Idaho Stops Are Now Legal in Oregon Too

CC BY 2.0. Neal Jennings on Flickr

Streets are for people and stop signs are for cars.

As of January 1, 2020, people on bikes in Oregon can treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. This is a fight that has been going on since 2007, and was finally passed in 2019. Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland explained why it was important last year:

The bill would allow bicycle users to treat stop signs and flashing red signals as yield signs (also known as “Idaho Stop” for a similar law on the books in Idaho for over 30 years). In other words, you’d only have to come to a complete when it was necessary due to oncoming traffic or some other safety-related condition. The law does not allow dangerous behavior and specifically requires bicycle users to slow to a “safe speed.”

Even the Oregon Police grudgingly acknowledged that it could be a good thing; a statement from the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and Oregon State Sheriff’s Association said: “While we have some concerns, there are studies that indicate the law could actually improve safety... The bill places the entire burden for good decision-making on the bicyclists who must proceed through intersections safely."

This is a subject we have been arguing about on TreeHugger for years. Maus quotes transportation planner Jason Meggs, who studied the history of stop signs and notes that " most stop signs have no safety purpose even for cars – and there was never a study to justify lockstrapping bicycles to stop signs which were developed for the speed and convenience of driving motor vehicles first and foremost, not for safety."

Palmerstion Avenue

Lloyd Alter/ Palmerston Avenue, Toronto, with stop signs every 266 feet to slow down cars/CC BY 2.0

Perhaps now other cities, like Toronto where I live, will consider this change. To back up Megg's point about the history of stop signs, I have described how we got them:

About 30 years ago, residents on Toronto's Palmerston Avenue were complaining about cars racing up and down the street, using it as a way to avoid the nearby busy arterial Bathurst Street. That part of Toronto is laid out with the streets predominantly east-west, and had two way stops at the end of the streets meeting Palmerston. The local alderman Ying Hope, a notorious pothole fixer, lobbied to put stop signs on the north-south Palmerston as well, to slow down traffic enough that perhaps drivers would not bother to use it and would stay on Bathurst. Traffic planners were appalled; two way stops worked perfectly well at regulating right of way, which was the purpose of signage. Four way stops waste gas and might cause more accidents because right of way was not as clear.
But the alderman got his way, and the street became known affectionately as the "Ying Hope Memorial Speedway." The cars stopped using it because stopping every 266 feet was a real pain, and slower than driving on the arterial. Soon everyone wanted four way stops to slow traffic in their neighbourhoods and now, they are almost universal.

They were never designed for bikes. They were never even about safety; 4-way stops are confusing and might even be more dangerous than 2-way. They are speed control devices for cars, and revenue generators for the police who sit at T-intersections and grab all the cyclists.

I stopped writing about this years ago; it never made any difference and I just got hundreds of comments from people calling me an idiot or worse. But perhaps now that Idaho, Arkansas and Oregon have concluded that it is actually safer to let bikes treat stop signs as yield signs, other jurisdictions might hop on this bandwagon. Streets are for people and stop signs are for cars.