DC mulls bill that crosses out red and allows ‘Idaho shutdown’ for bikes

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While biking around DC, Sam O’Brien and Naomi Field check for cross traffic at stop signs, then often ride without stopping at the stop required by law.

“If there’s no one around, where’s the harm?” O’Brien said at 11th Street and Columbia Road NW during the couple’s late afternoon drive to Dupont Circle from Children’s National Hospital, where they work as research technicians. “Cyclists are already crossing stop signs whenever it’s safe. I see it all the time.”

It’s common practice among cyclists – treating the stop sign as a yield, commonly referred to as the “Idaho Stop” after the state it became legal in the 1980s – and although few people are ticketed for practice, defenders say some have been. Soon, however, DC riders may not have to worry about breaking this law.

DC Council’s transport committee approved legislation this month that would allow people on bikes and scooters to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. The bill would also ban right turns on red for cars beginning Jan. 1, 2025, except at intersections where the district Department of Transportation determines such right turns would be safer.

The measurements are part of the Safe Streets Amendment Act 2022, which uses the language of several pieces of legislation aimed at making walking and cycling safer. DC council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the council’s transportation and environment committee, requested that the bill be put on the agenda for a vote when the council will meet again in September.

“Despite the Vision Zero commitment, our streets remain far too dangerous,” Cheh said in a statement, referring to the road safety program which aims to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roads. “This bill takes several important steps to put streets back in priority for people over cars and increase road safety for everyone, however you travel through the district.”

Treat stop signs as yield signs, advice says transportation committee report on the bill, would move cyclists through intersections more quickly – making them less exposed, increasing their visibility for drivers and reducing their risk of being hit – and helping cyclists maintain momentum.

“Stopping and starting can be difficult for the bike in the neighborhood if it’s every block. It’s quite expensive,” said Ralph Buehler, a professor of urban planning and director of the urban planning program at Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs. “The Classic Neighborhood has four-way stops at every intersection.”

Passing the Idaho Stop also decriminalizes what is common bicycling behavior and, according to the committee’s report, “eliminates the cause of police stops that disproportionately affect people of color and divert law enforcement resources.” order towards useless activities”. The report adds that decriminalization would encourage ridership, which can lead to more cyclists and safety in numbers.

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A measure that would have allowed cyclists to treat red lights as a stop sign was removed from the legislation, although the bill grants DDOT the power to post signs allowing cyclists to cross red lights.

“After meeting with DDOT safety experts and engineers and some members of the public, the committee was influenced by the fact that runners treating red lights as stop signs might not be appropriate here in the district, given the many complicated intersections we have,” Cheh said during a July 13 committee meeting.

For vehicles, right turns on red lights — legalized in DC in 1979 as part of a nationwide campaign to allow turns as a fuel-saving measure during a global oil crisis — created a “hostile environment for people on our streets,” regularly leading to pedestrians “nearly hit by cars carelessly turning against a red light,” the committee wrote.

He quoted a 1981 study showing that after states in the mid-1970s legalized the right to red, there was a significant increase in the number of drivers making such turns and hitting pedestrians and cyclists, with the majority of incidents involving drivers staring left for a gap in traffic and hitting a pedestrian or cyclist on the right of the vehicle.

In 2019, DC ended in red at about 100 intersections as part of Mayor Muriel E Bowser’s (D) Vision Zero program. However, city ​​data shows that the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in traffic accidents has remained relatively stable since 2011, with a slight increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2021.

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Opponents of eliminating right turns at red lights ask if the change would actually result in safer streets.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Ali said that a few years ago the organization consulted with traffic and public works engineers who were concerned “that the right-turn ban red does not create more traffic jams and does little to improve road safety, and in fact could create even more dangerous intersections.

“Our position … continues to support comprehensive and ongoing road safety education to inform road users of all ages and modes of their responsibility to practice safe traffic behaviors,” Ali said in a statement. . “This includes respecting and complying with traffic laws so that all road users can share the road responsibly, predictably and safely.”

Cyclist advocates say they hope a right-on-red ban will make the district safer.

District plans to end right turns on red at about 100 intersections in 2019

“We hope this will lead to fewer fatalities and accidents,” said Jeremiah Lowery, Advocacy Director for the Washington Area Cyclists Association. “At first, we just banned turning red for a few intersections across the city, and I think that’s confusing for drivers. So I think we should just go ahead and ban them all.

On the stopping measure as a return for cyclists, Lowery added: ‘I hope the police will spend less time ticketing cyclists and more time enforcing traffic. laws that actually protect us.

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For Field, 24, the effort to ban right turns on red has been a relief.

“I almost got hit by so many cars turning right on red because they never looked. If there’s a bike lane, if there’s no bike lane, they don’t look,” Field said, pointing behind her to the corner of Sherman Avenue and Columbia Road in the northwest, where she said she was nearly hit by a car. one year ago.

O’Brien, 24, said he doubted the red-free proposal would be popular among drivers, but as an occasional driver himself, he said he supported the measure.

“Winning a minute and a half, two minutes doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “If it makes people feel safe, I’m all for it.”

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