would reduce the amount of time they spent awkwardly getting up to speed again while cars rushed by.

“The longer it takes us to merge into traffic or cross an intersection … the greater the exposure to danger,” said Richard Handler, one of more than a dozen cyclists to speak in favor of the change at the Tuesday meeting.

Representatives of the Colorado State Patrol and the County Sheriffs of Colorado spoke out against the bill at the committee meeting on Tuesday.

David Hall, legal liaison for the state patrol, said the change would create confusion. Who would be at fault, he asked, in a situation where a cyclist did not see a car approaching and was struck?

“All of that, in our opinion, could be avoided if all users have the exact same set of rules that they abide by,” he said. “We think that makes it a much safer intersection interaction.”

Peg Ackerman, a lobbyist for the county sheriffs group, said that the sheriffs are concerned the bill would lead to “increased animosity” between cyclists and drivers and increased crashes.

Senators Rachel Zenzinger and Nancy Todd, both Democrats, voted in favor of the Idaho stop bill.

Republican senators Randy Baumgardner, Vicki Marble and Jerry Sonnenberg voted to indefinitely postpone consideration of the bill, effectively killing it. There was little comment or discussion among the committee members.

More context:

A recent study by DePaul University found that only 4 percent of cyclists fully stop at stop signs, and only a third stop at traffic signals when there’s no cross traffic, as The Chicago Tribune reported.

This type of maneuver is commonly called an “Idaho stop” because it was legalized in the 1980s in Idaho. That’s the only state where it’s fully legal, as far as I can tell, but Summit County and the Colorado municipalities of Aspen, Dillon and Breckenridge all have created similar new rules for cyclists since 2010.

Research by the city of Fort Collins found no reports of increased crashes in any of those parts of Colorado. On the converse, author Ben Adler argued for Grist that the change could lead cyclists to cut off pedestrians in crosswalks.

In Idaho, public health researcher Jason Meggs found that bicycle crashes have dropped since the law’s implementation, even when controlling for other trends, and that crashes in Boise, Idaho are significantly less common than comparable cities in other states.