As more people ride bicycles to save fuel, reduce air pollution and stay fit, the rules of the road are changing, too. A bill before the Legislature would allow bicycles to roll through stop signs if no other vehicles are approaching the intersection. Otherwise, they would have to stop or yield. The House passed the bill the other day, and we suggest the Senate give its OK.
As one Forum writer pointed out in The Tribune earlier this year, stop signs create more problems for cyclists than they solve. That's particularly true when the cyclist is wearing clips that attach a cycling shoe to the pedal. When a cyclist comes to a stop and unclips the shoe from a pedal to put a foot down, it is necessary to reclip when starting. This routine diverts the rider's attention from traffic. That's one reason why cyclists often approach a stop sign at an intersection at reduced speed, and after checking for other traffic, breeze through the intersection.
HB91 would change the law to conform to this common practice. Cyclists also insist its safer than requiring a complete stop when no other traffic is around.
Another reason that bicyclists prefer to roll through intersection is simple physics. If they maintain some momentum through the intersection, it requires less energy for them to regain full travel speed. Since, unlike motor vehicles, the cyclists are providing that energy with their own muscles, momentum is a big deal to them. A rolling bicycle also is more stable than a stopped or a slowly moving one.
In addition to changing the rules for bicycles at stop signs, HB91 would allow cyclists to proceed through a red light if they first come to a complete stop and if the signal is operated by an automatic sensor that fails to detect a bicycle and give them a green light. Naturally, the bicyclist could only go through the light if the coast is clear, that is, no motor vehicle or pedestrian is approaching within a distance that constitutes an immediate hazard.
Admittedly, this new law would take some getting used to, both for cyclists and motorists. Some motorists already resent bicyclists being on the road at all, and they particularly don't like when cyclists roll through stop signs or red lights. But we are persuaded that the change would be safer for cyclists. Responsible riders won't just blow through intersections because they risk death if they do.
Of course, no law will work unless drivers and cyclists alike are alert and courteous. Making eye contact at intersections and signaling your intent or waving someone through can be the most important safety law of all. Unfortunately, you can't legislate that.