U.S. states have been adopting Idaho Stop laws since the early 1980s, allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs when safe to do so. Should Alberta do the same?
OPINION | The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
What is an Idaho Stop law?
Idaho Stop laws have been adopted across the United States since the early 1980s. These laws allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs when safe to do so. This allows people on bikes to roll safely through stop signs without losing too much momentum.
The name “Idaho Stop” comes from the first form of this legislation, enacted in Idaho in 1982. So far, no region in Canada has made a similar law.
Why are jurisdictions considering these types of laws?
Municipalities across the country are beginning to introduce bike-friendly policies to encourage cycling. The City of Edmonton’s Bike Plan is one example of this type of policy. Edmonton’s Bike Plan is a $100 million dollar investment into bicycle infrastructure in the city until 2026. The goal of the Bike Plan is to create accessible and predictable roads for all users.
Municipalities are investing in bike-friendly policies to act on climate change, create healthier communities, decrease vehicle-based traffic, and provide low-cost transportation options. These investments usually come in the form of policies and municipal plans, but how can provincial law support these goals?
Provincial governments enact laws that deal with traffic and road use, including for cyclists as users of the road. For example, Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act defines what a bicycle is and where it can be used, among other rules. (Read the “Bicycle Law in Alberta” article for an overview of the rules for cyclists.) Idaho Stop laws provide a well-supported and widely accepted way to change provincial laws.
How do these laws promote safer cycling?
First, they make cycling more appealing by lowering the effort needed to travel by bicycle. Cyclists prefer quieter, residential streets away from heavy traffic. These streets usually have lots of stop signs as a traffic safety measure for vehicles and pedestrians. More stop signs along routes discourage cycling because they require cyclists to lose all their momentum. If cyclists can legally treat those stop signs as yield signs, cycling becomes more efficient and appealing as a mode of transportation. Commutes by bike are shorter, require less effort, and allow the use of residential streets to avoid high-traffic areas.
Second, Idaho Stop laws can make cycling and cyclists more predictable. Critics of cyclists often cite unpredictability and non-compliance as a hazard in the traffic system. Attempts to fix this issue in modern urban planning have resulted in increased traffic signals. Increases in traffic signals like stop signs are usually a response to calls for increases in safety on roads. Ironically, more signals usually mean more delays for pedestrians. More delays result in more people refusing to follow traffic signals, making traffic unpredictable. Without Idaho Stop laws, some cyclists will treat stop signs as they are intended, and some will treat them as yield signs. This makes cyclists appear unpredictable. With an Idaho Stop law, cyclists are enabled to treat stop signs uniformly, making traffic patterns more reliable.
Finally, Idaho Stop laws lead to safer cities for cyclists. Cyclists are some of the most vulnerable road users. Cyclists do not have a vehicle to protect them, and they travel faster than other pedestrians. Cyclists in North America must ride on roads that are not designed for them, making their travel unsafe. It is important to remember that cyclists are at far greater risk than motorized-vehicle users. They often disobey road signals or signage in favour of maintaining their safety.
A 2010 study compared Boise, Idaho with similar cities in California. The most significant difference in cycling between the three cities was the presence of an Idaho Stop law. Boise had had one in place since 1982, while the two cities in California did not have one. The study found that while both cities in California had regular annual cyclist fatalities, Boise had none. When looking at safety factors more generally, Boise was at least thirty percent safer for cyclists than the other two cities.
Idaho Stop laws are a novel legal framework for promoting cycling in urban areas in Canada. Municipalities are trying to get more people on bikes. More people on bikes means less motorized vehicle traffic, healthier communities, less pollution, and more low-cost transportation opportunities. Idaho Stop laws support these goals by making cycling more accessible, safer, and more efficient.
Here are some things you can do to promote safe cycling in your community:
- Write to your local politicians and ask them to consider an Idaho Stop law.
- Start riding your bike! Use your city’s current bike infrastructure and learn how to get around by bike.
- Engage with local community organizations who support safe cycling. In Edmonton, see Paths for People and Bike Edmonton. In Calgary, see Bike Calgary. Or visit the Alberta Cycling Coalition’s website to find a local advocacy group.
- Encourage those around you to try cycling to work or school.
- Participate in local charity events like Bike-To-Work Day in Calgary or wherever you are in Canada!
Looking for more information?
Looking for articles like this one to be delivered right to your inbox? SUBSCRIBE NOW!
DISCLAIMER The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.