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Stop-as-yield bike bill survives Utah Senate's divided panel

Published March 2, 2010 4:38 pm

Roads » Sponsor says it's safer for riders to treat stop signs as yields.
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A bill legalizing the common practice of bicyclists slowing and rolling through stop signs when there is no competing traffic squeaked through a Senate committee Tuesday when one opposing senator changed his vote to allow a floor debate.

HB91 also would allow riders to go through red lights after a complete stop if those lights use sensors that would change them to green if a vehicle approached them. Cyclists would continue to be at fault in accidents if they fail to yield to traffic.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, proposed the bill because she said stops at intersections without traffic reduce riders' efficiency and can be dangerous if the riders are using pedal shoe clips.

"It creates a considerable risk for them in terms of stability and looking down as opposed to out and around them," Moss said. That's why so many cyclists already treat stop signs as yields -- and draw the scorn of some who see them do it.

"Cyclists," she said, "should not be forced to break the law in order to be safe."

Cycling advocates testified that their members are split over the bill, with some believing it will make motorists angrier at them.

"Last week, I had a 7-Eleven Big Gulp hurled at me, saying, 'Get off the road,' " said Jonathan Morrison, executive director of the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective. "They're not even aware that I'm allowed on the road," he said, so it's unlikely many will read a new law and understand it's legal for bikes to treat stop signs as yields.

Morrison said he also has received phone calls from mothers who worry that the bill would endanger children on bikes who aren't mature enough to decide whether a stop or yield is safest.

Moss said parents should continue to teach their children to avoid traffic and to walk across intersections -- a practice that now is common, though not required by law.

The bill passed the House easily last week, but still needs Senate approval. The Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee on Tuesday initially split 3-3, which would have held the bill in committee and likely killed it for this session.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, changed his vote for the sake of putting it before the full Senate. "I'm wondering if we're improving or making things worse" for cyclist-motorist relations, Van Tassell said.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said he biked thousands of miles growing up in Houston and cannot remember anyone yelling at him. Utah drivers "need to lighten up, it sounds like."

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