For cyclists, red lights soon may not mean stop — but rather slow, look and go if clear

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City has installed ten traffic signal detectors, which use a radar device that is triggered by people riding bicycles, to help bicyclists cross the street when no traffic is around. Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. The Utah Legislature is considering a bill, HB161, that would allow cyclists to legally go through stop signs without a complete halt when intersections are clear.

Bicyclists would be able to legally roll through stop signs and red lights — if the intersection is clear — under legislation approved by the House Transportation Committee 10-1 Thursday and sent on its way to the full House.

It is the fourth time that Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, has attempted to pass the bill, which cleared the House last year but died in the Senate.

HB161 would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs, and red lights like stop signs. Moss said most bicyclists already do that because it is actually safer, allowing them to keep up some momentum to quickly clear intersections when possible.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay.

Bicyclists get killed at intersections,” testified cyclist Joe Thompson. “Anything you can do to spend less time at intersections is warranted.”

But the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Safety Office questioned the safety of running red lights. So did Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, the only committee member to oppose the measure.

“It seems counterintuitive to me that it is safer to run a stop sign than to stop,” he said.

“A lot of things that are true are counterintuitive,” offered Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, who said the bill will encourage more biking and help reduce air pollution.

Idaho has had a similar law for years, and Delaware recently passed a law to allow cyclists to run stop signs but not red lights. Moss said studies found those laws did not increase accidents nor fatalities, again perhaps because it reflects what most cyclists do anyway.

Cyclists will use the law only when it is safe, Moss said. “They know they will be the losers if they take risks with cars.”

Cyclist John Monroe put it this way: “I trust the person who has death as their reward rather than a dented fender.”

The committee also was scheduled to debate a bill that would allow motorists to run red lights after stopping if intersections are clear. But HB151, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, was held over for later debate.