A new state law set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020 will change what cyclists are legally required to do at intersections. Senate Bill 998 states that bicyclists approaching an intersection with a stop sign or flashing red light may proceed through the intersection or make a turn without stopping as long as they slow to a safe speed, yield the right of way to pedestrians, and yield to traffic that is already in the intersection or approaching.
Under current Oregon law, individuals riding bicycles on public roads are treated like other vehicles and must stop at intersections controlled by stop signs or a flashing red light before proceeding through the intersection. Several other states, including Idaho, allow bicyclists to treat stop signs or flashing red lights as yield signs and proceed through the intersection if the bicyclist takes certain precautions.
Senate Bill 998 allows a bicyclist approaching an intersection regulated by a stop sign or flashing red light at a safe speed to proceed through that intersection or make a turn without stopping. It also creates a traffic violation of improper entry into an intersection controlled by a stop sign and improper entry into an intersection controlled by a flashing red light. A violation of either occurs when a bicyclist fails to yield to traffic within the intersection or to traffic that is approaching so close as to create an immediate hazard, disobeys a police officer or flagger, fails to exercise care to avoid an accident, or fails to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
Under the new law, a cyclist can be fined up to $250 to failing to yield at a stop sign or red flashing light intersection.
Testimony received by the House Committee on Rules on June 24 was in favor of the new law. Alex Graham, a cyclist in Portland, has been a cyclist for decades and a bike commuter for more than 10 years.
“This bill is an easy win for all road users and should absolutely come up for a vote and receive the support of all Oregon lawmakers,” Graham wrote.
Graham said the law was an obvious and easy path to safer streets and improved cycling.
Paul Nutterfield, a resident from Portland, wrote that he sees confusion among the biking community on the responsibilities created by the bill and he leans against changing well-known traffic controls from “do this” to “do this except when” with no indication on the signal itself.
“This bill puts the onus on a cyclist to make good decisions and not put themselves in harm’s way instead of simply obeying an established traffic control that has been demonstrated to separate traffic,” Nutterfield said.
Another cyclist in Portland, Kristin Petherbridge, wrote in her testimony that she believes this bill will improve the road experience for both cyclists and motorists. She wrote that allowing bicyclists to treat stops as a yield makes for a smoother ride for both the cyclists and any motorists waiting for them at a stop.
“It will lower the energy necessary to ride through many local neighborhoods, and I believe it will also encourage cyclists to use our lower traffic greenways and neighborhood streets since it will reduce the ‘stop time’ needed on quiet neighborhood streets, which will in turn reduce the likelihood of cyclists taking to higher-traffic car-focused roads if they want to ‘make good time,’” Petherbridge said.
Petherbridge pointed out that Jason Meggs’s 2010 study “Bicycle Safety and Choice: Compounded Public Cobenefits of the Idaho Law Relaxing Stop Requirements for Cyclists” concluded that relaxing the stopping laws in Idaho caused no additional traffic safety risk.