Mayor Lee jumps in front of ‘Idaho stop’ bike law

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Tuesday slammed the brakes on legislation that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs, saying he would veto the ordinance if it reached his desk.

In a letter sent today to Board of Supervisors President London Breed, one of six supervisors sponsoring the legislation, Lee said the:

“… so-called Idaho stop, while expedient for some bicyclists, directly endangers pedestrians and other cyclists, and I cannot allow it to become law.”

Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the law allowing bicyclists to roll through stop signs last week, said the legislation would still require bicyclists to stop for pedestrians and vehicles with the right of way and allow police to issue citations for dangerous behavior by both cyclists and drivers. The legislation is based on a similar longstanding law in Idaho.

Confronted with the rare veto threat from the mayor, Avalos today said the bike yield law had been greeted in some quarters with a:

“… certain amount of hysteria. … It’s a very emotional thing, it’s a culture war. It’s cultural politics that’s playing out rather than a way to fine tune our traffic enforcement.”

Bicyclists are still a minority in The City and working to gain acceptance and change public perceptions, Avalos noted:

“Some cyclists don’t practice safe behavior and it creates a bad name for all cyclists.”

The Bike Yield Law, which has the backing of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, was inspired by an outcry over police enforcement efforts against bicyclists this summer.

Police at San Francisco’s Park Station, which covers the popular bicycling route known as “The Wiggle” connecting Market Street to Golden Gate Park, began targeting bicyclists who failed to come to a complete stop at stop signs.

Park Station Capt. John Sanford said at the time that the enforcement effort was intended to educate cyclists on the “inherent dangers of rolling through red lights and stop signs without stopping, as well as yielding the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks.” Sanford’s actions were publicly supported by Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr.

The citations prompted outrage among cyclists, however, who argued that bicyclists can safely judge when to roll through stop signs and police should be focusing on violations by motorists, which are statistically far more likely to result in injury. They staged at least two “wiggle stop-in” protests in July and August, waiting their turns at all stop signs on the route and significantly tying up traffic in the area.

The ordinance would specify that ticketing cyclists for rolling through stop signs was a low priority for police unless dangerous behavior was observed.

Both sides in the dispute have cited San Francisco’s Vision Zero policy, which calls for the city to achieve zero traffic deaths by 2024 through a combination of better street design, education and enforcement. Lee today said the legislation represented “a step backwards on this shared vision zero goal.” Bike yield law advocates, however, have said the legislation would increase traffic safety, with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition labeling it “common-sense safety legislation.” The legislation would need eight votes to overcome a mayoral veto.

While the bicycle coalition called for members to fight the veto threat, Avalos today said he was not certain if he could muster the necessary votes among his colleagues.