How advocates brought the Idaho Stop to Oregon
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By Ray Thomas with thanks to Jim Coon, Bjorn Warloe and Senator Floyd Prozanski
Bjorn Warloe was living in Corvallis in 2003 and remembers reading in the Oregon State University student newspaper that Oregon had passed an “Idaho Stop” law allowing cyclists to treat a stop sign like a yield sign. It turned out the article was wrong (it had passed the House but had failed to even get a hearing in the Senate), although it did accurately identify Senator Floyd Prozanski as the legislation’s proponent.
Though passing an Idaho Stop had failed, the soundness of the idea to correlate stop sign law with natural safe riding behavior stayed with Bjorn. Four years later, when he was living in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood of Portland, he became frustrated that Portland police were citing cyclists for stop sign violations on those quiet neighborhood streets while cyclists were hit by dangerous drivers on higher speed corridors around the city (and at-fault drivers were not being cited). It seemed like a huge misallocation of scarce law enforcement resources to enforce a law that did not make sense and to then not enforce laws that protected vulnerable users. Bjorn contacted Roger Geller at the Portland Bureau of Transportation to ask that the city remove the stop signs and when Roger detailed studies and steps necessary (including interviews with the residents who were complaining to the police about cyclists not stopping), it seemed like an unwinnable effort.
So in 2007, Bjorn contacted Scott Bricker who was staff lobbyist for the BTA (now the Street Trust) and urged him to consider another legislative effort in Oregon, this time with more widespread grassroots support in the cycling community. It was late in the session but both Senators Jason Atkinson and Floyd Prozanski were receptive. Through the BTA Legislative Committee, Bjorn and other bicycle advocates spread the word to get a bill going.
While they were unsuccessful in 2007 (passing Oregon’s Vulnerable User Law was the organization’s top legislative priority that year), BTA made Idaho Stop legislation a top priority during the next session in 2009, with lobbyist Karl Rohde shepherding the measure for BTA.
An “Idaho Style” group formed by Bjorn had the advantage of excellent support materials. Jason Meggs, a UC Berkeley School of Public grad student, had conducted a study of the effect of the Idaho Stop on injuries and discovered a 14.5 percent decline in bicycling injuries after passage of the law in Idaho.
The group’s Spencer Boomhower also created an excellent video that displayed the logic behind the law change and published it online.
This time, hearings were held but the measure became a lightning rod attracting a growing anti-Portland bicyclist sentiment among many legislators, so it failed to advance.
But the combined efforts of the Idaho Style proponents and BTA’s lobbying was unsuccessful again. It was a dispiriting defeat. The Idaho Stop effort of 2009 turned out to be the last major traffic law reform to emerge from the BTA’s Legislative Committee. The Idaho Stop movement became quiescent as the BTA then focused its legislative efforts on major infrastructure and non-motorized transportation legislation for the next decade.
Bjorn never stopped thinking about Idaho Stop and when he heard that Delaware had passed its own version of the law in 2017, he wrote to Senator Floyd Prozanski and suggested that it may be time to try again. Senator Prozanski knew that Oregon Democrats had a supermajority in the legislature and that he could use a placeholder bill – a bill drafted to provide a means to advance a new concept or amend an existing statute usually late in the session – to introduce the Delaware Stop law. (Delaware Stop allows bicyclists to treat a stop sign as if it is a yield sign… yield the right-of-way to other vehicles before entering the intersection.)
When he learned that Arkansas had also passed its own Idaho Stop bill in March 2019, Prozanski saw a realistic opportunity. “I figured if Arkansas can do it, a native Texan can get’er done in Oregon.” Prozanski, who is also an avid road cyclist, had previously drafted and shepherded the Oregon Safe Passing Law for Bicyclists in 2007, which came about as the result of an unsafe pass by a log truck that caused the death of Eugene triathlete Jane Higdon.
Bjorn, Prozanski and bicycle advocacy groups, including the Street Trust under leadership from Executive Director Jillian Detweiler, worked together to spread the word and considerable grassroots support arose for the measure. By the time SB 998 made it to the House Rules Committee, more than 198 citizen letters had been submitted into the legislative record!
Less than five months after Bjorn contacted Senator Prozanski, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 998, the “Delaware Stop” law. (Even though the bill passed the Senate 21-8, it barely passed the House 31-28.)
Prozanski staffer Kevin Moore observed, “I never saw Floyd beaming so much after a bill passage as he was after the House vote on SB 998.” On August 6, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law with an effective date of January 1, 2020, causing many law enforcement agencies to immediately stop issuing tickets for technical stop sign violations.
The main difference from previous law is that it allows a bicyclist to slow to a safe speed and proceed after yielding the right of way at stop signs.
No Application to Traffic Signals, Yet
The new law does not include freedom to yield and roll through traffic signals at intersections. Idaho added this provision in 2006 and many cyclists feel like it is only a natural and logical extension of the stop sign provision. However, there are some bicycle advocates who worry that bicyclists may be less cautious if this aspect of the law was changed and would mistakenly ride into an intersection where speeding motorists with a green light (who may have timed the lights sequence) hit them and cause a major crash. On the other hand the instinct for self-preservation comes to the forefront here: bicycle riders very rarely pull out in front of motorists. And it makes little sense for a bicyclist to sit at a red light waiting and waiting when there is no one to stop for.
When asked when he might introduce the Idaho Signal law for Oregon as a next step, Senator Prozanski said, “Well, come see me in another few years on that one.” Since it appears that the Idaho Signal law has been working well there for 13 years, it is likely that the evolution of the Idaho Stop in Oregon will include further calls to add traffic signals into the equation.