is in sight. These proposals have been enacted to some degree, or are under serious consideration, in London, several cities in France, in Virginia and in Arizona. In London, under consideration at some 500 or so intersections is the possibility of giving bicyclists an “early start,” according to The Guardian. Each intersection or junction is to be separately assessed by Transport for London (equivalent to the DOT) to determine if permitting an early start makes sense given the existing conditions and risks to bicyclists. The plan could “include the installation of traffic lights set with an ‘early start’ phase for cyclists, allowing them to move ahead of the mass of motor traffic.” In June, the city’s first bicycles only traffic light was installed in one East End neighborhood. In France, permitting cyclists to treat lights and stop lights as yield indicators is under consideration, according The Telegraph. The relaxed rule is being tested at 15 intersections in Paris and at locations in the cities of Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Nantes. The law requires that “cyclists yield to pedestrians and opposing traffic,” and bicyclists will, of course, need to rely on their own self-preservation instincts to avoid calamity with motor vehicles. So far, “these experiments have led to no rise in the number of accidents,” The Telegraph quoted Paris’ town hall as stating.
Some will scoff at these overseas measures. Those goofy Europeans; so permissive. However, last year, Virginia became the second state in the nation to permit bicyclists to yield at traffic control devices. For some time Idaho has permitted bicyclists to do so. Since July 1, 2011, throughout the Old Dominion a bicyclist may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light after coming to a “full and complete stop at the intersection” and waiting two minutes. Sensibly, the revised traffic code requires bicyclists to yield the right of way to motorists approaching the intersecting road and to only to proceed when it is safe to do so. Presently, the Arizona legislature is considering a similar measure, but without the somewhat random two minute waiting period. If passed Arizona House Bill 2211, a bipartisan measure, would permit bicyclists 16 and older to slow to “a speed reasonable for the existing conditions” upon approaching a stop sign and “yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection” before proceeding. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Patterson (D) and Rep. Vic Williams (R), in its present state would also establish that, “If after riding past a stop sign without stopping the bicycle rider is involved in a collision in the intersection, the collision is prima facie evidence of the bicycle rider’s failure to yield the right-of-way.” In other words, if a cyclist proceeds through a stop sign and gets hit, it would be presumed that he or she is at fault for causing the collision. One supporter of the bill told azcentral.com that the proposed law, “Isn’t a green light to blast through a stop sign.”
Recently, Illinois’ legislature has demonstrated an understanding that traffic laws may require revision to reflect sensible human tendencies. Earlier this year, a new Illinois law went into effect that permits bicyclists outside of Chicago to pass through red light controlled intersections where the light fails to detect their presence and when no other vehicles are present. While obviously not as far reaching as the other initiatives described above, this sort of law is an important step because it recognizes that it sometimes does not make sense to treat bikes just like cars. Safety should not require a bicyclist to wait for a light to change when good sense and the circumstances permit safe passage through an intersection.
At the moment many state traffic laws criminalize the way sensible, careful bicyclists ride. This sends a terrible message and gives fringe anti-bicyclists something to scream about every time a cyclist rides through a light. Cyclists should not be legally permitted to blast through stop signs, but let us consider where it might make sense to revise the rules of the road.
Brendan Kevenides is an everyday city cyclist and licensed attorney. His Chicago law practice is dedicated to representing cyclists injured by the negligence of drivers, government officials and equipment manufacturers. He is also the creator and author of The Chicago Bicycle Advocate, a popular blog about bicycling and the law. He is active with bicycle advocacy organizations, including the Active Transportation Alliance and the League of American Bicyclists. Check out www.mybikeadvocate.com