Bike yield law rolls through mayoral stop sign

An ordinance that would allow bicyclists to roll through stop signs while traveling at a maximum speed of 6 mph in San Francisco was approved by the Land Use and Transportation Committee and will now go to the full board for approval where it will need eight votes to override the mayor’s expected veto.

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, who chairs the committee, cast the sole vote today against the ordinance, known as the Idaho Bike Law, citing concerns that the law could be confusing for everyone on the road.

Cohen, however, said she would support a pilot program in a neighborhood with heavy bicycle traffic to see what the impact will be for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the legislation, said this ordinance is about requiring cyclists to yield, defining what yielding looks like, and making it a low priority for police enforcement.

San Francisco supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener voted in favor of the ordinance today, arguing that police resources should not be spent on enforcing cyclist violations that do not result in the city’s most dangerous collisions, and said that they instead wanted to see police focus their resources on the most common violations by motorists that pose the greatest threat of injury and death on the road.

Kim and Wiener both stressed that bicycling in San Francisco is growing rapidly and said that it’s unrealistic to ask cyclists to come to a full stop at stop signs when there are no motorists or pedestrians at the intersection.

“Slow, cautious, rolling stops” should not be an enforcement priority, Wiener said Monday.

Chris Cassidy, a spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said that passage of the law could potentially decrease injuries to cyclists in the city, citing data from the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, which found a 14.5 percent decrease in injuries in Idaho following the passage of the bike yield law, as well as 30.4 percent fewer bicycle-related injuries in Boise, Idaho compared to people cycling in similar cities without a bike yield law.

A flood of bicycling advocates shared their views, largely in favor of the law, with the committee during the public comment period.

A letter from San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr addressed to the committee and read aloud at the meeting today states that he could not support the ordinance because it could “create dangerous situations” and lead to people running stop signs that could cost a person their life.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also opposes the bike yield ordinance and has threatened to veto it should it be approved by the full Board of Supervisors. Eight of the 11 supervisors must vote in favor of the ordinance to override the mayor’s expected veto.

The director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability, Carla Johnson, said at the committee meeting today that she worried the ordinance could be a threat to people with disabilities and cause increased pedestrian injuries.

“San Francisco is not Boise, Idaho,” Johnson said, referring to the heavy pedestrian traffic in San Francisco in comparison to cities in Idaho where the bike yield law is in place.

Johnson said, however, that she is supportive of seeing a pilot program for the bike yield law.

Board President London Breed said she believes the police department should not be cracking down on cyclists “for breaking a 1950s law that is completely outdated” and that they should instead be focusing their limited resources on motorists who violate laws that are likely to lead to fatalities or injuries.

Regarding Mayor Lee’s stance on the proposed bike yield law, Breed said today, “I think he’s wrong.”